A Lifetime Companion

This post originally appeared in the Women of HR Series:Random Encounters. Check out that site because, as the headline says, those writers have your back. I am re-posting it here as a personal tribute to the dog discussed in the post, who was euthanized last Friday. I will be back with fresh content very soon, including the return of #SHRMChat, so check back or sign up for email notifications.



I used to be a lot of things: politically conservative, impatient, intolerant, and demanding.

I also used to be a shopaholic. To me, going to the mall or a shopping center was as necessary and important as breathing or eating. My husband hated doing errands with me because I would enter a man-centric store with him – like a hardware store – and never leave.

So going to a mall on a Saturday afternoon was not random at all. But on one particular Saturday in the fall of 1999, a trip to the mall changed my life.

I stopped in the pet store, which was near my usual entrance, just to look. I had a dog at home who had been adopted from the humane society, and I certainly wasn’t in the market for another. But I loved to look. Did I say I was just looking?

Inside of one of those cages was a Border Collie puppy.

Maybe it was because my daughters and I had really enjoyed the recent movie Babe  (which features BCs, as they are called), but the sight of that puppy excited me like no other dog ever had.  I called my youngest daughter and said, “Guess what? There’s a Border Collie puppy at the pet store!” She asked if I was going to buy it, and I said, “Of course not.” Then I left the store and went about my shopping.

But for one entire week I thought about that dog. Constantly.

By the following Saturday I couldn’t stand it any longer, and returned to the pet store with my two teenage daughters. I bought the dog (my husband was out of town, thank goodness) and took him home.

And he changed my life.

You have to understand a little about the BC to understand why.  BCs are considered the smartest dog in the world. Consequently, they need special attention – they need to be trained, encouraged, and engaged if they are going to be successful pets. (Yes, just like employees.) So I set out finding a job for my highly intelligent, driven boy.

What I found is flyball. And within flyball, I found a totally new world. It’s a dog-centric world, where the care and compassion for animals is overwhelming. It is a world where people cooperate and encourage each other – at least most of the time – in order to give their pets, and themselves, something special and rewarding.

Author Jon Katz writes about the “lifetime dog”. By his definition, it is a dog that touches your heart in a way no other animal can or does, often at a critical time or juncture.

Ike, as he was named, became a lifetime dog to me. I got him as my children were becoming adults and entering their own world. I was also at a professional crossroads, having left the practice of law and wondering what else I was suited for. Then he took me into the world of flyball, where I learned so much about dogs and animals – their need for care, compassion, tolerance, and their love of play, affection, and attention.

And that laundry list of me that started this post?  Ike, and his ultimate love of flyball, changed all of those things for the better.

The professional crossroads? That’s when I went into HR.

 Thanks to a random encounter of the most wonderful kind.






The End of My Dog Days and Deciding Where To Get A Dog

Last night my husband had a chat about our future and what we would like to see ourselves doing in 5 or 10 years. And while we understand that life has a habit of interrupting the best of plans, we thought it important to lay down at least some general guidelines so we could do what we want with our last years on earth.

One of the conclusions we reached was that there are to be no more dogs.

Before I moved to Florida from Michigan I had 4 dogs, but when I moved my youngest daughter begged me to let her keep the youngest of my pack (top dog above). She couldn’t bear to lose her mother dogs, it seems. In fact, while she argued vehemently why she should be allowed to keep a dog, she never asked me to stay in Michigan at all. 😉

So I moved to Florida with 3 dogs, the youngest of which will be turning 7 in a couple of weeks, making him officially a senior citizen of dogs.

As much as I love my dogs and the joy they bring to my life, being the caretaker of 3 dogs places a lot of limits on your lifestyle. I can’t just leave the house for more than 4 or so hours without deciding how my dogs are going to be fed, watered, and looked after. Trips are logistical nightmares, especially when the oldest dog is struggling with illness and issues. In fact, I am driving to Michigan in a couple of weeks to attend the MISHRM HR conference and conduct some business there. I am driving because I cannot leave the dogs behind, and I have reliable dog care options in Michigan.

This is the reason that my husband and I have decided that we should not consider getting, rescuing, harboring or otherwise become responsible for any more dogs. We know that if we keep our heads down and our wits about us, we will be dog-less in 5-7 years, given the average lifespan of border collies, which is the breed of our youngest dog. Not having any dogs will allow us to concentrate on moving around and traveling at our leisure, both professionally and personally. It’s what we have decided we both need and want.

Deciding that no more dogs will become a part of the household also saves me – at least indirectly – from entering the great debate called “where should you get a dog?”

Many people think that the only appropriate place to get a companion animal is from a shelter, pound, or rescue organization. The argument for this alternative is that there are just so many animals that need homes it is a moral travesty to go elsewhere to get a pet. But a counter argument exists that the huge proliferation of rescue and shelter organizations in fact increases the unwanted animal population, as owners know there is probably somewhere they can leave their unwanted pets, puppies and kitties. So shelters and rescues actually aggravate an unhappy situation, not help it (at least in some opinions).

A similar argument has existed for years to keep people from buying a dog at a commercial pet store. The argument is that buying from a commercial pet store increases the puppy mill problem where a lot of these dogs are bred, and creates a cycle of continued inhumane breeding. I have never been a huge supporter of that argument, seeing that years of complaints about commercial pet stores has done nothing to stop the puppy mill problem. And the dogs in the stores are alive and need homes, right? Where are they to go – to another shelter or rescue organization?

“Buy from a reputable breeder” is the mantra of many. But “reputable” is a pretty loaded word when it comes to breeders – with absolutely no standards as to what constitutes repute or reliability. And the argument that buying from a breeder doesn’t stop the unwanted pet population has a lot of validity. Shelters and rescues are full of pure-bred dogs that just couldn’t make it with the family that bought them. My first dog – a beautiful Brittany boy that I adopted from the Michigan Humane Society – was a dog like that. But buying from a breeder is a sensible alternative, particularly to people who work or hunt their dogs and have very specific needs for their pets to fulfill.

I have always advocated that people should get their pets from whatever type of place their needs, minds, and hearts drives them to. Just make sure that whatever you choose to do, you understand that the commitment to own a pet exists for your life and theirs. That is why, in the picture above, the bottom dog comes from a pet store, the next is a rescue, and the second from top is breeder bought. My last three dogs – and all started their lives in different ways. I’m lucky to have had the pleasure of providing them food, shelter, games, and vet care for their lives.

What about you? Do you have a pet? Do you think people have a moral responsibility to get a pet from a specific place? Where do you stand – and why – in this debate?


Of Dogs and Blogs

Today my blog is 2 years old.

My first blog was the typical “I’m gonna try this blogging thing”, but my first substantive content blog came a few days later with “What HR Can Learn From Good Pet Ownership”.  It was about my dog Freckles (far left in the picture), who had just died.  Thinking about that first post made me realize that this blog has become a big part of my life, just as my dogs are.

If  Just Joan were a dog, it would be leaving the clumsy-uncontrolled-spontaneous-lots of accidents phase, and settling into a more adult behavioral pattern. Energetic, but not spastic. Curious, but not destructive.

I think I have made it past the puppy stage and into the big girl pants. Part of the reason for this is that I have had some great trainers along the way. They are HR pros, bloggers, friends and others who I admire, and who have encouraged me with comments, fellowship, and advice. If you have ever left a comment on my blog or Facebook, or tweeted, re-tweeted, liked, or +1’d me, then you are a person who has helped me come this far, and I am deeply grateful to you.


(I am also posting today for the Human Resource Association of Greater Detroit – www.hragdblog.org – “Do You Have A Paul Revere Or A William Dawes Network?”  It would be great to hear from you there, too!)


It’s my one year blogiversary!  I posted my first blog, which was basically just an “intro to me” on October 24, 2009.  It was just a few short months prior that I had been introduced to the online HR community, many of them bloggers.  I knew NOTHING about blogging – except that I wanted to try it.  Now it is one of my favorite pasttimes.  Thanks to everyone (anyone?) reading – I appreciate it tremendously!

I am reposting my first substantive blog in recognition of my anniversary, and in memory of Freckles, the dog I miss so much.

At my direction, my veterinarian killed euthanized this dog today.  He was very old and very sick, and it was my first experience with this most humane and selfless of acts.  Since I have four more dogs at home, it will certainly not be my last act of this kind.  I know that good and responsible pet owners welcome the ability to euthanize their animals to end their pain and suffering; it is the ultimate and final act of kindness to the animal, even though it causes the owner great sadness.

In reflecting on my life with this dog, I found some analogies that could be drawn between pets and employees.  Not, of course, that employees are pets or should be treated like them.  But how WE behave, or should behave, toward our pets can be helpful in defining our HR behavior.


It’s easy for everyone to spend time with a new puppy or a kitten –  they’re so cute and delightful!  Even the youngest owners can’t wait to play with them or stroke them.  But as the puppy or kitten grow into larger animals, many people lose interest in playing with or exercising or engaging their pet.  Their basic needs of food and shelter may be provided, but little else.  Unless the pet needs discipline or restraining, the pet is simply left to amuse itself.  A good pet owner is different – a good pet owner knows that the pet is a vital part of the household and makes sure that the pet is walked, played with, trained, touched, or talked to as much as the pet needs.  Forever.

There is often a similar honeymoon period with a new employee.  HR makes sure the employee is successfully onboard, and hovers a little bit while the employee gains their footing and grows confident in their surroundings. But all too often, once that honeymoon period is over and the employee is trusted to perform on their own, the employee is essentially forgotten.  Sure, the basic needs (pay and benefits) are met.  But no one attempts to engage the employee, to seek him or her out and make sure they remain interested, motivated, trained, or involved.  Unless the employee needs discipline or counseling, the employee is often completely forgotten about by HR.

Good HR is like good pet ownership: there should be resolve to stay interested and engaged with the employee forever – not just the first weeks or months.  Seek out your employee and find out what you both need to do to stay involved with each other.


It is sometimes very difficult for a good pet owner to determine if their pet has a problem that needs attention. Since pets can’t talk, good pet owners are vigilant in watching for signs that the pet is in trouble: Is he eating properly?  Does she seem lethargic?  Is he pooping too much? Too little?  What does the poop look like?  FIVE dogs – and I could tell each one of their feces apart.  I had to, because it is an early – sometimes the only – sign of distress.

Employees can usually speak, so the HR pro doesn’t have to go to such extreme measures to determine if there are problems needing attention and discussion.  Unfortunately, many are not taking the time or making the effort.  When did you last ask an employee if everything was alright, or if there were any issues or concerns that you could help them address?  Too often, we expect the employee to come to us if they need or want something.  But often a problem is not discovered until an exit interview, when it is too late to fix (at least for that employee).  It’s natural for an employee to prefer to be asked to give information, rather than have to demand it be given.

Good HR:  be vigilant and care enough to look for warning signs indicating a problem.  Communicate with the employee and make sure that trouble is addressed as early as possible.  Ask the employee before s/he asks you.


Every good pet owner buys, rescues, adopts or otherwise obtains a pet with the knowledge and agreement that their obligation to that pet is forever.  Good pet owners expect that their home will be the animal’s home forever.  Yes, sometimes unforeseeable and insurmountable problems arise that cause pet and owner to be separated.  Even then a good pet owner will work to re-home their pet so that the pet’s well-being is maintained.  When the time comes for the pet to be released from its physical pain or suffering, the good owner does what is necessary, no matter how hard, to help the pet die in peace and with dignity.

I harbor no illusions that employers have a lifetime obligation to their employees.  But HR should hire an employee with at least an idea that they are going to commit to the employees professional well-being for as long as they possibly can.  If HR has shown that commitment to the employee, consistently engaged and communicated with the employee, and has acted similarly to the good pet owner throughout the employment relationship, the end, even if involuntary, will be more dignified.

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My Dog Is Not A Rock Star – Does Your Employee Have To Be?

Gypsy, the pit bull-lab-rottweiler-who know what else-mix

Yesterday I took all four – yes, four – of my dogs to the vet for routine care, like vaccines and wellness exams. They each weigh around 40 pounds and the bill was enormous.  During the exam, the vet asked the same kind of questions your doctor does during a routine physical, trying to determine if there are any issues or problems that need to be addressed.

During the exam of Gypsy, who was rescued from an abandoned crack house in an ugly part of the city of Detroit, it occurred to me that she has never had any physical problems at all.  She has never thrown up on my carpet or floor, never had kennel cough (despite plenty of exposure in closed quarters to other dogs), and never has ugly gunk running out of an eye.  I will admit that she had a genetic defect (luxating patella) when she was very young, which had to be surgically repaired, but that knee has never given her, or me, a stitch of trouble since. Even her teeth looked the best of the pack, per the vet, even though she is the second-oldest.

My other dogs are Border Collies.  BCs, as we are fond of calling them, are premier athletes.  They play silly dog games like agility, disc dog, and flyball (my game of choice).  They are considered the smartest breed of dog in the world.  They are rock stars of the doggie world.

These rock stars can have health issues, though.  Vomit, kennel cough, eye infections, torn or ripped pads and toenails – my dogs have had or done them all.  One dog has a mysterious arthritic condition in his spine that required two MRI tests and means monthly visits to the chiropractor.  Don’t even ask about the costs.

Gypsy doesn’t play flyball or any other silly doggie sport, but she is loving, energetic, and devoted – the perfect companion dog.

So, to the recruiters and HR pros of the world who might read this, I ask a favor:  The next time you need to hire an employee, think about whether you REALLY need to hire a rock star.  I know the market is buyer friendly right now, so you can get big talent for less money.    Rock stars can do amazing things, but at what cost – particularly in the long term – to you and your organization?

Non-rock stars need and deserve good jobs, too. They may come from humble circumstances without a fancy degree, and they may need a little coaching or patience in the beginning as they find their way in your organization.  The long term return on investment will be substantial, though, and you will find yourself with a rock-solid, devoted employee.

Or would you rather have an employee that burns more brightly for a shorter period of time, with substantial upkeep costs thrown in?

Ike the Border Collie playing flyball
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Competition Is Not a Four Letter Word

This past weekend I played in a flyball tournament with one of my dogs.  Flyball is a sport or game in which teams of four dogs compete against each other for speed and accuracy in a combination relay/drag race.

During a flyball tournament, or at a practice/training session, or even at a flyball club Christmas party, I often hear the human handlers say (in a snobbish or haughty voice), “I don’t care about competition.  I only play flyball to have fun with my dog.”  These people speak as if the idea of engaging in a competition with a dog was somehow negative, and “having fun with a dog” the only lofty goal.

Who are these people kidding?  If they only want to have fun with their pet, why don’t they take him/her to a park or an open field somewhere and play fetch or frisbee flying disc?  Alone – without anyone counting wins and losses?

I think you know why.  The people that claim they don’t care generally do so right after their team has lost a race, or they have made a human handling error, or their dog isn’t properly trained and has made an error (or consistently makes errors).  Instead of admitting, building on, and learning from their mistakes, though,  these people choose to ignore them, pretending that  the “competition” is somehow beneath them or irrelevant.

But if you are not going to try your best and work hard to succeed, why compete in the first place?

This is not my flyball club, but it’s a cool video, and at least I did compete at this tournament.  Just in case you don’t have a clue (like most of the world), what flyball is. :-)