We asked members to share how their animal companions impact their Toastmasters experience—here is what they had to say.
Vijayalakshmi Krishnan & Chikoo
Meet my cocker spaniel named Chikoo. He is not only my best friend but also my close ally when I am putting across my point.
He came home to my family at a tiny age and size and so considers himself the smallest baby of our house. This makes him feel that he always has to be cuddled up by all at home. When we spend time with Chikoo, it provides us the opportunity to be more mindful, to purposefully focus our attention on the present moment, without any judgement. It allows us to appreciate simple, everyday experiences.
When any one of us has a bad day, just looking at Chikoo lightens the mood as he has taught us to embrace our silly mistakes and accept things as they are. Chikoo tirelessly plays fetch again and again as though it’s a new game ... this makes Chikoo my best speech practice partner as he has taught me that only if I practice my speech thoroughly can I win the coveted “Best Speaker” certificate.
His curiosity teaches me to be curious and learn new things. By playing various roles of friend, partner, teacher, student, child ... Chikoo has inspired me to take up various roles in our C2A Toastmasters Club.
Dogs are a living representation of loyalty and courage. Dogs are gregarious (so are humans), so for them, the unity, safety, and well-being of the whole pack is of vital importance. Dogs make a house a home.
Virginia Sharp March & Belle and Blue
Jacksonville, North Carolina
My husband and I adopted two Russian Blue cat siblings in the fall of 2020 from a local animal shelter—Belle and Blue. They love to hang out in my sewing room where I practice my Toastmasters speeches. They have been known to shut off the timer and toss my notes on the floor.
When Jacksonville Club was hosting online meetings (we are hosting hybrid meetings now), they loved to be included. They would walk in front of the camera, across the keyboard, wrestle on the desk—usually when I was speaking. During one of our Zoom meetings, Blue was paying special attention to the meeting, getting close to watch and hear every word from the members. Now that we are meeting in person, members miss seeing Blue and Belle. They (the cats) tried to sneak into the club tote bag to come with me to a meeting. It is wonderful that Belle and Blue bring joy not only to our family but to others during this pandemic.
Susan Budig & Hazel
St. Louis Park, Minnesota
I’m working on a motivational speech. I want my audience to focus on a passion, set a goal, and take steps to achieve it. I’m not sure what to tell them to galvanize them into action. I need to be part cheerleader, part Zig Ziglar, and part firecracker.
I glance up from my computer. Hazel makes eye contact then looks away. I hold my gaze at her, and she raises her eyebrows, sees I’m still looking at her, and whips her head to the side. I can hear her plaintive thoughts, Nope, no. I’m not looking at you. I smile indulgently and keep writing.
Hazel clears her throat. I look up, “Do you want something, Hazel?” She looks at me with brown eyes and stands up, steps toward me. But I am preoccupied and dismiss her body language. Hazel head-butts my hip. “Excuse me,” I say. “It’s not time for you to go out.” Hazel rears up, paws in the air, thunders back to the floor and twirls around, yodeling in classic Huskie fashion. She repeats the performance then runs to grab my shoe in her mouth and throws it at me.
I burst out laughing. “Hazel, you’ve just solved my dilemma.” I’m passionate about walking my dog. It’s a joy to get out into nature. I also have my responsibilities to do at home and work. Hazel, wisely, capitalized on my love of her, my love of walking, and my sense of responsibility. She made eye contact. She made a personal appeal (the head-butt). Finally, she informed me that she wanted to walk with gestures and visual aids.
Eye contact, personal plea, visual aids, and demonstration. Now I had the template for my motivational speech. Smart dog.
Suezy Proctor, DTM, & Zoi
Zoi came into my life the day I formally retired. I run many storylines and speeches past her. She never laughs at my jokes, though she is riveted by every word. Sometimes I will be writing or practicing a speech and I will get choked up, remembering the story. Zoi can sense my change in emotions; she will get up, walk to my side, and poke me in the upper thigh until I get up and take her for a walk. Many times, this is just the pause I need, as it happens in speaking too … pause, refresh, restart.
Some people have said Zoi can’t get a word in edgewise, but Zoi has only barked once in nine years. She is a shrewd evaluator, however. If she approves of the rate, tone, and pitch of my speech, she will get up, stretch her long legs, and prance around my office. If, though, she is not amused, she will roll over on her back, all four legs extended in the air, and freeze. She can stay in that position for a long time!
“I run many storylines and speeches past her. She never laughs at my jokes, though she is riveted by every word.”–Suezy Proctor
When I come back into the house from an errand, Zoi runs into my office, takes her place next to my desk, and once I sit down, she sighs and is instantly at ease. I pick up where I left off and words begin to flow like the mighty Tennessee River that flows nearby.
Sri Kugan & Willy
Life in the midst of the pandemic has been daunting. As an active law student whose daily routine revolved around college, sports, weekends at the pub, and socializing with my fellow Toastmasters once every fortnight, being confined by the walls of home felt too limiting. I initially met the idea of an online Toastmasters meeting with skepticism, as I simply did not have the confidence to pull it off.
“He may not be able to speak the language of humans, but he definitely represses my fear and makes me realize that confidence is not in physical meetings but comes from within.”–Sri Kugan
Regardless, being a club officer meant that I had to show my commitment to the club and to working as a team to consistently host online meetings. It was an overwhelming and scary process. In these times of stress, one could not help but hear paw steps sneaking into the room. With a concerned look in his eye, my furry friend made a connection with me. Nestled in between my legs, the thought of him resting through the entire meeting made me feel secured. What started as a comfort during a stressful time became a habit. Now he is there at his position below my desk during every Toastmasters meeting.
When I am heatedly preparing for my speech, the very same paws put up a loud snore on the bed. Akin to gesturing, motioning that I should be taking a nap with him. A short nap later, one wakes up refreshed and stress-free for the next assignment.
He may not be able to speak the language of humans, but he definitely represses my fear and makes me realize that confidence is not in physical meetings but comes from within. With him there, I know everything is going to be okay. He is Willy, my loveable labrador.
Sandra Sweetman & Melina
New South Wales, Australia
I have been a member of Toastmasters for nearly 20 years, and I breed pure Siamese cats with bloodlines dating back to the original Thai cats. I have been a cat breeder since 1990. I am currently senior vice president of the Siamese Cat Society of New South Wales (NSW) and I am their delegate for Cats NSW.
Toastmasters has given me the skills and confidence to speak out at important committee meetings and functions. I promote the Siamese with opportunities such as the recent Royal Easter Show (the largest agricultural show in Australia).
One of my past speeches won the club and Area Humorous Speech Contest based on our Siamese cat Melina. It was about “the other woman” in my husband’s life and the audience thought it was about an affair until the twist at the end where he had to choose between me or his cat.
I have a beautiful blue point male—we call him Hugo. Hugo has gained many Best in Show awards and Supreme of Supremes and was featured on the cover of the August 2020 issue of “Felis,” the magazine of the Siamese Cat Society.
I am a member of the Justice Toastmasters Club (a government/corporate club), which I was a sponsor of. I gained my DTM with this club in September 2017. Toastmasters can help everyone, even those involved in the pet “cat” world.
Marc Richards, DTM, & Logan
My service dog Logan inspires me to be my best because he’s the best. He’s got a kind soul and keeps me company on walks as I practice, practice, practice my speeches. His calm demeanor keeps stress at bay when an assignment is due, or a goal has to be met. Grooming him is our special time, allowing me to imagine him as an audience for Table Topics®. I make up stories of our adventures together. He doesn’t surf or catch Frisbees, but he does chase tennis balls and care for his toys. I chase projects and coach members on the care of their path [in the Pathways learning experience].
Glenn Yasukochi, DTM, & Pepper
My little female 12-year-old black-haired shih tzu, Pepper, is a natural born leader. Confidence is the one characteristic that all leaders must possess. A lesson I learned from Pepper.
One of Pepper’s favorite training methods is to convince me to throw a green tennis ball across the room so she can retrieve it. She hides behind some furniture to make it more challenging. At first Pepper would retrieve the ball and then drop it next to my foot. But each time she retrieves it, she gradually drops it further and further away from me until I would have to stand up and walk over to get the ball. I should have seen it coming. Pepper was training me to fetch the ball.
Pepper uses her canine influence to try to keep me at home. When she senses I am ready to leave for work she will stand on her hind legs, rest her front paws on my lap, and give me the saddest look, and with words unspoken, will plead, please don’t leave me.
Pepper is a natural leader. She doesn’t dwell on her mistakes. Pepper focuses all her energy on moving forward with no regrets. She knows the path to inner peace begins with three simple words: Not my problem.
Dhara Shah & Lucy
Surat Gujarat, India
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. –Anatole France
We bring animals home in the hopes of caring for them, showering them with love, and mending them. Little do we know that they are the ones who would finally mend us, our shattered families, broken hearts, and lost souls. I’m not sure what Lucy’s role in my life is, but I do know she is a far greater person than I will ever be.
She has been a part of my Toastmasters adventure from the beginning; there isn’t a single speech that I haven’t practiced with her. She’s also a strong evaluator, passing all of her judgement by moving her pointy ears and tilting her head sideways when she likes something. The most essential thing Lucy does is make sure I get up early on Sunday mornings for my Toastmasters sessions. She will sit on my belly and lick my face all over, ensuring that I never awake grumpily. I always remind myself to follow her “pawsteps.” When in doubt: Eat-Sleep-Snuggle-Repeat.
Eva Sefcova Gustafsson & Chakra
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Did you ever think your pet could could influence your performance when it comes to Table Topics, speech evaluations, or even delivering speeches? I never considered it until Chakra entered my life. She is my baby, although she is a French bulldog to everyone else.
I wanted to improve my public speaking but always had an excuse. I also wanted to get a dog but it was never a good time. The pandemic was an ideal time to get a puppy, and it also gave me the additional time to train her. Sometimes I wonder who trained who. Chakra definitely helped me overcome my anxiety and put me at ease.
During our daily walks, we were not only socializing with dogs, but with other dog walkers as well. I realized that every time I met someone, I had to come up with a Table Topic to break the ice. These took one to two minutes but could shift to 7-minute speeches. It turned out that I learned not only to speak but put an idea together in a moment based on Chakra’s bite, bark, or whine as I was having a conversation. I am so happy to have a furry partner to support me as a Toastmaster.
Shannon Dewey is digital strategy and engagement editor for the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.