Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Everyone wants and needs role models. One handy reference guide is 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha. Published in 2014, the selections begin with the early 1100’s and end with the mid-1900s, and they include figures lesser known to me such as Dorothy Day along with those more familiar to me such as Madeleine L’Engle. What I most appreciated is that DeRusha dedicates an average of six to eight pages to each heroine. This allows her to weave a story, while at the same time provide enough detail to encourage further reading, which one can do by looking up her sources that our listed in the back pages.

One featured Christian woman who I intend to read more about is Dorothy Day. She grew up in a home where neither parent was religious but, after attending a church service, Dorothy fell in love with the Psalms and with hymns. This conflict in values would be one that remained with her throughout her life. During high school, Dorothy became engrossed in the American labor movement, and found her purpose. The problem is that at the time she saw the church as lined up with capitalism, while she felt driven instead by social justice. After five years of searching for a way to reconcile the two, a knock came at her door. A French immigrant and soapbox philosopher by the name of Peter Maurin wanted to establish a newspaper dedicated to helping the poor and unemployed, and he believed Dorothy was the right person for the cause. May of 1933, one part of his plan came to fruition when 2,500 copies of the first issue of The Catholic Worker were printed and distributed. Yet the conflict in values continued for Dorothy, for on one hand readers rallied before the publication and on the other hand she received criticism for helping drunks and freeloaders. Three things in her biography resonated with me. The most obvious is that she followed the path of journalism. Another is that she struggled with reconciling her faith with her calling in life. An ongoing passion of mine is animal welfare, one that isn’t necessarily top priority in religious circles. The third reason I appreciated her story is that her life wasn’t squeaky clean, and I relate most to those who rather than being saints are ordinary people.

It’d be remiss of me to not highlight a female Christian heroine and ignore Madeleine L’Engle. She’s one of my favorite authors and her books helped me stay strong in my faith during high school. At age forty, Madeleine quit writing after yet another rejection from a book publisher. Deciding that the rejection was a sign from heaven, she covered her typewriter and decided to make cherry pie. The irony is that at that very moment, she found herself also busily working out a novel in her head about failure. Fast forward four years to 1963, after A Wrinkle in Time was rejected more than two dozen times, the novel found a home. It also won the Newbery Medal. As with Dorothy Day, Madeleine wasn’t always a person of faith. For the first years of her marriage, neither she or her husband attended church. With the birth of two children and an adoption of a third, she discovered that she wanted her children to know God. But she also realized that she couldn’t very well send her children to Sunday School without attending herself, and so began her road back to God. Writing and faith quickly became intertwined. I appreciate L’Engle, because used her creativity to explore her religious questions.

There are plenty of examples from Christian women who pursued other vocations too such as singers, teachers, nurses, missionaries, and preachers. I admire all of them, to the extent that I’ve been checking out the sources DeRusha listed in the back pages. A year ago, I pulled back from regular reviews so that I could pursue more personal reading passions. I’m now keen on reviewing the biographies I can find of those featured in 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.

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Fifty years ago, Joni Eareckson took a dive that left her paralyzed and changed her life forever. Today she runs a non-profit organization called Joni and Friends that offers many ministries to those impacted by disability. In her autobiography, Joni, she shares her journey into faith, and in A Step Further she attempts on a personal level to answer why God allows trials. Fifty years later, these books remain fresh and inspirational.

Joni is a compelling story of an average athletic and church-going adolescent. Growing up, Joni enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. While she believed in God and knew scriptures, her spiritual walk was lukewarm. On July 30, 1967, Joni dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels, which for some have meant death but for Joni instead resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic. In writing about her rehabilitation, she holds nothing back of the emotional upheaval she felt—anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. Her openness is part of what makes her story such a page-turner. When she writes about at times turning away from but ultimately turning to God, I’m ready to listen because this isn’t just another feel-good conversion story.

As great of testimony as Joni has, I’d be remiss if I don’t point out that the well-crafted writing style is key to my repeat enjoyment. Joni has excellent character portrayal and setting description. People are developed through dialog and succinct sentences such as “His large dark eyes, usually smiling and full of good-natured fun, were clouded with concern.” Places are revealed through perfect word choice such as “The hot July sun was setting low in the west and gave the waters of Chesapeake Bay a warm red glow.” At every point of Joni’s narrative, I feel as if with her no matter where she is or what experiences she’s facing, and so I am pulled into her world.

During her two years of rehabilitation, Joni learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. She also writes this way. To date, she has written over forty books and recorded several musical albums. One book, A Step Further, Joni wrote in response to the thousands of letters she received from people who identified with her depression, despair, and loneliness. The writing of it she says required much study on her part. The result is a well-balanced answer that incorporates additional autobiography while also providing scriptures that address suffering and the destination for every Christian of heaven. Naturally, in being an exposition not a narrative, A Step Further isn’t as suspenseful as Joni. However, it is just as easy to read, and just as honest. There aren’t any pat answers, but rather carefully thought-out encouragement from someone who accepted God’s response of “No” to her prayer for healing.

For me, Joni and A Step Further are treasured religious classics. I read them back in junior high, and Joni was one of the first movies I saw on the big screen. If you’ve yet to discover them, you’re in for a treat.

Laura Moss has been an outdoors lover and cat lady all her life. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism, and has written about pets professionally for more than five years. Laura is also the mother of a timid rescue dog and two mischievous rescue kitties whom she’s clicker trained and leash trained. Her latest venture is the Adventure Cats website and accompanying book.

When Moss couldn’t find an online resource for hitting the trail with her cat, she created one with the help of a group of fellow outdoorsy cat lovers. AdventureCats.org is also intended to challenge negative stereotypes about cats and the people who love them in order to increase shelter cat adoptions. As for the book, Adventure Cats, it’s a collection of photographs and stories of real-life cats, combined with and all the how-to information for taking owners and their cats into the great outdoors.

Below is an interview with Moss, and a review of her book will appear in a future post. Get in touch with her on Twitter, or email her if your message has more than 140 characters.

ALLISON: When and how did you become a cat lady?

LAURA: Growing up, there was always a cat in my home, so I guess I’ve sort of been a cat lady since the beginning. When I was 15, my mom finally let me adopt a cat of my own, and that was such a huge deal for me. I adopted a little orange tabby from a local shelter, and she moved with me for college and grad school, and she shared my apartment when I got my first job. She was a huge part of my life, and she inspired me to get involved with local shelters.

ALLISON: You’ve written professionally about pets for more than five years. How did you break into this field?

LAURA: I was an editor for Mother Nature Network for several years, and I became the go-to pet writer. I’ve always had a great love for animals, so it was a very natural fit for me. Through that job, I made a lot of connections with other people who work with animals and write about them, so that’s led to a lot of different pet-related opportunities for me.

ALLISON: There are eleven people on the Adventure Cats team. How did the group of you connect and what has enabled you to work well together?

LAURA: My husband and I do most of the day-to-day work. When we discovered this huge community of people who were enjoying the great outdoors with their pets, we created a website as a way to share their stories. Since then, the website and its social media outlets have gained a bit of a following, so we’ve had to reach out to people for assistance. One thing this venture has taught me is that there are so many people out there who are much smarter than I am, and it’s important to ask them for help when I need it.

ALLISON: What about your background (besides writing) have you used to promote Adventure Cats–the concept, the website, the book?

LAURA: My background in journalism certainly plays an important role. While I’ve learned a lot about cats and their behavior through my work, I’m not a cat expert—but what I am an expert at is gathering information, interviewing people smarter than I am, and telling stories.

ALLISON: For readers who don’t know anything about adventure cats, would you tell about the first adventure cat you met? The most recent?

LAURA: I guess the first adventure cat I ever met was an orange tabby cat at the shelter I was volunteering with in college. He took leashed strolls around the store, and it was the first time I ever realized that some cats can be leash trained and enjoy a walk. The most recent kitty I got to meet up with was Floyd The Lion, who is this very fluffy and friendly cat in Colorado. He’s adorable and will quite literally pull you down the sidewalk on his leash.

ALLISON: What type of adventures have you taken with your cats?

LAURA: My cats love going outside, but they’re definitely close-to-home adventure cats. They’re very comfortable exploring the wilds of the backyard, sticking their paws in the creek and lounging in sun puddles, but they’ve never expressed any interest in venturing much farther than this familiar area.

If you’re going to try taking your cat outside on a leash, I think it’s very important that you don’t force your cat outside his or her comfort zone. While there are definitely some cats who are comfortable in public parks or on trails, I think they’re the minority, and a lot of cats won’t feel safe in such an unpredictable environment.

One thing I always tell people is that just like when you’re indoors, your cat is the one who calls the shots, so if your cat doesn’t want to venture past the porch — or even outside at all — that’s the way it’s going to be. You have to accept that and focus on having indoor adventures instead!

ALLISON: For others who aspire to change stereotypes about cats, what advice would you give?

LAURA: One of the best things you can do is simply to share the positive experiences you’ve had with your own cats. I think often people can have one bad experience with a cat or make assumptions about what cats are like and let that prevent them from bringing a feline into their lives. Stories like the following are some of my favorites: This Adventure Kitty Turned Her Rescuer Into A Cat Person

How does the cat mind work? And how does a cat owner best engage their feline friend? Two books that I recently read tackle those questions. Thomas McNamee explores the secrets of cats in The Inner Life of Cats and Laura Moss proposes a unique way to help cats live to the fullest in Adventure Cats.

She loved us anyway. What choice did she have? Who else was she going to love? Augusta had love inborn. She had to do something with it.–Inner Lives of Cats

The kitten licked snow from her toes and cried for her mom but no answer came. Instead on a cold wintery morning in Montana, she was rescued by McNamee and his wife. After the kitten was given her full of milk and tuna, her first order of business according to McNamee was to make a mental map of her home. The Inner Lives of Cats weaves science with narrative, as McNamee tells of adopting a black kitten named Augusta and uses research to deepen his understanding of what makes her tick.

McNamee’s search for solid information on cats leads him down many paths and the knowledge he imparts to is eclectic. For example, he shares that cats map their territory through scent and hearing, while also explaining that cats can’t focus very well on close objects even though they see in the dark. In addition, McNamee covers the origins of cats, how they different from dogs in their emotional needs, ways they entertain us, their varied interactions with their humans, and much more

These meticulous details would run the risk of boring the most avid cat lover, except for their being adeptly integrated into a heart-warming tale of how one cat changed one couple. Augusta wiggled her way into the hearts of their local barn cats. She respected the unspoken boundaries between her and their horses. She avoided becoming prey to local predators such as coyote and bear. And she brought happiness and love to her owners, the depths of which remained unrealized until age and sickness took her. The Inner Life of Cats is a fascinating and beautiful tribute to our feline companions.

Basically, I wanted to train her to be a dog. I’ve always been a dog person, but when I moved in with my husband, I had to leave my dog with my mom. It’s a void that I’ve been desperate to fill since.–Adventure Cats

Georgia resident Emily Grant was “a bit of a self-professed cat hater”. But after discovering a five-week-old kitten and her three tiny siblings, Emily knew she simply couldn’t leave them. Although she intended to simply find them homes, by the time the Eevee was three months old, Emily was so attached that she decided to keep Eevee if she’d would take to a harness and leash. Not only was Eevee was comfortable walking on a leash, but the two of them were soon embarking on outdoor adventures. Soon Emily loved seeing Eevee’s “curiosity in action,” and she wanted to take Eevee everywhere and show her everything.

The above story is one Laura Moss’s favorites about adventure cats. What are adventure cats? They’re cats that like to join their owners on paddles, climbs, hikes, or simply strolls around the neighborhood. Moss wrote Adventure Cats to serve as resource for people looking for safe ways to explore the great outdoors with their feline friends and to challenge negative stereotypes about cats with the hope of increasing shelter cat adoptions.

In this comprehensive and colorful guide to helping cat live “their nine lives to the fullest,” Moss covers everything anyone might want to know about how to raise an adventure cat. The introductory chapters cover the feline training and safety measures needed before one embarks on outdoor trips, the middle chapters provide tips for traveling in such locations such as the backwoods, the high seas, and the snowy landscapes, and the concluding chapters detail how one can provide a more enriched life to even the most home-bound cat a more enriched life or cats with special needs. Every section contains illustrative stories. When I finished this book, I had a to-buy list in hand.

The authors of each clearly know and love their subject. Their books will expand your perspective on cats. Inner Life of Cats and Adventure Cats are both welcome additions to my growing collection of cat books.

“Happy pets, happy people.” That’s the aim with which Zazie Todd started Companion Animal Psychology. The site shares evidence-based information about how to care for our pets. While exploring a variety of topics in animal welfare , there are particular themes to which Zazie often returns: the importance of enrichment for our pets; the use of reward-based training for dogs (and cats); the need to make visits to the vet less stressful; and the psychology of the human-animal bond.

Todd has a PhD in Psychology (University of Nottingham) and an MFA Creative Writing (UBC). She also Zazie graduated with honors from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, holds a supporting membership with the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, and volunteers at the British Columbia SPCA. Todd  grew up in Leeds, in the north of England, and now lives in Canada, with her common law husband, one dog, and two cats.

In conjunction with Companion Animal Psychology, Todd started an animal book club on Facebook, of which I am a member. Below is an interview with Todd. Get in touch with her by email at companimalpsych at gmail dot com, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Companion Animal Psychology Book Club.

ALLISON: Tell me about your first pet.

ZAZIE: I wasn’t allowed a pet when I was growing up. I really wanted a cat. When I was in high school, a neighbour’s cat used to come in our garden a lot and I liked hanging out with her. But I didn’t get a cat until I was a grad student in Edinburgh. I went to a cat rescue and adopted a young ginger-and-white cat called Snap. I found out later that the lady who ran the rescue had no intention of adopting to us that day because she didn’t adopt to students, but she thought if she let us visit she could educate us about cats. But she had a cat with a wobble–with hindsight I’m guessing it was cerebellar hypoplasia–who apparently didn’t like anyone, but for whatever reason this cat did like me and my boyfriend. So I was allowed to adopt the cat that was climbing on my shoulders and hanging upside down from my arm. He was a lovely cat, very playful and very friendly.

ALLISON: Your background is in psychology and writing. When did you decide to start working with animals? Why?

Bodger

Bodger

ZAZIE: I’ve always been interested in animals but although I used to sometimes supervise student projects on pets, it wasn’t the main focus of my research. But when I left academia I was very lucky to be able to do an MFA Creative Writing at UBC, and finally the time was right to get a dog. Actually, we got two dogs, and this was the first time I really paid any attention to dog training advice. What I noticed was that it was very hard to find good advice on how to train a dog. I mean, it was out there, but there was also–and still is–a lot of advice that is just not true and even downright dangerous. And at the same time, there’s really been an explosion of interest in researching the human-animal bond and canine cognition, so there’s a lot of fascinating material to write about. I think it can make a huge difference, not only to the animals and their welfare, but also to the people who care for them. Happy pets, happy people, as it were!

When I decided I wanted to learn more about the training side of things, I was very lucky to get a scholarship to the Academy for Dog Trainers. I graduated with honors in February 2016. One of the things I really like about the Academy is that it teaches you to be very efficient in your training, which makes all the difference when you are working with shelter animals. Right now I’m half-way through International Cat Care’s Certificate of Feline Behavior and really enjoying it. Everything is evidence-based and designed to be helpful to you in practice. Because dog training and so on is not regulated, I think it’s important to have the qualifications to show you know what you’re talking about.

The nice thing is that a lot of people are very interested to learn more about animals. I’m especially thrilled that Greystone will publish my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy because it will help get that information to a new audience. So for me it’s been a gradual transition–the psychology and writing are still there–but animals got added in more and more!

ALLISON: How have you grown as a pet owner due to your research into and training with animals?

Harley-Sep2016

Harley-Sep2016

ZAZIE: What a great question! I’m sure if I went back in time I would do some things differently. I certainly know a lot more about how to care for animals. One thing is that I didn’t used to know about food puzzles for dogs and cats, and that’s a great thing to provide. I know a lot more about socialization of young animals and how important it is to give them lots of positive experiences. And I think vet care is another change…. I used to take treats to the vet with me anyway, and I had taught previous cats to like the carrier but it wasn’t a very organized plan. It’s one thing knowing the theory and another thing knowing how best to put it into practice! But husbandry training is something that was included in the Academy for Dog Trainers curriculum, and I’ve since become Fear Free certified too. I think being able to help an animal feel more comfortable at the vet makes such a big difference. I feel sad for the times I used to take animals to the vet and just expect them to put up with it!

ALLISON: I first discovered you through the Companion Animal Psychology blog. How have you gained attention for it?

ZAZIE: When I look back at the last five years I am surprised how much the blog has grown. So I think one thing is simply being persistent and keeping going. I decided quite early on to try and stick to a schedule and post every week on a Wednesday morning. I don’t always manage it–sometimes life gets in the way, of course–but most of the time I have. It means regular readers always know when they can look and find something new on my blog.

I try really hard to be accurate in what I write. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially when writing about research, because I have to pick which bits of the story to include otherwise it would become too long or the main points would get lost. Sometimes I’m able to write about research that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media, so I’m able to bring something new and I think that helps bring people to my blog. The other thing I think bloggers need to remember is that even when writing about a topic other people have covered, everyone brings something unique to it and so it’s still worth writing about. But it’s not just about imparting information, it’s also about showing people why it matters.

Of course, social media is a big part of it. On twitter and Facebook, I like to share a lot of content from other people too. Like I said before, there’s a lot of bad information about cats and dogs, so when I see something good I think it’s important to share. And whenever someone shares my posts–or buys one of my t-shirts that raise funds for my local shelter–it makes me happy to think there are so many people out there who care about animal welfare.

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

ALLISON: What is your favorite part about living in Canada?

ZAZIE: It’s hard to pick one thing as a favorite because there’s so much to love. But I would say nature, because Canada has so many beautiful places, including many I have yet to visit. I have lots of exploring to look forward to! There are so many forests and lakes and beaches that are just stunning. The wildlife is amazing–we have bobcat, cougar and black bears. And I love watching the hummingbirds! People here are very friendly too. I also like that Canada celebrates its diversity and this is a place where people from all over the world can feel at home.

ALLISON: There are particular animal welfare themes that are important to you. When did you develop those passions? Why?

ZAZIE: When I went to get my first cat, I went to a rescue, so even back then I wanted to help homeless animals. I should add that not all of my pets have come from shelters though. But because my background is in Psychology, and so much of that is relevant to the human-animal relationship, that’s somewhere where I thought I could make a difference. I’ve become really interested in the dog training side of things and I think it’s such a shame when people are given incorrect information. For example a lot of people still believe that you shouldn’t let your dog on the settee or on your bed, and they’ve heard this from TV or the internet. Of course I understand that some people don’t want to, but there are people who would like to cuddle on the couch with their dog but don’t because they have been told it would make the dog ‘dominant’. Or they do let their dog on the settee but then they feel guilty because they think they aren’t supposed to and it might be bad for the dog. That’s something that can stop you from getting the most out of your relationship with your dog, when really it’s up to you if you would like to or not.

One of the reasons I am so interested in enrichment is because of the different circumstances for cats here. When I lived in England, my cats could go outside during the daytime and they would spend a lot of time in the garden or nearby. Here that’s not possible because there are a lot of coyotes, so it just wouldn’t be safe. I think it can be a bit boring for a cat being indoors all the time. A lot of people have indoor cats here and so it’s even more important to make sure cats have what they need (in terms of scratching posts and cat trees etc.) and have food toys and playtime.

ALLISON: You volunteer at a shelter. What have you learned about increasing adoptions?

ZAZIE: As a volunteer I work directly with the animals, so I’m not personally involved in the adoption side of things. But one of the things I think is important is to have descriptions which are accurate, which means highlighting the positive things about the animal as well as any issues that potential adopters may have to deal with. It’s easy to say a dog jumps up and will need to learn some manners and then forget to mention that this is a very friendly dog–and that’s an important thing to know! Also the photos matter, because so many people are looking online to see which animals are available. I interviewed Dr. Christy Hoffman recently and asked her about her research on increasing adoptions, and she mentioned that for cats it can help to have a toy in the photo. But if you put a toy in every cat’s photo, then it’s no longer helping to differentiate that particular cat from the others. So you should include the toy in photos of the cats that you think need a bit of extra help getting adopted.

ALLISON: We have a shared passion of increasing awareness of the importance of enrich the lives of cats. Tell me of a time you have helped a cat owner.

ZAZIE: We do! And I always enjoy your blog posts. Recently, I have been spending time with some fearful cats. They are actually very friendly cats when they know you, but they are afraid of new people. So at first I completely ignored them except to put small treats in places where I thought they might feel safe coming to get them. Then they started to approach me, but I knew that if I reached out to them they would duck away from my hand or even run away because they were still nervous. I didn’t want them to have that experience so I just let them come to me on their own terms. Then I started putting my hand out and they could decide whether to come and rub on my hand or not. Now they are used to me and we are good friends and they like to be petted. But that’s only because I made sure they felt safe at each stage.

ALLISON: As part of Companion Animal Psychology blog, you also started a book club. What inspired you to create it?

ZAZIE: I have been in book clubs before that mostly read fiction and I really enjoyed it. Actually I also did some research on book clubs once. That was back in England and I ran several book clubs for a study I was doing. Anyway, I had been thinking for a while that it would be nice to have an animal book club, but the thing that made me actually set it up was reading The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. I really liked it and wanted to be able to discuss it with other people. So I made that the first choice for the book club! But now the members get to choose the books, which is only fair. It’s a chance to read some really interesting books about animals and discuss them with like-minded people. I was a bit amazed at how many people wanted to join!

ALLISON: When not trying to change the lives of animals, how do you spend your time?

ZAZIE: I like going for walks, with or without my dog. I like to read fiction as well as non-fiction and right now A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is at the top of my book pile. And I like spending time in my garden. I am always behind on the weeding so my garden is a bit overgrown but I enjoy being outside and all the birds and butterflies that we get. I don’t travel so much as I used to but, bearing in mind that this part of the world is somewhere I always used to like to come on vacation, I don’t think that matters!


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Fall 2017

This fall I will be on hiatus except to post family news. Stay tuned!

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