Earlier this month I went to the Rutgers Writing Conference. It was a fantastic experience and I came home with plenty of inspiration and advice. One thing that came up during a conversation about author bios and what to put in there, I was told that including my day jobs was ok because they are “interesting”. I was also told that I should be writing about dogs because I am a dog groomer and dog trainer. They said I “must have tons of stories about dogs”. When I mentioned that I feel the children’s book market is already saturated with dog stories and no one wants another, everyone seemed to disagree. The real problem, however, is that I write to escape dogs.
Dog grooming and dog training are certainly dream-jobs for me to have, but I have to say that the majority of stories I have are not fun. I work long hours. I stand all day. I am either grooming dogs or training dogs and I always smell. I’m always tired. I’m always listening to other people tell me their “knowledge” and ignoring my 25+ years of experience. And that’s just the typical hum-drum stuff anyone can say about their job. The real problem is that most of the stories that have stayed with me over the years are horror stories. Stories and moments I wish I didn’t have to witness. I don’t like to share them because they are so ugly, but let me give you just a few examples from the grooming world:
- Let’s start with the cocker spaniel who was buff color but the number of fleas and amount of flea dirt made her look black. She couldn’t open her eyes because the fleas were running in and out of them non-stop. This was a regular occurrence for her, they never took care of her but once a year.
- What about the rubber band around a dogs ear that had been there so long it almost severed the ear off?
- Or the collar embedded into the dog’s skin who we had to send to the ER?
- The dog with maggots perhaps?
Shall I continue? They get worse.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my own ER visits from holes in my fingers to holes in my lip.
Truth is there’s a real dark side to dog grooming and dog training. I either witness terrible things or I’m told terrible things. Whether it’s abuse, neglect, poor breeding, behavior issues, or just your everyday poop, it’s not all fluff and hugs. And yes, let us take a moment to discuss just how much poop I clean up in a week. How much pee has to be mopped. How much hair has to be vacuumed. While I’m dealing with all of this, people are expecting me to recreate the Mona Lisa, with crayons, on a moving target that bites. And it had better be literally picture perfect. (Thanks Instagram)
Am I ranting yet? Is this a rant? See, this is what happens when I start talking shop. I have had one too many people tell me my job is great because I get to “play with dogs all day” and I guess I simply needed to say YOU’RE WRONG! I have a great job because I WORK with dogs all day. Work, not play. It’s very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. Day after day.
Insane rant aside, I LOVE dogs and would never change jobs. I consider myself super fortunate to have two jobs that work with dogs. I take lots of photos of the good moments even if they aren’t a reflection of the whole day because it’s the little moments I love. The dogs I love. The dogs who start out scared, or aggressive, or crazy and end up being my best friend. Super trust! Super love. Those stories are worth remembering, but without the knowledge of the dark side, one would never know how important and bright they truly are for a groomer.
I suppose my life, my personal life, does have some fantastic dog stories to share and maybe those memories could be placed into a story somehow. I have never been without a dog. My whole family has dogs and we are a tight pack, pun intended. My nanny was an Irish Setter for cryin’ out loud. Heck, I’m sure we all have fantastic dog stories. Living with dogs is such a special thing that you either get or you don’t. The hair, the drool, the poop, the pee, the BARKING – OH GOD the barking. We all deal with it because we love our dogs.
What’s the takeaway? To be honest it’s probably for me more than for any readers I may have. I do know dogs. I have been working with dogs for over 25 years and somewhere in there, I must have a good story to tell. Agreed. But I write for children and do so as a way to escape the stress and emotional darkness that comes with seeing unhappy dogs too often. I write to have a part of me exist OUTSIDE of work. I write for my own sanity. I write because as a kid I wished for books I couldn’t find. And if any of my stories turn into books and other people read them, FANTASTIC, but first I write for me and I have had enough of dogs in my real world.
I am a writer first and secondly, as a day job, I work with dogs. Thank you very much.
Full Disclosure – I have two picture books about dogs that were completed long before this post. ugh.