“Why do we fall, Bruce?” asked no one to Bruce Wayne, a Cairn Terrier, when he turned blind in the last four years of his life. But Bruce seems to have answered “so we can learn to pick ourselves up” in other ways than using words.
Bruce, who had been with Rebecca Carrigan, aka Becca Blue, a New West-based actor, dog groomer and author, for 14 years, passed away last year. Towards the end of his life, he had gotten glaucoma, which had then turned to ulcers. Despite the many surgeries, Bruce lost his vision, said Carrigan.
At the time, “people were like, ‘What do you do with him? He can't do anything.’ I felt so sad.”
Carrigan, who has 19 years of experience grooming dogs, didn’t give up on her pupper though.
“I gave him confidence — I kept doing the same things. And I kept teaching him stuff, finding new ways to get his attention when he couldn't see. And he really lived a great life. He could do all the things that a normal dog could do.”
Often, people look past the fact that dogs also get old, she said. “That's why they end up in shelters or are put down because they (the owners) think they (the dogs) can't do anything. You've just got to change it up a bit, you know? They're just as good.”
A children's book about a blind dog
Carrigan decided to end the stigma by writing a children's book about her Bruce.
Titled My Dog Bruce, the book series is based on Bruce’s life.
“He goes on adventures. In every book, he meets a new dog breed. And he has to learn about them without being able to see.”
Carrigan will read from the book as part of the free story time event for kids at Kinder Books, this Sunday.
The self-published book is a launchpad for Carrigan to talk to kids about dogs with disabilities, and expose them to the diverse dog breeds. Out of the "264 official dog breeds" out there, Carrigan drew 32 of them as part of a colouring book that she launched recently. Besides the common breeds like Labradors and Pomeranians, the book also includes lesser-known breeds like Leonbergers, and Irish wolfhounds.
“One of my main goals is to stop the stigma of people being afraid of certain breeds, and inform people to be animal smart. There are a lot of families and kids out there that just don't know how to be around animals.” Because of which, there sometimes is a lot of anxiety in families and in pets, she said.
Carrigan is primarily a young adult author, whose book All I Need was made into an award-winning movie in 2013.
“I would have never normally dove into children's books, but I was so frustrated as a groomer — I wanted people to be smarter with pets, and I thought I gotta get to the kids first,” said the author, who grew up reading the 1960's Clifford book series about the adventures of a big red dog.
Educating people about pooches
Often, Carrigan found that dog owners didn't know how to handle their pets. Worse, they sometimes even ended up buying the wrong breeds.
“They just like a picture of what the dog looks like, but maybe that's not the right dog for their family. There are a lot of dogs I want, but I know I can't have them as they wouldn’t suit my lifestyle," she said.
“For example, I'm not an athletic person. You won't see me running a marathon. So for me, to get a dog like a Husky would be wrong.”
Carrigan, who has owned about five small dogs before, only recently got a big one — a 100-pound Anatolian Shepherd dog — because her freelance job allowed her to work from home. Earlier, she had smaller dogs that were easy to travel with.
Films and dogs have been part of her life ever since she was a kid. She recalls renting movies from Blockbuster and watching them with family as a weekend ritual, while tiny Shih Tzus roamed around in the house.
Even today, her routine involves movie nights post 8 p.m. along with her dog and kitten beside her on the couch.
In fact, all the pets she ever owned have had names based on movie/ series characters — like Atreyu and Falcor (from The NeverEnding Story), Miyagi (from The Karate Kid), Kelly (“from some old Irish film”), Cobra Kai (from Cobra Kai), and of course, Bruce Wayne (from The Batman series).
Balancing careers in films and dog grooming
Right after high school, Carrigan decided to take up dog grooming to pay for her course at Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts. “I got certified as a dog groomer, and groomed my whole way through acting school.”
Carrigan trained at veterinary clinics, starting out with learning animal behaviour — which led her to explore animal Reiki (a Japanese form of energy healing).
“I found that your energy was what kind of fell into place when you were grooming. If you're a high-stress person, or nervous, that feeds into the animal, and then you sometimes can't groom."
When grooming a dog, she makes sure the household is quiet. “I also do a lot of music therapy. Animals love instrumental music.”
When people talk in a calm low voice, it's “super relaxing” for animals, she said.
“When I get them (the dogs), we do very quiet sessions where we sit on the ground and I touch them everywhere. I run my hands like a massage over them. I touch their ears and their lips, their teeth and toes, everything. That's the first thing I do,” she said.
"I found that people cause a lot of their own animal issues at home because they're highly stressed, or their family is stressful. People really don't understand how much of the animal's personalities comes off of you as a person.”
But Carrigan has a hard time explaining that to the owners.
Which is why she decided to resort to writing books for children. “Because kids understand, you know?"
"I put experiences from the dog’s point of view, and kids are like, ‘Oh, OK, I get it’.”
Join Rebecca Carrigan's story reading followed by an art session at Kinder Books on Oct. 23, 9.30 to 10.30 a.m.