Cleaning up old drafts

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As I get ready to retire, I am finding a few nuggets stored here and there so I wouldn’t lose them – which often means I don’t see them for years.

After losing Minco this Spring, these few paragraphs are words that I live with a lot. I am finding our new normal, our new balance – one which I will be tossing like 52-card pick-up when suddenly the dogs have me home way more than they’re used to. I think we’ll manage.

The draft that I found, just a few years ago:

 

A friend reminded me a few years ago, that no matter how philosophical or positive or anything else we are, we just want them BACK!

I don’t think they do really leave us. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt Sophia with me, and more recently Faith, too. And though my eyes may fill, that sense of their presence cannot help but bring a smile, too. I remember a catch phrase I used for years with them both, “How did I get so lucky?” And I feel them with me and I hear that phrase again, in my voice, talking to them, hugging them tight to my heart.

We want them back.

They’re still here.

I know she is with you, a paw resting on your shoulder.

Woven into your heart, part of your very soul, one with the air you breath.

New Normal

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Its always informative to watch the dogs who remain, following the death of an old dog. The dogs I have now have shared all of their lives with Minco, and I guess I expected more confusion or sense of loss.

It hasn’t happened.

My dogs haven’t missed a beat.

They walk by Minco’s crate without a second glance. They zoom around the yard just like always. Domino, now deaf, used to express alarm when Minco left the room, now his alarm/anxiety is less predictable.

While I am still coming to terms with the lack of a huge physical presence, the dogs know their roles and keep on keeping on – it may be that the bond was much stronger between me and Minco than it was between him and the other dogs, or maybe they know something I don’t quite get yet.

I do feel his presence with me each day, and I know he would be here physically if he could. If ever there was a dog who would find his way back home, it is Minco. I don’t know when or how, but I suspect that another dog will come into my life who will elicit the same kind of trust, the same sense of strength, the same watchfulness. I know it won’t *be* Minco, but I know my heart will heal.

Someday.

Fur therapy

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I’ve gotten back to being more hands-on with the dogs the past couple of weeks.

I hadn’t been ignoring them, but I hadn’t been as relaxed and close with them, either.

I could blame it on the cold and wearing gloves and being all bundled up while they played in the snow, but that wasn’t it. I could claim fatigue or being too busy and a half a dozen other things – none of which would be accurate.

I realized as I was brushing dogs the other day that the last time I had done that calmly and peacefully was while I was trying to convince my Pyr that it was okay for her to quit struggling to take care of me. I spent what seemed like several lifetimes gently massaging her shoulders, running my hands through her thinning fur, drinking in the smell and the feel of her coat, absorbing every moment’s memory knowing that there would be no more moments to treasure with her.

I hadn’t realized how much that tactile exercise was intertwined with my grief.

My other dogs still got hugs and scratches and belly rubs – but it was different. I was holding back, afraid of diluting the memories, or maybe of moving on.

It’s almost spring, and bits of green are starting to struggle through the dirt and dead vegetation. I guess I am ready for renewal. too. Brushing the dogs out in the yard, sending fur flying all directions, getting back in the habit of those quiet massages.

Life happens.

Beginnings 2014

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It’s hard to grasp the concept of new beginnings with three dogs older than ten years and the “baby” turning five years in two weeks.
I’m still caught in that oh-so-human trap of remembering too much and planning and anticipating even more.
My dogs keep trying to teach me to live in the now. The past is over, it had some useful lessons to teach but it is gone and cannot be changed. The future hasn’t happened and may never happen and wouldn’t it be silly to ignore the joy right in front of my nose!
I’m working on it, really I am.
And I enter the new year with the hope that I will get better at living each day with as much joy as I can muster.
The dogs will help me, I know they will.

They’re much smarter than I am about these things.

Little memories

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Faith no longer rests at the front door when I leave in the morning. The sense of the house being protected, of my world being safe, is gone. She no longer comes to the entry of the kitchen when I come home, her tail wagging and her whole body wiggling with anticipation.

Sophia no longer curls up in the chair next to my bed, close enough to touch, watch and be whispered to, apart enough to keep her dreams separate from mine. Never far from me, often seeming to be inside my head. I had so many conversations with her, and she seemed to understand what I told her.

Mascot no longer waits on the end of my bed, knowing that her insulin is routine and inevitable. Knowing, too, that she could rub that certain point right behind her ear against my thumb for as long as she wants. Her purr is both a statement and a beacon – I could locate her almost anywhere in the house when she purred, and half the dogs never could figure out whether they should enjoy her purring or fear it.

Bandit no longer beats me to the door, any door, in or out, to be sure she isn’t left behind. I have never before nor since had a dog so comfortable – and determined – about riding in the car. Nor one who did such a good job of letting me know exactly what she wanted or needed.

There have been other dogs and cats before these, their loss just as painful, their lives just as enriching, but most of them came before I was fully formed. There was so much I just didn’t get when I was younger.

There are so many little things I appreciate now – Domino trying to burrow the top of his head into my thigh, Hagar always prepared for take-off, Duffy always checking in to make sure I’m still okay. And Minco, sweet, goofy Minco, standing for a hug that he wants but won’t ask for, always being sure to do a breath check first thing in the morning, making sure, especially since Faith is gone, to keep me in his sight so that I will be safe. I can tell that he’s not convinced he should let me leave in the morning, though at lunchtime he’s ready to shoo me out so he can nap.

I have now, and I have had, some truly amazing dogs and cats in my life. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I know that I am and there are days when my heart is full of wonder at the love and joy embodied in these animals. If I get really lucky, perhaps someday I will learn to be like them.

A Fare-Thee-Well

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Yesterday evening I had to say good-bye to my 11 1/2 year-old Pyr, Faith.

faithfulShe helped more than a few dogs in her day, whether in transport or foster. Though she was the least likely to play of any of my dogs, it was to her that one special Berner boy made his first play bow, when we didn’t know at first whether we would ever be able to draw him out of his shell of fear.

Faith came to me from the local shelter, intended as a companion for my BARC Beauty Sophia. They quickly became fast friends, and they made sure that all other dogs coming to their house knew the rules. She was true to her breed, keeping me and our property safe from all manner of trucks, buses, birds and planes. We NEVER had a plane land in our driveway!

Age and years of property management caught up with her, she spent the past few years on monthly Adaquon shots and Salmon oil seemed to ease some of her cognitive issues, but a recent infection recurred and may have had an impact on her liver and gall bladder. X-rays indicated that her hips and knees were failing, making the option for gall bladder surgery more problematic.

She refused to tell me that it was time for her to go. To the end, she was trying to protect me at her own expense. But I told her that I would do what was right for her, and I know that was what I did.

Three of my dogs are fine, but my ASD/Pyr mix, who was her closest companion after we lost Sophia, is taking it hard. But I know he will help me keep my promise to Faith tonight that I would be fine. He’s sneakiy that way, making sure that I don’t have time to wallow. He will keep me grounded, Berner Hagar will keep me laughing and Duffy and Domino will make sure that I PAY ATTENTION!!!

Run and spin with abandon, dear Faith. You were greatly loved all eleven years I got to share with you, and I will carry you in my heart until we meet again.

Calm

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It always amazes me the difference it makes to spend time with lots and lots of dogs – and the people who love them.
Having just spent a week at a National Specialty show, I find that I am calmer, happier, and far less reactive.
Granted, the dogs I spent time with are happy-go-lucky people lovers, calm and elegant dogs with remarkable spirits.
That they are willing to share so much of their spirit with us, mere humans that we are, is what is truly amazing.
Perhaps the reason they are so short-lived is related to the parable of the boy saying goodbye to the family dog, refusing to lament that he is losing a dear friend:
The vet who was there to euthanize the dog was trying to comfort the family when the child said, “I know why animals don’t live as long as people.
“We are all put on the earth to learn to love and make others happy. Animals are born knowing how to do that, so they don’t have to stay here as long.”
They give us love and joy, asking so little of us in return.
They are treasures, blessings to our lives, if we will only just stop to see it.

What to do, what to do?

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What is a person to do? You want to support animals, you want to provide shelter and medicine and safe harbor. You want to prohibit the mistreatment of animals, whether they are pets or livestock, but you don’t want to do it in such a way as to threaten the existence of – or the human relationship with – those species or breeds.

Think globally, act locally.

This has been a fascinating winter and spring. The Center for Consumer Freedom decided to take on the Humane Society of the United States, then Feld Entertainment (Ringling Brothers)  decided to file a RICO suit against HSUS, and another group orchestrated a bombardment of the IRS with letters and ‘documentation’ alleging fraud perpetrated by the HSUS.

(I looked on a variety of news sites, and Googled if five different ways but couldn’t come up with an unbiased news site that had information about the suit. Agribusiness sites could barely contain themselves… but no one else seems to know it exists.)

I’m no fan of either HSUS or PETA – both are far too extreme for my tastes. But I do understand the raw emotion they have tapped into – now if only they could be more transparent regarding where the money goes every time they make pleas for donations, and if only I could believe that the welfare of the animals was the primary concern.

For the record – PETA’s kill rate of the animals it has taken to its Norfolk, VA shelter is staggeringly high, some sources suggesting 80-90 percent of all of the animals they take in are euthanized. And I don’t appreciate any organization that seems to believe that my dogs deserve better than to be part of my family.

HSUS does NOT operate your local Humane Society. They do operate a few animal sanctuaries, but they are not a local sheltering organization. They typically charge local shelters to consult on how the local shelter might be improved. A few grants go to a few shelters each year.

But to side with CCF is just as problematic. 60 Minutes ran an expose of the driving force behind CCF. The wiki entry for CCF (which reads as though Berman wrote it himself) doesn’t even (at this writing) mention the Morley Safer interview.

Additional sites discussing CCF include:

http://www.consumerdeception.com/public.asp

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2010/02/new-center-for-consumer-freedom-website-targets-humane-society-of-the-united-states.html

http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/anti_organic_consumer_group.cfm

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/politics&id=4140447

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Rick_Berman

and  more.

Oh, and before you get too excited about anything over at activistcash.com  — read the About Us page. That’s CCF, too.

In all fairness, there are many issues that I have with the way HSUS does business. They have become top-heavy and too much of a bully, with an elephant-like my-way-or-the-highway attitude.

Not all of the funds donated in several recent disasters have been fully accounted for, at least not to the public, and too often it appears that their main focus is  publicity rather than the animals.

I wish that they would focus on the  mission of promoting the safety and welfare of animals in the United States rather than the welfare of the HSUS.

So, what to do?

Think globally, act locally.

Most communities have a local shelter. Is yours well-staffed? Do they need volunteers, food, equipment? Do they have a website, rescue contacts, pictures to post of the strays brought in? Is the shelter one with a high kill rate or does it call itself a No-Kill shelter – and what is their definition of no-kill? (Some shelters call themselves no-kill if they don’t kill any *easily* adoptable animals, but won’t work with rescues to help dogs that might have medical or behavioral problems). Other shelters call themselves no-kill and never kill any animal – even those with such severe issues that euthanasia would be a true mercy.

If you are uncomfortable with your local shelter, your county extension agent may know of some group with which you could volunteer or donate goods or time. So some kids need chaperones for a visit with their class to a farm? If your local vet does rescue, does he/she need help walking the dogs or doing behavior assessments? If there is a specific breed that you work with, your regional or national club has a rescue affiliate, they are always in need of volunteers or cash or both.

Your state animal health division may also be able to direct you to where the greatest needs are within your state or what regulations are under consideration. If legislators need to be contacted, they will be far more amenable to comments from their own constituents than to out-of-staters trying to impose their views on your state.

If your community is drafting animal regulations, ask questions. Why are they doing it, what laws already exist, are they enforceable and are they being enforced? If not, why not?

There are lots of ways to get involved on the local or state level, and there are hundreds of organizations that are deserving of your support. In creating massive national organizations, we tend to create organizations more committed to their own perpetuation than to their original cause (and I would love not to be so cynical, but would need evidence to convince me otherwise).

Heck, even the AKC better served purebred dogs when it was less worried about its own real estate and upper management.

I have no faith at all in either CCF or HSUS – but I have a local shelter and a regional rescue that will each receive my time and support. And I will continue to work within my state (and my neighbor’s, when invited) to improve the living conditions for dogs in so-called commercial kennels.

And if we’re really lucky, CCF and HSUS will expose each other for exactly what each is, rendering both as insubstantial as the straw many arguments they use.

Mill apologists

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Once again there are a bunch of anti-regulation/dogs are property-no more, no less folks who find every way imaginable to claim that any seizure or rescue of a breeder’s animals is unfair, wrong, illegal, unconstitutional, theft, WHATever.

To their minds, a dog in a neglectful home is better off than that same dog in a shelter – but god forbid we should ask those same apologists to adequately fund shelters!

And if a breeder wants to leave their dogs exposed to all manner of weather, with minimal vet care or human contact or even exercise, well, that’s their right, right? Right?

Wrong.

While I can almost see the argument to consider dogs as property, they are a special class of property in that they are living beings, and, under law, are considered companion animals.

As such, they require adequate food, water, shelter, vet care and socialization. If they are being used to make (mill) more dogs for the sake of profit, then vet care must be more than adequate, it must meet the need to protect consumers and their families and friends from diseases that could be carried by said ‘property.’

Which means that ‘property’ must be wormed, vaccinated, treated for any bacterial or viral diseases. And it must be what it is both implied and inferred to be – a COMPANION animal. Socialized. Biddable. Which means that it cannot be removed from mother and siblings too early (much of a puppy’s restraint is taught by its mother and littermates) and it should be handled gently and lovingly while still young so that it learns that humans are good things to have around. It should not be tossed around or struck or yelled at, or stuck away in a dark cage.

I certainly do not consider my dogs to be mere property. They are companions, housemates, helpers, entertainers, teachers, students, and so much more. It took each of them time to get to that point. One was used as bait in a dog fighting operation, one was left with an injured eye untreated until a rescue stepped in to take over his care. Another two were abandoned as strays by those who couldn’t be bothered to tag or chip or contain their animals, even those who could have served them well as herders and guardian dogs.

My other dog was not mistreated, but was simply imperfect and therefore not saleable. Rescue stepped in before he could be put down as a waste of food. He lacked early nutrition and never learned much from his mother, but he’s coming along nicely now. Were he simply property, he would likely have been dead before I could ever have heard of him.

There have been several seizures across the country this past week. The conspiracy theorists blame it on shelters needing dogs to sell. Yeah, right. They don’t consider that when a woman says she just put the pups outside (in subfreezing temperatures) while she cleaned their cages, she might have been ‘cleaning cages’ all day without consideration for the dogs in the freezing weather. One conspiracist’s response was that they’re dogs, they SHOULD be outside.

Now, I’m a believer in fresh air and sunlight and exercise and all, but puppies without shelter (or, apparently, their mother) do NOT belong out in the cold for prolonged periods of time.

It’s interesting, too, to see the apologists humming right along until it is their own breed that has been put at risk. Then, suddenly, there ought to be a law and that law damn well better be enforced.

There are laws. They are being tweaked and improved and made easier to enforce. And they will be.

Those who abuse living beings, human or ‘property,’ will face justice. If not now, later. Apologize for the abusers all you want, neither God nor Karma will be swayed.

Definitions

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I grew up near Chicago. At the time I knew little of puppy mills or dog auctions or any of the miserable ways companion animals were exploited for proft.

I do know now. I’ve seen it, I’ve cleaned up after the mess, I’ve helped to rehab some of the victims. I like to think that my thinking has evolved.

Apparently there are still too many who just haven’t quite gotten it yet. Or maybe they just don’t want to. After all, if they admitted to the realities of puppy mills, they might have to admit that their participation in a throw-away culture could be part of the problem. If they have gotten a dog on a whim, without planning, research and commitment to the animal for the whole life of that animal… well, failure on any of those counts does, indeed, contribute to the problem.

I just found out that there is a pet store selling puppies near where I grew up. It used to be that you either found a breeder (not an easy task years ago) or went to the shelter for a pet. Not so any more!

Between the Internet, slick salesmen and people’s increasing willingness to hawk anything for a buck, you rarely have to spend more than 15 minutes looking for whatever purebreed or mix you want. And many of those selling those dogs would deny with their dying breath that they are puppy millers or that puppy mills even exist.

Sigh.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to go looking for the physical publication, but I am willing to take the word of the Chicago Dog Training Examiner on the Examiner.com when she writes “according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “Puppy Mill” is defined as “a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers” – a definition with which I agree (even if the dictionary weren’t referenced!).

I wish that I could believe that all state and federal inspectors had the best interests of the dogs at heart, but I have seen some of them who just want to be pals with everybody, including the “commercial kennel” operators whose mantra seems to be out of sight (even if not out of hearing range), out of mind. I’ve been to auctions attended by those federal and state inspectors where outdated medications and vaccinations were sold off along with other equipment and where lack of teeth, eyes, or limbs were seen as no obstacle (and perhaps even a plus) to the dog doing its job of making lots more dogs.

Heck, one of the reasons all those ‘other’ registries got started was so that dogs could be sold with papers without having to go through all of the inconvenience of providing a paper (and occasionally DNA) trail to the AKC.

I have seen cages stacked on top of each other, sick dogs sold, dogs that have been injected to mask symptoms until well after the sale was completed. I’ve seen people with a lot of dogs whose dogs are well cared for – those are people who breed ONLY when they have enough background on their dogs’ pedigrees and health histories and when they honestly believe that they can produce dogs that will be better than the current generation.

I’ve seen backyard breeders who realize their dog was coming into heat who call out for a male of the same breed, background be damned, they just don’t want to miss the opportunity for a few extra bucks.

Companion animals should be just that – companions. Not profit centers. Not machinery to produce goods for sale.

Our dogs give us their trust, their devotion, their protection, their companionship.

Can’t we give them the dignity and care they deserve, by treating them as living beings rather than a crop?