A Dog For All Seasons

Me, Quinn and Harper

 

A DOG FOR ALL SEASONS

Isn't that picture absolutely ridiculous and fabulous all at once?   I laugh everyday at the complete silliness of this portrait!  I can’t explain it, I'm simply fascinated by the way animals and humans communicate and the energy we share.  If I had unlimited resources, I would have a huge hobby farm and in my mind, it would look much like the storied farm from the novel, “Charlotte’s Web” with sheep, cats, ducks, pigs, chickens, cows, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses, goats and any other critter I could reasonably and responsibly house.  But I’m an “urban” girl and my farm dreams dashed for now, I have focused all of my love on one particular, attainable species and quite frankly, dogs are my thing.

My Spring - The Seeds of my Life Long Love Affair with Dogs Are Planted

One can hardly blame me, when I was about two years old, my Dad bought me a collie “Missy”.   Missy's residency, however, didn’t last long.  My parents worked shift work and then my middle sister came along and well Missy found a home with family friends - the Atkinsons - where I can report she stayed until her passing.   

I suspect I was about 3 and Mom and Dad brought a Chihuahua home, whom we named Ernie.  He was named after one half of the dynamic duo, Bert and Ernie because according to Mom, we watched an awful lot of Sesame Street at that time.  And then Ernie took a liking to – well there’s really no polite way to put this – shitting in my Dad’s shoes.  So, he obviously had to go because Big “T” (as my sisters and I referred to Dad in our teen and young adult years) was having none of that… er… crap.  By the way, Ernie too, went to another family friend’s home -the Richardsons - and he too, lived a ripe old life.  Apparently, he did not have the same proclivities for Dick’s shoes as he did for my father’s.

From the time I was about four until I was nineteen, my family was essentially dog-less.  Anyone affiliated with animal rescue agencies is probably breathing a sigh of relief right about now - all I can say is, it was a different time in the 1970’s as far as commitment to the family pet went.  All of the begging, pleading and cajoling I mustered could not change my parents’ firm and entrenched stance that we were NOT getting a dog.

While I was in my first year of university, second semester, my two younger sisters decided to bring home a mutt from the Pavey farm on Lasalle Line.  In order to get away with their audacious and flagrant breach of the house rules, they announced she was a Mother's Day gift for Mom.  What could Big T do?  He certainly didn’t raise three fools for daughters and my little sisters loop-holed the hell out of him!  Mom called her Brandy and she was part Shepherd, maybe part Collie.  She was this awkward, thin and kinda homely puppy and we all were in love – even Big T fell head over heels!

I don’t think a family could have loved that dog anymore and I’m happy to report she was never re-homed and lived with us until cancer took her.  My big, strong Dad cried for days after she died.  I remember him being embarrassed and blubbering at the kitchen table, saying “Jesus Christ, I didn’t cry this much when my mother died.”  Dogs do that to people.

The Summer of My Life – The Dog Days of Canine Love

In February of 1993 – at the ripe age of 21 - when I was in third year of university I became a “parent”.   I adopted a female Black Lab/German Shepherd mutt, whom I named Tucker.  Big T was so furious he could have chewed nails and spit rust.  My parents were baffled and could not understand why on earth, I would take on that expense when I was a full-time university student, renting a home and well, still a “dependent” myself.  The phone call was replete with raised voices and descriptions of my behaviour as “Impulsive!” and “Foolish!”.  This was peppered in between questions demanding to know “What are you thinking Amanda Elizabeth?” 

I’ll tell you what I was thinking – I was thinking I had waited my whole life to own my own dog and the time was now and there really was nothing very impulsive or foolish about it!  Pffffftttt - I put a whole day of pondering and searching for the perfect puppy into that decision - impulsive my ass!

And she was sweet, smart and goofy.  Tuck was my constant companion, we were inseparable - admittedly she had little say in the matter.  We did obedience classes – she was first in her class! I took her to work with me when I was on nights at the Ambassador Bridge and during the day she went to campus with me.  She was my furry security blanket and I loved that dog like no other.  And my family – especially my Dad – quickly succumbed to her charms.   When she died from leptospirosis unexpectedly and at age 4, I grieved for weeks.  I was simply devastated and left adrift without her. 

Tucker came at a time in my life, where I was gingerly dipping my toes into the pool of adulthood.   She marked the beginning of the creation of my independent adult life.  She was right there beside me when I studied for exams, when I was cranking out papers at the last minute, when my heart got broken from some trivial crush and when I worried I would never get into Law School and would never amount to much.  During the years, Tuck was with me, I graduated from university, started a Masters degree and got my first “real” job with Canada Customs.  And I was hooked, I knew for the rest of my adult life, however, painful the goodbye is, I would never be without a canine companion and confidante.

After Tucker’s passing, I got myself a purebred Black Lab and I called her Sophia.  When she was about a year old it became apparent that she had a degenerative eye condition and couldn’t see a bloody thing – which ultimately lead to some fear aggression.  Big T nick-named her “Magoo” – after the blind cartoon character.  And, I was terribly allergic to her - my asthma and allergies and hives were out of control.  But she was mine and I dealt with her issues and purchased copious amounts of antihistamines and asthma inhalers to deal with mine.  And when I finally got into Law School, my parents kept her for me during the week while I was away at school. 

When I brought Sophie the puppy home, I was wearing my water wings in the pool of adulthood.  I still hadn't settled on my "career".  Did I want to stay at Customs?  Did I want to train dogs for Customs? Did I want to be a Law Clerk?  Would I ever get into Law School? Should I go to Medical School?  My friends were busy getting married and having children and moving on with their lives and at that time I became pretty introverted.  I worked two full time jobs to pay back my student debt.  I lived at home and for a while I had my own house too.  I got my heart broken a couple more times.  I immersed myself in reading and studying law and spending time with beloved nephew and nieces.  It was a quiet and contemplative time. 

And then the unimaginable and unexpected happened, just six months after my graduation from Law School, my Dad died at 56.  Big T and I had an extremely conflicted relationship and to say we butt heads would be an understatement.  Yet, so much of my time and energy was devoted to earning his approval, respect, love and acceptance.  And when he died, the world as I had always known it, changed.  I asked myself all kinds of existential questions.   What am I doing here on this earth?  What is important to me?  Where was I going?  Do I even want to be a lawyer anymore?  Would getting my M.D. be a better fit for me?  And more importantly, I had no idea how I would navigate the world without my Dad to interpret and define it for me - even though our opinions were wildly disparate on many issues.  And if I wasn't hell bent on achieving "something" and becoming "someone" to prove him "wrong", what was the point of it all?  And I did all of that overthinking and grieving and pondering with Sophie by my side.  When it was time to again bid my beloved furry child farewell in 2006, Sophie had certainly done her job.  She saw me through that period of uncertainty and changing tides and was a constant source of comfort and warmth.

By this time, it was clear to me that I was completely unable to function without the pitter-patter of four paws in my home.  I knew what I had to do.  So, in early September of 2006, I got myself a white Golden Doodle pup, whom I named “Quinn” after the farming community where my maternal grandparents had lived in Kent County.

Water wings off and I am dog paddling in the deep end of the pool of adulthood!  I decided immediately that much like Tucker, Quinn would be coming everywhere with me.  This included my law office and continues to this day.  Quinn is the perfect dog, the kind you see in movies – usually.  She is quiet, well-mannered, gentle, soft and cuddly and just easy to be around.  She too – like Tucker – became my constant companion – and with the exception of actual Court attendances, where I went, she was. 

She came into my life when I was, well, a real "grown-up".   I was building my practice, living alone in an apartment, finding out who I was as a lawyer, deciding what I wanted for myself and trying to get my life nailed down.  During this period of time, I entered into a significant relationship and I got a bonus kid.  And then, that relationship, too had its own season and when it came to its end, I was devastated, feeling like I failed and that I was very unlovable and unworthy of anything.  And beside me, there was kind and gentle Quinn, sharing my bed with me, licking away my tears, happily eating the extra food that invariably comes when you’re cooking for one, nudging me to get out of bed in the morning and accompanying me to and from work.

In the spring of 2014, embracing my solo life, my impulsive nature succeeded once again.  I called the Kennel where Quinn came from and I ordered myself up another Golden Doodle pup.  My bonus kid, my Mom and my bonus Dad and I went and picked her up on July 4, 2014 and she joined me and Quinn on our summer seasonal adventure.

Uhhhhh… admittedly, this was not particularly well thought out on my part.  I was now carrying a full case load and was swamped with professional obligations, I was living in an apartment, I was still recovering from my shattered heart and this damn puppy was NUTS!  Harper – named after Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill A Mockingbird” – was almost unmanageable.  I took her to obedience school, I had trainers to the house, I bought and devoured books on dog training, I bought collars and electric fences and sprays and I almost burnt out my internet connection on google searches regarding dog behaviour.

She refused to stay in her crate - she chewed through the wooden spindles on the $700 luxury wooden crate I bought her.  She howled until she was hoarse.  She was stubborn about house training.  She jumped when I said sit and when I wanted her to move, she would plant herself down and obstinately stare me down.  She chewed up thousands of dollars of designer shoes.  She turned my office upside down and destroyed files stacked on the floor, waiting for me to work on.  The vet and the trainer diagnosed her with severe separation anxiety.  And when I would be at my absolute wit’s end and finally lose my mind and yell at her - in a misguided effort to scare and shame her into submission - she would just lock her gaze with mine and cock her head to the side curiously, as if to say “Wow, why are you losing your shit again?”  She was unflappable and unrepentant during those “loud” moments which would send Quinn scurrying for safety.

It had been my hope that the new pup would pick up on Quinn’s calm, secure and obedient demeanour and would follow suit.  Not Harper – she started bullying Quinn and insisting on walking in front of her to establish her dominance.  Unbelievably, Quinn started barking and misbehaving too!  Some days, Quinn seemed to glare at me angrily as if to say “What the "eff" have you done to us?”  And I wondered what I had done too.  But, I’m nothing if not determined and I slowly began to work with her and as she has gotten older, it has gotten better.  She’s still a work in progress and I am determined to make her my masterpiece.

You know it’s funny, in so many ways, as I reflect back, Harper is the furry embodiment of everything that I was feeling when she came home.  It’s no wonder she had separation anxiety, I had a pretty bad case of it myself.  Harper will be four this spring.  She and Quinn have settled into a canine relationship that reminds me of two loyal sisters who bicker and yet whom can’t stand to be apart.

As I creep closer to 50, Harper and Quinn to me represent the late summer season of my life.  A season that saw greater independence, pain, strength, perseverance, a re-organization of my priorities, professional and educational development, a shedding of those folks in my life that didn’t bring me joy and a celebration of those folks who do.  They represent the children I can’t and won’t have.

And more importantly, they are standing beside me as I slowly embrace and accept who I am and who I am not, what I will tolerate in my personal and intimate relationships and what I will not and the kind of lawyer I am and the kind of lawyer I am not.  They ground me, they remind me to live in the moment and when things are feeling really stressful and I see their goofy faces and wagging bums, I smile and remember that all stress is created in our own minds and not an actual event.

As I slip into the Indian Summer of my life, Quinn will be 12.  I know her time with me is coming to a close and a huge lump rises in my throat at the very thought.  And then, I stop and remind myself, that I have been absolutely blessed to have had 11 plus years with this wonderful creature who has enriched my life in so many ways.  Just like Tucker and Sophie, when it is her time to go, I will be heart broken and I will grieve.  More importantly I will be grateful that Quinn and I got to walk together for most of my summer season.  I will let her go when it’s time because she will have more than done her job and I won’t be able to bear her suffering.  I know that I have honoured her every single day and have not taken her for granted.  And until that day comes, I am going to cherish her, feed her too many treats, smuggle her into Canatara in the summer for swims and rub her belly every morning.

I'm now doing a pretty fabulous front crawl in the adulthood pool!  Sometimes I forget to breathe on every second stroke and sometimes, when it's time to do the flip-turn in order to keep my laps going, I screw that up too.   As, I prepare for my fall season, I can’t even begin to imagine what is coming next!  It’s scary and exhilarating.  And when Quinn’s journey with me ends, me and Harper, well, we’ll be ready for fall…

Have a great week,

Mandy

       When they go low, we go high...   Everyone - and I mean everyone - has a moment where they have felt they were being treated unfairly.  The injustice of it all seems so inequitable and is often hurtful.  The one thing that the "wronged person" fails to understand, is that everyone has their own definition of what is fair or reasonable or just.  Clearly, there are situations where it is very evident that someone has been treated unfairly or even wrongly.  However, with respect, I think that those circumstances are less common then we think and usually are perception problem and miscommunication.  Often - especially with families and close relationships - a situation of unfairness arises out of misunderstanding, missed queues, unspoken words and people failing to have crucial conversations about what is important to them and what they expect or want or need.  As a family litigator,  I have seen pages upon pages of affidavit materials where one spouse sets out all of the misdeeds, unmet expectations and bad behaviour that they feel the other party engaged in or exhibited.  Sometimes, the lawyers who are acting for these people, don't vet their complaints  - as I strongly believe we should -  and this legally irrelevant material is now filed in Court and is a part of the public record.  Many parties feel shame and humiliation over behaviour that they may actually have engaged in - during a period of time when they simply were not at their best.  The quandry is whether or not the irrelevant material should be addressed and refuted - lest their silence be seen as acquiescence or acceptance of these allegations as fact.  The natural instinct is to engage in similar tactics and include a laundry list of complaints that the other party has engaged in.  However, to engage in the same behaviour, only serves to  move the case further down the rabbit hole of litigation and more importantly, further away from a cost efficient and timely settlement.  It is a waste of retainer money and Court resources.  More importantly, it does nothing to help your client move forward in a healthy way - it keeps them stuck.  I am far from perfect.  I am sure my colleagues could point out some points in some of my affidavits, where perhaps I have not been as diligent as I hope to be about not including emotional and accusatory statements.  But this year - more than ever - I intend to make it one of my goals to absolutely refrain from this kind of hurtful and non-productive conduct.  The fact of the matter is, that it is really easy to get "infected" by our client's emotions.  It's easy to follow their lead and to be angry at the treatment they received.  However, lawyers must remember that clients are hurt and worried and scared - and they simply aren't making good decisions sometimes.  They are worried that they are not going to see their children as much; they are worried that they are not going to have enough money to support themselves; they are sad that they have lost an intimate relationship and they are grieving.  Their conduct and decision making is often mired in fear and they rely upon us to be the voice of the reason.  More importantly, the Court relies upon us to provide legally relevant material to assist in making a just and appropriate decision.  It's easy to write an affidavit as a narrative and to slip in author or reporter mode.  What is harder, is to critically appraise the information provided by your client and weed out what is based in emotion and of no legal consequence.  As Counsel, I believe it is our duty to practise law responsibly and professionally.  It's more important to say, "Hey, I hear you and I understand that you are hurt.  Those kind of statements are not only legally irrelevant but also detract from the strength of your legitimate claims."  It's harder to write materials for our clients that are fact based and to analyze how the information they have provided supports their legal positions and to then make that nexus and present it to the presiding Justice.  And in my opinion, that is what sets apart strong lawyers from so-so lawyers.  Anyone can churn out a tale of woe.  It's important to push yourself - as Counsel - past the emotion you feel for your client and to do what they hired you to do - which is to apply the law and to protect and maximize their legal rights.  Michelle Obama - to me - is the epitome of grace and class.  She exudes leadership and intelligence together with a down to earth approach based upon common sense, kindness and compassion.  We should all be like Michelle Obama and rise above the pettiness and drama that we are faced with not only in family litigation but in day-to-day life.   GO HIGH , there is nothing extraordinary about saying low.  Have a great week,  Mandy

When they go low, we go high...

Everyone - and I mean everyone - has a moment where they have felt they were being treated unfairly.  The injustice of it all seems so inequitable and is often hurtful.  The one thing that the "wronged person" fails to understand, is that everyone has their own definition of what is fair or reasonable or just.

Clearly, there are situations where it is very evident that someone has been treated unfairly or even wrongly.  However, with respect, I think that those circumstances are less common then we think and usually are perception problem and miscommunication.  Often - especially with families and close relationships - a situation of unfairness arises out of misunderstanding, missed queues, unspoken words and people failing to have crucial conversations about what is important to them and what they expect or want or need.

As a family litigator,  I have seen pages upon pages of affidavit materials where one spouse sets out all of the misdeeds, unmet expectations and bad behaviour that they feel the other party engaged in or exhibited.  Sometimes, the lawyers who are acting for these people, don't vet their complaints - as I strongly believe we should - and this legally irrelevant material is now filed in Court and is a part of the public record.

Many parties feel shame and humiliation over behaviour that they may actually have engaged in - during a period of time when they simply were not at their best.  The quandry is whether or not the irrelevant material should be addressed and refuted - lest their silence be seen as acquiescence or acceptance of these allegations as fact.  The natural instinct is to engage in similar tactics and include a laundry list of complaints that the other party has engaged in.  However, to engage in the same behaviour, only serves to  move the case further down the rabbit hole of litigation and more importantly, further away from a cost efficient and timely settlement.  It is a waste of retainer money and Court resources.  More importantly, it does nothing to help your client move forward in a healthy way - it keeps them stuck.

I am far from perfect.  I am sure my colleagues could point out some points in some of my affidavits, where perhaps I have not been as diligent as I hope to be about not including emotional and accusatory statements.  But this year - more than ever - I intend to make it one of my goals to absolutely refrain from this kind of hurtful and non-productive conduct.

The fact of the matter is, that it is really easy to get "infected" by our client's emotions.  It's easy to follow their lead and to be angry at the treatment they received.  However, lawyers must remember that clients are hurt and worried and scared - and they simply aren't making good decisions sometimes.  They are worried that they are not going to see their children as much; they are worried that they are not going to have enough money to support themselves; they are sad that they have lost an intimate relationship and they are grieving.  Their conduct and decision making is often mired in fear and they rely upon us to be the voice of the reason.  More importantly, the Court relies upon us to provide legally relevant material to assist in making a just and appropriate decision.

It's easy to write an affidavit as a narrative and to slip in author or reporter mode.  What is harder, is to critically appraise the information provided by your client and weed out what is based in emotion and of no legal consequence.  As Counsel, I believe it is our duty to practise law responsibly and professionally.  It's more important to say, "Hey, I hear you and I understand that you are hurt.  Those kind of statements are not only legally irrelevant but also detract from the strength of your legitimate claims."  It's harder to write materials for our clients that are fact based and to analyze how the information they have provided supports their legal positions and to then make that nexus and present it to the presiding Justice.

And in my opinion, that is what sets apart strong lawyers from so-so lawyers.  Anyone can churn out a tale of woe.  It's important to push yourself - as Counsel - past the emotion you feel for your client and to do what they hired you to do - which is to apply the law and to protect and maximize their legal rights.

Michelle Obama - to me - is the epitome of grace and class.  She exudes leadership and intelligence together with a down to earth approach based upon common sense, kindness and compassion.  We should all be like Michelle Obama and rise above the pettiness and drama that we are faced with not only in family litigation but in day-to-day life.  GO HIGH, there is nothing extraordinary about saying low.

Have a great week,

Mandy

2018… already?

2018… already?

If you’re like me, you’re surprised and somewhat astonished that the new year has rolled around again – already!  A new year is often symbolic of resolutions, a fresh start and as Oprah said above, another chance to get it right.

Every year people make resolutions to improve themselves and set about lofty goals – that often are unmanageable and therefore the implementation and maintenance of these goals fail.  The fitness and diet industry alone thrive on the resultant cash injection into their businesses annually each January.  I can’t even begin to quantify the sums of money that I have… well donated.

When I reflect back on 2017 and the years that came before that one, I see that I have had a slow and progressive change in my professional and personal viewpoints that I think have made me not only a better person, but a better lawyer.  And, with this I realize that there is so much more for me to learn and do.

I have always loved to read and write.  Any kind of creative outlet, soothes my soul and brings me peace.  For the last twelve years that I have been practising law, I stopped all of my creative hobbies, in favour of practising law or thinking of practising law 24/7.  This has lead to poor health, neglected personal relationships, burnout at times, a general feeling of dissatisfaction and this recurring and pervasive question “Isn’t there more to life?”

A perfectionist by nature, the thought of publishing a blog – while intriguing – is scary.  What if my grammar isn’t absolutely perfect? What if people think I’m full of … well you know?  What if people criticize what I think or publish – ugh internet trolls are so disheartening.   However, I have decided that I will be brave and give it a go.  Worst case scenario, I fail, people may criticize me, I may have poor grammar and if so, I can always stop.  There comes a point where not trying something becomes more painful and scary than moving forward.  I think I am there…

I do think that there is a better way to practise family law and I have been trying to do so for some time.  Family law is a melange of social, psychological, interpersonal and complex legal issues that the current model of litigation doesn’t serve well.  That’s one reason I became a family mediator, in addition to being a family litigation lawyer.  I’m not saying that I have “the” answer, I just think that we – as a profession – and people can do better.

And so with that thought in mind, I intend to write and publish this blog weekly (maybe more often) and address a variety of psychological, social and legal issues that are involved in families and their restructuring post-separation.  As well, I suspect that from time to time, I will probably publish some articles that have little to do with family law and more to do with being better parents, better daughters and sons, better co-workers, better friends, better partners, better colleagues and just better people.  After all, we are fresh upon a new opportunity to get it right…  Happy New Year!!

Warmest wishes,

Mandy