Allison's Book Bag


My Muse Monday is a fun meme where writers can meet other like-minded writers and share what they’ve been working on and how the week has gone for them. Mostly, I’ll post a monthly summary of my local writing group’s meetings. Occasionally, I’ll update you on my own writing progress.

A year ago, I made the decision to focus on writing for animal welfare, and shared here that I had no idea what the end result would be. “There will be articles. There will be stories. There might even be publications. But, I don’t know anything else. All I know is that I’ve stopped being focused on an end goal; instead for the next year at least I plan to enjoy the journey itself.”

This past spring, two concrete developments happened. First, the animal welfare group I blog for asked me to take on the role of Media Chair. Duties will include submitting a monthly article to our local newspaper’s pet section, fund-raiser details to media event calendars, and setting up television spots to promote fund-raisers. Other initiatives I’ve taken on as part of being their blogger is creating a table of contents for our blog and finding guest bloggers.

Second, I enrolled in a journalism course called Feature Writing in the Digital Age. Assignments will require me to:

    • Exercise 1: Write a rough outline of a feature article on a topic of your choice.
    • Exercise 2: Imagine you’re a celebrity reporter. Write two paragraphs introducing You, the hot new star.
    • Exercise 1: Brainstorm three different ideas. Generate at least two different angles for each.
    • Exercise 2: Using one of your angles as the topic, suggest an appropriate feature form.
    • Exercise 1: Write two different ledes based on one of the angles you developed in Lesson Two. Which one do you like better? Why?
    • Exercise 2: Write two similar ledes, in a different voice. Imagine you’re covering the same topic for two very different magazines.
    • Exercise 1: Develop a query for a how-to article.
    • Exercise 2: Write a 600-word how-to article on a topic of your choice.
    • Exercise 1: Select an interesting person to interview.
    • Exercise 2: Write a 600-word profile of a person or business.
    • Exercise 1: Choose an incident from your life and write a 600-1,000 word essay based on your experience.
    • Exercise 2: Write a 600-word op-ed on a timely issue. Include statistics or facts to support your opinion.

In addition to being online, a perk is there aren’t any set deadlines other than I need to complete the course in a year.

I have set two more goals for this fall. First, visit a local shelter and write creative profiles of homeless pets I meet. A calendar date called Dogust inspired this idea. See Universal Birthday for Shelter Dogs for more details. Second, become a pet-sitter as a way to gain more experience and education with animals. I’ll keep you posted!


Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. For our most recent vacation, my husband and I visited various birding sites in Newfoundland. I shared photos from Cape St. Mary’s and from Witless Bat, both seabird ecological reserves. This week’s post will feature Elliston.

Just off the Bonavista Penlsula, Elliston is dubbed Root Capital of the World. The small fishing community is also known as a tourism destination for many other many wonders including a sealers memorial and puffins. The last is the main reason we visited.

The late hour in which Andy and I arrived at Elliston inspired our first adventure. The only restaurant in town was closed. We faced the choice of a snack shop in a park or driving to the next town. We choose the snack shop, only to find the lady closing up when we arrived. She reopened just so we could have hot food. That’s Newfoundland hospitality!

The next day, we partook in additional adventures. First up were the puffins. At first, there didn’t seem to be any. By waiting long enough, however, we discovered that the puffins had disappeared into the water to eat. Eventually, we got to to see ones.

Next, we hit tourist shops and other sites. By now, having seeing the cute and bright puffins in abundance, we were enamored with them. We brought several puffin-related souvenirs.

Root cellars are known for keeping food supplies at a low temperature and steady humidity. They keep food from freezing during the winter and keep food cool during the summer months to prevent spoilage. While interesting in their own right, root cellars couldn’t compete with the comical puffins. We returned a second time to see them, focusing mostly on taking shots of the puffins taking off, flying, or landing.


AwwwMondays-Puppy-AvatarWith 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.”

Earlier in the month, I shared how the Cat Trio greeted my husband and me upon returning from our annual vacation. Today it’s our solo dog’s turn to have his story told.

While Andy and I are in Canada, Barnaby gets to have his own vacation. Barnaby stays with the folks and their dog while we’re gone. Their dog used to get jealous. Now that his ability to see, hear, or smell have decreased, his tolerance of Barnaby seems to have increased.

From emails we received in July, Barnaby’s vacation seems to have gone well. He slept in their bed and he practiced tricks. His eating wasn’t great, but they spoiled him with chicken and other treats. Those make up for the healthy foods and yucky medications that we left for him.

When we get back in town, picking up our solo dog from Andy’s folks is our first priority. We pull into the driveway. We climb up the steps to the second level. We push aside the baby gate, installed to keep the dogs safe. And there Barnaby is!

His tail hesitantly wags. After all this time, is it really us? When certain, he greets us with a slew of slobbery kisses. We pick up what’s left of supplies and hen we’re out the door. Barnaby glances between the folks and us. Are we really taking him? I pick him up and carry him to the car. Andy starts the engine. Barnaby snuggles into my lap, but then sits up. Is our normal life about to resume?

An evening at home lies ahead. For Barnaby there are also some concerns ahead. Earlier in the year, his gall bladder had gotten diagnosed as being full of sludge. Our vet prescribed some medication. Just before our vacation, a bubble appeared in Barnaby’s gall bladder. Our vet prescribed some antibiotics. And so the week after we get back, we take Barnaby to the vet. The bubble is gone and the sludge hasn’t gotten worse. But the sludge hasn’t gone away either. So now we’re trying a motility drug.

Barnaby is so quiet and our faithful shadow. Except when playing with Andy or with the cats. Then he runs and barks and has a good time. We’re praying that he gets many healthy years ahead.

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. For our most recent vacation, my husband and I visited various birding sites in Newfoundland. So far, I’ve shared photos from Cape St. Mary’s, one of seven seabird ecological reserves protected by provincial legislation. This week’s post will feature Witless Bay. Comprised of four small islands, this reserve is home to millions of seabirds that come to shore in the summer to nest and raise their young.

Whales supposedly swim in the area too, especially humpback and minkes. We didn’t see many whales, but we did see a large variety of birds. Newfoundland Tourism advises that the reserve is best seen from a tour boat. This is how Andy, my sister, and I spent one of our mornings together on the Avalon Peninsula.

Not far into our tour, we saw puffin on the water. Then just as when we visited Cape St. Mary’s, when we reached the four islands, we saw cliffs blanketed with birds as far as the eye could see. They provided us with a great viewing pleasure.

Of course, once again, picking what to focus on proved a challenge. Moreover, because of being on a boat, managing to take clear photos was also a task. I tried to capture shots of each type of bird, especially of ones in flight.

For anyone who has the opportunity, we highly recommend the O’Briens boat tour, which leaves from Bay Bulls. From the moment the boat launched, we enjoyed the experience. Our guide had a light personality and made everyone feel at ease. He’s also a member of the Irish Descendants and sometimes led passengers in stirring songs. And when the boat tour ended, we ate traditional Newfoundland cuisine at The Sailor’s Gallery Restaurant, where reservations can be made and souvenirs bought.

bella_handlerThe five-year-old stocky French Bulldog places one foot onto a raised platform made from PVC and stretched canvas, then follows it with a second. Bella follows through on the command to “Place” by climbing all the way onto the platform. This will be the last skill practiced during this February morning’s one-hour training session. Bella glances up at her handler for reassurance that she has done well. Geno leans into her and gives her a hug, and she waggles her tongue happily as she soaks in the praise. With a bond like this, it’ll be tough to say goodbye, but that’s exactly what will happen in six weeks

To read more check out my post A Second Chance for Bella. In that article, I introduce Second Chance Pups, a program pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. Selected inmates work together with a professional trainer, prison staff, and volunteers for a nine-week-rotation to provide dogs with basic obedience training, socialization, behavior modification, grooming and daily one-on-one attention. Since starting in the fall of 2004, over 220 inmates have participated, and about 350 dogs have found homes.

Orientation Day

prisonyard2Boomer isn’t happy about having his nails clipped. The two-and-a-half-year-old, mostly black and white German Shepherd mix, shoves his full weight against the stranger whose arms are wrapped around him. Boomer strains anxiously, panting heavily. The man uses quiet words and gentle strokes to help Boomer settle. Then Boomer squirms again, and blood oozes from his a nail cut too close to the quick. A man standing next to Boomer pats his head. The woman with the nail clippers puts them down and applies styptic powder to the bleeding nail. Boomer’s eyes are wide with apprehension, but as the people around him shower him with praise he allows the rest of his nails to be clipped.

To read more, check out my post Orientation Day. In this article, I share that about twenty people and eight dogs are crowded together in a back room of the penitentiary’s recycling building. The dogs are restless and scared, many having come from local shelters and rescues. Some of the fourteen inmates are newcomers to the program and aren’t sure what to expect. Then there’s Andy and me. Being first-time visitors, we’re both nervous and excited. But we settle into our work: Andy with his photos and I with my notes. Over the next few hours, we gradually begin to learn about this amazing program.

Training with SCP

thomasripley_hugRipley wasn’t like the other dogs the handler had trained. The shy four-year-old English Lab had been used in a breeding operation and didn’t know anything about the world or normal life as a pet. While Thomas enjoyed watching her come out of her shell, he found her difficult to work with. Their first week together, she was quick to burn out. After just a few minutes of work she’d just put her head down and stare at the floor. It didn’t matter what treat her handler offered, she wasn’t going to look at him again. She was the “poutiest” dog Thomas had ever trained.

To read more, check out my post Training with SCP. In this article, I share about how handlers train the dogs. To find dogs for the program, SCP looks for owner surrenders, unclaimed strays, and returned shelter dogs. Whatever the source, the program seeks dogs that require training before they can be considered adoptable. The only restriction is that all dogs they take on must get along with other dogs. The selected dogs are then matched with that rotation’s handlers. The most experienced handlers will get the most challenging dogs. Quiet, patient handlers will get dogs that don’t respond well to loud voices or harsh corrections. Handlers that prefer big dogs will get big dogs. Each dog typically receives a primary handler and a secondary handler. If the primary handler isn’t available for any reason—for example, if he has a doctor’s appointment or a job that he can’t bring the dog to—the secondary handler will look after the dog. The program is designed to be a good experience for everyone involved.

Graduation Day at SCP

reggie_ownerWarden Rich Cruickshank has just finished speaking at the graduation day of the 33rd rotation at Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training.  There’s a round of applause from the audience. Gathered together in a small room at the prison are a wide assortment of people and animals: the leaders of the SCP program, the inmates and dogs who participated in this rotation, representatives from the prison and from various shelters, and other invited guests including my husband, Andy, and me.

To read more, check out my post Graduation Day with SCP. I hope you have enjoyed a peek into the SCP program and will check out similar programs in your local area.

This post is part of the Small Victories line-up. Check out others by clicking on the below graphic.


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Summer Months

I'm taking the summer off from reviewing to just read for pleasure. Check back in September for news and reviews!



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