Monthly Archives: March 2016

Blood Hounds

Recently, while working on a magazine story about blood donations, I unexpectedly landed on a website for dog donors. To be precise, the website is for the human owners of dog donors, since it’s kind of difficult to type out Google searches with canine paws, especially when those pesky dew claws get in the way.

The Canadian Animal Blood Bank, based in Winnipeg but with additional collection locations in Edmonton and Toronto, holds regular blood donor clinics for dogs. We don’t believe the dogs mind these acts of altruism; in fact, some of the clinics’ regulars have donated 10 or 20 times already. (Since the promise of a few food crumbs will convince a canine to do just about anything, we’re guessing these patient pooches get some pretty tasty treats after their donation.)

To be eligible to donate, dogs must weigh more than 50 pounds, be between one and eight years of age, and be of even temperament (um… obviously). The blood that’s collected is shipped all over Canada as needed.

And is it needed, you may wonder? Turns out dog transfusions aren’t all that unusual, and in the case of an accident or illness, they can save a pet’s life… like Annie, an Irish wolfhound who almost bled to death trying to give birth to her seven puppies, or Misty, whose blood couldn’t clot properly after she swallowed rat poison.

My favourite story is about Copper, a cute golden retriever-bloodhound mix who unfortunately contracted parvovirus. This is a potentially dangerous disease and dogs are normally vaccinated against it, but Copper was still a puppy, and his immunizations were not yet complete. He almost died from complications. But thanks to a blood transfusion, he recovered fully.

Why do I love this story? Because as soon as Copper was full grown, he pranced straight to the nearest blood donor clinic to give back. Literally.

Nice to know his gift was not all in vein (please forgive me).


This is Booker. Not only did he donate blood this weekend, he further suffered the indignity of donning this Easter Bunny outfit. We’re all grateful to you, Booker. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Animal Blood Bank.)

Send Hugs. They Help.

It’s rather creepy to think that folks at Facebook are reading everything you post on their social network. But they are. It’s fine because it’s in the name of science. Besides, their findings are fascinating.

Two Facebook researchers recently analyzed millions of status updates. (Not to worry, the identities were removed, so they don’t actually know what your restaurant meal looked like or how much you enjoyed Zootopia.) The researchers did uncover some notable differences, depending on whether the posts were positive (“My brilliant kid just scored a full scholarship to her top university!” “My husband is the most attentive man on earth!” “I may never come home from this amazing dream vacation in Tahiti!”) or negative (“Blew the job interview!” “Will this back pain ever go away?” “Missing my dog…”).

It turns out that when we write about our struggles, it’s much more likely to provoke comments from friends. And these comments are more emotional, more supportive and lengthier compared to comments made under positive status updates. Friends are also likely to send us private messages of support when they hear troubling news.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that this is a good reason to share our troubles on social media. “Your tough times can bring out the best in your friends—and help make Facebook a better place for everyone,” says an article on the centre’s website. Your network will rally, admirably, to help you get you through a challenging situation. You won’t suffer alone.

Well, we all have our own comfort levels and TMI buffers, so I’m not so quick to suggest that we should paste all our problems onto Facebook, sit back and wait for the fruit baskets to arrive. But on the other hand, I’ve also witnessed what a comfort it has been for friends and colleagues, after experiencing an unspeakable tragedy, to have that tremendous online support. It doesn’t excise the pain, but it does provide some solace.

For me, the takeaway is this: If you’re considering reaching out to your network with bad news, don’t hesitate. They’re there for you. And, conversely, when we read about a friend’s terrible distress, and we’re debating whether or not to post a comment, we should feel encouraged to extend our sympathy and support. Because chances are it will make a difference. And at a time like this, that’s all we want to do for our friend, isn’t it?

This post is dedicated to the memory of A.S.


Sofa, So Good

Basement purging is one of my favourite ways to do good deeds for others, because it simultaneously leads to a less cluttered house for me. The Internet makes it painless to repurpose almost anything instead of dumping it as trash. Plus, as you meet the various takers for your rejected stuff, you often collect some pretty hilarious stories.

My kindhearted neighbours are preparing to downsize to a condo. I won’t share their names publicly, lest I trigger a neighbourhood protest rally outside their front door. But I will say they recently experienced that sofa-shedding process that almost anyone goes through when they’re moving, downsizing, renovating or remodeling. It’s practically a rite of passage. It centres on an old, loyal couch that has seen your household through several decades, possibly even through multiple homeowners or generations. When purchased new, the camelback lines and emerald-and-brown floral pattern made a stunning statement as a living-room showpiece. Over time, however, the cushions begin to sag even as the colour palette stops trending. At some point, the sofa, now on the shabby side, is downgraded to the basement level, where it is jumped on by small people and spilled on by beer (hopefully not both at the same time). Eventually, it’s time to haul the sofa back up the stairs and out the door.

Now, not all used sofas are ugly or uncomfortable. A great many are still structurally sound, with a neutral colour scheme as an undeniable bonus. My neighbours’ couch fell into this category.

Sofas, as a general rule, are tough to relocate to good homes, because they’re difficult to transport and potentially life-threatening on stairs. When I think about the stuff I’ve given away, many takers arrived by bike or by public transit. One guy even carried our superfluous wooden door away with him to the bus stop. When my neighbours recently made inquiries about donating their couch, they were told it would cost them two hundred bucks in handling fees. Sadly, the piece of furniture thus languished curbside for garbage pick-up.

But they didn’t totally give up. As a thoughtful touch – with the faint hope that someone with access to hearty movers would spot the couch and realize it was the perfect piece for their own home – my neighbours covered the couch with clear plastic to protect it from the elements. At least it wouldn’t be ruined while it sat outside in bad weather.

I would love to be able to tell you that within days a truck drove up with Sofas-for-the-Needy R Us stenciled on the side, loaded up my friends’ couch and carted it away. I’d like to say that the children currently sitting on this beloved couch are so comfortable and secure that they’re finally able to concentrate properly on their studies, and that every one of them will eventually be offered a full scholarship to the university of their choice… but that would be wishful thinking. Sadly, no one claimed the couch for their own, and the garbage truck eventually picked it up.

At least my neighbours tried. They had generosity in their hearts, and a practical idea in place. Maybe someone who spotted what they’d done will do the same when it’s their turn to donate furniture. And maybe, this time, it really will result in a bright future for a bright family.

You never know.


I don’t have a photo of my neighbours’ sofa to show you, but it was a whole lot more plasticworthy than this one.

Chairman of the Beard

On this blog we’ve talked about growing moustaches for charity. This is a story about shaving off a beard for charity. A man in Clarenville, Newfoundland, who apparently felt that four decades was long enough to live with face fungus, recently made big plans to shed his full-length, bushy white beard. (Why, yes, he does in fact sell Christmas trees during the holiday season.)

Ralph Lethbridge – known to his pals as “Boonie” – wanted to leave a legacy as he prepared to embrace a baby-smooth chin, so he decided he’d do some fundraising. His charity of choice: the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. Three of Boonie’s friends have had the disease. Boonie hoped to raise $5,000 for the cause.

Reportedly, Boonie is a bit of a legend around town (hey, it’s a small town). Thus the idea got popular pretty quickly, and a few weeks ago, during a local Clarenville Caribous hockey game, the ice rink ended up doubling as a barbershop. To the cheers of spectators, a variety of helping hands – including Don Cherry, jokingly wielding a chainsaw – took turns trimming and shaving Boonie’s facial hair until it was completely gone.

Boonie must be feeling proud. Donations poured in as the story took off, and he ultimately raised over $50,000 for the non-profit organization.

But he did have to work to overcome his apprehension first. That’s according to Todd Cole, Clarenville’s director of leisure service, who helped arrange the event. “He was so nervous before it,” Cole told a reporter, “that he got up on the ridge where he goes cutting wood, and started speaking to the trees and moose. Apparently they said, ‘Grow up, Boonie, for f—’s sake!’

Cole (rather needlessly) added: “The whole family is truly salt-of-the-earth people.”


Proudly impersonating Santa one last time. (Facebook)

It’s Always Darkest Before the Yawn

She loves me, she loves me not: If you want to know how connected your pal feels to you, try yawning in her presence. The tighter your social bond, the more likely she is to yawn in response to you.

There are a lot of theories about why we yawn, why it’s contagious, and how come some people are more susceptible to infectious yawning than others. It could be genetic. It might be a survival instinct to keep a group out of danger. And it has something to do with age – older people and younger children seem more immune.

Currently, there’s a reasonable amount of evidence to suggest links with empathy. That’s why a group of biologists at the University of Pisa figured that since women are known to have more developed empathic abilities than men (sorry, guys, but it has to do with our traditional roles of tending the kids and making sure our clans get along), perhaps they’d be more susceptible to contagious yawns. They tested this out and found that not only were women, as expected, more likely to catch a yawn than men – but yawns were also more contagious between close friends and family members, and less contagious between people they barely knew.

So if you want to measure the loyalty of your female friend, catch her eye and do some dramatic yawning. (Either that, or ask for a loan, and see how that goes.)

Personally, I’m convinced I have a severe case of yawnitis. I yawn when I see someone else yawning, when I look at a picture of someone yawning, when I write the word yawning, when I think about yawning, even when I watch a drawbridge opening. In fact, I’ve yawned thirty-six times already while writing this blog. Either I’m tight as glue with every person on the planet… or I need another go at the morning coffee. Suspicions are strong it’s the latter.


Aw, look at that. She likes you, she really likes you. (Photo by David Castillo Dominici /