A Thousand Tears . . . Song For A Magical-Dawg

Magic portrait

Magic von Fernheim: 7/24/06–9/19/17

A Thousand Tears — Song For A Magical-Dawg

A thousand tears I shed each night
Since Magic left that bitter day,
He took away a special light
And turned my world to gray.

We knew a gift that shined so bright
Would burn too fast and go away
More quickly than is ever right
Yet still we loved, and now we pay.

Swift sweet joy, condensed delight,
Great love is magnified that way.
The years sped by, we couldn’t fight
The deal we made, we had no say.

If we could, you know we’d fight
To keep him here just one more day.
Because we loved with all our might
We let him go, his wish obey.

In time the tears I shed each night
Will shimmer bright, I pray.
For all who mourn love out of sight
Sweet memory holds sway.

A thousand tears I shed each night
Since Magic left that bitter day.
But in each tear, his special light
Shines rainbows, washing grief away.

(music to come. . . for a Very Good-Dog who touched the world)

Amy Shojai WIPIN Pet Industry Awards Video #poweredbyindie

I’m a Women In the Pet Industry (WIPIN Pet Industry Awards) FINALIST for Solopreneur of the Year. I posted about this incredible honor in a previous blog post here. I’m proud to say this would never have happened if I hadn’t gone “indie” with my publishing–creating books via CreateSpace, Amazon Kindle and even “voicing” my own titles on Audible. With 30 nonfiction books, three thrillers in a growing, popular series and another novella series, I’ve just begun!

As part of the competition for Pet Industry Woman of the Year we were asked to produce a 60-second video about what we do and our story. I congratulate my fellow nominees and the winners, and feel incredibly blessed that my work has been recognized in this way.

Here it is–(you’ll agree, that the pets are the stars!). As promised, I’m honored to share it with you. I’ve also included part of my Q & A interview from the competition that the judges reviewed–it actually helped me figure out some things–where I’ve been, how I got here, and the directly I’m going. You helped make this possible – thank you!

WHO IS AMY SHOJAI?

Amy Shojai Consulting (Amy Shojai, CABC) empowers pet parents with expert information and advice, to allow them to make informed decisions for their cats and dogs. This is accomplished with a combination of writer-icity, bling-worthy media appearances, one-on-one pet behavior and writing/publishing consults, and select pet industry consulting.

  • CREDENTIALS & MISSION: Vet tech experience inspired a 20+ year journalistic focus on pet health care and behavior, leading to certification (CABC) through IAABC.org and Fear Free Pets. Resolving behavior and health challenges to improve/save relationships is the core mission. Expanding beyond one-on-one consults, however, makes a greater impact in creating a positive difference in pet lives.
  • SHORT-FORM WRITING & MEDIA: Fee-based print and online content provides prescriptive help for select clients to share with their own client base. Free content is also available via Amy Shojai’s BLING, BITCHES & BLOOD blog, Pets Peeves newsletters and podcast, Ask Amy YouTube channel, social media outreach, weekly P’ETiQuette newspaper column, and a twice-monthly Pet Talk (KXII.com) television segment.
  • BOOKS, SPEAKING & THEATER: A pet care library of award-winning prescriptive pet books (more than 30) published by the FURRY MUSE PUBLISHING imprint provides an A-to-Z catalogue of information covering first aid, behavior, natural healing, puppy/kitten information, senior pet care, and even heartwarming “chicken soup” titles available in print, Ebook and audio versions. September & Shadow Thrillers (with an animal behaviorist main character) and STRAYS, THE MUSICAL also focus on dog and cat issues. Unusual venues reach pet lovers (and others) who otherwise would never seek pet behavior or care advice. A variety of pet- and writing-focused seminars are available for select events. Amy Shojai Consulting continues to seek innovative ways to reach cat and dog lovers and help them help their beloved pets.

HOW DID YOU GET WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

Oh my doG, what a question! Where am I today? is perhaps a better one. I’ve not yet “arrived” and the journey continues. I’m where I am due to a perfect storm of pet-love, frustration, boredom, and lack of funds. *s* Oh, and luck, a whole lot of furry good luck.

When I was a kid, Mom told all her friends, “When Amy grows up, she won’t have babies—she’ll have puppy dogs and kitty cats.” Mom was right.

THE ACCIDENTAL PET WRITER

My career began when my husband and I moved to Eastern Kentucky where I applied for a job as a veterinary assistant. The interview happened during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the doctor handing me puppies to resuscitate while I answered his questions. I got the job (maybe because I didn’t faint and LOVED the experience!). I fell in love with veterinary medicine…and discovered just how much I had to learn. The hunger grew to share my pet passion with veterinary clients, explaining the doctor’s “medicalese” terms in language pet parents more easily understood. With no TV reception in the mountains, I turned to writing to relieve my boredom, and shared personal experiences as a vet tech. After collecting a boatload of rejections from the pet press, (remember Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy and Dog World magazines?) an editor took pity on me, and explained what I’d done wrong—and done right (er, write?). After that, I sold and published dozens of personal experience stories.

PET JOURNALIST

I like to think my editors liked my writing because I always beat deadlines, wrote to the requirements, and touched readers’ emotions. For sure, I often cried remembering some of those early vet tech experiences. My editors began giving me assignments that required interviews with experts from around the world. I learned how to interview, find experts, and (gasp!) make friends with famous pet peeps! Bliss! It was like attending a master class when I could ask questions of the movers-and-shakers creating vaccines and special nutrition, pick the brains of those who could explain the mysteries of cat and dog behavior, innovative training breakthroughs and more. At the time I worked a 9-5:00 “real job,” so telephone-tag interviews (this was before email) took place during lunch hours and after work. I wrote until 11:00 pm every night and all weekend. Little sleep, lots of work, but the JOY of it is still addictive, especially, when the work reaches someone and makes a difference.

BOOK CONTRACTS

A Bantam/Doubleday/Dell editor happened to read my articles, and called to offer me my first two book contracts, wow! Those titles, published in 1992, launched my book publishing career. I quit my day job to write full time, producing 30-50 articles a year, and continued writing books.

CAT WRITERS ASSOCIATION

Although I wrote equally about dogs and cats, the kitties didn’t seem to get the same respect. I contacted my cat magazine editors and proposed creating the Cat Writers Association (CWA) to give the topic the same level of professionalism and mentorship I enjoyed a member of the Dog Writers Association of America. Four of us met at a cat show in November 1992, and CWA was born. I was named the first president, and served in that role for the first 9 years the first time (I returned for a 10th year some years later). I was able to use established writing connections with pet products companies to enlist their support of new organization, garnering many sponsorships to fund first the annual contest and later conference events. Serving as CWA president kept me in the forefront of the pet world, and that made a positive difference in my career.

MEDIA

The publishers of Cats Magazine and Dog World Magazine created a promotion THE GREAT PET DEBATE during a presidential election year. Because of my credentials with the magazines and CWA, I was tapped to argue the “cat side” whether cats or dogs would be the better White House Pet (Socks Clinton vs Leader Dole). The tongue-in-cheek debate appeared on ESPN and the Today Show, with a call-in vote. Cats won, of course. *s* That experience helped garner other media appearances, including a Disney TV show appearance as a pet expert and more recently Animal Planet expert segments (DOGS 101 and CATS 101). The tables began to turn, and suddenly instead of me interviewing experts, I began to get calls as the expert for interviews. Holy cats & dogs!

LITERARY AGENT

My previous publications and contacts with pet products companies proved attractive to a high power literary agent, and my book publishing career leaped forward with the sale of the PURINA ENCYCLOPEDA OF DOG CARE and PURINA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT CARE hardcover titles. Together we sold another dozen or so pet care titles, including a book that I’m very proud to say has saved many pet lives, THE FIRST-AID COMPANION FOR DOGS AND CATS. My grateful my agent helped me get rights back on my backlist books, which helped immeasurably in launching my indie publishing career including audio. The First-Aid audio book book will be published under my own Furry Muse Publishing imprint.

SPOKESPERSON

After working with Purina via CWA and the books, I was offered a spokesperson position, touring and speaking at shelters in the Purina Kitten Chow Lifetime of Love promotion. As a music/theater double major, I enjoy public speaking, so for me this was brain candy—talking about my passion and playing with kitties. The next year they built the Cat Chow Way of Life Tour around me. BLISS! I got to teach cat behavior training at shelters across the country over the next 4+ years, appearing on TV and radio in hundreds of markets across the United States, and wrote a weekly online column for Cat Chow for more than a dozen years.

PUBLISHING DIES

Yes, for a time I stopped writing and publishing. After September 11, everything changed including my career. News became more serious (rightly so), with warm-and-fuzzy pet segments no longer welcome. People searched Google for cat and dog information (much of it bad or dangerous), rather than reading books. A book released a month after 9-11 tanked, and the Purina tour I’d taken for granted was cancelled. My agent explained editors no longer wanted pet books. Several of my titles went out of print, and I got the rights back, but hadn’t a clue what to do next. The one bright spot was my friend Marty Becker brought me on as co-editor for two Chicken Soup books, but once completed, I took a job teaching high school choir. I believed my career was over.

SOLOPRENEUR, FOR REAL!

I loved teaching, but after working for myself, discovered I’m no longer suited to the restrictions of a “real job.” My frustration with the new day-job poured out in writing of the pet-centric novel I’d always wanted to read. I went back to my beginnings, writing in my spare time before class, during lunch, and until midnight.

A weight lifted once I gave notice prior to the end of the school year, although I had no writing prospects. This leap of faith paid off within three weeks, when a book offer came my way (The American Pit Bull Terrier). As soon as I delivered that manuscript, a colleague invited me to write online behavior content for cats.About.com, which led to me creating the entire puppies.about.com site. Poetic justice, eh? The Internet stole my career, and once I stopped lamenting and fighting the injustice, I took back control by creating my own online content. My Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog took off, an E-newsletter was born, and I planned new ways to leverage the out-of-print books I still owned.

FURRY MUSE PUBLISHING

Ebooks revitalized my publishing career. Rather than be ruled by acquisition editors deciding what merited publishing, I listened to my audience and self-published what they wanted and needed. Amazingly, my royalty percentage earned far more than any New York deal ever had. I also partnered with a small independent press for updated print versions of out of print books, and also wrote new nonfiction titles. Together we launched my fiction writing career with the book I wrote during my choir teaching tenure. Finally this past January 2017, I parted ways with the indie-publisher and by May 2017 had updated and reissued all my books under the Furry Muse imprint. That has allowed me to better plan marketing campaigns, schedule updates, and take control of pricing and income factors in my business. My royalty income, especially in print nonfiction titles, has quadrupled during a time when “traditional” publishing continues to say pet books won’t sell. The difference, I truly believe, is I listen to what pet parents want, and provide that infotainment with respect for their needs.

I’m where I am today because I know—truly without reservation—this is what I was put on earth to do. I no longer doubt myself. I write what I want, publish when and how I wish, revise work when breakthroughs emerge, voice my own audio books in my home studio, make up fiction stories infused with facts that instruct as well as entertain, and interact with my audience—awesome pet enthusiasts no different than me, who simply want the best for their cats and dogs.

That’s how I got here—asking the question, how can I help pets? May it always be so.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Note: Upon occasion, affiliate links to books or other products may be included in posts, from which I earn a small amount with each purchase from the blog. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Kitten Play Aggression: Stop the Madness!

It never fails when a new kitten arrives. We oooooh and ahhh and the lil’ snuggle baby seduces us with purrs and sweet whisker kisses, and looks so darned innocent when she falls asleep on our lap. But kitten play aggression is on the horizon.

kitten play aggression

Kitten play aggression can be relentless.

Yep, that wide eyed wonder turns into the DEVIL CAT with claws out ambushing ankles and launching from hidden spots. When Seren was a baby (gosh, that was 21 years ago!) she used my legs as move-able scratching posts. Now Karma-Kat does the same thing, Ouch!

KITTEN PLAY AGGRESSION

The spring crop of kittens by now has reached the age when kitten play aggression takes over. If you don’t have other cats for her to learn better claw-and-teeth manners, you’re in for a rough few weeks. But she WILL outgrow the behavior. Meanwhile, the Ask Amy tips below will help you keep your sanity.

I’ve lots more kitten care tips in the book Complete Kitten Care as well as the ComPETability: Cats behavior book. Your turn. I know a number of very cat-savvy folks follow this blog. What tips can you share about managing the kitten’s juvenile delinquent behavior? Do tell!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Note: Upon occasion, affiliate links to books or other products may be included in posts, from which I earn a small amount with each purchase from the blog. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

FAKING IT: Scammers Hurt Legit Service Dog & Emotional Support Animal Partnerships

I have friends and colleagues who train and/or partner with service animals, including ESA — Emotional Support Animals. I’ve also been aware for some time that unscrupulous folks fake service dog credentials to take advantage of what they consider to be furry perks, like taking their dog with them into businesses and restaurants, or (a biggie!) getting pets into no-pets-allowed housing or on planes for free. Recently, a Facebook post discussion again raised the issue, and so I’m re-posting this blog. The details remain the same.

BUT MY DOG IS DIFFERENT…

Sure, we all love our dogs (cats, rats, mini-pigs, horses…). But the folks who RELY on their animal partners are being damaged by the disregard of clueless (or mean-spirited) individuals who think they’re better than the law–and taking animal companions everywhere. Here’s the problem–if YOUR sweet-as-punch pet acts inappropriately, that makes the next for-real ASA or service dog and human partnership suspect. It’s the law that service dogs be allowed in businesses, and there are rules that businesses must follow. When non-service/ASA animals don’t follow the rules, it puts businesses in a bad position, too. Read on.

Elderly Man with Woman Petting Dog

All images courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

FAKE SERVICE DOG CREDENTIALS

Scammers offer fake service dog credentials supposedly out of the goodness of their heart–but of course, for a fee. Both the fake-paper-pushers and the service-animal-fakers argue, “Who does it hurt? It’s a victimless crime.”

It hurts the business, the reputation of legitimate handlers and dogs, and even the animal and his owner-faker. Read about just a few of the issues here. The only entities that make out like a bandit are organizations supplying fake paper and lining their pockets.

Reality Imitates Art–Or Vice Versa?

Actually, I researched this a bit for background in one of my thrillers, since the main character September Day has a service dog Shadow, who helps mitigate issues with her post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For instance, Shadow alerts in advance of panic attacks, and helps anchor September to the present during flashbacks, among other things. PTSD, debilitating migraines, seizures, diabetes, IBD and other health concerns can be helped enormously by trained service dogs. But these “hidden” issues open the door to abuse in a way that service dogs partnered with visible/physical challenges may not face.

I hadn’t planned to blog about this, at least immediately. Then on January 1, 2015 I received an email interview/story “pitch” that purported to offer reputable, legal help for those seeking ESA credentials. Frankly, the message raised alarm bells, and when I got sick with the “crud” I delayed doing anything about it. I wasn’t sure how to handle it.

Man holding tabby cat with big green eyes

Service Dog Credentials, Conflicts & Confusion

Heck, I’d love to take Magical-Dawg with me more places, and he’d love that, too, especially if they served bacon! Karma-Kat certainly offers me lavish emotional support, as does any animal friend with whom we share a bond. Besides, who would know–According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a business owner is only allowed to ask two questions:

  1. Does the dog provide a service?
  2. What has the dog been trained to do?

Under ADA guidelines, only DOGS qualify as service animals (sometimes miniature horses serving as guides for the blind also qualify), and PETS are not considered service animals. The dog must be trained to provide a SPECIFIC SERVICE for SPECIFIC DISABILITIES.

Sadly, this is easy to fake. Dogs are not required to wear any kind of identification like a vest. Heck, you can order a FAKE vest for your animal, too! In reality, a real service dog/human partnership isn’t required to show documentation for training. There is no single over-arching government-endorsed training agency for service dogs.

But it’s not just the ADA that offers guidelines and regulations. The Fair Housing Act, and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, administered through the Department of Transportation) also provide what can be confusing or even conflicting regulations.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act follows the ADA definition of service animal (dogs only,) and EXCLUDES those designated as emotional support animals. However, it does state that reasonable accommodations should be made for any service animal including ESAs. To qualify, the person is evaluated by the housing provider based on answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability —i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

Portrait of the girl with the iguana Air Carrier Access Act

ACAA doesn’t restrict Emotional Support Animals to dogs–they can be cats, birds, hamsters, lizards, goldfish–anything at all. Most airlines do require the animal to fit under the seat as “carry on” luggage, though. Rather than a case-by-case evaluation, airlines typically require a signed letter from a “licensed mental health professional” (not just your general practitioner). The letter must include:

  • The professional’s address and phone number
  • State that you have a disorder listed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
  • You also must be under active treatment for your disorder by this “mental health professional.”

Ditch the Pitch? or a Big Reveal?

Remember that email pitch mentioned in the opening paragraph? Yesterday I got a LinkedIn request for a connection from a person with the same name. So I decided to reply with some pointed questions, indicating I’d like to include them in a possible future blog. Most of my questions arose from the lack of detailed information posted on the website. There were no names, no credentials listed, just a lot of generalities and promises.

The website offers an online evaluation of your completed questionnaire by a (unnamed) board-certified psychiatrist. When that evaluation confirms your qualifications, the expert then generates a letter that qualifies your ESA and thus allows plane or housing privileges afforded to service animals. For a fee, of course. If your answers to the questionnaire fail to qualify you, the fee is promised to be reimbursed.

I figured a “no response” would be telling. So I was happily surprised to receive a prompt response with detailed answers, which I’ve cut-and-pasted below. I will leave it to readers to make judgments about this particular service.

Q & A with National Center for Emotional-Support Animals

Hello Amy!

Thank you very much for your interest. Please see my responses to your questions below.

Who are you? What is YOUR background in pets? Is this you?

Yes, that’s me. I’ve had a dog for the past 10 years and a cat for the past 16.

Who is your “board certified psychiatrist” ?

My husband, Jamie Feusner. He is the co-founder of National Center for Emotional-Support Animals. (Amy’s note: I googled the name and found more about Dr. Feusner here)

What board certifies a psychiatrist to diagnose a patient over the Internet?

Our letter does not constitute a diagnosis. It recommends an ESA to help treat the problems that you are currently experiencing.

Why does the pop-up invite someone to get a FREE “ESA Letter” but then require a credit card to submit the questionnaire for $150?

The offer is buy an ESA letter for housing for $149 and as an added bonus, we provide a letter covering air travel, worth $149, free. Other services charge to each letter separately.

If, indeed, someone qualifies for an ESA, why would they need an annual letter for another $150 each time?

The letter itself never expires. It’s dated the day that it’s mailed out. The issue is that airlines and landlords do not accept letters that are dated more than a year old. In addition, people have to retake the questionnaire because their symptoms and health problems can change. What they said a year ago may not be the case today. No doctor can write a recommendation or prescription for someone in perpetuity. They have to be re-examined at least once a year.

What percentage of your applicants do you turn down as “not qualified” for an ESA and actually refund the fee?

None. Everyone who has come to us have [sic] met the medical qualifcations [sic] to get an ESA letter.

Are you not concerned that unscrupulous individuals would manipulate the questionnaire/answers to get an ESA letter for which they do not qualify?

The medical questionnaire is the same one a psychiatrist would give during an in-office visit. Mental health treatment for the most part is provided based on self-reported symptoms — unlike other health conditions that can be physically measured with tests. If people lie on the medical questionnaire, they could also lie during an in office visit. Psychiatrists have to take people at their word. You may deem someone as “unscrupulous” or that “they do not qualify” but that’s just YOUR opinion and judgement of them. It doesn’t make it true. Mental illnesses are invisible. A person may look and act completely normal yet still suffer from a mental illness.

Your Turn…

Okay, gang, what do you think? How would you characterize such a service? I did fail to ask one question–does a questionnaire answered by a mental health practitioner constitute “being under active treatment for your disorder,” as required by the ACAA?

What about you? Do you think “fake” service animal credentials is a victimless crime? Are you, or do you know someone partnered with an amazing service animal? How could the “rules” be changed to improve the situation you?

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Katrina Revisited: 12 Years Later, Are You Disaster-Ready for #HurricaneHarvey

As Hurricane Harvey barrels down upon the Gulf coast, our prayers are with those in the path of the storm. Please tell me you’re disaster ready, both you and your pets!

homeless dog looking at residential tornado destruction. Motion blur on his tail. Focus on back side or tail end of dog.

ARE YOU DISASTER READY FOR HURRICANE HARVEY?

Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Two years ago, I published this post and with Hurricane Harvey today threatening Texas and beyond, it’s important to share this information again. The ASPCA says that in addition to killing nearly 2,000 people, the Katrina disaster left 600,000 pets deceased or homeless.

Almost half (44%) of the people who refused to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina said they did so because they felt they could not bring their animals with them. Can you blame them? I couldn’t leave Magic, Karma or Seren behind!

Today, there are many more resources available. Pack up your pets and GET OUT OF DODGE before the winds and wet cause tragedy.

Wall dilapidated house with a cat watching

Despite the Katrina tragedy, the ASPCA also says that polls still show that 35% of pet owners still don’t have plans in place for the next big storm. Whether you’re in the path of a hurricane, wildfire, tornado, flash flood or any other disaster, we OWE IT TO OUR PETS to get prepared. Check out the infographic, below, for some easy tips.

It’s been 12 years since Hurricane Katrina. Are your pets safer? DOWNLOAD THE DISASTER PREP AP HERE!

Please share this with those who need the information. And pray–pray that the forecasts are wrong for once, and we don’t have a repeat of the Katrina disaster.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!