Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fortunately for them, they're also cuddly and lovable

I’ve often heard parents (particularly new ones) talking about the things no one tells you about before you have a baby. Like projectile vomiting, all-night screaming jags, diaper bombs, and other trials of parenthood. Well, I don’t have any kids…but I do have dogs. When my husband and I bought our first home in 2003, I decreed that it was time for us to have a dog. While he was scouting out lovable pooches on Petfinder, I was dreaming of L.L. Bean-catalog-style dog scenarios: Running through sunny meadows, frolicking at the beach, and cuddling with my fastidiously-groomed, perfectly-behaved Man’s Best Friend beside a roaring fire. Boy, was I wrong. Not to imply that I don’t love my little beasts—I adore them! But. In my seven years as a dog owner, I have learned a lot…and not all of it has been good.

Things No One Tells You about before You Get a Dog

You will become intimately familiar with all of the gross substances inside your dog.
My family had several dogs when I was growing up, but my mom must have taken care of the dirty work, because I don’t recall ever having to clean up so many gross excretions. Pee, poo, barf, mucous, mysterious leavings that could possibly be some mixture of the aforementioned…you name it, I’ve cleaned it up. And if one of the dogs is sick? You actually have to examine the stuff you’re picking up, prepare a “sample,” and, possibly, discuss its qualities and characteristics with a veterinary professional. I’ve never seen any of that  stuff happening in the L.L. Bean catalog.

Dogs don’t have the ability to use good judgment.
They eat things that were never intended for consumption. They figure out how to get into situations that they don’t have the brainpower to get out of. They talk trash to German Shepherds and other big, tough-looking dogs, even though they are 30-pound fluffballs who couldn’t kill a mouse. If you are going to share your home with a dog, you need to have a clear head, the ability to think on your feet and remain calm, and the vet’s phone number on speed-dial. I have actually gotten better about handling dog emergencies over the years, and no longer resort to bursting into tears and calling Mr. Nerd to tell me how to handle the latest catastrophe. It can still be really unnerving sometimes, though.

Dog hair is the most confounding substance on the planet
It gets everywhere--even in places where the dogs don’t go--and you will never get it off. You might as well give up trying. It can sense when you’ve just vacuumed, and it will fly off the dog(s) at an incredible rate until all available surfaces are covered again. Also, if you don’t commit to Swiffering every 45 minutes or so, it will bind itself into six-inch tumbleweeds and roll down the hallway. The best you can hope for is to try to match your furniture and clothing to the color of the dog, so it won’t be quite so obvious that all of your possessions are sporting a layer of fur.

Dogs have extra-sensory abilities
It’s true! They must have some kind of special powers! Otherwise, how could they tell when I am in a hurry, so they can all gang up under my feet? (I swear, it is just a matter of time until I go bum-over-teakettle down the steps some morning.) Or sense that it's Saturday, so they can all start barking and running around the bedroom like rabid dingoes about two hours before I have to get up? Or determine—even from several rooms away--that a food item has just been set within dog-reach somewhere in the house? It’s amazing. You would think, given these astonishing mental powers, that they would be well-trained, perfectly-behaved, and able to perform all sorts of incredible tricks. You would be wrong. After seven years of work, all we have to show for it is a solid “sit” and a lackadaisical, halfhearted “stay.”

Dog people, what have I left out? What about cats? Do they come with a set of warnings, too? Tell me about it in the comments!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tonight I’m not takin’ no calls

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might think that all I do is shop, take care of my wee beasts, watch TV, and lurk on my favorite blogs. (That's kind of true, actually.) I do, however, have a day job—I am an administrative assistant in a government office, where I am responsible (along with a couple of other admins) for answering the main phone line for the division. Calls. Lots of calls. Lots of calls from citizens, who are often a little unsure about how things work in local government—which I understand completely. The reason people call in is to get information. Somewhere along the way, though, it seems like some folks missed the instructions on how to make a good phone call. Clearly, these people need some help. In the spirit of being helpful, I thought I might include a few hints here on how to get the most out of your phone call.

1. Know why you are calling
You might think that this is a no-brainer, but there have been times when I was 10 minutes into a call and still had no idea what the person was asking. While playing a rousing game of “20 Questions” might be fun in my spare time, I don’t really enjoy it when both of the other lines are ringing, the copier just went toes-up, I can’t get a crucial document to print, and I have a meeting in seven minutes.

2. Be able to articulate said reason
I try to be patient here; I know that not everyone talks on the phone all day long as part of their jobs. I don't need a flowery oration. Just basic, moderately coherent human communication, that’s all I ask. If you are a young person (we get a fair number of calls from students working on research projects), please keep in mind that we are not all young people, and we might not be familiar with the current slang.

3. Do not be on fire
Our office gets lots of calls from people who are up against deadlines. They’ve often waited until the last minute to do all of the research on some kind of massive project. Therefore, they act as if their shorts are on fire, and they’re calling someone to come put them out. When someone says “emergency” to me, I think life-or-death, severed-limb, contractions-10-seconds-apart situations. Not “I forgot that my paperwork is due in 20 minutes and I lost the instructions and if I can’t get this done the world will end” kinds of situations. Not an emergency in my book. Please calm down.

4. Leave a message
Want to drive a receptionist (or other phone-answering person) crazy? Call for someone; note that it’s really important that you talk to them ASAP; refuse the opportunity to leave a message; and continue to call, every 15 minutes, for the rest of the day. I can’t stress this enough: leave a message. I know it’s hard to trust again when you’ve been burned before. But you need to understand: I want you to reach the person you’re trying to call! So you will stop calling me every few minutes. The people I work with are an incredibly passionate bunch of professionals who are very dedicated to serving the public. They return calls religiously. LEAVE A FREAKIN’ MESSAGE. (ahem)

Hopefully someone out there will find my helpful hints, and save some poor soul a bit of misery at work. Anyone else out there ever worked reception? Did I leave anything out?