Fluffy in the Sky With Diamonds

By Cindy Orti
 Losing a beloved pet is one of the most heart-wrenching tragedies in this world, but as hard as it is there are many ways to obtain closure for your loss. A popular trend of the past decade is a physical memorial to your pet. There are all types of memorials, but why settle for something mundane like an engraved rock when there are far more fancy and unique ways to pay homage to a lost fuzzy soul.

To begin: there’s a mess of jewelery available for the magpie-at-heart, ranging from simple dog-memory dog-tags to lizard-scale-pattern lockets to brass boxes in which to store precious memories. If jewelery floats your grieving boat, these ornaments can provide the most conventional and potentially least expensive way to remember your pet.
Need something more tactile than a simple picture? Why not try a plush replica. By sending some pictures to a custom plush producer, you can buy a terrifyingly accurate rendition of your pet for several hundred dollars. Creepy? Perhaps, but for those who just need to hug something familiar, little can beat a tiny plush copy.
Being part of the 21st Century, the internet has wiggled itself into all facets of daily life. Don’t fight the feeling; set up a personal pet memorial website, or join one of the existing ones. Making your own site, however, does come with some cost. Hosting services, web design and programming don’t come cheap. But building a completely personalized website offers an unmatched degree of creative freedom. Think of it as futuristic scrapbooking that you can share with friends and family at the click of a button. There are also many websites like http://www.ilovedmypet.com/ and http://critters.com/ that provide free template-based memorial pages to make this process simpler.
Is all this too mundane? Too blasé? There are always options for those to whom money is not a factor. Why not turn your deceased best friend into a diamond? That’s right, a real diamond! All terrestrial life is carbon-based, and diamonds are nothing more than carbon chains of a maximum density. It’s quite possible to take the cremated remains of an animal (or human, for that matter) and compress them into a full karat diamond in a variety of colours. If $2000 to $18,000 for the diamond making procedure is just a bit too rich, it’s also easy to mix in some ashes with molten glass to make rather captivating memorial urn.
It’s easy to forget, but memorials aren’t about mourning a death, but rather celebrating a life lived. Everything, from a locket with a favourite picture, to a website, to a multi-thousand dollar jewel is meant to be a reminder of all the good times had. Whether all this seems over the top or just right, there’s no denying that with the right memorial, any pet can live forever in your heart and fondest memories.
By Alexander Bentley

Sing a Little Song for Me

By Stephanie Heim
How do we express our love for another? Flowers? Chocolates? An exotic trip complete with champagne? While all of these may be favourable options, one of the most powerful means of declaring one’s emotions is through the magic of music. This is why love songs are so important in modern culture and why having a song written for you is considered such a high honour. Believe it or not, music history is filled with love songs that were inspired by a doting pet and these tunes span decades, genres and artists.

Firstly (and perhaps most obviously) Cat Stevens’ first ever single, “I Love My Dog” was written for his…you guessed it…dog! This song is a very literal explanation of the many reasons why Stevens loved a little dachshund that he found tied to a post as a child and adopted when the pooch was not claimed. The fact that “all he asks of me is the food to give him strength” and “all he ever needs is love and that he knows he’ll get” are some of the qualities Stevens admired about the human-dog bond.
Another song that explores a human-animal friendship is “Ben.” Written in 1972 by Don Black and Walter Scharf for the movie Ben (sequel to Willard), this song celebrates a pinnacle part of the film – a young boy who befriends a rat. Although originally intended for Donny Osmond, this popular song was actually recorded by 14-year-old Michael Jackson and became his first #1 hit as a solo artist. While this song does not actually reference a real pet rat, the song has nevertheless stood the test of time and emerged as a melody that sings of lasting comradeship.
However, in Jimi Hendrix’s song, “Fire,” a dog is referenced within the lyrics because of a real life occurrence. The story goes like this. After a show in 1967, Jimi stayed at bassist, Noel Redding’s, mother’s house. It was a frightfully cold night and Jimi wanted to stand next to the fireplace in order to warm up. However, the Reddings’ massive Great Dane simply refused to budge, thus inspiring the line, “Aw move over, Rover…” in the later hit, “Fire.”
By Stephanie Heim
 The B52s were also partial to the pooch play list phenomenon, penning “Quiche Lorraine” in the late 1970s. Although there was never actually a poodle named Quiche as the song suggests, this song is about a poor mangy mutt who lives to have a good time in the rain and doesn’t let life get him down. The content resonated with the eccentric funkiness of the B52s sound and has become a loved classic by their fans.
Paul McCartney is yet another international artist who owes the success of at least one major song to a pet. The 1974 chart-topping hit, “Jet” is rumoured to be about McCartney’s spunky Labrador-Retriever of the same name, although in an interview the artist superstar reveals the original inspiration in fact came from a pony he owned as a small boy.

Sometimes, however, songs intended for pets are not written so joyfully, instead professing the pain of loss. For example, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Death of a Martian” is the story of the bass player’s dog, Flea, passing on while in the midst of recording the band’s insanely successful Stadium Arcadium album. The lyrics speak of the owner’s grief and reminiscing. Lead singer, Anthony Kiedis, often referred to the 200lb canine as the band’s “little spirit guide,” and grew even more attached to the song when his own dog, Buster, also passed a few weeks later. The band believes that both of these dogs helped them through some of their darkest times as a group.
There are also a number of songs that use real pets as a metaphor for other things or people. For instance, the Pink Floyd song “Lucifer Sam.” The meaning of this song is often debated, but a couple of things can be known for sure. One of these, is that Syd Barrett did in fact own a cat named Sam, which is why it is widely thought that this song is in fact about this feline. However, other theories state that ‘cat’ was used more as a slang term for a man, or that the song is about Barrett’s then girlfriend and the metaphor of his cat is used as a way to write about her without it sounding too obvious and insulting. In any case, Sam the cat did exist and Syd Barrett seemed to have utilized his existence artistically as a way to express a message.
Though these songs, and the countless others like them, seem to have very little in common on the surface, they are in fact following the same theme. Each one was written with a special pet in mind and each one has therefore immortalized these pets forever…whoever said only people could be muses?
By Meagan Curran 

Pet Cemetaries

By Shirley Bittner
The world of horror stories that we ritualistically endure so we can spend a sleepless night wondering why we put ourselves through such psychological torture has marked the words ‘pet cemetery’ with a dark and ominous feeling. However, far from being oppressive, pet cemeteries are serene and peaceful places where a pet owner can go to remember the life of a dear departed friend.

Pets are part of the family, and more and more people are turning to cemeteries or pet memorial gardens to help remember their pet once they have passed on. The difference between a cemetery and memorial garden is often one of name. However, more often than not, a memorial garden only offers markers that are flush to the ground where as a cemetery allows for fully upright markers. Pet cemeteries and memorial gardens come in a number of shapes and sizes. Talking to your vet or a quick Internet search can put you on the trail of a cemetery close to you.

It is important to make sure the cemetery or memorial garden is right for you and your pet. Visit the site and talk to the owners to get a full understanding of how the site is operated. Some sites are affiliated with regulatory bodies such as the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematoriums (IAOPCC). Bodies such as these assure that their members are following a code of ethics and high industry standards. An affiliation with a regulatory body is not necessary for the good running of a pet cemetery, but may be an added assurance to help put your mind at ease.

If you are looking for perpetual care, it is important to make sure that maintenance fees (which should be paid up front) are put into a trust so that there are funds available for ground maintenance as a cemetery passes from one caretaker to another.

Pansy Pet Cemetery

This pet cemetery is located south of Steinbach, MB. They cater to animals of all sizes and will bury caskets or urns, but do not offer any cremation services on site. Each plot includes a head plate in the shape of a cloud, symbolizing a pet’s entrance into the afterlife. The maker is flush with the ground and has your pets’ name, their year of birth and year of death. Plates can have up to 13 characters for a personalized message. The cemetery offers a number of caskets and can pick up from a vet for an additional charge.

Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery

Located near Eden, ON, this pet cemetery is open to budgies, horses and everything in between. They also offer burials for caskets or urns, but do not have cremation services on site. They offer a variety of caskets and upright granite makers. Open all year round, they offer to do pick ups as well, making this painful process as convenient as possible for owners.

Country Club Pet Resort Memorial Park

Located in Rocky View Alberta this park welcomes all animals into its grounds, from hamsters to horses. They offer a variety of ways to remember you pet. Burials and a number of other options for cremated remains are available such as columbarium, a country columbarium or a wishing well. Markers are flush with the ground, however a few upright makers are allowed along the edges of the park. Caskets, urns and markers are available and pick up from home or veterinarian’s office can be arranged. The memorial garden is a member of IAOPCC and part of the Country Club Pet Resort.


Nothing is more difficult than saying goodbye to your furry friend, but putting them to rest in a beautiful pet cemetery or memorial garden may be a great way to honour your pet’s memory forever.
By Kevin Mogk

Life Through A Dog’s Eyes

Photos by Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs
Most people wouldn’t think of a dog as being capable of holding down a full time job, but that is the life of a dog guide. Guide dogs provide vital services to those that need their help, and like many other jobs, there is a lot of training required. This is where training schools, like the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (LFCDG) come in.

Melissa Eckersley, manager of communications for LFCDG, says that certain breeds of dog are chosen to be guides because of their temperament, eagerness to work and adaptability. “They can go from the foster families …to a trainer …to somebody who might need them one day, so…you want a dog that’s going to be able to go through all of those transitions,” she says. The most common breeds used for dog guides are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, though some standard and miniature poodles are trained as well.
When the selected dogs are eight-weeks-old, they are placed with foster families that care for them until their first birthdays. All the food and veterinary costs are covered by the training school, so the biggest challenge in being a foster family is the time commitment.
“The purpose of the foster family is [to help] the puppy to experience as many things as possible, so that once [the dog is] out in the working life, it’s seen it all, it’s done it all, and nothing really surprises them,” Eckersley explains. Though it can take a lot of time to properly socialize these puppies to many different environments, the hardest part can come when the puppy has to be returned to the school for training. “There are some tears when they have to come back, but [the foster families] are able to meet the client that this dog is going to help.” Once they have seen that their beloved pet will go on to help someone in need, Eckersley says that most families find it easier to give the dogs up.
After foster care comes the formalized training at schools. Here the dogs receive one-on-one training and are taught the specific skills they will need in order to help their future handler. Eckersley elaborates on the dogs’ rigorous training routine: “A trainer could have up to six dogs in their string and throughout the day they would rotate through those dogs, practicing exercises for about 15 minutes and then going back to the kennel and getting another dog. It’s the best way for the dog to learn the skills [without getting] bored or overtired too quickly.”
Training like this usually lasts for six to eight months, and for the last month the client is brought to live at the centre to complete the dog’s specific training and bond with their future guide.The LFCDG is not only the largest school in Canada, it is also the only one to train five different kinds of dog guides, including:
1) Canine Vision
These dogs assist the blind or visually impaired, helping the handler navigate the obstacles of daily life, like busy streets and stairs.
2) Hearing Ear
These guides lead their deaf or hard of hearing handlers to sounds around the house, like a ringing telephone or a crying baby.
3) Special Skills
These dogs are able to operate lights switches and open and close doors for their handlers who are medically or physically disabled.
4) Seizure Response
These pups assist those who have epilepsy, and will bark for help or activate an alert system when their handler has a seizure.
5) Autism Assistance
These dogs help Autistic children by providing companionship in high anxiety situations.
It’s easy to spot a guide dog by the special harness that they wear and it’s important to know that while they are wearing the harness, they are on duty. Despite your natural urges to run over and start petting, remember that the dog is working to ensure the safety of its handler. “Often the dog steals everyone’s attention. That’s wonderful, but the ones that are actually working do have a job to do and any kind of interaction with the public is distracting for dog and could be potentially putting the person in harm’s way,” Eckersley says.
If your need to pet the dog is just too strong, Eckersley says that you must ask the dog guide handler’s permission to touch the dog. “What the client’s going to do is remove the harness so the dog is no longer working,” she explains. With the harness removed, the dog is off duty, and knows he is allowed to interact with other people. At that point, you are free to pet the dog to your heart’s content.
Though many of us have seen dog guides at school or in the workplace, on the streets and even on public transportation, dog guides are allowed in many public places that people may not be aware of. This is especially true for those whose work takes place mainly outside of the home, like canine vision dog guides. According to Eckersley, these guides are even allowed on airplanes and in taxis, so don’t be surprised if you see dog guide in what seems like an unlikely place.
But it’s not just all work for a dog guide. Just like you, they can go home and relax after a long day. When they aren’t on duty, they are just like any other house pet. “There’s definitely opportunity for the dog to relax and be a dog, you know, play fetch in the backyard or whatever it may be,” Eckersley confirms. Even with a large amount of play time available to them, work doesn’t necessarily feel like work to these dogs. Because of the breeds chosen, according to Eckersley, “they’re more than eager to do what you are asking them to do because it’s fun, it’s a game.”
As time passes though, dog guides grow older and deserve their own retirement. “For the most part, a client will notice when the dog is slowing down,” Eckersley says. This generally happens when the dog is eight to ten years old, and at this point the dog is usually taken off duty. Often a family member or friend of the handler will adopt the dog so that it can continue to be a part of that person’s life. Though the general public can adopt retired dog guides, the waiting list can be quite long.
Like most charities, the economic recession has affected guide dog training schools, but thankfully, not enough to significantly disrupt the LFDGC’s efforts. The organization continues to put together 110 dog guide teams a year, a number which is growing. “We still see a great support for people with disabilities and dog guides,” Eckersley says.
But as always, these training schools can use your help. Being a foster family is a great way to help out if you live close enough to one of the training schools. You can also sponsor a team, which helps cover the costs of raising and training dog guides, since the clients receive the dogs at no cost.
There is also the annual Purina Walk for Dog Guides, which happens in as many as 200 communities across the country each year. “One hundred per cent of the proceeds from the walk go directly towards raising and training dog guides for people with disabilities,” Eckersley says. Mark your calendars for 2011; the walks usually take place in May. More information can be found at http://www.purinawalkfordogguides.com.
Dog guides help improve the lives of those with disabilities and should be celebrated for the service they provide in the community. Just make sure that they are off duty before you show them the appreciation they deserve!
By Allison Vorstenbosch

Ahead of the Pack: Interview with Sue Bird

By Sue Bird
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but even that substantial literary quota seems inadequate to describe the beauty that lies in Sue Bird’s photography, because she brings something entirely new to the realm of pet portraiture.

Based in Stittsville, Ontario, Sue puts 10 years of photojournalism experience to work for her furry photo subjects. The result? Spectacular editorialized pet portraiture that is moving, artistic and above all, real. Sue’s exquisite animal lifestyle photography has frequented the cover of Dogs in Canada Annual on several occasions and earned her many awards, as well as the adoration of the local pet community. And it’s easy to see why.
When asked how she arrived at this unorthodox career path, Sue simply replies, “It was Lucky.” Lucky the collie cross that is; a loyal companion who accompanied Sue to college and watched over the early years of her budding photojournalism career. “She was the best travel buddy. We would drive the 401 together,” reminisces Sue fondly. “She was a really great dog and made me laugh a lot. We became great friends and when she passed on I was devastated.”
By Sue Bird
That’s when Sue became inspired to turn her passion and aptitude for photography towards a new niche market – dogs and their people. Then in 2006, tired of grueling newspaper shift work and wishing to spend more time with her daughters, Sue started her own business, determined to capture the magical bond that exists between animal and owner in ways that had never been seen before.
Subtle symmetry, strong lines and captivating textures occupy Sue’s photographic style, bringing forth an organic image that embodies a story and plunges beneath the aesthetic of outer appearances. “There are sections of your life that you think back to and remember by an animal, because they are a big part of us,” says Sue. “So to document your dog’s life is really to document your own. It is important to me that I tell the story of a family and that particular dog in every shoot.” Whether its frolicking in a field, playing at the beach, walking with a Mountie in the snow or lounging around in their favourite chair, Sue never fails to deliver striking images of canines, felines and equines alike that warm the heart and wag the tail.
The fact that her photo subjects now run around energetically on four legs and rarely sit still does not bother Sue in the least. In fact, she seems to thrive on the unpredictability of her subjects, because as she says, they always offer something new for the camera to discover. “When I worked as a photojournalist for major dailies it was my job to go into a situation that was completely uncontrolled and come back with a cover page worthy image,” reveals Sue. “The same principle applies when I work with clients and their pets. No matter how unpredictable the situation may be, I walk away from it having captured the moment in some lovely and unusual ways.”
Personalized bereavement packages are another special aspect of Sue’s pet photography that puts her ahead of the pack. When an animal is coming to the end of their life or suddenly taken ill, Sue makes herself available for emergency sessions so that clients can capture the essence of their beloved pet before they go. “So often we think that we have more time,” reveals Sue knowingly. “It is a shock to come back from the vet realizing that you only have a few days or weeks left. People wish they had more photos, more memories to hang on to. I find bereavement sessions to be very therapeutic for the client, even though people often don’t want to talk about death and what is coming.”
It is the extra care and compassion exercised in all her work that is making Sue well known across the country. She conducts shoots regularly in and around the Ottawa area, Toronto, Montreal, Victoria and even parts of the United States. No matter what the situation or environment, Sue discovers something special about any pet’s personality and captures who they are forever in a photograph that becomes an instant family treasure. To see more of Sue’s work, visit http://www.photobysuebird.com.
By Laura L. Benn