Friday 22 August 2014


That letter I sent to Modo the Car Co-op two days ago? It worked! This morning I received a phone call from Nicole, the boss of customer service. She offered a sincere apology (along with a $25 credit for car time) and assured me that they would certainly make an exception to the crate policy in Freddie's case.

When I wrote my letter, I was kicking myself for failing to get the name of the snarky rep I'd spoken to, but now I'm thinking it doesn't really matter. Who knows what was going in her head/life? If all Modo's phone staff get a message informing them about service dog exceptions*, then the important goal will have been achieved.

*While it's true that many service dog handlers don't drive, I suspect there are increasing numbers who do (people with autism, PTSD, T1 diabetes ...).

 Eastern Sky at Sunset

So there we go. I'm now a Modo member.

Thursday 21 August 2014

How to Run a Successful Business

It's people skills, is it not? OK, granted I know next to nothing about the money side of running a business — or about the money side of my own life, for that matter — but I'd still bet big bucks that the ability to interact with people in a positive, respectful manner and to manage conflicts effectively is at least as important as balancing the books, knowing your stuff, and delivering a quality product. I wouldn't be shocked if people skills trump those other things, but I'll leave it to the bonafide entrepreneurs to weigh in on that topic.

And what, you might ask, brings me to this particular topic? Well, this past week, I've had exchanges with representatives from two different Vancouver businesses occupying, respectively, the extreme ends of the people skills continuum. Both experiences have a dog connection. Let's start with the You-really-need-to-find-another-job end: customer "service" at Modo the Car Co-op.

The Bridge at Bridgman Park, North Vancouver

(This is an outing we normally do with Leah & pups, but poor Kali-bear 
cut her paw on a broken beer bottle and is thus out of commission. :-( )

Most of the photos in this post come from a Car2Go outing that I tracked, cost-wise, in order to figure out whether or not it would be more economical to use Modo (whose vehicles, unlike C2G's, need to be returned to their home base at the end of trip) for certain excursions with Freddie. I worked out that a Modo "casual membership" would indeed be cheaper (so I guess my math skills aren't completely hopeless), not to mention more flexible for trips outside of C2G's city limits. I went to their website, where I discovered, among other things, that pets need to be crated while inside Modo vehicles.

 OK, Freddie, stay there 
and we'll pose for a photo.

Now, C2G doesn't allow pets in their cars at all (though I frequently notice fur in the back hatch!), but when I asked them about service dogs, they said No problem. Freddie could ride either in the hatch or in the passenger seat. With this bit of context in mind, I called up Modo, anticipating a similar response — or perhaps some version of "Oh, this is the first time I've had that question; let me check with my supervisor," which would have been fine.

Freddie ... can't you wait to say hi? Paul hasn't taken the picture yet.

What I did get was the snarkiest customer service I've had in a long time ... maybe ever. I don't know if the person I spoke to ever registered the fact that I was asking about a service dog. She just kept repeating the crate policy (reading from a cheat sheet?) and became more and more testy with each repetition.

When she started not-so-subtly implying that I was failing to respect their current members (I pictured her with clenched teeth and bulging eyes at this point), I ended the call and said I'd be taking my concerns to the Modo management.

OK, all three of you come over here and sit pretty ... Good dogs.

And that's what I did. A letter to the CEO is on its way (and, yeah, my own teeth were clenched while I wrote it). In it I gave the details of the exchange and asked for a reply, as well as a statement of Modo's service dog policy. We'll see what happens. It wouldn't take a whole lot to win me back over — maybe that particular rep was having a particularly bad day/week/life — but just now I'm not feeling especially keen to give Modo my business!

Freddie! Paul hasn't taken the picture yet!

And now for the other end of the continuum ...

Remember the bite on the bum that Freddie received and that I wrote about here? Well, after we got home, I thought it might be a good idea — since there had been blood involved — to let the dog-walking company know what had happened. So I sent an email to the folks at Release the Hounds, the business in question. Nothing grouchy or accusatory — just an FYI kind of thing. (And I'm really not a chronic letter writer; two in one week is a record for me!)

Down to the River ...

Very soon after, I received a very gracious reply from RTH President, James. He thanked me for my message, enquired after the state of Freddie's backside, and asked me to please let them know how he was doing. He said the walker who'd been with the dogs was very concerned. Later, I received an equally solicitous follow-up message from their Customer Care guy. In short, Release the Hounds done good with their business communications, and if ever I'm in need of walking assistance for Freddie, I won't hesitate to call them up!

The River

Stick Fetching

Flip-flop Fetching

Riverbank Shrine to Pups Who've Loved This Place
(a little creepy but also kind of groovy)

Textural Camouflage!

Driving Home (in a Car2Go!), Terminal Avenue

I suspect running a successful business is a complex and difficult balancing act. To all the customer/eco/community/pet-friendly ventures out there, especially the little ones ... this chair's for you!

Happy Weekend, Everyone!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Summer Staycation and a Bite on the Bum

Car2Go must be going through an end-of-summer slump. Late last week I got an email saying they were offering a hot deal on a full-day rental, so Paul and I decided to take advantage and go on a couple of outings of the sort that would be expensive and/or logistically challenging without a vehicle. Our main excursion was over to the North Shore to hike the Brothers Creek loop trail ... with Freddie, bien sûr. It was cool and misty — good weather for hiking, and for catching some nifty photos (for which you'll need to scroll down a bit) ...

Freddie checks out a culvert.
Freddie on the alert! He gets a treat for pawing me; I get to treat my lowish blood sugar.

(I'm sure Paul had an excellent reason for cutting our feet out of the picture ... possibly something to do with my shoes not matching the rest of my outfit. As we know from his appearance in my cousin May's fashion blog, he's a serious fashionista!)

Shortly after the photo above, we encountered a professional dog walker with half a dozen dogs. They wanted to say hi to Freddie, and he was fine with that (it's a regular event when we go to Pacific Spirit Park) ... but the largest of the other dogs didn't like the look of Freddie, and, before we knew it, Freddie was squealing and running away — not a normal reaction for him (if provoked, he will generally stand his ground until ordered away or physically removed).

Anyway, Freddie didn't seem traumatized. He carried on, trotting and sniffing, and it wasn't until quite a bit later that we noticed the drying blood and bite marks on his rear end (mostly hidden by his tail). Yep, one of those doggies had taken quite a chomp into our Freddie-Weddie Doodle-Head. Nothing a little Polysporin can't handle, but still.  :-(

I like the straightforwardness of this sign.

And here it is: the Big Tree!
(Note the candelabra branches near the top ... and the little people down below.)

 The nose that knows:
Nifty Misty 1

We stuck to the Brothers Creek trail, but it's good to know there are other options for future excursions.

Even though Freddie stuck close to us, I was grateful for his Stylish Canine visibility vest!
Not only do my shoes not match my outfit, they're also not the greatest footwear for navigating steep, wet, rocky, rooty trails. I'm in the market for something sturdier, so if anyone has any recommendations, send 'em my way!

 Creek Bed

Nifty Misty 2

Our second excursion would have been entirely do-able by regular Car2Go or bicycle means — just a bit more awkward and time-consuming. We picked up a Greek platter for two at Maria's Taverna and went out to the Spanish Banks dog area for a picnic.

There we encountered this quite spectacular dog, a young Komondor. It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but this dog has started to develop the dreadlocks ("cords") that are the breed's most striking characteristic. I have no idea how these guys manage in the heat. Maybe the dreads offer some kind of cooling mechanism?

Mr. Doodle-Head, on the other hand, is hot and matted and will be getting radically shorn and tidied up next week (the earliest appointment I could get with Anna, his favourite groomer).
Spanish Banks Fisherman
(cover for a Hemingway or Steinbeck novel?)

Our little staycation concluded with coffee and pie at Aphrodite's on 4th, near Alma. I'd been wanting to try this place and can now recommend it heartily!
Coffee + organic peach pie ('cause Okanagan peaches are in season — otherwise, it would just have to be apple or pumpkin).
The Aphrodite sidewalk was dog-friendly. Freddie wasn't in his service jacket because, well, with the hack job we recently did on the mats in his fur, he just doesn't look much like a presentable service dog. Though his face is still pretty darn cute, IMO. :)
Pie and chai and, now, ...

(until the next post, that is ...)

Friday 15 August 2014

Unnatural Causes: Robin and the Mouse

I went to see my GP to get a prescription refilled. It wasn't my usual GP; she was on holiday. My appointment was with a guy I'd seen once before. Bit of a self-important grump, but whatever; it was just a prescription refill. It was Wednesday; it was raining. Muggy summer rain. I was wearing my raincoat. Freddie wasn't with me — until he's officially certified, I prefer not to take him to medical-type places — but I discovered that the pocket of my raincoat, which I hadn't worn in a long time, was full of crumbled-up dog treats. I selected a magazine from the mess on the table of the waiting area — the December 2013 issue of Canadian Living — and hunkered down to wait.

I flipped through pages of Christmas recipes and craft ideas. It was weird, a little creepy even, looking at this stuff. I can be a scrooge about Christmas in the middle of December, never mind a muggy day in the middle of August. I tossed the magazine aside and leaned forward to rummage through the pile again. The Economist. Vogue. Today's Parent. 

Something moved across my back. I pictured a marble, or the wheel of a child's toy, and I looked around to see if the toddler who'd been squalling on the bench behind mine was using my raincoat as a play surface. But his dad had taken him on a stroll to look at the planters and the aquarium. I picked up a June issue of Maclean's and leaned back into my seat. Palestine, the Ukraine, the French Open, the Taliban ... 

Again the movement. I whipped my hand behind me and patted it across my back. It came down on a small bulge, underneath my coat ... no, inside my coat, between the lining and the waterproof exterior. I pinned the bulge between my fingers and thumb. Through the fabric I felt a faint pulse of life. I thought of the crumbled dog treats, then I sprang out of my seat and tore off the coat as if it had caught fire. 

A couple of people waiting in the next station glanced over. I must have looked funny, or crazy, or both. The receptionist called my name and said I could go in. I draped my coat over my arm and headed for the examination room. Inside, everything was very tidy. The individually wrapped gauze squares in a canister next to the sink were marked "Sterile."

Dr. Grump quibbled about my Synthroid dosage and the fact that I haven't had my thyroid tested in the past three months. He asked me the name of my endocrinologist. My mind went blank. I made a joke about menopause, and he frowned. I said her clinic is in New Westminster, and he said, "You live in Vancouver, and you go all the way out there?" I said, "Yes. I like her." Then he asked me if I've been feeling well in general, and I assured him that I was feeling absolutely fine. He renewed my prescription for a full year; I thanked him. 

Outside it was misting. I spread my raincoat out over a bench and watched. Nothing. Bhangra couldn't have moved through my coat unnoticed, but the bulge I'd felt was smaller than Bhangra. I emptied the crumbled dog treats into a garbage can. There was a hole in the lining of the pocket. I called Paul on my Stupidphone. "Don't bring your coat in the building," he said. "You need to get rid of the mouse first." He paused, then added: "Do you want me to do it?" I said yes.

Paul met me outside our building. I handed over the coat and went upstairs. Freddie was happy to see me. 

I cleared the front closet and all jacket pockets of dog treats and crumbs. I scanned the closet interior and noticed a hole that would need filling. Then I went to my desk and tapped my laptop to life. My home page is set to the BBC News: Palestine, Ferguson, Ebola, Robin Williams. Hearing Paul out in the hallway, talking with one of the neighbours, I clicked on a video montage that began with a scene from Patch Adams.

RIP, Robin Williams