I never write anything – fact or fiction, short paragraph or full-length manuscript – until I determine what I will say in the last sentence. Nothing is more important than the end of a story, and few things in life upset me more than people or events that try to rewrite my final words.
Which is why my disposition, usually sunnier than the southern California skies, turned cloudy in recent weeks. Problems – from glitch to crisis – rained down on the KOTAW Gang in March. I coped with all of them and laughed at the absurdity of some. I welcome plot twists – they make life interesting and keep my mind nimble. But try to change the outcome of my stories, and you’ll find out that I’m more formidable than Thor. My thunder doesn’t rival his in volume – it’s more purr than roar – but it makes the earth quake when necessary.
This is a story about a dog. But it’s also a lesson in personal branding, about why it takes more than an appealing logo and engaging social media profile to build your business identity. About why it’s more important to live your conscience than tweet your thoughts. It’s about how I got my sunshine back and how you can hold onto yours.
A Ball of Socks, a Laundry List of Memories
I’ve known Nooby, a terrier mix, for 11 of his 12 years. He came charging down a hill toward our San Diego condo, jumped into our minivan, stole a pair of socks, and chose Woofie as his best friend and my daughters and me as his second family. Although we moved to Los Angeles nine years ago, he’s spent weeks and months at a time in our homes here, and we’ve made day and weekend trips to visit him. He’s celebrated birthdays, holidays and vacations with us and even made a cameo appearance during an ABC-7 News feature about a short film Bri made.
When we were asked to make Nooby a houseguest for most of March and part of April, we said yes. But the decision wasn’t easy. We knew his visit would rekindle our grief over Woofie’s passing. We knew it would be difficult to care for a blind, diabetic and frail dog that had recently undergone emergency surgery and still had a growth on his lung. We knew Nooby’s visit would create turmoil at KOTAW Content Marketing and in the Kotaw household, which includes two dogs, a cat and a daughter struggling with difficult health issues.
We said yes because we love Nooby. We said yes because we wanted to honor the joy he’d given Woofie, the chow-golden retriever that embodies the KOTAW spirit and helped inspire its name. We said yes because we wanted to say a proper goodbye to Nooby, and we didn’t know if we’d have another chance.
Rust Never Sleeps, Chaos Never Waits
Bedlam preceded Nooby’s arrival by 35 hours. Our car, filled with three adults and two dogs, broke down at 10 p.m. on a Friday night outside a Pizza Hut. AAA ignored our first two calls for assistance, and it was after 11 when the tow truck driver came and said he could take the car and one person home. He couldn’t take the car to the auto shop until it opened on Monday and he couldn’t take the car anywhere unless someone came with it. Bri and Kelsey opted to walk Ivy and Lucy the mile back to our house. I rode home with the AAA guy and talked him into driving me back to meet the gang. We walked home together, sharing bread sticks, pizza slices and laughs. At midnight I made an online reservation at Enterprise so I’d have transportation to pick up Nooby.
I picked up the rental on Saturday and, although it was at least twice the size of the car I normally drive, it didn’t easily accommodate Ivy. Any time she moved inside the car, she got stuck. Every few blocks, I had to pull over, and we did a Keystone Cop routine. I’d get out of the front, let Ivy exit out the driver door and open the rear door to let her in the back. At which point Lucy would hop out of the back just for fun, Bri would jump out of the car to capture Lucy and Ivy would jump into the driver’s seat again, rebooting the entire routine. In the madness, a RedBox movie fell off the roof of the car and landed in the middle of a major roadway, and we lost one of Bri’s favorite sandals. (In a scene I couldn’t watch, Kelsey recovered the DVD; we found Bri’s “Cinderella slipper” at a park three days later.)
To keep things interesting, I also received an overdraft notice on a bank account I hadn’t used in years, the state of California dunned Kelsey for taxes on income she’d never earned and Bri’s insurance company decided – again – to refuse coverage for her medications.
Thank Heaven for Little (Dog) Girls
But at this point, we were all still happy. These were the day-in-the-life experiences that make the KOTAW Girl Gang who we are. It was just stuff, and I was the only one more than mildly bothered by our circumstances. And my anxiety had little to do with cars, banks or medicine. What worried me – what gave me insomnia Friday and Saturday night and kept me gripping the steering wheel on our way to pick up Nooby Sunday morning – was that Lucy would hate Nooby, Nooby would hate Doosis and I would spend the next five weeks playing referee to a houseful of scared and angry animals.
My fears proved unfounded. Ivy assumed the role of seeing-eye dog, shadowing Nooby until he could manage our home and yard on his own; Lucy was sweet and deferential even when Nooby stole her treats and landed on her head during a poorly executed leap onto Bri’s bed, and Doosis quickly figured out that Nooby’s barking and running around in circles posed no threat to her. The four-footed creatures in my life got along fine and provided some of the month’s happiest moments.
They didn’t try to rewrite the ending to my story. Some people did.
I had volunteered to drive to San Diego to pick up Nooby so I could learn how to give him insulin shots and learn more about his care in a relaxed environment. I also asked for a copy of his medical records and the names of his veterinarians. If something happened to Nooby while his person was in South Africa, I wanted to know what to do.
Not Boy Scout Material
Tanya, Nooby’s person, said giving Nooby insulin was easy – she’d show us in the parking lot where she wanted to meet, a halfway point between her home and ours. She gave us a dry run lesson, told us to give him insulin at 12-hour intervals, mentioned he had a cough because he’d been under anesthesia while undergoing a CT scan, was prone to frequent vomiting and bladder accidents and that we should feed him as much as possible because he was severely underweight. She transferred food, treats and insulin from her car to our rental, added a gift for Bri and was on her way. She was worried about her father-in-law, who was in the hospital and had possibly suffered a stroke that morning, so we didn’t ask many questions. We didn’t notice the absence of medical records or the lack of contact information for Nooby’s vet.
We’d never taken Nooby to a vet before and seldom taken any of our pets to animal clinics. I’m good at nursing dogs back to health and don’t like to put them to unnecessary stress in medical environments. Woofie, for example, visited a vet exactly twice in her 15 years: once to treat a paw injured while she was a stray and once to get spayed.
We took Nooby to an emergency veterinary hospital twice in the first 10 days of his stay. The first visit was so scary that I made it my own business to track down Nooby’s vets and medical records and the second so awful that it still gives me nightmares (I should never be in an environment populated by critically ill or injured animals.) Nooby had suffered two acute attacks of pancreatitis which, in addition to pain, caused vomiting, dehydration and a dangerous fluctuation in his blood sugar levels.
Tanya was right – injecting Nooby with insulin was easy. Knowing when – or if – to give insulin to a dog with an empty digestive tract is hard, and guessing incorrectly can be deadly. The emergency vet offered no guidance, and Tanya was temporarily unreachable. Nooby is extremely fortunate to have two veterinarians – a surgeon and regular care vet – who know his history and who were extraordinarily receptive to our calls and emails.
They called in both necessary and just-in-case prescriptions so we would be prepared if he showed signs of another pancreatitis attack or we ran low on insulin. And they suggested changes to Nooby’s diet to prevent further episodes.
Happy news: it worked! Within just a few days, Nooby started regaining energy and his smile returned! He – and we – slept through the night for the first time since his arrival, and excitedly planned the next four weeks of his stay, including visits to three of his favorite parks.
This is when Tanya and her extended family of advisors decided that Nooby must be returned to San Diego immediately. I was supposed to pack him up within the hour and make a 100-mile round trip to drop him off in a parking lot. And to give whoever showed up a lesson in giving insulin injections.
Just Say No!
I’ve spared you (and me in the retelling) the truly gross and abjectly terrifying details of Nooby’s medical emergencies. And I’ve glossed over how physically and emotionally draining the first days of Nooby’s stay were. I’ve also minimized the overall chaos. I deleted an entire page of this story because the laundry list of woes started to sound whiny.
(For the morbidly curious among you, some examples include a cop stop on the way to the vet hospital, a favorite sweater-coat ruined beyond repair and $400 damage to my laptop, which I dropped trying to answer one of the incessant – and pointless — phone calls from Tanya’s ex-husband.)
From a selfish standpoint, sending him home would have been an easy decision.
I said no. At first, I simply refused to make the trip, which I knew would delay things. Then I appealed to Nooby’s primary care veterinarian, who had repeatedly told me that I was doing a great job under difficult circumstances. Did she think Nooby should leave prematurely?
She didn’t and her viewpoint prevailed. That was 30 days ago, and each hour of those days was a treasure. I took Nooby on tepid mini-walks until he insisted he could keep up with Ivy and Lucy, dragging me up a mountain trail one evening and threatening to jump off a bridge another. He grew stronger and sturdier, needier and naughtier. He demanded breakfast at dawn and begged for treats at midnight. He amused, angered and exhausted us. He didn’t steal socks, but he absconded with Doosis’s food four times, outsmarting all of our attempts to keep it out of his reach. And, though we didn’t think it were possible, he pocketed a bigger piece of our hearts, too.
Personal Branding, Huh?
Where, you might wonder, is the personal branding lesson in this? What’s the big deal about saying no to someone’s ill-advised idea? It seemed easy enough and so what if it wasn’t? Couldn’t we have just sent Nooby home?
I’ll share the lesson by sharing the questions I asked myself, questions I’d advise anyone who cares about her personal brand to ask:
1. Do you act on conscience or convenience?
2. Are you willing to be unpopular or disliked because of a decision you make?
3. Do you understand the risks of your decision? Do you accept them?
4. Would you be happier losing the fight than never fighting at all?
5. Will you let someone else write the ending to your story?
Simple choices – when to say yes, when to say no, when to say I don’t care or when to say I don’t know – are what make or break our personal brands. Most of us want to be liked, but how far are we willing to go to win someone’s approval? Whether you love or abhor controversy, how do you choose your battles and your weapons?
Stories End, Memories Linger
I chose to own the ending of this story. And to share it with you.
Today, I said goodbye to an old friend.
It was probably our final goodbye, and it came too soon.
The sweetest farewells always do.
The more we laugh in someone’s presence, the more we cry in his absence.
But as the pain subsides, the joy returns to our memories and lightens our souls.
♥ ♥ ♥
Nooby returned home to San Diego just in time to greet Tanya after a 40-day separation. From all reports, the reunion was joyous.
Nooby is training Tanya to feed him his new favorite breakfast and snack food (Chobani Greek yogurt,) jumping up onto furniture he hadn’t tried to scale in months and reclaiming the territory he now shares with Tanya’s husband, Reid; their daughter, Paige, and other dog, Kibbee. In other words, he’s back to being what Tanya cheerfully calls “a rubbish.”
Nooby is the author of his story and won’t let anyone – not even this storyteller – write its ending.
How about you? When you set goals for your business or personal brand, do you let them slide when obstacles get in the way? Or do you – plot twists be damned – write the endings to your stories?
Watch (and listen) as Katherine’s daughters sing a silly song to an even sillier dog!
Photo Credit – Flower Market: Ashley Ella Designs