Donna Chicone’s advice through books, television and a TEDx talk
By KL Snyder
Photography by Kelvin Andow
Everybody has a book in them,” says Donna Chicone. “Everybody should write a book. Some people think so and talk themselves out of it. I talk myself into it.”
And she did, with nudges from Breezer, Jazz and Jive, the Portuguese Water Dogs who inspired her to create the instruction manual she wishes had accompanied them.
In November 2015, Donna published “Being a Super Pet Parent: Everything You Need to Know to Foster a Long, Loving Relationship with Your Dog.” It’s a comprehensive guide for humans who want to give their canine kids the best life possible. “The more we become informed,” Donna says, “the better pet parents we’ll be.”
“Being a Super Pet Parent” won a 2017 Independent Press Award and a 2016 National Indie Excellence Award and was a 2016 Book Excellence Award Finalist and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition.
Just out is her “Pet Parent Pawffirmations: 30 Promises from You to Your Beloved Dog.” Donna wrote the pawffirmations, and friends supplied the art, photographs of their favorite canines.
From pet owner to pet parent
“I’m a huge advocate for animals and especially for dogs,” Donna says. “It’s a perspective I didn’t always have. I grew into it.”
Donna lives in Woodbury, Minn., with her husband and their canine kids Jazz, 12, and Jive, 8. To her résumé—nurse, addiction counselor, flight attendant, TV show producer—add animal ally and writer.
“Dogs are the only species that gave up their freedom for us, the only species almost entirely dependent on humans,” she says. “Dogs rely on us for food, water, shelter, safety, love and medical care. Cats can live feral, but homeless dogs don’t do well and often don’t survive.”
Breezer, the first dog to join the Chicone family, received love, food, shelter and vet care. Donna excelled as pet owner but lacked pet-parenting skills. “I made decisions about his welfare with limited information,” she wrote in “Being a Super Pet Parent.”
“He didn’t receive the training and responsibilities he needed and deserved. As a result, Breezer truly gave more to us than I believe we were able to give back to him. Of course, like all dogs, he did so without complaining. In fact, he demonstrated enthusiasm and great love for us at all times, no matter what, until his last days on earth.”
Jazz and Jive
Three years after saying goodbye to Breezer, it was time for another dog. Donna wanted a puppy who could be trained in animal-assisted therapy. She found Jazz. His breeder introduced her to pet parenting, “to what I considered a ‘movement’ in the dog world,” she wrote. “Every person I met—whether a trainer, breeder, veterinarian or even many pet owners—appeared to be an advocate for dogs. All of them wanted to make the world a better place for dogs and the humans who loved them. And I wanted to be part of this movement.”
Soon Donna and Jazz had a community-access television series, “The Dog Show with Jazz,” which featured guest experts in pet matters. Four years after Jazz became a Chicone, Jive did, too, and signed with the show, now an internet series called “Jazz and Jive Show.”
Donna described parenting Jazz and Jive as “a most insightful and even spiritual experience, changing me from a naive, undereducated dog owner to a committed, responsible human parent to my beloved dogs and an advocate for all canines.”
KL Snyder tries to be a good pet parent to Chester Alan Arthur and Snicket, who say with dogged persistence, “Stop writing and take us for a walk.”
Three truths SUPER pet parents know
(and wish everyone else did, too)
Dogs’ lives would be happier if all humans understood:
1. Every dog is a sentient being.
“Dogs have feelings,” Donna says. “They feel emotions, and each dog has a distinct personality.”
The law considers dogs objects, owned like a lawn mower. In a divorce case, it’s which party gets the lawn mower? Which gets the dog? (The parties might not see it that way, but the law does.)
Donna wants laws to change to reflect the true relationship between canines and humans. “Owning doesn’t describe it,” she says. The term that suits is pet parent. “Then societal views will shift, and people will start respecting animals more. Pet parent or pet guardian—say whichever you want, but don’t say owner.”
2. Every dog has a right to be trained.
“Pet parents have a responsibility to train their dogs to live comfortably and successfully in the human world—and so that people can be comfortable, too,” Donna says. “Not to teach dogs what to do is unfair to them. It’s like somebody putting us on a desert island and saying, ‘Figure it out. Bye now.’”
If all dogs were schooled in basic etiquette, their visits to public places would earn more approval and fewer frowns.
3. The alpha theory is a myth.
L. David Mech, founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn., proved that the alpha theory is nonsense. During 13-plus years studying wolves, Mech observed no alpha male behavior. Wolves live in families where the dominance is a natural respect, Donna says, “like moving from your father’s chair when he comes into the room.”
She agrees with Temple Grandin’s viewpoint. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, wrote: “What dogs probably need isn’t a substitute pack leader but a substitute parent. I say that because genetically dogs are juvenile wolves, and young wolves live with their parents and siblings.”
The luckiest dogs find pet parents
The opening pawffirmation in “Pet Parent Pawffirmations” says: “I promise my heart is open to welcoming you into my life. I have researched and planned so your arrival will be joyful and loving. I respect the similarities and the differences between our species. Together we will build a lifelong relationship. I am so happy you are here!”
You can follow Donna and the kids at jazzandjive.com.