Thursday, July 7, 2016

Black Cats Tell All With A Whole Lotta TLC And Help A Candid Conversation With Layla Morgan Wilde

I like cats, I like them a lot, especially big fluffy cats. Now there is a lot of myths about cats especially black cats that have been held for a long time.  It’s hard to believe, but people are actually terrified of black cats. They are often associated with evil and bad luck. Well one person is trying to dispel some of the myths about cats in particular black cats.  I am pleased to welcome Layla Mogran Wilde from She is a cat lover and is working to dispel some black cat myths through Black Cats Tell All. Hey Layla thanks for doing a Candid Conversation.

Cliff T.: So you are part of cat wisdom and that sounds interesting, can you give us some idea of what that means, as in what is cat wisdom all about?

Layla W.: When I founded Cat Wisdom 101 in 2011, I wanted but the URL was taken. After five years of blogging, I'm ready for a new version. Cat wisdom is the timeless and universal wisdom I glean from my feline muses. 

Cliff T.: So is the goal here to educate and entertain people with and without cats in their lives?

Layla W.: It's safe to say that all of my readers love cats. Most have cats but some are in between cats for whatever reason and find my comfort and connection with other cat lovers in my community.

Cliff T.: The reason for the question is that I see that you are a cat consultant, I have to admit I have not heard of such a job, please let us know what it is you do?

Layla W.: Twenty years ago, it was rare to find cat behaviorists, cat experts of any kind but now we have them on TV like Jackson Galaxy on Animal Planet There are hundreds of books and many blogs like mine delving into cat care, cat behavior and cat culture. I originally worked with behavioral issues in cats but in the past year devoting more time to advocacy work, consulting in the pet industry and with celebrity cats. I might consult on how to reduce stress on a cross country move, travel safely to a photo shoot and how to navigate social media when a cat becomes popular.

Cliff T.: How did you end up working with cats? What got you interested in doing this kind of work?

Kayla W.: Cats are a life long passion but I fell into this field by accident. When I was living in Toronto in the mid-nineties, I noticed feral cats in my back yard and started feeding them. When the time came for me to move, I worried who would take care of the cats. We didn't have the network of cat rescue groups we do today.

I called my local paper, The Annex Gleaner and asked if they would put out a call for volunteers. I figured I might as well start a grassroots rescue group. They paper printed an article by a rookie journalist named Rebecca Caldwell.  I had no clue what to expect.

One day the doorbell rang and a young woman on a bicycle asked if I'm the person with the rescue group. I nodded, she handed me a hundred dollar bill and the Annex Cat Rescue was born. Overnight, my home become a hive of volunteers and I had to learn how to manage a rescue group. One of the volunteers was a lawyer who did all our legal work pro bono do get our charitable status. Other volunteers did TNR and a group would make catnip toys in my living room for fundraising. I'm proud to say, I was the inventor of the long tail or kicker type catnip toy in leopard and other fabrics. ( I wish we had Instagram then!). For a couple years my home phone number was the point of contact for the group. I fielded all calls about emergencies, vetting prospective adoptees, organized foster homes and implemented new adoption protocols.

When I moved to the U.S. in 2001, I left the group in capable hands who eventually wrote me out of their history. This is the only remaining evidence naming me as founder. It's from The Annex Cat Rescue's old website. The new one has reinvented the history saying it was founded by a group with no mention of me. They stripped me of my legacy. I've attempted to make contact several times over the years to no avail. It's a shame since there is so much more I could do for them now.

Cliff T.: Indeed it is sad to see that your legacy was taken like that.  Hopefully that will change.  So is there a good day and bad day scenario for cats and people working with them?

Layla W.: In my experience those who work with cats whether formally or as volunteers are a passionate bunch who care deeply about cats. There is always more need than the ability to fill the need, whether it's education, funding, staff. It's never enough which is why there is a high burn out rate for shelter and rescue workers. On a good day, nothing is more satisfying than saving a life or making a difference in the lives of cats and those who love them.

Cliff T.: What is the biggest challenge you see in your work that cat owners need to deal with and also what those who do not have a cat need to overcome?

Layla W.: The biggest challenge is empowering clients to take responsibility for their part of the issue. Most cats don’t think they are the problem or have a problem. They're simply responding to their owners behavior. Most of the time it's the owners who have created the issue and not the cat.

Cliff T.: Let’s look into Black Cats Tell All, what exactly is the goal.

Layla W.: In a sentence: to reframe black cats as adorable adoptables. My ultimate goal and dream is a color-blind world where cats are not judged by the color of their fur.

Cliff T.: Is it that bad for black cats, I mean are they more a target than say other cats?

Layla W.: It depends where you live in the world. A black cat in Japan is considered lucky. In Canada and The U.S. black cats are targets of cruelty based on ignorance and superstition.

Cliff T.: Layla, what are the biggest myths about black cats that are out there. What kinds of things are said about them and is there also violence they face?

Layla W.: The biggest myths are based on superstitions like black cats are in league with the devil and it's unlucky if one crosses your path. The long association of cats and witches goes back hundreds of years to the Dark Ages but gets activated every Halloween with stereotypical, scary black cat iconography.

Cliff T.: Can you give us a glimpse into Black Cats Tell All, meaning how do you plan to give black cats a voice, I noted that you seem to want to do that in the voice of the first person.

Layla W.: All the contributing feline "authors" are narrating their story from the perspective of the cat. It's up to their owner/slave/ assistant to translate the story accordingly. It offers a fresh perspective and plenty of creative opportunities to promote a positive message. The only caveat is to not include graphic violence or anything to perpetuate existing myths.

Cliff T.: I do know that there are some issues generally with cat population control etc that said I am assuming that Black Cats Tell All is meant to give a voice to cats and issues they face specifically black cats. Layla what has the feedback been like?

Layla W.: Black cats are 50% less likely to be adopted in a shelter. That means they are at higher risk to be euthanized. The response from black cat lovers is encouraging. They know the truth of how wonderful black cats and can't believe others don't. We've had some great press and social media support including a Facebook live video event by Cole and Marmalade. Fundraising is never easy and we're 50% funded but our campaign ends on July 14. One way or another I'm committed to bring this project to fruition.

Cliff T.: Excellent well thanks for filling us in on some of the details and for doing a Candid Conversation.

Layla W.: Thank-you. It's always a pleasure to share my passion for cats.

Layla Wilde is the creator and editor of Black Cats Tell All, a Nonprofit Kickstarter project via Cat Wisdom and she wrote to us from New York. The kickstarter campaign link is Visit CatWisdom101 across all social media @catwisdom101

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Excercise + Study = Healthy Mind Healthy Body: A Candid Conversation With Dr. Chris Shaffer, Troy University

Here is an interesting idea, go to a library study and exercise while doing it! Believe it or not that is what students at Alabama’s Troy University can now do. I think this is pretty cool and I called on the man behind the idea Dr. Chris Shaffer, Dean of Library Services and Associate Professor at Troy.

Dr. Shaffer what an interesting concept, thanks for letting me speak to you about it here on Candid Conversations.

Dr. C. Shaffer.: Thanks, I am glad to do it.

Cliff T.: This is a bold move, what prompted the idea to bring exercise and study together?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: I read an article about the concept and thought it was a cool idea. The bikes from FitDesk are reasonably priced, so I thought we would put three at our Dothan, AL location as well as three on the Troy campus and see what the response would be.

Cliff T.: From what I have read you have put exercise bikes into two of your libraries that allow students to exercise while they study, this of course done by having a spot where the student can place a book or laptop to use at the same time, what has been the reaction to the bikes?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Students, faculty, and our administration have really liked the idea. We were getting a ton of inquiries before we even had the bikes assembled.

Cliff T.: Can you describe the bikes, as in can the speed be adjusted on them etc.?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: They are your standard exercise bikes, but they have a table that will accommodate a laptop computer, or other reading materials. There is a knob that will strengthen the resistance as you pedal. A digital screen lets you know how many calories you have burned, or distance you have pedaled.

Cliff T.: Are you planning on adding more bikes to the current locations and in other libraries that are part of the Troy University campuses? And at which libraries can the students find them?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: Due to the response, we have ordered three more bikes for the Troy campus, and also six elliptical machines that go under desks. Originally, when it was just going to be three bikes, I was putting everything in a relatively small study room. Now, though, we have repurposed a larger space to accommodate all of the equipment. There is room for another six bikes at least should demand present itself.

Cliff T.: Dr. Shaffer do the students have to reserve the bikes, like they would say a computer or books? I am also assuming that a student would have to show student I.D. to use them correct?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: Actually, computers are first come, first serve. For the moment we are doing the same with the bikes. Based on what we observe, a policy will evolve. Some people are worried that users will spend so much time on the bikes that we need to set a time limit, which may happen, but since this is at the least a quasi-strenuous activity, I question whether people will stay on them for hours at a time. As for I.D. cards, we are a state assisted institution, and also a government documents repository, so the public is welcome to use our facilities.

Cliff T.: As I stated at the beginning of our chat, this is a bold move, what is the goal, what are you wanting the student body to take away from this project?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: In all honesty, it never occurred to me that we were going boldly where no library had gone before. The level of interest in this idea has proven me somewhat wrong, at least in the way people perceive libraries. What makes libraries cool is they relate to literally every discipline and interest. There are no limits to what you can do with a library unless you lack all imagination and creativity.

Cliff T.: I bet you have been getting quite the response from outside of the university as well. Did you anticipate such a huge response to the program?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: Never, but what a great thing to have happen. I have so far seen articles comparing what we are doing with a school in Austria, there have been interviews with USA Today, the Huffington Post, and the national radio program America in the Morning. NBC News also requested a statement.

Cliff T.: I know this is a tough question to answer, as for the rest of the world, what would you want the message about the program be?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: I never have just one message. I think one message is to try to lead a balanced life. Troy’s motto is educate the mind to think, the heart to feel, and the body to act. I don’t know that I had ever thought about how profound that truly is until we bought the bikes and started receiving so much attention, which led to a great deal of reflection on my part. However, if you think about it, if you follow the advice in that motto, you will probably have a successful, healthy, and happy life. Another thing to consider though, is this is a statement about libraries not being about the stereotypes they sometimes become. Think of Donna Reed transforming into a librarian (the horror, the horror) in Its a Wonderful Life. That is not what libraries are like today, and that is a large part of the American Libraries current Libraries Transform campaign. Libraries will also be about quiet places to study in part, but they are also places for innovation, creation, discussion, debate, lectures, film series, and yes, exercise.

Cliff T.: I would have to say that this is something I have never heard of or seen before. Have you been getting calls from other schools looking at this idea?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: If you look around the Internet, you will discover we are not the only academic library doing this, but I think it is safe to say it is a cutting edge idea.

Cliff T.: Dr. Shaffer, from the sounds of this is a very personal mission of yours, would I be accurate in that statement and if so in what way?

Dr. C. Shaffer.: I think it might be more accurate to say it is becoming a personal mission. It was an inexpensive experiment that I thought might be well-received. Obviously, I underestimated ever so slightly.

Cliff T.: Dr. Shaffer, I think you have definitely got a great idea off the ground, thanks for speaking with me and my readers here on Candid Conversations.

Dr. C. Shaffer.: Glad to; it’s been fun.

Dr. Christopher Shaffer, Dean of Library Services is bringing exercise and study together at Troy University, where he has brought in exercise bikes to the university’s libraries.

Dr. Shaffer also received the I Love My Librarian award last  year, so that might interest you as well:

Of course Dr. Shaffer wrote to us from Troy University which is located in Troy Alabama.