If you haven’t already heard, the Life With Dogs website is a world leader in dog news and entertainment. You’ll find dogs in the news, reviews and giveaways, fun dog and puppy videos, and the co-home of the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop.
The site, now managed by multiple authors, leaves little to be desired for the dog obsessed pet lover. Except for Life With Dogs’ creator, Neil Brogan. Oh, he’s still around in an advisory capacity, but he’s also shifted focus on life, love, and how to best use his talents to impact dogs’ lives going forward.
I miss Neil’s larger-than-life presence, and I recently caught up with him (interview below). Doing so brought back lots of memories.
Life With Dogs: The Early Years
What I treasured most about Life With Dogs: The Early Years were Neil’s hilarious, shoot-milk-out-your-nose memoirs and comics. If you’re new to the site, you’ve missed spectacular stories about what it meant for Neil and his wife, Mrs. Author, to be pet parents to dogs Nigel, Sola and Truffles – and Cracker, the oft dog-snubbed cat.
One precious gem entitled “Who You Gonna Call?” offers a voyeuristic glimpse into life at the Brogan household. Neil writes:
For some reason not known to me, Nigel, Sola and Truffles share a common goal: complete and utter fruitbowl decimation. Not a day passes without a paw, tail, or deliberately thrown snout making contact with my nether regions. It is not at all uncommon for Mrs. Author to walk around a corner to find me writhing on the floor, cursing one of our critters.
SPOILER ALERT: Mrs. Author crafted this fashion accessory in Neil’s defense. Meet Mr. Strainer … and then go read the whole bit. It’s 100% worth it.
Where in the World is Nigel Buggers?
Dog lovers identified a bit of themselves in Neil’s stories, and a special bond grew. But Neil didn’t stop at storytelling.
Leading greyhound Nigel Buggers appeared in a limited edition print by Kathleen Coy used by the Friends of Buggers Society (FOBS) to raise funds for A Place to Bark animal rescue. The project not only raised a good deal of money, it joined an entire global community in a game of “Where in the World is Nigel Bugger (WITWINB)?”
Nigel’s print appeared around the world – from posing with Elvis and Gene Simmons impersonators in Vegas to crashing tropical island weddings. And Neil shared every picture that came in saying:
This journey continues to astound me, and I am ever so thankful to this gutsy, humorous, dog-crazy group of fun loving people who continue to push the boundaries of good taste in the name of charity.
The Funtastic Fudge and Friends
The site also became home to Jason Dodge’s Fudge and Friends comic strip, complete with story line competitions that earned winners a comic strip featuring their own dog.
To see our winning entry, visit Our Favorite Dog Word: “Fudge!”. Although our use of fudge is a euphemism for another delicous F-word, Fudge in Life With Dogs’ terms refers to Neil’s beloved dog Truffles who is also nicknamed Fudgepants.
LWD Turned Activist
One of the more difficult shifts for me to watch was the very conscious decision Neil made to raise awareness about the not-so-pretty life of dogs. In 2010, the passion of pet bloggers attending a conference opened Neil’s eyes to the power of online animal welfare education. So moved by the community, he decided to use Life With Dogs to shed a bright light on the dark underbelly of animal abuse.
As an animal advocate often working in the trenches, it is too difficult for me to follow abuse cases of situations that I cannot change, and so I stopped frequenting Life With Dogs but for the fun and funny post that would grab my attention on Facebook. I know many others who felt the same way. But we are clearly in the minority.
Life With Dogs’ popularity rapidly grew and, while dog lovers rallied in anger behind the abuse stories, they also frolicked in the fun stories, cried at the most endearing stories, and laughed out loud at the most silly dog situations. What Neil says he prided himself on was daily care and attention to always mix it up. You never knew what you were going to get at Life With Dogs but you’d often experience every emotion available to humans.
An Interview with Neil Brogan
So, how did Neil manage all this, a career in IT, a marriage, and still remain connected to his 4 pets? I asked him to spill the beans…
TOWL: Neil, what kind of commitment did it take to run Life With Dogs and how did that level of commitment change over the years?
NB: Those are two entirely different questions – because the focus of the site changed so dramatically. Initially, I only worked when inspiration struck. Once it was apparent that an audience was building, I had to reevaluate where my time was best spent. So for the first year or two I had a normal, sane life. Then everything exploded.
When our content focus shifted I felt self-induced pressure to stay on top of all things dog related. That is impossible of course, but holding myself to a high standard benefited the site in the long term. I considered it sweat equity. And for the last two years, LWD ate up my entire existence. There isn’t a single night in that period when I got more than 4 hours of sleep. I worked around the clock.
TOWL: How did two-legger Mrs. Author, survive it – (or has she)?
NB: Just barely. Were she not the most patient woman I know we could have ended up in trouble. She jumped in to help with giveaways, PR and reader relations. And it was still too big for both of us. For the last year, we had no time for non-essential communication. We had a million visitors a month and were receiving 150-300 e-mails a day. So call her a saint…
TOWL: When Life With Dogs eventually became about all things dog, advocacy suddenly and often took center stage. You began to share and track dog abuse stories in order to raise awareness – a move that felt very different from LWD historically. What was the specific impetus for this shift?
NB: I shifted the focus – away from myself and my dogs – because I knew that a large audience could actually impact some of the greater challenges facing this wonderful species that gives us so much more than we were able to give back.
TOWL: How did your readers react?
NB: Surprisingly well. They rolled with it and I did not expect that. But by this time many readers were also friends and were willing to support the change.
TOWL: What was your most popular type of feature?
NB: Given our demo (75-80% female readership) stories that featured women saving dogs or dogs saving women were always a hit. And our features regarding dogs that had languished in shelters for years were shared far and wide. Each ended in success, and those were my personal favorites. Seeing a dog go home after 8 or 10 years in a shelter was a huge relief.
TOWL: Have you been involved with any real-life advocacy projects beyond Life With Dogs?
NB: We were instrumental in getting public support for a bill that outlawed roadside puppy sales. We did news interviews and helped make Vermonters aware of the bad breeders who were coming here from other states to peddle puppy mill dogs.
We celebrated the passage of the bill, and shortly thereafter, three dogs we rescued from a mill breeder (who was selling sick dogs on the side of the road in Vermont) all died in a one year span – and all from complications caused by bad breeding. It was a heartbreaking exclamation point of sorts.
TOWL: What has the latest transition at Life With Dogs been like?
NB: Hard. I am very much a hands-on person and am no longer allowed to be. I am retraining myself. I like to roll up my sleeves and get in the trenches and I have to resist that temptation.
TOWL: How involved are you still?
NB: I remain involved in an advisory capacity. I no longer create daily content. I need time to grow the non-profit I’ve founded and can’t find enough time in a day to do both.
TOWL: What do you like most about Life With Dogs now?
NB: The fact that it has so much reach and impact. It continues to grow to this day, and I’m smart enough to realize that at this point it would probably continue to do so without me. I like that.
TOWL: How are the dogs and cat enjoying semi-retirement?
NB: That question assumes that they have worked at some point. If they have, I want their jobs!
In all seriousness, this has been great for them. It’s ironic – I created a website for dogs that became so busy I had little time for my own. When I realized that was the case, I knew it was time to step back and reclaim my life. Hence, the merger. Now we have time again, and it’s been a blessing.
TOWL: What does the future hold for the Life With Dogs clan?
NB: We’re getting ready to launch a new non-profit. If all goes well, it will provide millions in charity (on an ongoing basis) for shelters and rescue organizations.
TOWL:Neil, this is all very exciting, and I wish you all the best! I do hope you’ll come back and talk about your launch.
And to you, my dear reader, I suggest you keep a lookout. From everything I’ve learned about Neil’s exciting new non-profit, its grand scope will make an enormous difference for dogs in need – in a way that every pet lover can take part.
While trading in his punchy personal essays for a massive IT challenge, Neil remains dedicated to the many loves of his life (in addition to Mrs. Author, of course)…. dogs. And we’d expect nothing less from the man who brought us that special online community with the grandiose life of its own, Life With Dogs.