Allison's Book Bag

Four years ago, I joined Saturday Snapshot. The meme invites bloggers to share photos. One of my new year’s resolutions was to create a memory scrapbook from my childhood. I intend for the project to be a work-in-progress, where I mostly post in order of scanned photos. A few weeks ago I posted about my first family Christmas. Next up in my trip down memory lane are photos of me from other special occasions.

With Easter just around the corner, it seemed fitting to show a photo from my first. I remember Easter as being a time for new clothes and chocolate bunnies. I wonder whatever happened to the blow-up bunny in this photo?


I don’t know if these photos are from my first birthday, but they’re the only applicable ones in my Cradle Days album. I remember birthdays as being a time for parties, games, and friends. Or at least until the end of primary grades, when we moved. Then it seemed harder to make friends and to get them to visit. The car and the horse show up in a lot of photos.



I’m guessing this last photo is of my dad’s birthday. Once upon a time, adults seemed so old to me. Hard to imagine that now he’s almost eighty and I’m almost fifty.


Would you like to know more about animal welfare, but have no time to read a book? Podcasts are the answer! You can listen to them while driving, exercising, or doing chores. Over the past year, I listened to a few episodes of six animal welfare podcasts. The first four are dedicated to cats and the final two are about animals or pets in general. Read on for my reactions!

Cat Lady / available on iTunes / 22 episodes, 2014-2015 / 40-60 minutes

catlady_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Hosted by Official Cat Ladies Liz and Rah, the Cat Lady Podcast features interviews with cat-loving public figures (and not so public figures).”

“Listen to see if we get better at it.”

Cat Lady is an excellent example of how a product can improve. I didn’t like the first episode, but began to warm up to the podcast with the second episode.

The first episode felt amateurish. The two hosts openly admitted that they had no idea how to run a podcast and spent a lot of time talking about how they should’ve learned prior to air how to seque to a new topic. The ladies also admitted that they had not done any research into their topics. Consequently, they referenced a book but couldn’t remember the title. In addition, they could only talk generalities about the Grumpy Cat movie because they hadn’t watched it.

The content of the first episode didn’t impress me either. The hosts inaccurately stated that milk chocolate is toxic to cats because it has milk in it, when the real culprit is the ingredient theobromine. I also found it illogical that the hosts had previously given milk to their cats with no ill effects but now, upon the advice of a guest, planned to stop because drinking milk can make some cats sick. Finally, Liz and Rah talked for half the episode with an animal communicator, even though many view psychics as cons.

The second episode was far more polished. Although the hosts still at times ended up filling dead air with “um” and “ah,” they were well-prepared with lots of amusing cat anecdotes. Besides being entertained by this episode, I learned useful information. The two ladies talked at length with regular guest, Meredith Adkins of the Cat Protection Society, about owners can provide the best care for their cats during the holidays.

Cattitude / available on iTunes / 24 episodes, 2008-2010 / 35-40 minutes

cattitude_podcastWebsite Blurb: “In this cat podcast, you’ll hear about many different breeds of cats–from the hairless Sphynx and the fluffy Persian to the silvery spotted Egyptian mau. But the most popular felines of all are non-pedigree—that includes brown tabbies, black-and-orange tortoiseshells, all-black cats with long hair, striped cats with white socks and everything in between. Learn everything there is to know about cats on Cattitude with your host Tom Dock. Each week in our cat podcast, we’ll spotlight a cool cat breed, give up-to-date advice on cat health, and check out new cat products! So curl up on the couch every week for a purrr-fectly enjoyable time on Cattitude… the cat podcast for cat lovers!”

Cattitude is the most intellectual of the six podcasts in this round-up. Connoisseur Tom Dock each week treats listeners to detailed information about everything there is to know about the featured breed. For example, the first episode covered why the Siamese are so famous, along with their origins, their varied looks, their dominant personality, and the changing standards for the breed. As an extra, he also talked about zoonotic diseases—their types, causes, and preventative measures. Anyone who regularly reads my articles at LAA Pet Talk know that I am a student and journalist at heart. As such, I appreciated that Tom Dock has done a lot of prep work for each episode. In addition, rather than taking a side about the changing standards, he presented the reasons for and against the changes. By the time I’ve finished listening to all of Cattitude, I expect to be fully-versed in all the cat breeds!

Community Cats / available on iTunes / 121 episodes, 2016 / 15-30 minutes

communitycats_podcastWebsite Blurb: “The Community Cats Podcast is the brainchild of Stacy LeBaron.  Stacy has over 20 years of experience working with Community Cats in Massachusetts.  She was the President of the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society for 14 years and since 2011 she has run the MRFRS Mentoring program assisting over 80 organizations with setting up TNR programs and getting funding to support those programs. The mission of the podcast is to provide education, information and dialogue that will create a supportive environment empowering people to help cats in their community.”

The Community Cats Podcast has a special appeal to me, because of my volunteer work with Husker Cats, a local organization that provides sterilization, food, and shelter to homeless campus cats. In addition, I’ve had the privilege of exchanging emails with podcast host, Stacy LeBaron, and will one day write an article about Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society.

Stacey LeBaron spent the first episode introducing herself to listeners. Her journey to becoming an advocate serves both as a model and an encouragement to me. As a child, Stacey had one cat. This cat lived to be twenty. She immediately got another cat, who sadly died at the age of ten. She didn’t realize cats could die so young and this got her interested in studying cats. Next her husband rescued a kitten and she eventually ended up with multiple cats. As part of wanting to help cats, she joined Merricack’s adoption team. Stacey’s advice to those who want to help cats? Start with one cat and go from there. Stacey wraps up the first episode by saying that the purpose of her podcasts is to help animal advocates of every level.

Subsequent podcasts feature other leaders in the cat welfare world. The typical format is for the guest to share a little of their roots in animal welfare and then to share information about a topic in which they have expertise. With each episode often running about twenty minutes, I can easily listen to one while driving about town. I’m often sad for the episodes to end, because each guest is a wealth of info. Given that mid-year subscribers received an email requesting sponsorship donations, I wonder if the podcast will remain financially viable in the months and years to come. For as long as it lasts, I’ll be an avid listener!

Purrfect World / available on iTunes / 21 episodes, 2013-2015 / 25-30 minutes

purrfectworld_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Figure out what your cat is thinking from author and blogger Pamela Merritt, from the Way of Cats. Learn how to build their Perfect World, because understanding their nature is the key to both affection and training. Discover that ‘a happy cat is an obedient cat’ and learn how to make the right gestures, like Cat Kisses, the Fist of Friendship, the Drape, and the Shift. Each show discusses a cat challenge, shares pertinent Human Tricks for better communication, and explores ways we can advance the cat/human relationship. After thirty years of cat rescue experience, there’s plenty of stories to tell.”

The instant I heard Pamela Merritt speak, I was hooked on her Purrfect World podcast. Her voice is so soothing and calm. Through the first two episodes, I’ve also learned a little about her. For example, Pam grew up without cats but has learned to love them and respect them. She likes dogs and other animals too but focuses on promoting cats. Pam isn’t afraid to learn by trial-and-error nor to share what she’s learned from her mistakes.

I also like the content of Purrfect World. Her knowledge and confidence shows in every episode. In the first episode, Pam began by pondering the stereotypes about cats and their owners. Then she moved on to her belief that there no bad cats, just owners who treat cats like dogs. Finally, she there concludes by talking about how kittens start out playful but grow up into cats who want to build a relationship before they trust their owners. In the second episode, Pam discusses how to teach one’s cat not to scratch. She refers to the obvious solution of using a scratching post so that cats won’t claw the furniture, but also details how to foster a relationship with one’s cat that will encourage it not to scratch people either. Cats are complex and Pam shows respect for this fact!

Ontario SPCA / available on iTunes / 101 episodes, 2010-2016 / 10-30 minutes

ontariospca_podcastWebsite Blurb: “For over a century, the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has provided province-wide leadership on matters relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals and the promotion of Animal Welfare. Need something a little more interesting to listen to than the same old songs on the radio? Why not check out one of our most recent pawdcasts?”

Despite being regional, The Ontario SPCA podcast interests me because it helps me understand the great depth of animal welfare programs. For the first year, each episode is hosted by Alison Cross, who interviews people from across the province who are involved with animal welfare. Each episode is snappy and engaging. Alison’s style is friendly and brisk. Her questions come quickly, showing how prepared she is. Her guests are calm, talkative, and passionate about their work. They’re also comfortable giving short or long answers as appropriate. What I like about the Ontario SPCA podcast is that it lets me eavesdrop on casual conversations between animal welfare experts.

The episode I listened to features Kevin MacKenzie, Development Manager of the Ontario SPCA. Kevin MacKenzie shares his experience traveling on the road with an Animal Cruelty Agent, volunteering at the Ontario SPCA Orangeville & District Branch, and spending a day at the Provincial Education & Animal Centre in Newmarket. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the building of community support. Starting with the second year, he became the host for Ontario SPCA podcast.

Speaking of Pets / available on iTunes / 300 episodes, 2006-2016 / 2 minutes

speakingpets_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Speaking of Pets with Mindy Norton is for people who care about pets and about humane treatment for animals in general, and who want to celebrate that special relationship between us and our animal companions. On Alabama Public Radio Saturdays at 8:59 a.m.”

Not only is Speaking of Pets the longest running podcast of the six featured in this article, but it’s also the shortest at only two minutes per episode. Yes, you read that right! In just one drive, I listened to half a dozen episodes and learned about diverse topics such as pets after hurricanes, legislation that allows owners to bring their pets with them to restaurants that have an outdoor seating area, cat shows, puppy mills, obese pets, and the efforts to help pets in Haiti after an earthquake. Wow!

Given their brevity, the episodes are surprisingly very informative. In the one about Haiti, I learned that organizations moved in to rescue people, control the spread of diseases, AND save animals. The latter is important. Many are livestock and are essential to the agricultural economy. Others are pets integral to family life. Finally, there was a story about a couple who rescued a dog only to lose it during a natural disaster but then were blessed to be reunited again.


If I had to pick just one podcast, I’m not sure that I could. Most of those I’ve reviewed are unique in their presentation and in their focus. Cat Lady and Purrfect World are the only two that kind of resemble each other. While I’d lean towards Purrfect World and its host Pamela Merritt because of its more professional quality, I suspect that Cat Lady with its banter between two hosts will continue to grow on me. It could also be fun to see them grow in their podcasting skills. The bottom line is that all six podcasts are worth checking out.

Now it’s your turn! I’m eager to hear more animal welfare podcasts. If you know of any good ones, please tell me about them in comments

With our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

rainy_toothbrushSniff! Nibble! Chomp! Rainy likes to chew. Today it’s my pencil. It could just as easily be a toothbrush. More than one have been played with in those early days of my brushing her teeth. Or it could just as easily be a bag of dog treats that the humans in the house forgot to put away. When Rainy discovers the bag (and she has on multiple occasions), she carries it under the bed to rip open and to devour its contents. Once she even puked from eating too much, but that has yet to halt her boisterous ways.

rainy_fuzzytoyRush! Grab! Wrestle! Rainy likes to pounce. Today it’s my feet. It could as just as easily be a fuzzy toy. Those disappear in our house the way raindrops do outside. Rainy will roll around with one, carry it in her mouth, and then hide it where no human will find it. Or it could just as easily be a harmless spider. I pity any creature who tries to race her. She’s guaranteed to win and isn’t gentle to losers. Just ask the mouse she once left under the carpet for me.

rainy_chestPat! Kiss! Wrap! Rainy likes to snuggle. Today it’s next to our toy poodle. It could just as easily be with one of her sisters. We have found her sprawled in a window bed with Cinder during the day and curled up next to Bootsie at night. Or it could just as easily be on my side. My favorite time of night is waking up to her asleep and purring on me.

Four years ago, I joined Saturday Snapshot. The meme invites bloggers to share photos. One of my new year’s resolutions was to create a memory scrapbook from my childhood. I intend for the project to be a work-in-progress, where I mostly post in order of scanned photos. So far, I’ve posted about my parents and about my first Christmas. Next up in my trip down memory lane are photos of me with the family dog.

My dad has always been a dog person. I have too, although in this first photo I seem a little hesitant about the big white beast next to me. Smokey seems unsure of me too. Or maybe we both just felt as if our space had been invaded! The next photo we’re further apart but also more tolerant even if not completely comfortable with one another.



Here I seem happy enough to touch the big white beast in the family. Smokey looks as if patiently accepting that I was in the family to stay. And in the next photo we’ve both deliberately chosen to hang out with one another. Maybe we were lonely. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around except of course the photographer. Or maybe we were truly becoming friends.



At any rate, these photos were the first signs of the road I was to take as a dog person. After Smokey, there was Puff, Polar, Cocoa, Choco, and Chuckles. Then I moved to the Midwest, got married, and remained a dog person. We lost Gizmo is 2015. Our toy poodle, Barnaby, is twelve.

PS I’m also now a cat person, but that’s another story!

extraordinaryExtra Ordinary is a delightful debut novel about friendship. The main character of Pansy, who is quiet and fearful but also exuberant and determined, won my affection. I also admire the author, Miriam Spitzer Franklin, for creating a sweet but realistic story about disabilities. Just as what lies at the end of Pansy’s year isn’t exactly what she had expected, so I too was surprised at plot twists in Extra Ordinary, and both are good things.

But there are also those children who persevere despite challenges, always accept the differences in others, and are full of spirit and heart. I wanted to write about a girl who considered herself average, and didn’t realize her own gifts that made her extraordinary.

–Miriam Spitzer Franklin, An Interview with Miriam Spitzer Franklin

I relate to Pansy. Until fifth grade, Pansy had allowed her fears to rule her decisions. Consequently, she’d already piled up a heap of broken promises to her best friend. The last of them had led to a major fight, the last that two girls would have. You see, the summer that two were to attend camp, Anna developed meningitis and became intellectually disabled. At the start of fifth grade, Pansy learned that Anna would have a surgery that maybe would heal her. Or so she thought. And this belief led Pansy to decide fix her broken promises. Not only would she cut her hair as promised, but she would learn to roller skate, and to take on all the other challenges that Anna would have. Some of them are funny such as brushing off the fact she accidentally wore misshapen shoes. Some are inspiring such as Pansy giving up weekends to pile up points in the class reading competition. I too have often allowed fear of the opinions of others, the unknown, and even plain hard work deter me from a goal. Through her awkwardness and failures, but also her courage and successes, Pansy learns that venturing out of her comfort zone can lead to new friends and experiences. It can also give her the confidence to speak up for others. And thus, while I never felt as if the author were leading my hand and teaching me the lesson of being brave, Pansy served an endearing example of how to live an extraordinary live.

Having seen and read numerous stories about characters with special needs, there’s a part of me that both expects and braces for that miraculous end. We naturally all root for the main character, and so part of me wanted Anna to acknowledge Pansy’s efforts to change. I also wished for Pansy’s sake that Anna would make a full and speedy recovery after her surgery. In all honesty, however, part of me also was ready to be disappointed if those things happened. After all, I’ve taught students with special needs for over ten years, and I know that the improvements are sometimes miniscule at best. Certainly, none of them could hope that a surgery would suddenly remove their disabilities. And so, I felt happy to see Pansy and Anna’s brother struggle with hopes and doubts all at the same time as they anticipated the surgery. I also view the end as a satisfying one.

First-time novels tend to have missteps. I saw one definite blunder. In chapter four, Pansy is wearing kneepads during her skate in a park. In chapter seven, she complains that her knees are stiff from her falls, but she’s found a solution: kneepads! Please do correct if I’m wrong, but wasn’t she already aware of that solution? The other error might not really be one. When Pansy’s new best friend is introduced, the description of her suggests that she’s your typical snobby, pretty, rich girl but instead her sidekick is. Even if I simply misinterpreted, I’d still have preferred Pansy’s new clique to have been average girls.

Those few little flaws certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying an extraordinary reading experience. I’d taken a break these past few months from reading books for young people. Extra Ordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin reminds me of why I’d been such a fan of children’s literature.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Winter Reviews

This past spring, I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog. At the same time, I promised that I’d pop back occasionally to participate in memes and to share some reading gems. My current reads mostly revolve around animals and so those are what I'll review for you. Here's the books I'll share my thoughts with you about this winter:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • Eclipse by Shadow by John Royce
  • Improbable Adventures of My Mischief by E. Merwin & Cynthia Stuart
  • Catatlantis by Anna Starobinets
  • The Book of Joe by Vincent Price



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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