Opinion: Saving GameStop

Many are watching GameStop’s decline with anticipation of its demise, eager to see it go out of business once and for all. I personally don’t agree with that position and find it short sighted to do so. Most seem to want GameStop to collapse due to their own discontentment with the company’s policies and treatment of both customers and employees.

While this topic itself may see a lot disagreeing with me, rather than wanting to see GameStop burn to the ground, I’d prefer to see the company turn things around and be better. Better for the employees, better for customers, and better for the industry. The company’s new CEO, George Sherman, has reportedly set out a 3 point plan for the company’s turn around. Personally, I think there’s a lot more to do than just three steps, though some of my opinions might fall under Sherman’s three points of “GameStop Reboot”:

  • Address SG&A [Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses] that’s been allowed to deleverage
  • Execute on opportunities to optimize current business
  • Develop new revenues for future

A lot of this is well and good, and some of my suggestions will fall into these areas, but there are a lot of aspects missing that GameStop needs to work on.

Problem #1: Perception

GameStop’s biggest problem is their perception among gamers. In the past, one could argue that core gamers aren’t crucial compared to the casual gamers and family members that go to GameStop to pick up games as gifts or browse for something new. That is no longer the case. If GameStop wants to be the “local church” of gaming with E3 being the “Vatican”, they need to appeal to core gamers. They need YouTubers and social media talking about what they picked up at GameStop or what they did one afternoon at GameStop.

To accomplish that, GameStop has to do some soul searching because their current image is that of a soulless corporation that doesn’t care about their customers, their employees, or their product.

Proposed Solutions

Executive Level Company Image
Executive level management should take steps to gain back some goodwill with the gaming community, seek feedback, and gather input on what their core customer base is looking for. I would look for opportunities to have CEO Sherman himself be a guest and take face to face criticism from YouTubers and podcasts. During these appearances, there shouldn’t be a hard push to explain or defend policies so much as taking opportunities to take the public lashings and listen to feedback directly. Keep in mind Sherman is new to the position. He’s the top of the chain, so he’s the right guy to get first hand input from the community. Another opportunity for this would be to hold a Reddit “TMA” – Tell Me Anything rather than Ask Me Anything where users can simply vent to the top dog of GameStop.

After gathering feedback, executive management would need to genuinely evaluate the information and determine what actions can be taken to address the issues brought up. Compile a plan and present it in a Letter to the Gaming Community, published on GameStop’s website and in GameInformer (assuming it’s still being published).

Gamer (Consumer) Advocate
I would also create a new position within the executive team akin to what Howard Phillips was for Nintendo. This position would not be interested in the company’s assets and profits, stock performance, or shareholder concerns. This position’s entire purpose would be to advocate for gamers to the executive staff and help guide decisions on what games to pursue for in-store promotions.

This position would also be responsible for analyzing every promotional program at GameStop and competition to evaluate potential for abuse. Believe me, we gamers figure out how to abuse systems and go to multiple sources for our own benefit. To succeed, GameStop needs to have incentive to be a primary source for purchases and trades.

Policies in Action
All executive management should undergo “undercover boss” type training as an assistant manager in store every so often to understand how corporate policy translates to in-store application on a day to day basis.

2. Value Employees
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the first step that won’t make logical retail sense would be to abandon standard retail thinking. Drop the quotas for selling GameStop Pro cards, drop the pressure for reservations, drop the numeric requirements to push these things.

Instead, incentivize these things. Employees should have a bonus structure for selling Pro Memberships, not quota requirements. Don’t push reservations at all. They’re seen with a growing negativity and many describe it as dealing with a “used car salesman.” The only exceptions are Collector’s Editions that typically sell out – but make them cancellable/refundable/returnable with ease (when unopened) as others do.

Consolidate Stores
I know this seems counter intuitive when talking about doing right by employees, but it’s a necessary reality for GameStop’s position. They need to close more stores and consolidate into localized, larger, locations.

Staff these stores with employees from the closed stores who were Managers, Assistant Managers, and Team Leads and pay them all at the team lead or assistant manager level rather than decreasing their pay. Treat your store employees similar to office jobs with more hours and better vacation, offset by lower overall headcount across the company. Employees who feel valued are more productive.

This consolidation factors into a later detail in the “Store as an Experience.”

3. Value Customers

Pre Orders
Core gamers have developed a more negative view of pre-orders. They are seen as a cash grab for a product that may not be worth it. Employees shouldn’t be required to push pre-orders and the pre-orders themselves need to be revised in how they work.

There should be no down payment required for pre-ordering a game. Best Buy doesn’t require a down payment. Amazon doesn’t require a down payment. Gamestop.com does not require the $5 down payment. The stores should not be required to take one either. An exception could be made for Collector’s Editions, but the above sources don’t require one on those either. If a down payment is taken, a full refund should be available in store credit or by method of payment for cancellation at any time or for unopened pre-orders that are returned within a set time frame.

Truly, however, the pre-order process itself should be redesigned. The Kingdom Hearts III PS4 is an excellent example. Pre-orders should be announced with a set window as far in advance as the manufacturer can offer. Partners such as GameStop should then take pre orders within that window – say 90 days of pre-orders – and then report their numbers back to the manufacturer. The total quantity across all retail partners should then determine the manufacturer’s production run. This isn’t entirely on GameStop, obviously, but they and other retailers should be pushing for a redesign of the process with the manufacturers.

Trade Value
GameStop is perceived as having horrible trade value. Some of this is unwarranted, some of it is. Either way, GameStop should make an effort to improve customer perception of their trade values with more transparency on how those values are determined.

Customers should get better trade value for complete games – disc, manual, and case with art for disc games or box, manual, and cartridge for older games. Likewise, disc only or empty cases and manuals should be accepted for lower value and returned to the corporate warehouse to be paired with other loose parts for a complete game.

Improve value wherever possible. Small towns and entrepreneurs at conventions often offer 50% of sell value for trade in. However, many will only take select games. GameStop’s volume should at least allow them to offer more than they currently do outside of promotional deals. Arguably, a solid trade policy should make trade in promotions unnecessary.

Price Value
Current online selling trends should more quickly be reflected in GameStop’s prices. The database GameStop uses needs to become more agile to respond to shifting trends.

Condition should affect the price of games. Managers, and even some employees, should be authorized to adjust prices in their stores, offering discounts based on condition. This is big for retro games and would give an advantage over some retro-focused chain competition.

Price aggressively on retro games. Most collectors and even many core gamers, are now very aware they can check game price values on eBay with sites like Pricecharting and GameValueNow. GameStop should be targeting to undercut these averages by 10% off the shelf. From the buyer’s standpoint, this puts their price on even footing to eBay after sales tax and for GameStop is equal to what a seller would actually net through eBay.

Opened games should be treated as used, even if it was a display copy that never left the store. For every shipment of games, one copy should automatically be written down as a used copy and kept for in-store demos and allowing customers to try a game out and sold as the final copy at used price.

Offer more transparency on pricing and be more sensible about it. A game on clearance should not be $5 or $10 off the original full value price. Likewise, a used game should at least be $10 off even the week of release. Similarly, used prices should never be higher than new prices and if they are, the reason should be clearly understood, such as a publisher mandated reduction on new copies for a limited time.

4. Product Value
This is an area that GameStop is absolutely abhorrent and should not only take great strides to fix, but should also issue a statement and public apology for its undervaluing of its own product.

Retro games have been sorely undervalued by the company historically. Boxes and manuals should never be thrown away, but there are many former employees who report they regularly are for retro games, especially hand held games. This should change immediately. Some retro games have boxes and manuals that are worth more than the game itself and GameStop has thrown away profits in this regard.

An example I’ve seen was the NES game Metal Storm. During a B2G1 free sale, a customer purchased Metal Storm for around $100 and was elated to get it with the manual included. The manual averages $65 on Pricecharting at the time of this writing based on eBay sold auction averages. The box averages $100 by itself.

The website needs to be updated, along with the database, to reflect an improved value of the product. Stock should be identified into categories:

  • Disc/cartridge only
  • Disc with case/cart with box
  • Complete – Disc/cart with manual and box or case with artwork
  • Pricing adjustments should be made based on condition (damage to label/art/box/manual) and noted on the website’s listing.

Problem #2: Competition

Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are no longer simply suppliers, but are now direct competitors and GameStop has to pivot their thinking and perform a very careful dance. They cannot directly attack the big three, but they have to view them as competition that must be outperformed in order to draw customers back to the store for physical games as opposed to downloading from digital store fronts. In addition to these three, you’ve got standard retailers that have always been competition as well as the online behemoth of Amazon.

Value of Physical
GameStop’s lifeblood is physical games and the digital stores are competition. The market may continue to shrink and become more niche, but consolidated stores should offset that. As such, GameStop has to get better at emphasizing the value of physical media.

  • Physical games, even standard copies, will continue to be more likely to become collector’s items, such as has happened with Job Simulator on Playstation VR.
  • Physical discs allow more data to be installed to a console faster for those in areas with slower Internet.
  • Physical discs retain some value of being able to be sold or traded in while digital offers no such benefit (at least for now).

Retro Games
Retro games have an entire collectors market on their own, defying digital versions of old games despite being readily available. Retro gaming will likely maintain a market until approximately 5 years after a console generation goes fully digital as people will feel some nostalgia for the games they grew up with and the trend for retro collecting today will likely continue through console generations that had physical copies.

Physical Retro Games are sought after in local stores, retro focused chain stores, and pull in thousands of attendees at Retro Game Conventions. YouTube channels focus on retro games and content creators become small time YouTube celebrities by celebrating gaming history with these titles. Retro Gaming and physical media is a strong area for GameStop to shift focus as digital becomes bigger with new releases.

“New” Retro Games
In addition to this market of existing games, GameTrust offers GameStop an avenue of currently unexplored potential for “new” retro games. If GameStop can obtain a license for small print runs of games on NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis that were never released in the US, there may be a market for those. Thorough evaluation would be required to evaluate licensing costs, a localization department to translate the games, and the cost of manufacturing chips and cartridges to play on original hardware. However, it’s possible with GameStop’s size and the right spread of acquirements this could create a small, but profitable, market to get into.

Final Fantasy II, III, and V, for example, were never released in the US on their original systems. There are, however, fan translations that have been flashed onto carts and are sold at conventions. A legal, licensed, and official copy with Square Enix, especially with professional box, maps, and manuals, would likely have a market. If print-on-demand were possible, rather than large print runs, there may be more opportunities with lower risk here. Reproductions, basically bootleg versions, regularly sell for up to $60 for just a cartridge at conventions. Cartridges can be 3D printed, basic chip boards can be purchased online for around $4 whereas GameStop would likely be able to find a source for less in bulk and the same goes for chips themselves.

Limited Print Games
Companies such as Limited Run Games and Strictly Limited Games have sprung up in recent years and there are more out there now offering limited print runs of digital only games for PS4, PS Vita, and Nintendo Switch. It’s a major error that GameStop wasn’t the first to this market with GameTrust.

These limited print runs regularly sell out of 5000 copies within minutes. Utilizing the earlier proposed pre-order window resulting in determining a production run’s quantity removes much of the frustration and resentment gamers have towards these companies and the resulting eBay scalping that comes with them. GameStop could pursue their own division of partnering with smaller publishers to create physical runs on digital only releases or partner with existing companies similar to how Limited Run Games has done some limited partnerships with Best Buy.

Problem #3: Traffic to stores

Traffic to stores has decreased, largely attributable to the rise of digital gaming and online shopping. It’s easy to simply click a few buttons and download or order a game. GameStop has to look for ways to make it worthwhile to put in the effort to go to the local store.

Store Services
Hire staff that are capable of doing in-store refurbish and repairs on consoles, allowing customers to pay a down payment for the time to perform the analysis and diagnose the required repair. Once diagnosed, contact the customer with the quoted cost and let them decide to go ahead with the repair or pick up their console. If they choose to proceed, the down payment should go towards the cost of repair and they only owe the balance.

Invest is a high quality disc resurfacing machine and offer disc resurfacing for a reasonable price. 75 cents per disc would beat most other stores that offer the same.

Stores should be more focused on what they’re meant to be – Video Game Stores. Decrease emphasis on ThinkGeek products that aren’t related to video games. For example, Mario, God of War, Zelda t-shirts are a good fit for GameStop stores, as well as Overwatch statues or Sonic the Hedgehog figures. However, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers are not a good fit (unless Capcom announces Rescue Rangers Remastered), nor are anime statues. Board games may be a reasonable avenue to expand to, however.

If ThinkGeek and GameStop must remain more entertwined, the proposed larger store footprint should be divided up so customers know where to go for video games, where to go for anime related merchandise, and where to go for general geek related merchandise.

All of this builds towards a retail store as an experience, but GameStop should go a step further in making the stores an experience that cannot be replicated with online purchases.

A few ideas:

  • Every game in the store should be playable in a demo area much like kiosks used to be available in FuncoLand stores to try out games.
  • Have a classic arcade cabinet in the store. If a customer beats the previous high score, they get a discount on one item
  • Employees should be encouraged to speak their mind about games, but trained to do so without creating a negative experience. If a game is bad, it’s in the company’s best interest to inform customers. If a game simply isn’t the type of game a particular employee enjoys, they should be able to voice that while recommending another employee to speak to about that type of game.
  • Ideally a store would have a team with a variety of genre preferences – the MMO expert, the FPS expert, etc.
  • Stores in rural areas with slower residential Internet should set up LAN areas where Internet can be rented by the hour and allow customers to play online games

The final point I would make about the experience is in regards to competition. GameStop should absolutely evaluate the area for small local shops that offer retro games. If the area has a number of them, do not push retro games in that area’s stores. Retro games are a finite resource and they do get harder and harder to find with time. Don’t compete with local stores and don’t be seen as driving them out of business. In fact, let employees in those areas encourage customers to check out local small businesses. Meanwhile, bring GameStop’s retro game focus to areas with no other alternatives. It’s another decision that seems counter-intuitive to stock investor thinking, but in the long run, it will be better for all parties in the retro market.

PowerUp Rewards
I would suggest some changes to the PowerUp Rewards membership as well. The purpose of the card, from GameStop’s perspective, is to encourage customers to shop at GameStop while the customer’s perspective is to get the best deal.

In May it was announced that the Pro Membership would be changing from a 10% discount on used games to a $5 off coupon once a month, which has to be used in that month along with an increase to $20/year cost. The first thing I would recommend is GameStop freeze all memberships from expiring and announce a new complete rework of the program.

First, with the earlier suggested equipment in place, offer 5 free disc refurbishes a month. That’s ~$5 value per month on its own and costs the company next to nothing.

Evaluate Best Buy’s rewards points system. PowerUp already earns points per dollar spent. Allow those to accumulate for a $5 gift card ever x number of points (Best Buy’s is every 250 points). Customers can bank their points to keep saving up or use them as they are acquired. This ultimately means a customer can spend and bank points for years until they have enough to buy a brand new console on release day completely with points.  Letting customers earn points on used games to build up gift certs to use on new games ultimately means higher profits for GameStop and “free” new releases for customers.

I would also suggest categorizing games for a progressive membership discount. This would let members get larger discounts on some games and potentially help the company clear out older inventory that doesn’t sell. For the right price, many gamers are willing to pick up a random game to give it a try and this could help move slow selling games without going fully to clearance.

Conclusion

While none of these things are a magic answer to GameStop’s problems, some require analysis that can only be done from within the company, and some may prove cost prohibitive to implement, I do think a lot of these would contribute towards turning the company around.

I know a lot of people just want to see GameStop go under, but I truly believe they would simply turn their distaste for GameStop towards other retail locations, including local stores that have no choice but to utilize some of the policies GameStop uses. Many consumers don’t understand the business side of these companies and the realities of their expenses and costs that have to be taken on to keep the stores operating.

However, I do also believe that if GameStop truly put in the effort from the top down to improve itself, make itself the modern store gamers fondly (if sometimes inaccurately) remember FuncoLand to be, and genuinely work to be a better company for its employees, customers, and the industry itself, they would be embraced once again…..eventually.

The question is whether or not they, and the stockholders, are willing to invest the time and effort and if they can reach that point of being accepted by the gaming community again before it’s too late.

First Big Garage Sale Find of 2019!

After a rough week at work, I kicked back on Friday night and enjoyed some Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I just knocked out some roulettes for the Mog Tomestones and logged off to play some Star Wars: The Old Republic. My goal is to finish off the original class story for my first character before FFXIV launches Shadowbringers. As I was logging in, I took a look at Craigslist to check on garage sales for the weekend and lo and behold there was one listed!

I spotted NBA Street Vol 2 and Dance Dance Revolution Mario Remix with $1 stickers and thought it was worth checking out, so I logged off and hit the sack since I had to get up early to get to that garage sale.

I woke up at 4AM. That was way too early, so I decided to get a little more sleep. But as I was laying there, I started thinking I’d need to grab a shower and swing by an ATM before actually heading to the sale. I wanted to get there about half an hour early so I’d get first look as soon as they opened.

After the shower, I hit the ATM and found…. it was having technical issues. So I had to go to a different one to grab some cash. Finally on the way to the garage sale, Maps was estimating I’d get there early. Too early. An hour and a half early. Wow, did I misjudge timing!

I drove slow to get there later, but it didn’t seem to help at all. I was still tremendously close and due to arrive an hour and a half before it was scheduled to start. I decided I’d just get there and see what was in the area, maybe get breakfast. As I got closer, I realized there was a park across the street from the house so I could just take a walk and get some exercise before the garage sale.

As I pulled up, though, there were tables set up and people around them. ‘Are you kidding me?! An hour and a half early and people are already looking?!’ I thought. Turned out they were just setting up. I got out and they greeted me cheerfully. I apologized for being so early and explained how I misjudged time, but they didn’t mind at all and let me start looking around.

First thing I found were empty video game boxes!

IMG_0442

I was most excited about the Nights Into Dreams and StarFire Lightgun boxes, but StarFox 64 and Perfect Dark were cool to find as well.

Next up were some items that were complete in the box, even unopened!

IMG_0443

I’ve had some of the Cleaning Kits before, but these were in the original box, which I thought was really neat. The real treat here was the Dreamcast memory cards. I don’t know how many I need for the full library of Dreamcast I’ve put together, but I’m always up for more memory cards and brand new ones in the box were simply amazing to find!

Finally we got to the tub that had actual games in it. There weren’t quite as many as I first thought from the photos, but NBA Street Vol 2 and DDR Mario Remix were worth it alone. The rest at $1 each were just icing on the cake!

IMG_0444

IMG_0445

Terraria is likely useless since it was just a cardboard “disc” with a download code, and being used it was surely already redeemed, but I felt bad leaving sports titles and things that wouldn’t move, so I went ahead and picked it up as well.

At this point, I was pretty happy with the haul, but decided to look around at the rest. There were a LOT of Star Wars vehicles for great deals, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about them anymore. A lot of Power of the Force figures in the box as well. The only final thing that intrigued me were a pair of board games.

img_0446.jpg

I’ll have to do some research to determine if they have everything with them, but for a few bucks each, they seemed like a neat pick up to add to the pile.

Overall a great first garage sale hit of 2019. I had gone out looking once earlier this year, but with rain coming in, I didn’t find anything at the garage sales and actually wound up finding some games at a Half Price Books and a retro game store in the area on the way home instead. This garage sale run was much more fruitful!

First Garage Sale Hunt of 2019

It’s been over a year since I went game hunting at garage sales and a few people in the area had reported resounding success in game collecting groups I’m in, so I had decided to finally get back to garage sale hunting.

There were no listings on Craigslist – other than one an hour and a half drive away that was ultimately cancelled – so I just headed to a cluster of them where a couple of neighborhoods were having HOA-wide garage sales.

Much to my disappointment, I found nothing but a single $2 copy of a Just Dance game for XBox 360.

It was nearing 10 o’clock when I stopped by a Half Price Books I often frequent, but only picked up Dead or Alive Ultimate on XBox. As it started to rain, I decided to head home, but would stop by a game store in the area.

Retro Madness is a cool store that buys & sells both video games and toys and is settled in Retro Plaza in Bedford, Texas right between The Quarter Lounge – an arcade that charges a modest entry fee to subsidize keeping their arcades at a quarter per play – and The Vintage Freak – a store that sells mostly vinyl records but also clothes, furniture, and oddities. It was still an hour before Retro Madness would open, so I decided to check out a few other places in the area.

First stop was a Cash America Pawn Shop, but they had almost no games whatsoever. A shame, as I’ve had some luck with good prices and surprise finds in there before. Next, I went to Thrifty Pirates, which has a booth owned by Miniboss Games & Collectibles. I spotted a copy of Ninja Warriors for SNES, which I’ve been looking for and really want to get my hands on for $90. A decent price, but the cartridge was discolored on the back shell and I let myself pass on an expensive purchase. It’s not unimaginable to find a copy for equal price in excellent condition at a convention.

I stopped by two antique malls in the area, one of which has a booth with games, but even they were getting scarce on inventory. Finally Retro Madness was open, so I headed back there.

At first, I was debating a few Genesis and Sega CD games – Dungeonkeep II, Chakan, and Vectorman 2 as well as a tempting Captain America & The Avengers (but no manual had me pass), but then I looked in their glass case and found some great titles. Titles I was looking for. The eye catcher was Ristar, which proved to be complete in box (only missing the fold out coloring poster), though the box was fairly rough. Quackshot caught my eye, but I couldn’t remember if I already owned that one.

Then I noticed Lufia & The Fortress of Doom complete in box. The box had only a small nick in the front and otherwise was in great shape. The map was in excellent condition and the manual was near pristine. I already had the game, but since I have Lufia II complete, I’ve wanted to have Lufia to match it. It was a smooth $100, which is a little over online prices, but reasonable for the condition.

Overall, I was looking at $265 or so with Quackshot and they said they’d do it all for $240. Removing Quackshot, as I was fairly certain I had it, came down to an even $200 offer. Now, Ristar and Lufia were worth that, so I decided it was an excellent deal to get Vectorman 2 and Chakan essentially for free. However, I didn’t want to spend that kind of money just now.

They put everything on hold and I headed home to pile up some things I was willing to trade in. I still had a lot of games I had accumulated along with a few things from the mega haul of 2017 I hadn’t been able to get rid of, so I piled it all together and took it in. All in all, they offered me $140 for everything, bringing my bill down to $60. I added in a fan cart of Secret of Mana 2 with a fan-made cart, box, manual, and map for another $30 and gladly paid up.

At this point, I decided to make one more stop to a place called Found It Electronics & Video Games in Watauga, Tx. This place has something of a love/hate reputation with game collectors in the area. When they first started, they frequently spammed the heck out of Craigslist, making it hard to see anything else listed. Over time, they’ve shifted their business to focus more on games and they claim to offer excellent trade in credit. They’ve definitely been doing something right as their inventory is quite often amazing with titles you rarely see in a game store. They always run a Buy 3, Get 1 free and a friend and I had recently been in to use that, but they were closing so I had to go back and double check a few titles.

Most of their prices are a little higher than eBay averages, anywhere from $1 over to $5 with a few higher value titles going up to $20 over. I mostly went back for one game – Final Fight 2.

The huge haul of 2017 had netted me a Final Fight 2 box and manual, so this game priced right at $50 gave me a $100+ complete in box value.

Overall, not a bad day of game hunting, even if they weren’t mind blowing finds of those mythical “high value for nothing” garage sale stories. However, with just 2 months ahead until Retropalooza Houston, I need to focus on selling off things I’ve accumulated around the house and store up some cash for that convention. It will be my first year attending and I’ve been told there are usually a lot of vendors willing to work great deals down there. Hopefully it proves true!

4-6-19 Finds

 

The Life of Annie – A Very, Very Good Dog

On February 13th, 2019 I had to say goodbye to my dog, Annie. This will be an extremely long post, so if you aren’t interested in the life of a beautiful, sweet, white labrador/husky mix, feel free to skip this post. For those who are, I want to tell you the story of the most perfect dog I’ve ever known.

Happy Annie

The Puppy Years
Annie was born, as near as we we’re able to determine, sometime in 2008 in the small town of Ennis, Texas. I don’t know the details of her upbringing as a puppy or what was done to make her into the dog she grew up to be, but I certainly wish I did. It would be the definitive guide of how to raise a puppy to be a good dog.

00 Annie's Mother or Grandmother

This is either her mother or her grandmother as a puppy, so she probably looked somewhat similar to this.

What I do know is that her owner had at least three dogs; Annie, her mother, and one other. For whatever reason, once Annie was weaned and had grown a bit, her own mother and the other dog began to pick on her. I don’t know specifics of what this means, but it’s what I was told. It was because of this that her second owner offered to take the puppy and give her a new home where she wouldn’t be bullied.

All Alone In A Back Yard
Sadly, sometime in 2011 if not 2010, this owner was placed in a retirement home due to Alzheimer’s. Her daughter wanted to take care of Annie, but the family’s own circumstances didn’t allow them to take the precious dog into their home. Instead, she came by the house on her lunch break to make sure Annie had water and to feed her. She asked my aunt if she could check on her in the evening and give her some dinner. Annie was all alone in that back yard, her igloo style dog house cozy inside a storage building, but still alone.

Now, my aunt has always been leery and a little afraid of dogs. Annie, at 50 lbs, was a little small for a labrador, but large enough for my aunt to be concerned. Still, she agreed to help and would go over in the evening, telling Annie to be a good girl, to stay calm, and my aunt would quickly step into the back yard, put food in her bowl, and get back out of the fence gate as quickly as possible. All the while, Annie simply sat and watched and surely wondered why this woman wouldn’t give her a scratch or a pet.

I learned of her during Thanksgiving 2011 where my aunt told me that Annie needed a home and I should take her. She said the family held an estate sale to clear out the house in preparation to sell the house itself and a sign was put on the back fence: “Free Dog” and yet…nobody took her. I was living in a 2 bedroom apartment at the time with my cat, Toby. I certainly couldn’t take a dog home, but I was planning on buying a house the following year and told my aunt if she still didn’t have a home by then, I’d take her.

By this point, my aunt had grown to love Annie. She had stopped quickly putting food in her bowl and had started spending time with her at dinner, petting her and talking to her. She started taking her for walks in the evenings, giving my aunt a routine to get in some exercise each evening and Annie absolutely loved those walks.

My aunt had told me one time her real fear had played out when Annie’s gate was left open and she had gotten out of her back yard. She chased one of my aunt’s cats and even caught it. Once she had caught the cat…. that was all there was to it. The game was over. Annie didn’t pin down the cat, she didn’t bite the cat, she wasn’t rough with it. She just wanted to play chase a little bit.

Another time she got out of her back yard was when a lawn care team had left the gate open to mow and then closed it when they were done without realizing Annie was out of the yard. My aunt found her laying in her yard across the street and when she came outside, Annie walked up to her then turned around to head straight for her fence to be let back in to her own back yard.

Finally someone offered to take Annie and give her a home. She was taken out to a house a little out in the country, but when my aunt went to check on her and see how she was doing, she found Annie was covered in ticks. She immediately told the people who took her that wasn’t going to be acceptable and took Annie to the vet to be dipped and back to the back yard across the street until a better home could be found. I suspect with her covered in ticks, my Aunt knew I would be a better home for her once I bought my house.

My Home Is Her Home
In April 2012, on a Wednesday, I finally closed on my house. By Friday, I was driving to pick up Annie and bring her to her new home. My aunt had recently had surgery, but when I arrived at her house, she was outside with Annie on her leash giving her a walk along the street. I remember opening the door to my car and Annie jumped right in as if everything was perfectly normal. After a year, if not longer, of being alone with nobody to love and truly care for her, it was as if she knew she was getting a new home.

01 08-31-2012

Annie seemed happy with her new home

I brought Annie to my house and let her inside. She had free reign to explore and sniff around the house to her heart’s content – my first guest and first pet to come into the house while Toby, the cat I had owned for years, remained at the apartment waiting to move. At first, she slept outside in her new back yard.

I established a routine where I would get up in the morning and lock Toby in the bedroom while Annie came inside. I’d play with her a little, pet her, and then get a shower and ready for work. She’d go back outside and Toby would be let loose in the house for the day. After work, I’d get home and put Toby in the bedroom again and let her out to explore for a while until she was put out for the night and Toby was given free roam of the house again. This way the two could start to pick up each other’s scents in the house and start to get accustomed to each other.

The First Scare
Within one week, I got home and brought Annie in, then put her outside again. I went out to check on her about 20 minutes later and found she had dug out of the back yard and was missing. In a panic, scared I had lost this dog I had taken in to my home within a week, I went looking for her. She wasn’t far and came happily running when she heard me call her. I called my dad and talked to him about it and he said to show her the hole and give her a smack on the rear with a paper to show her that was not okay. I did so, smacking her on the rump at the base of her tail, not even hard but a swat. She fell to the ground on her belly and looked at me as if she was scared I’d hit her again.

My heart shattered. I remember ultimately crying because of how she looked at me.  This dog had been taken from what she knew as her home and brought to this strange neighborhood and me, essentially a strange new human, had just thumped her on the butt when all she wanted was to explore her new surroundings. I felt like a horrible person.

After a little bit had passed, so as not to confuse her with polar opposite reactions, I spent the next half hour on the floor petting her and comforting her and I knew right then and there I would never raise my hand to that dog for any reason for the rest of her life. It was sort of the moment that everything fell into the place that I would do everything in my power to protect and care for her from then on, no matter the circumstances.

Cheesy as it may be, after seeing this video, this kind of became “her song” in my heart. Every time I hear it, I think of her.

She was too gentle hearted and sweet to discipline and I’d have to find other ways to tell her what was and wasn’t acceptable behavior. Little did I know how easy that would ultimately prove to be.

I dug out the hole where she escaped and placed bricks to form a stepping barrier under the gate. Like all good dogs, she had forgotten the whole thing within an hour.

The First Challenge
Within the first month of buying the house, and bringing Annie home, her first visit to what would become her regular vet determined she was positive for heartworms. I hadn’t realized this, but it was previously known she had them. Her previous owner just couldn’t afford the treatment. I don’t know how long she had them, or how much damage the parasites had done to her heart, but I wasn’t going to leave them untreated. Like I just said, I would do anything in my power to care for this dog. Ultimately, the full treatment would take 6 months and cost around $1,000.

We also discovered this 4 year old dog who had been in the back yard with a few times of getting out and wandering a bit was not spayed…. so we had to get that done too. Fortunately, my vet did it for a minimal price since she had to be under for other tests to prep for the heartworm treatment.

Within the same month, I got up one morning and opened the door to let Annie in after a storm the night before. Annie was used to being an outside dog, so I thought with her dog house in the back patio corner, she’d be fine, and she was. She came in, same as always, and we went through our routine. Only when I went to put her outside again for the day did I notice we were missing about 1/4 of the back fence. The storm had blown it over. And Annie had not gone out of the back yard despite that. Another $1,500 in all for the fence replacement.

So we changed our arrangement again. I put her kennel in an empty bedroom and put her in there at night and while at work when Toby had free reign of the house. Eventually, I moved the kennel to the living room so they weren’t just smelling each other, but could see each other as he roamed the house, and eventually started letting them both out together under supervision.

Obedience Training
Annie was enrolled in obedience classes at PetSmart and we started going on Sunday mornings. She proved to have a bit of a problem with one other dog in the class, as she’d often bark at him until they had to block off her view of him until they’d calm down. Once one dog in a class barks, they all start barking! She became great friends with one of the younger dogs in the class. She also wanted to play with a puppy that was in the store once.

The challenge we had in teaching Annie basic commands like sit, stay, lay down, and such was her lack of food motivation. Treats did nothing to interest her, even when offered freely before training began. What proved to be her motivation was attention; petting and love did more to reward her than treats that we had at the time. However, later at her vet we would discover freeze dried liver treats that were extremely motivational!

She learned very quickly and I suspected she may have been trained before. She knew sit very well, though lay down was met with a little more hesitation before she’d decide if she was going to do so. Stay was hard for her as she wanted to follow me wherever I went. We never did master heel, as I never put much effort into that. She was so good on a leash that, while she preferred to stay ahead, she never pulled on the leash or resisted my gentle tug to keep moving.

07-09-18 04.jpg

She just wanted to sniff all the things, not tug on the leash.

PetSmart trains with positive reinforcement, which I took to since, as I mentioned, I refused to ever raise a hand to discipline her. Over the next years, however, I never found need to reprimand her beyond a sound we had established in place of “no” or simply asking “Annie, what’re you doing? Stop” to distract her.

06-10-2012-02.jpg

Graduated with flying colors!


An Amazingly Good Girl
When I realized I had left chicken bones in the trash can, I worried I’d come home to trash strewn through the house and potentially worse problems if she had eaten them. She never touched the trash. She only knocked it over once or twice in her life and never pulled trash out of the bin.

She never chewed anything other than her bone. Occasionally she’d pick up other things, like a sock or house shoe, maybe a plush toy and toss it or carry it to the back door. Sometimes she might paw at things, but she never chewed or destroyed anything.

07-06-2012-01-her-first-toy-in-her-new-home.jpg

First toy in her new home

She never went to the bathroom inside the house out of spite or rebellion. The only time she did so was when I didn’t get home in time and forced her to go too long without a bathroom break or when she had stomach problems. Even with these few occurrences, she always went in the same place on the linoleum in the kitchen, where it was easy to clean up. I never reprimanded her for these incidents.

She never so much as growled at Toby, or anyone else for that matter. She would bark at other dogs when we walked, but she was never really aggressive towards anyone or anything. She even ignored dogs barking in back yards during our walks. Out of sight, out of mind.

6-26-12 03

Toby wasn’t sure about this new addition to his life, though.

Of all the concerns that come with dogs, she never brought any with her. I had thought I’d have to determine the right way to teach her what was and wasn’t acceptable behavior. Annie never once showed any unacceptable behavior needing correction.

The Long Road of Heartworms
Heartworm treatment is hard on dogs. In the simplest terms, you inject them with strychnine to kill the parasites. After that, they have to stay calm for 6 months to the point that they’re advised to be confined to a kennel, taken to the bathroom on a leash, and put back in the kennel. If the dog gets too excited, the dead worms can break off in clumps and be pumped through their system, clogging an artery somewhere. Instead, if they’re kept calm the dead worms will be dissolved and flushed out by the immune system.

09-06-12 02

With spaying ahead of it came the cone of shame

The fence had been repaired, but now Annie had to stay in her kennel by doctor’s orders. She had already started clawing at the door more often, not wanting to be locked up, so we once again rearranged our home. Her kennel moved back to the spare bedroom and I pulled the mattress off the bed and put it on the floor next to her so she had me close to her to keep her calm. She would still claw at the gate, but I managed to calm her down to go to sleep in the kennel with me by her side.

09-30-12 01 Lightened

She liked my bed more than the kennel (taken on a crappy phone camera in low lighting)

However…..

I came home from work one day to find my beautiful puppy girl greeting me at the door, her tail wagging, ears perked and just so happy to see me. I remember reacting with a big, happy smile of my own, saying “Hello, Annie! Wait, how did you…” then I had a brief second of panic. Toby and Annie had been together in the house under supervision, but I had never left them alone together yet. I still wasn’t sure about this larger dog and my cat loose together. I looked up and saw Toby casually walking around the corner as if nothing was out of order whatsoever! The two had apparently gotten along just fine.

How had Annie managed to get out of the kennel? Well, this is how:

09-12-12 02

Bed in disarray, cone of shame left behind, and the door off its hinges!

After this, I decided to take a different approach to her “confinement” by leashing her to the leg of the couch. She could hop on it to nap while I was gone and had a little bit of slack to move around but couldn’t chase Toby or get worked up during the day. At night, I unleashed her and let her free, but kept an eye on her, then leashed her for the night. When we went into the vet for one of her follow up visits, they gave me a side eye for not keeping her in the kennel, but after showing them the photo above, they agreed my solution was probably best for her.

10-07-12-01.jpg

Ah, yes, much better than a kennel.

10-07-12 02 Tucked her in.JPG

Much better indeed.

Annie came through heartworm treatment with a clean bill of health and never really had any struggles with it. She didn’t like being confined and restricted so much, but she managed to adapt to becoming an indoor dog. Yes, in fact, after her six months of being medically required to stay inside, she came to the conclusion that it was a much better deal than living outside with only occasional visits in. For the rest of her life, she primarily lived inside with me, though she did love going out and laying in the sun…or in the cold. She actually loved curling up in a ball and sleeping in the cold and would even ignore me when I tried to call her in!

12-15-12 01

8 months later, not everyone was thrilled by her staying inside.

One of the Pack

My parents had gotten two dogs, brothers from a litter, who were about the same size as Annie. I took her down to let them all meet and my parents brought them outside. Their dogs, Bo and Willie, seemed curious but hesitant about Annie and she actually wound up jumping up and “mounting” Willie’s head! If neither of them would establish who the top dog was, she would!

Other than that, the three quickly fell in step with one another and Annie was accepted as part of the pack in my parents’ house. The two liked to play ball more than anything, which was never really Annie’s interest. Nonetheless, Willie, the black & white border collie, once trotted off to another room and brought back a third ball for her so she could be included in the game. Every once in a while, she would do her best to play, but she chased the ball on the ground and liked to chew and shake them more than just catch and return for another throw. When they went outside to play a bit, she was content to sniff around the perimeter of the yard while the two played.

04-06-14-01.jpg

She tried to play their game, though.

Still, they got along great and I was able to leave her with them when I had to go out of town. She even adapted to my dad’s 4am morning schedule and would switch from mine to theirs depending on where we were. When I would house & dog sit for my parents, Annie would come wake me up at 4am to let me know it was time to take Bo & Willie outside. When we were home, she slept until my usual time to get up.

They even taught her about having scraps at the dishwasher, a lesson she brought home with her with much enthusiasm…

Jpeg

At least they shared with each other and didn’t fight for them.

There was only one notable disagreement and that came at Christmas time. My parents had bought bones for all three dogs and they got their gifts on Christmas morning. Now, Willie doesn’t care about bones as much as his brother Bo does. He’ll often let Bo chew them down until they’re soft, then steal it and chew on them at that point. Until then, Bo will take his bone as well as Willie’s and hoard them both while chewing on one.

Bo decided he needed all three bones to himself and tried to get Annie’s from her. For the first time, it seemed, he was met with a growl because she was not letting him have her bone. Bo went over to my parents’ couch and sulked with his two bones, but wouldn’t chew them. He just kept looking at my mom and then to Annie as if she should be in trouble for not letting him take her bone!

12-24-12 02

She enjoyed visiting my parents & their dogs and she loved Christmas!

12-26-12 01.JPG

She also got to experience snow that year.

Full of Life
Annie was a 50 lb dog with 100 lbs of life in her and she put full effort into everything she did. Of course, she was a dog so she didn’t do too much, but when she sat on command, she would plop her rear down with drive behind it. When she laid down, it often sounded like she had collapsed as she would find her spot and kind of lean over to just flop onto her side.

She had so much energy she would sometimes flop down and roll on her back, legs splayed open for a moment, then she’d KICK! her hind legs straight up in the air about four or five times and in a quick, smooth motion she’d roll over and be on her feet again. This could be at any time, even not long after a long walk, but was most often when she’d go outside and find a nice spot in the grass. She’d kick her four or five kicks and then flop over and just lay there, sunbathing for a while. This “exercise” as I liked to call it is one thing I regret not getting on film and she stopped doing it as often as she grew older.

Annie loved her new life of living inside with a warm bed, a second warm bed, a THIRD warm bed (MINE)….and two warm couches, but she truly loved to be outside as well. She loved to lay in the sun on warm spring days and she loved to curl up and sleep in the cold in the fall and winter. Walks were her favorite thing in the world, whether at a park or just around the neighborhood.

11-7-13 01 Get offa the computer lightened.jpg

You wanna go for a walk?

She had a lot of personality as a Jedi Dog, a Too Cool Dog, and….whatever that last one is.

But boy did she look different in her winter coat vs her summer cut. I actually had a neighbor think she was a different dog after her hair cut one year!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Back to the topic of beds, Annie came to love mine and was again an atypical dog from what I’ve been told of other dogs’ habits. Of course, like all dogs, she liked my bed because it was soft and it smelled like me. However, she wouldn’t sleep in it at night. If I were gone or even home on a weekend, there was a chance she’d sleep in my bed….right in the center of it. But at night when I went to bed, I would get in, pet her head next to the bed for a bit, and tell her “Okay, bed time, goodnight” and she’d take that as a signal to head off for her night time snack.

I always left her bowl with food in it and she never over ate. She’d eat and leave some for later, but there was always a bed time snack to be heard in the dining room while I was going to sleep. In the morning, I’d wake up with her next to the bed or at the foot in the bedroom, but not in it.

The only time she woke me up getting in the bed was during particularly strong thunder storms that were directly above us. Those frightened her enough to get in bed and glue herself next to me until they passed. Once they had, she’d leave and go back to the floor or her bed in the other room.

In the last two years of her life, this did change and she started sleeping in the bed with me. I had the bed against a wall and I slept away from the wall, but would find myself waking up next to the wall with her between me and the alarm clock and no clue when she had gotten in nor how she got me to move. I eventually moved the bed back to an earlier position where both sides were accessible and the foot of the bed pointed to the door where she could easily get in. I always kept a sleeping bag on top of the bed for her so the sheets wouldn’t get too dirty or worn.

11-22-13 01

“I like to be the center of attention…or center of the bed.”

12-31-13 01 Toby took the bed Cropped adjusted

Toby hasn’t actually kicked her out, but it looks like it!

She also didn’t get on the couch too often until she was older, despite not being told she couldn’t. I honestly didn’t mind her being on the couch, especially if she’d lay next to me to get her head scratched, but she typically spent most of her time on the floor or on her own bed. Later I would get her a new orthopedic bed as we were seeing some signs of arthritis in her hips. She didn’t care for it much, but once I put it underneath her old bed it was just right.

01-21-14 01

Not that she never got on the couch….

In fact, when I was buying a new couch for the front room of my house, I was deciding between a light or darker one. Since Toby is a cat, he’s obviously likely to get on furniture, especially the front room to look out the window. Since Annie didn’t get on the couch too often, I decided to go with a darker once since I didn’t have to worry about her fur on it as much as I would Toby’s dark fur on a lighter couch. Well….

Jpeg

She adopted it within days.

Her favorite toy was a stuffed duck that would quack if you hit it right. She went through a few of these ducks, the original having actually been my cat’s toy as a kitten. I had gotten it when it was the same size as him so he could hold it and kick it. If I put it on top of his cat tree, he’d bolt across the room and jump up to throw it off. With the toy having lost some interest for him, Annie was happy to take it up. It was the one toy she regularly liked to play fetch and tug of war with.

Jpeg

You wanna play?

Life with a Cat
Toby just didn’t have the personality for becoming best buds with a dog and I knew that when I got her. I just hoped they’d get along and that first kennel break with no problems between the two assured me they’d make it work. Toby always believed he was the dominant animal of the house, often forgetting Annie was literally five times his size.

She would lay in the doorway to my computer room, blocking his exit (despite there being plenty of room to just walk around her). When she was laying there napping, he would get close and do that full body head bob until he had judged his distance and would do a large arching leap over her to get past. One time she was laying upright (like the couch photo three above this paragraph) above when he wanted to leave. He charged her, that wide hind legged stance cats get, and took a full force swipe at her face!

Annie only moved an inch, her head pulled back to dodge the strike and came forward back to where it was as calmly as could be. Toby completely whiffed his strike and just stood there as though he had absolutely no clue what to do. After a moment, he took a leap over her and continued. Annie just looked back to watch him go.

05-06-15 01 I think she wanted him to like her

I think she wanted him to like her. I think, in his own way, he did.

Despite living together for almost 7 years, they never became close like some cats and dogs you’ll see who bond. He would sit on my lap on the couch and when she came up, he’d look at her like she was a threat and eventually he’d get up and move as if it was too risky being that close to her.

06-20-17 03.jpg

Closest they ever got, but when he woke up, he wasn’t pleased with the situation and had to move.

She would sometimes be walking through the house and Toby would appear out of nowhere to charge and swipe at her back legs or tail. It would startle her, but nothing more and he never followed up with any further “attacks.” He did jump from a corner at her once and startled her enough to give a little yip of surprise.

She wasn’t a total push over, though. There were times she would see him walking and would give a sudden chase across the room after him. Sometimes she would corner him in the kitchen and I’d hear the hiss of displeasure. When I saw her do it a few times, he would rear up on hind legs, ready to bat with his paws, and she would walk away. Once again, the game was over and she had “caught” him, so she was happy with that.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that Toby does have his claws. He never scratched her, though. He acts tough, but he never did anything to hurt her. I just wish he would have realized she never did, and never would do, anything to hurt him. I truly believe she would have welcomed him to cuddle up next to, or on, her.

12-16-18 Trying to get Toby to play

She tried to get him to play.

01-02-19 03.jpg

The last picture I have of them together.

Health Scares
In late 2017, my mom was cleaning some things out at their house and brought a box of stuff for me to go through. One thing we found was a Superman cape she had sewn for me for a Halloween costume when I was very little. On a whim, I put it on Annie, who didn’t seem to mind at all.

08-05-17-03.jpg

A couple of months later, it would turn out she wasn’t as impervious as a Superdog would be. I got up one morning to go to work and Annie didn’t get up to follow me from the bedroom. I came back in and she just looked at me like something was wrong. She tried to stand up, but fell down again. Her head tilted a bit and she just looked at me again. Once more she tried to stand and stumbled until she fell over.

Looking back, I’m fairly proud of myself for staying as calm as I did. I got dressed, put her in the car, and took her to the vet. I got there just as they opened, but just the technicians were in, the doctors wouldn’t arrive for another hour. By this point, her eyes were starting to roll and she was drooling uncontrollably. They suggested she go to an emergency vet.

I got her back in the car and headed to the recommended vet and Annie threw up in the back seat on the way there, which started to scare me. Once we got her in, I asked if she was having a stroke and the ER technician told me a vet would give a diagnosis, but she didn’t think it was. It was likely something less troublesome and she would be okay if so. The vet confirmed it was not a stroke, but ideopathic vestibular disease, which affects the ear and essentially causes vertigo.

They put Annie on an IV for fluids and kept her to observe for a few days, saying I could come back that night to see her. When I did, they said she was doing very well and expected I could actually take her the following day after work. I took her home and had to help her walk a little bit by looping a towel under her belly in case she stumbled.

She had a second episode a couple days later and I took her to her regular vet so they could watch her for the day since I couldn’t take off work. They didn’t have kennels available, so they put her in an exam room for the day to watch and take care of her. They called me at noon and let me know she was standing up and walking on her own without assistance.

Now, if you read about vestibular disease, a lot of information online will describe that it comes suddenly and clears up on its own, but the effects – a tilted head, wobbly balance in particular – can last for a few weeks. Annie recovered in 8 hours the first time and 4 hours the second with no lingering effects at all. There was a third episode that lasted about 45 minutes before she was walking normally.

About eight months later, she had a urinary tract infection that we had trouble shaking. During the course of diagnoses and tests, we did an ultrasound to see if we saw signs of kidney infection and first signs of Cushing’s Disease. Everything looked good except she had a small mass on her spleen we would need to check again later on.

10-04-18-01.jpg

The vet & techs loved her and though she liked them, she was always eager to go home.

On Christmas day of 2018, Annie struggled to stand up while we were at my parents house. She managed to get up, but when she tried to walk, her legs almost gave out. I took her home and she seemed to have recovered, but a couple days after I took her into the vet to check on her. He didn’t find anything wrong and expected with her age and her arthritis, she likely had some inflammation along her spine and if she tweaked her back (her legs kept sliding wider on my parents new kitchen floor), it would have caused a problem. We got her on medication and it seemed to help.

The following week, she had another vestibular episode, 15 months after the previous. Just like before, a weaker one followed 2 days after it, but no third one. Her vet was concerned we may need to consider seeing a neurologist, but we weren’t at that point yet.

Things got back to normal and Annie settled back into normal daily routines. I got a video of her dreaming on the couch with cute little whimper barks, a video playing with her duck, one just rubbing her ears as she rested against my leg, and then one I had been planning to get for a long time:

That’s actually rather mild excitement for getting canned food on top of her normal food, but I’m glad I at least got one video of it!

Little did I know everything would change just 2 days later….

On February 12, Annie was acting hesitant to jump on the couch by herself. I tried to help her up and she gave a yelp, but she didn’t like being picked up – even just her hind legs to put them on the couch – so I didn’t think much of it.

She had dinner and went outside before bed. I heard a weird sound and went to see what she was doing and she was inside her old igloo dog house, just standing in it and came out to come inside when I looked outside. However, I noticed her gait was a bit off. Once she was inside, she stumbled and wobbled again. I looked at her eyes and she wasn’t having the typical movement I saw with her vertigo episodes, so I thought she might have tweaked her back again.

I decided to give her a night’s rest and we’d go to the vet in the morning if she was still having trouble. I remember her coming next to the bed and eventually hopping up and laying next to me. I petted her a while and went to sleep. She woke me up getting up and out of the bed and I heard a clang in the living room. Her bed would sometimes hit the fireplace tools when she was in it, which is what I heard.

Her Final Day
The next morning, however, I heard her cry out. Not loud, but a whining whimper. I got up and went to check on her and found her laying half on her bed and half on the floor. She just looked at me. She didn’t even raise her head and I knew something was very wrong.

She managed to get up and over into the living room floor. I sat with her while we waited for the vet to open and her doctors to be there. I remember having this dreadful feeling that this wasn’t like her previous problems and this was different and serious. I remember petting her head and telling her “Annie, you’ve been a good dog. If you’re tired, it’s okay. If you’re ready to go, then you can go.”

I got her bed moved and encouraged her to come to me. She got to her feet and walked over to me, ears perked and cute as always, and laid down on her bed. In hindsight, this may have taken quite a bit of strength to come to me one final time. Once it was time, I dragged her bed over to the garage and picked her up to get her in the car.

At her vet, her body temperature was 2 degrees colder than normal, so they covered her up and did some blood work. Everything looked fine. They did x-rays of her chest to see if her heart was enlarged, signaling bad news. I always assumed her heart would give out due to the time with heart worms, but they said it looked good, but the mass on her spleen was larger. They prescribed an emergency herbal medicine and if she was showing improvement the next day we would discuss removing her spleen. However, the medicine wasn’t in stock except in another city at their emergency vet. I had already texted my mom and let her know things didn’t look good and we were going to try this, but it was probably best if anyone in the family who wanted to see her should make plans to come that day.

I took Annie there and while there, we got another ultrasound. I waited in a room until the doctor came in and told me the results. The mass had grown very large and her abdomen was full of fluid. She was already starting to suffer and wouldn’t make it til the next day. There was nothing they could do for her. I had to make the decision right then.

They asked if I wanted to remember her as she was or be with her at the end. There was no decision to make as I had decided long ago I would be there with her for her final journey. They brought her in so I could say goodbye. This sweet, gentle, beautiful dog that had been with me for only 6 years and 10 months lay there, her eyes moving but not fully seeing me. I petted her, I cried, I told her she was a good girl and that I loved her. I kept my hand near her nose, hoping she could at least smell me and know I was there for her.

02-13-19 Final photo before saying goodbye.jpg

She didn’t look a day older than when I first met her.

I could feel her paws and ears were starting to feel cold and her nose was dry. I told her again she was a good dog and it was okay for her to go. Part of me hoped she’d take her last breath right there, just the two of us together. I told the vet I was ready and they came in and gave her the injection. I stayed there in front of her, rubbing her head and trying not to cry too much as I said goodbye to the most perfect dog I had ever known. Shortly after, they told me she was gone. I spent some more time with her before I left, my world completely altered and feeling a little darker.

I let friends and family know and later that evening, then I shared the news on Twitter.

12-27-18 06

I reconsidered the quote at first. It’s from Watership Down by Richard Adams, a book about a group of rabbits. I thought the phrase fitting, but technically the quote is about a fellow rabbit and Annie, being a dog, would have been one of “the thousand” enemies of rabbits.

But as I considered it, I decided it was appropriate. If Annie had ever met a rabbit, she would have almost certainly been its friend, or a friend to a whole warren if given the chance. And I thought surely even rabbits would have mourned her passing.

02-14-19 World feels empty

My world felt empty

The next two days were full of tears and uncontrollable weeping, for my best friend was gone. It helped to share photos of her on Twitter while organizing them all in preparation to write this.

I was able to return the last purchase of flea/tick/heartworm medicine to her vet for a refund. While there, her primary vet told me based on everything, he believed the mass was hemangiosarcoma, a blood related cancer.

I read about it and the descriptions seemed accurate. One day they’re completely normal, then suddenly they can’t stand up and within hours they’re gone. In hindsight, I believe Annie put everything she had into getting up that morning and walking to me one last time. Driving to the vet, she tried to keep her head up as her strength slowly faded.

Annie lived out her final months as normal as could be, enjoying “playing” with Toby and playing with her duck, walking around her neighborhood, visiting her “cousins” at my parents, and celebrating one final Christmas with the family and one last New Year’s Eve with me.

A week and a couple of days after saying goodbye, she came home again for the final time.

D0DyIbnX0AIvmCa

Rest in peace, Annie. You were the best dog I could have ever hoped for.

This is not her end, though. It will take time, but I intend to save the money to have her ashes made into a diamond and placed in a simple ring so she can continue to go with me wherever I go in the future. Because she had a diamond on her forehead, and that’s what she was – a pure, beautiful diamond of a dog.

02-13-19 Annie Rest Easy Good Girl

I do believe in an afterlife and I hope above all else that Annie is in heaven, waiting for the day that I find her again.

05-26-18 01

Until then, I’ll always remember her.

IMG_20190303_133959IMG_20190303_133943

Dealing with The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi came out just over a year ago and it has continued to cause a great disturbance in the fandom. I personally saw The Last Jedi two times within 24 hours on its release, something I’ve only done once before with The Fellowship of the Ring.

The difference between those two instances is that I absolutely loved The Fellowship of the Ring, so much that Lord of the Rings has arguably surpassed Star Wars as my favorite film trilogy. The Last Jedi, I didn’t particularly care for on my first showing. After my second viewing, my feelings didn’t change. They likely got a bit worse the more I thought on it.

People have gone to great lengths to dismiss any and all criticism of the film as blind hatred, not true fans, man children who can’t handle change. To me, it’s about respecting the property. More particularly, a lack of respect for the Star Wars saga. Rian Johnson set out to “subvert expectations” and in the process, essentially subverted the entirety of the Star Wars saga and assassinated multiple characters in the process while simultaneously making decisions that didn’t fit the pace of the film or support the narrative it was trying to present.

Poe & Holdo

The film starts off taking Poe Dameron, who we were led to believe in The Force Awakens was a hot shot pilot that was willing to take risks that would put himself in jeopardy for the good of the Resistance, and revealing he is apparently willing to sacrifice entire squadrons for a single minor victory that might boost morale. This seems like a bit of a change of character for the sake of setting up Poe to be wrong in his opposition to Holdo.

With Holdo’s introduction, it seems like Poe doesn’t believe she’s who he’s heard of because she’s a woman, striking a chord with 2017’s fresh surge of feminism and painting a target for many a YouTube video complaints. The problem with this entire set up is that Star Wars does not take place in 2017 Earth, but a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away. Women are leaders in the Star Wars universe. They are senators, queens, admirals, generals, Jedi, smugglers, bounty hunters, assassins, and adventurers. Poe clearly holds Leia in high esteem. It’s logically inconsistent for Poe to simply be in disbelief that Admiral Holdo is capable because she’s a woman, yet that’s the impression the film seems to give.

If the film had included information that, based on her appearance, Poe recognized her as coming from a pacifist planet we’d have some basis of his disbelief. Instead it seems like a ham fisted way to set up a strong woman to dress down the hot shot pilot and thus “subvert our expectations” in having the hot shot pilot in Star Wars be a bad thing.

Then there was the whole “tell us you have a plan” vs “STFU stupid man, I don’t have to tell you jack” angle that just…. made no sense.  Yes, she didn’t owe Poe an explanation. He was demoted, she didn’t know him, he was a potential loose cannon, but to not even say “yes, we have a plan and no you don’t need to know it”? The extent to which they had her remain silent seemed irrational.

What’s more, the speculative leap from “it’s impossible to track a ship through hyperspace” to complete acceptance that it’s possible, developed, and happening, had no support. It was just speculative guessing accepted as fact. It seemed far more obvious, and I thought they were going to do it, that someone in the Resistance was a traitor feeding their coordinates to the First Order. If they had gone this route, Holdo and Poe could have simply distrusted each other as the spy.  Between Finn and Rose, they might have deduced the possibility of the hyperspace tracking technology, but by that point you’d have Poe unwilling to trust this information with Holdo (or if you took it to her, why would she believe a few nobodies who are pals with Poe?).

Ultimately, I felt nothing for Admiral Holdo. She was a fairly useless character who accomplished nothing (a common theme throughout this film for all the characters save a couple) and was written out as quickly as she was introduced. Her death had no weight or emotion to it, though. With no time to care about her, I really didn’t care about her dying.

What’s more mind boggling to me is that Abrams, Kennedy, and Johnson didn’t plan to write out the original cast with Solo’s death in VII, Leia’s in VIII, and Luke’s in IX to begin with. Personally, I’d lean towards Luke surviving to cameo in future films as the Jedi Headmaster since everyone just assumes he’s going to die akin to Obi-Wan and Yoda.

At the start of this film, Leia talks about how tired she is of losing people. It’s not guilt, but there’s a sense of survivor’s weariness to Leia that makes her simply shuffling off to leave her friend to die perplexing.  It seems to me that having Leia stay on the ship and perform the heroic sacrifice would have had far more emotional weight and would have given Leia a truly heroic send off.

It would also allow Holdo to be carried forward into IX to be further developed and fleshed out, taking on the torch in a General Leia or Mon Mothma role.

Rose and Finn

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Rose Tico was a fairly unnecessary character with how the film played out and a lot of her parts make no sense. That said, anyone who attacked the actress is a complete and utter fool. Kellie Marie Tran was given a script and she portrayed what was written in that script. She did her job. She didn’t write the script, she didn’t design the character, she didn’t make the story decisions.

Personally, I liked Rose’s introduction. A lot. Her fan girling over Finn with a quick flip of the switch to tazing him for his attempt to desert the Resistance made an interesting and fun introduction. I liked that she seemed like she was loyal to the Resistance above all else. Even tripping over her words in front of a hero she admired, she wasn’t going to give that hero any leeway whatsoever if he was going to hurt the Resistance.

Then she just sort of turned into Finn’s sidekick who was there to make a few comments on animal cruelty, class inequality, and war profiteering before ultimately taking action to save Finn by crashing her speeder through the plot to leave massive gaping holes.

The final scene with her saving Finn and telling him they’re going to win the war by saving what they love just didn’t work for me at all.

  1. Rose has known Finn for about a day and she’s in love?
  2. Rose stops Finn from preventing the cannon from blowing open the doors to allow the First Order access to wipe out the Resistance.
  3. Why didn’t the First Order just fire the cannon again into the base and kill everyone at once?
  4. How did Finn drag/carry unconscious Rose the entire distance from their crash back to the doors and get inside before the walkers made any progress?
  5. Why didn’t the First Order just take one shot and kill Rose and Finn as he was carrying her all that way back?

Just nothing about that entire scene made any sense.

Rey

Yes, Rey is still essentially a Mary Sue.

An “idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience, and usually are able through some means to upstage the main protagonist of an established fictional setting, such as by saving the hero.”

Rey can instantly fly the Millennium Falcon, repair the Falcon on her own, overpower Kylo Ren with the Force, use Jedi mind tricks, defeat Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel after again overpowering him with the Force and advocates said it would be explained in The Last Jedi. Instead, The Last Jedi simply showed that she can further train herself with a lightsaber, is so powerful that she scares Luke, doesn’t need any training from a Jedi master, and can use the Force more reliably than Luke did when he sought training from Yoda. Even mirroring Luke’s confrontation with Vader by going to face Snoke and Kylo, she comes out ultimately victorious and suffers no loss or real setback whatsoever.

Rey is perfect. She has no flaws. She is skilled at everything with no background or training. And she is better than the established canon’s heroes. There is no passing of the torch in the sequel trilogy. Rey carries her own torch, she IS the torch, and doesn’t need one from anyone that came before.

Snoke

There’s nothing to even say. Snoke was a joke. We have no idea what he was or how he did anything up to this point other than being supremely powerful in the dark side, except apparently fairly oblivious to the Force at the same time. Much like Holdo, since we knew nothing about him it’s hard to really care that he’s dead beyond the emptiness of not knowing anything about how we got to where we are in the story when so much was by his doing.

Luke Skywalker

Now we come to the real crux of what drove so many fans up the wall. Luke Skywalker is part of American mythology. He’s one of the last of our mythic heroes. Johnson not only assassinated Luke’s character, but in the process wrote the entire story of the Skywalker saga to be completely irrelevant and moot.

The Jedi were utter failures in every sense of the word. Everything about the prophecy was complete rubbish. Anakin didn’t bring balance, he set the galaxy to darkness. Luke was not a new hope, he was a temporary blip before he also set the galaxy to darkness. Everything that happens in episodes 1-6 is completely pointless. The best we can hope for at the end of 9 is that Rey finally sets everything right because she read some books and was wiser than all Jedi throughout history.

If I sound a little bitter, it’s because I am. In “subverting expectations” and deconstructing Luke, Johnson managed to essentially crap on everything George Lucas had done with the Star Wars saga.

What’s frustrating is we’ve got interviews from Mark Hamill indicating he was supposed to be shown as having the Force swirling around him with how powerful he was at the end of VII and they didn’t do it. Production art shows him meditating with what appears to be a Force, or even Sith, ghost behind him.

If Luke had been pushing Rey towards that cave, towards the dark side, it would definitely not be what fans expect from Luke. We could have had Luke rediscover, and put Rey on the path of, the original Jedi from the expanded universe (which Disney is using pieces of here and there) in using both light and dark side of the Force and maintaining balance within themselves rather than the split of Jedi and Sith.

This would finally complete the Skywalker saga in full circle. Anakin, through his son, returns balance to the Force by Luke returning the Jedi to a path of balance within themselves. And that prophecy would be embodied by Rey, a nobody from nowhere, rather than the Skywalker bloodline. Yet it would still be Luke passing the torch to the next generation rather than Luke being irrelevant entirely.

Yes, Luke ultimately does something to buy the Resistance time and becomes an inspirational legend across the galaxy and I’ll admit that a final scene of Luke gazing at the sunset in mirror to the first time we met him was poetically beautiful, but a single scene of poetic mirroring isn’t better than the whole narrative coming together in mirror and contrast to bring resolution to the whole story.

Episode IX will be the conclusion of the Skywalker saga and with everything set up by Johnson in Episode VIII, the only way the saga can conclude is with the Skywalkers having been ultimately a blight upon the galaxy, not a new hope, not a correction of the Jedi mistakes. That’s why I’m bitter.

Wishes and Dreams

In hindsight, I’d have preferred Episode VII kicked off with Rey and perhaps even Finn being the only two surviving Jedi of Luke’s school, possibly with a handful of students. Luke has still disappeared and Rey and Finn have two different views on how to proceed forward – Rey searching for Luke and Finn looking to aid the Resistance.

With Finn, we could have Jedi Leia giving him some guidance and give her a chance to actually be a Jedi in her own right rather than space flying nun.

With Rey, we could have Luke discover the new path for the Jedi to follow (he already breaks from tradition with his school of Jedi in the EU anyway).

And instead of retreading and rehashing the Empire vs Rebellion, we could have had a new direction for the saga with the Knights of Ren vs the Knights of the New Republic. Fans have long wanted a Knights of the Old Republic setting, but why not the same vibe set in the New Republic with Luke’s students as the key figures?

Going Forward

So what can fans do to save Star Wars?

Be loud on social media? Make YouTube videos? Write letters?

Nothing.

Seriously, if you didn’t like The Last Jedi, there’s nothing you can do to change the course Disney and Lucasfilm is taking the series other than simply not go to future films if you feel that strongly about it.

For me, I simply decided I didn’t like this new version of the canon and decided I wouldn’t bother with any of the novels and comics, etc. I’ve heard Rebels is pretty good, so I’ll watch it eventually, though. I’ll watch Episode IX to see how Abrams tries to resolve everything, though I have no sense of anticipation for the film whatsoever at this point.

Instead, I decided to simply go back through the entire EU, starting with the comics and novels set prior to the Old Republic and I’m currently reading the books/comics and playing the games set in the Knights of the Old Republic era. I’ll continue working my way through the prequel era, the original trilogy era, and onward through the post trilogy, new Jedi Order, and on until I’ve completed the entire Star Wars EU saga.

It’s that simple, really. If you don’t like it, let it go and enjoy what was there before instead. Maybe we’ll eventually get an animated series with Han, Luke, and Leia set after Return of the Jedi, but at this point that’s about the best one could hope to ever see – though even then, knowing it all culminates in them all essentially being failures kind of takes some of the fun out of it.

But in the end, it’s a movie, no matter how beloved. It’s not worth death threats, anger, and hatred. The Dark Side can be seductive and too many who disliked The Last Jedi have fallen to its temptation.

If you didn’t like it, detail why you didn’t in a respectful manner, but realize that some enjoyed it. There’s no accounting for taste, after all, and some people… well, some people are just happy to be wrong.

(Yes, that was a joke)

 

 

 

 

Ending A Long Hiatus

It’s been six months since I’ve updated here, which has most certainly not been my intention. Life, as they say, happened. I got a new job, which kept me busy for a while and away from doing too much with games and distracted enough that I wasn’t putting time in to write about them.

Over the six months, a friend and I took a road trip to game hunt from Texas to Arkansas to Tennessee and then back through Louisiana to come home. I’ll admit for all its flaws, Final Fantasy XV gave me the travel bug to want to pursue that road trip finally. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do more often; taking road trips or weekend trips to game hunt and meet folks I know from online.  As part of the FFXV inspiration, we didn’t book any hotel rooms. Our intention was to chat with store employees and go where tips took us to pawn shops, game stores, thrift markets, flea markets, whatever sounded good.

As a result, we went from Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. Amidst our various stops there, we were rerouted west instead of east and wound up going through Arkansas to Oklahoma instead.

Over the course of the trip, I got a huge haul of games knocked off my list. After that, there were more Half Price Books finds and Retropalooza at home. I managed to complete my hunting list for Playstation 2 and GameCube, my Atari and NES lists are tremendously small now, leaving the bulk of my collecting to be SNES and Sega Genesis.

The biggest finds of the past six months was a copy of Rule of Rose on PS2 for just $125 and Demon’s Crest for SNES for $100 with the manual included.

With things settled, I’m hoping to resume regular posts in 2019, though I expect my game hunting is going to be much less frequent in finds for my collection. I’m planning to go back to basics, in a sense, and go garage sale hunting with just $100 and start trying to buy and flip to build up money for conventions or ebay, which may be requirements to finish my collection goals.

I’m also hoping to start a podcast, streaming, and possibly YouTube channel in the new year.

Here’s to a new year of great finds and more talk about video games, movies, comics, and all sorts of geekery!

E3 Reaction Day 4

Nintendo

Nintendo did their usual E3 Nintendo Direct presentation online rather than the on stage presentation other companies go for. They kicked off their presentation with a rather stylistic looking mech game that, of course, reminded me of a Gundam influence called Daemon x Machina due out in 2019.

Next up, they had a trailer for a Xenoblade Chronicles 2 addition – Torna – The Golden Country. I assume it’s a DLC expansion and still haven’t played the Xeno series. One day…. One day.

Reggie Fils-Aime talked a little about Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let’s Go Evee. The Pokeball Plus was shown and announced that Mew would be included with each controller. Available November this year.

The next new reveal was a Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch called Super Mario Party. Two Switch systems can be set next to each other to create maps at different angles depending on how they touch. Available October of this year.

The next Fire Emblem game was presented, Fire Emblem Three Houses, which will be available Spring of 2019.

Fortnite was given a short trailer and available the same day on the Switch.

They moved to looking at some indie games being spotlighted for the Switch with Overcooked! 2. Fil-Aimes gave an overview as footage played. Killer Queen Black got the same style presentation. Hollow Knight was the third indie game spotlighted in this segment, available same day in the eshop.

Octopath Traveler, a Switch exclusive from Square Enix, got a brief mention with a new demo being available later in the month.

Starlink, Arena of Valor, Minecraft, Mario Rabbids Donkey Kong, Just Dance 2019, Splatoon 2, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Crash N Sane Trilogy, Ninjala, FIFA, Ark, Wasteland 2, Paladins, Fallout Shelter, Dark Souls Remastered, Sing Heroines, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, Wolfenstein II, Mega Man 11, Mario Tennis Aces and a few more were presented in a montage trailer.

The centerpiece of Nintendo’s presentation was the full reveal of the Nintendo Switch’s Super Smash Bros. entry. The big reveal for the presentation was that every single character that has appeared in all the Smash Bros games of the past, from N64 to Wii U, would be included in the new installment. They did a video of all the characters, showing when they were introduced. Link was shown in his Breath of the Wild tunic and Mario’s Odyssey pal Cappy appears with Mario as well. They also spent some time looking at how some characters who haven’t been in the series in a while have changed or been updated. A GameCube style controller with Amiibo support was announced with Switch compatibility for the game’s release. A final reveal was that Ridley (not Ripley as I initially wrote. Watch your typos when you’re trying to get something out quick, though she’d be cool to see teamed up with Samus) from the Metroid series would be making his Super Smash Bros. debut. Rumor is there may be a few more new characters to reveal before launch. It definitely looks like a good entry in the series.

Overall, Nintendo didn’t do what I normally expect in showing me something I didn’t know I wanted, but they did give a decent line up. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a Pokemon gap-fill, Super Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. all by end of this year maintains the momentum for Nintendo’s first party titles on Switch and their much more solid line up of third party games coming to the system suggest they’ll maintain their strong sales going forward.

Grade: B, but some might argue it’s a solid A with that Smash Bros. line up (and others might give if an F for lack of Waluigi).

Games I’m interested in: Starlink, Mega Man 11 (I’m planning to get the Mega Man and X Legacy collections along with this on Switch), Super Smash Bros.