Archive for the ‘Animals & Pets’ Category.

Eyes in the Darkness

Driving down the country road listening to music too loud, a dog on my lap and another on my shoulder. I travel down this road several times a week, it’s a connection to larger roads that lead to the interstate, but tonight was I was driving down it to pick up a pizza in the small town nearby. A car passes coming the other direction and I avert my eyes to the white line at the edge of the road on my right to avoid being blinded. An instant later and they are back peering into the darkness, confirming the gentle curves and twists of a road that I feel as much as I see while I drive down it. And that’s when I saw them. The eyes in the road.

A pair of eyes on the road glowing brightly like two orange embers embedded in the pavement. Within seconds I see what they belong to, an orange tabby cat, its body broken on the road in the other lane hit by a car (the one that almost blinded me? I wondered), and then its gone as I speed past at 60 miles per hour.

It’s dead I thought to myself as I continued on my journey, but those glowing eyes. I knew that cats and some other animals that are active at night have something like mirrors in the back of their eyes that reflect light, somehow helping them to see much better in darkness than most other animals. How long does that effect last after death? I wondered. Was it possible the animal was still alive?

It couldn’t be I told myself. It looked very dead. Besides the cold will kill it if it is still alive since the temperature was below 20 degree Fahrenheit.

Should I turn around? I asked myself. I made excuses. I’ve been sick. It’s too cold. I’ve got two dogs in the car which will absolutely freak out if I bring a cat into the car.

I continued, turning onto another road that led to the small town nearby.

It’s late on a Sunday. What will I do if the cat’s still alive? A side trip to the vet will be expensive. It’s just a cat. It’s dead.

But those eyes in the darkness. What if it wasn’t? What if it was only stunned? It’s just a cat. That’s not who I am. Not what I’m about. What have I become if I pass up an animal like this? I slowed the car down and pulled into an access road to a tobacco field and turned around.

This is stupid I said to myself, the cat’s dead and if it’s not you’ve just made a very expensive decision that likely no one will care about. It’s just a cat.

I spotted the cat exactly where I expected it to be coming to a stop and turning the hazard flasher’s on. There was plenty of visibility both ahead and behind me and so my stopping would present no danger to other drivers.  I saw the eyes were open, unblinking staring at nothing. The dogs started barking, sensing my unusual behavior, and I opened the door and left the car. I looked around me. There were three mobile homes a few hundred yards away, and the nearest was dark. Did this cat belong to one of these homes?

I lifted the cat’s warm body into my arms and a few drops of blood fell from its mouth. Illuminated by my car’s headlights I stood stroking the cat’s soft fur. It was a young female, likely less than a year old. Her head was way too loose on her neck meaning it was likely broken. I held two fingers to her heart and felt nothing. In the cold air my breath bathed her body in tendrils of steam so I held my breath to see if there was any hint of life from her. None. She was gone, a short life ended only moments before I had come upon her body.

Two cars slowed and passed me. I wondered what they thought of me, a bearded old man in a heavy coat cradling a dead cat in his arms stroking its fur. But I didn’t think it’s right for such an animal to die alone on a cold country road. Cats may be independent but they are still our responsibility just as dogs are.

I laid her down gently in the frozen grass away from the ditch at the side of the road. Here her body would rest without being crushed into the pavement. Perhaps her owner would find her and know what happened to her. Perhaps not. Regardless I had done enough. My conscience was appeased.

I returned to the car, turned it around and continued on my drive.

But I can’t forget those eyes in the darkness.

Things You Don’t Have To Deal With In The Suburbs #242

Modern country life… at 1:13 AM.


What I Didn’t Tell the Young Owner of a Purebred Dog

I was in town and while there stopped into the local PetsMart to pickup dog food. My crew of 6 eats only Hill’s Science Diet, going through one 38 lb bag every week and a half or so, making the dog food budget one of the more significant in our house. I won’t pay $120 for cable TV but I’ll keep my pups in Science Diet at $175 a month. I have my priorities.

While standing in line to check out I made faces and played with the young Siberian Husky in front of me. She was a gorgeous dog, a little skittish but didn’t hold back licking my hand, allowing me to pet her neck while I looked into those deep blue eyes. I struck up a conversation with her owner, a woman a few years older than my son who grew up in the area near where I live in the country but now lives in a condo in the city. I mentioned that I didn’t see Huskys out my way, and she said she got her from a breeder about an hour outside of Asheville.

I don’t say anything. It wasn’t my place to lecture this young girl and make her feel bad. And the dog was beautiful.

But here’s the deal: I have never bought a dog from a breeder. Nor will I ever no matter how much I might fall in love with the animal.

When the kill shelters in my area have kill rates of 95% I believe it is morally wrong to breed dogs and cats and if you don’t breed them, purchase them from breeders.

When all the kill shelters are shut down and all the animal rescues turning away volunteers because there’s is nothing to do, then the time might come when it’s okay to breed a dog or cat for cash. But I doubt I will live to see that day.

Just a week ago I had to find a home for one of my rescues, a Pit Bull/Boxer mix who is a very special girl. I had found her in April 2015, her breasts heavy with milk walking lost on my drive. No collar or microchip of course, and although I searched, no puppies. This is Appalachia and dog fighting is still consider a sport in the same way that f***ing your cousin is I suppose, and I have a pretty good idea where those puppies went.

Anyway I took her in, got her cleaned up, shots, and spayed which is what I do for all my animals. All receive vet treatment and all get quality dry food. I tried to find her a home twice, but both flaked out on me. By that time it was Summer, and I was already missing her, so I happily took her back, naming her “G” and giving her the collar which to me symbolized my commitment to her. In September the Kid found a puppy wondering beneath the cars at the local WalMart, and the girl pretty much raised him. The two were inseparable and the puppy loved his “Crazy Aunt G”.

“G” was smart, and when I started training the puppy “G” picked up on the lesson faster than the puppy. Because I spent so much time with her she in effect became my dog, and as I trained her and worked with her I began to unlearn all the prejudices I had against her breed. She loved fetch and waterplay. She and the puppy loved leaping into the upper pond or wading into one of the creeks and settling down onto her haunches leaving her neck and head above the water, playing “U-Boat Commander” as a I called it. At night she’d be under my legs on my couch, and during the day she’d be outside to “greet” anyone who ignored the “No Trespassing Signs”. Her look and her bark turned around many pickups, cars and motorcycles.

But the problem with having a pack of dogs is that fights inevitably break out. They are rare, but when they happen they are explosive and usually expensive. All my fights have been between girls, and “G” being the newbie, was in her share of scraps. She eventually made her way up the hierarchy without much fuss, and things were quiet in the house until last month.

On the evening of July 4th the alpha female, a 12 1/2 year old Lab mix, attacked “G” at the food bowl.  “G” , instead of submitting to the female, decided to challenge her and the kibble went flying. Eventually the Wife and I got the two apart but the damage was done and it was clear who the winner was: “G”.

The old alpha disappeared in the woods for two days and when she returned she was injured and terrified. I took her to the vet, and they recommended that it wasn’t safe for the old alpha to be around “G” anymore. I then made arrangements to find “G” yet another forever home. “G” was adoptable, the old alpha was not. It took me a month but I found her a place at a no-kill shelter who promised to contact me if they had trouble finding her a good home.

Let me make this clear: I don’t live with this many animals because I like being covered in hair and stepping in pee in the middle of the night. I do it because if I don’t no one else would. All of my Crew would be destroyed. 

I have 3 black cats. Can you provide a decent home for one or two of them? Didn’t think so.

I have a young blind dog. Are you willing to take care of her and give her kisses when she jumps up blindly to lick you? Didn’t think so.

I have a little dog who has the energy of a hyperactive meth head on a double-shot espresso. Will you calm him down when he starts barking crazily in the middle of the night when it’s too dangerous for him to go outside? Ditto.

All these animals were dumped on me. I have more stories but you get the point.

It wasn’t my place to educate this young girl with her lovely little purebred Siberian Husky in PetsMart that she likely could have found a Siberian Husky from a shelter. That the dog she was buying toys for in front of me was alive at the expense of the dog she could have adopted in its place, likely euthanized months ago in one of the area kill shelters. Or that had she adopted a rescue dog that she would have saved not only the life of her pet but the life of another dog who would take its place in the rescue system. I simply petted the shy Siberian Husky and kept the thoughts to myself.

For Heaven’s sake and the sake of the millions of dogs and cats in shelters throughout our country, if you are looking for a pet, get one from the shelter. Animals are not iPhones and definitely are not fashion accessories. If you want a specific breed, find its rescue equivalent. The chihuahua on my lap would agree though that your best option is the shelter.

Shelter animals make the best friends.

Popehat Talks Productively About Guns

Ken White, writing at Popehat, explains the difficulty gun owners have talking to gun phobes. It’s something I’ve run into myself having gone from being irrationally afraid of guns to having several in my home, and having to explain to my gun phobic friends and family why.

He writes:

It’s hard to grasp the reaction of someone who understands gun terminology to someone who doesn’t. So imagine we’re going through one of our periodic moral panics over dogs and I’m trying to persuade you that there should be restrictions on, say, Rottweilers.

Me: I don’t want to take away dog owners’ rights. But we need to do something about Rottweilers.
You: So what do you propose?
Me: I just think that there should be some sort of training or restrictions on owning an attack dog.
You: Wait. What’s an “attack dog?”
Me: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.
You: Huh? Rottweilers aren’t military dogs. In fact “military dogs” isn’t a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody’s trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn’t own fighting dogs.
You: I have no idea what dogs you’re talking about now.
Me: You’re being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.
You: What the fuck.
Me: OK, maybe not actually ::air quotes:: hounds ::air quotes::. Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I’m not obsessed with vicious dogs like you. But we can identify kinds of dogs that civilians just don’t need to own.
You: Can we?

Guns and dogs are an excellent analogy. Both can be your best friend but disrespect them and they can become the stuff of nightmares. I know both, and the more I am around them the more I appreciate what they can do and what they cannot. I try to never make assumptions about either one of them since doing so leads to trouble. I have learned that both make my life richer in ways that I cannot explain to people who don’t own guns or dogs. You’ve got to do it to understand it.

Anyway, White’s piece is worth the full read. I’m going to take the dogs out for “last call” before bedtime.

On Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood Videos

As an animal lover and one who has participated in the conservation of an endangered species it’s hard for me to not be pissed off at the dentist. I understand the excitement of a hunt, how much of a challenge it is to track your game, check your target and wait until you find the perfect moment. But I’ve used cameras not guns for my “kills” and the exhilaration felt was not lessened by capturing the image of the animal instead of its skull.

For those upset about the dentist killed Cecil the lion I can’t help but wonder how they feel about the abortionist making jokes about cracking the skull of a baby. I’m sure many upset with Cecil’s untimely demise aren’t familiar with the video making the rounds of the pro-life community, but I wonder if they would react a similar way, or if as I expect they would justify it as many in the hunting community have done with the lion’s demise. There’s something intrinsically screwed up with trophy hunting, just as I think there’s something intrinsically wrong with people who laugh about crushing the skulls of unborn children and make a profession of it. “Right Livelihood” is part of The Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path, and it’s hard to think of a livelihood further away from Enlightenment than the troglodytes shown in the videos. At least Cecil had more of a chance to defend himself than the kids crunched before birth.

Perhaps Cecil’s killer should have been an abortionist instead of a dentist.

How To Kill Your Dog With Stupidity and Love (But Mostly Stupidity)

We moved to rural North Carolina in August 2009. A visit with the realtor to the property that July foreshadowed our tenure here: We found a stray dog while viewing the property and the realtor adopted it. Since then we have handled approximately 25 abandoned animals of various breeds who made it onto our property or were found near it. We found homes for most of these animals. Spay/neuter is such a simple concept to me, but evidently not around here, and people continue to abandon their animals on or near my property.  Although I have done my best and achieved successful placements for many of them, I made a series of fatal errors with one dog. I am writing this in the hope that others will learn from my mistakes. SK

I am an avid animal lover and have always thought of myself as a good animal care-giver. But yesterday I had to put a dog to sleep who suffered because of my errors in thinking and judgment. I am writing this in the hope that I can atone for this dog’s premature death by preventing someone from making the same mistakes I have made in her care.

This was the dog. Her name was Blue. She was a blue heeler I rescued as a six week old puppy less than a year after moving to North Carolina.

Blue died on the floor of a veterinary clinic as I petted and her apologized for causing her death. What follows is a list of the mistakes I made during her five years of life.

1. Know the Common Behaviors of Your Breed. When I rescued Blue I knew little about heelers. Heelers are working dogs and as such they need a lot of attention, activity and exercise – preferably involving herding animals such as sheep, cows or goats. They tend to being solitary and do not integrate well into a larger pack unless they are dominant.

Blue came into a situation with large, older dog who would dominate all the others including Blue. Blue never integrated into the hierarchy and was always challenging her place, picking fights with beta dogs, some of which would escalate into full-blown free-for-alls. Since she had nothing to herd, she often ran down and nipped at the little dogs who often would fight back, causing a crisis. My mistake here was not recognizing Blue’s nature and finding a more suitable home for her right away. Instead I tried medicating her with drugs and hoped she would calm down, another mistake. Medication cannot mask traits that have been selectively bred into the dog’s breed.

2. Do Not Attribute Human Emotions or Feelings To The Dog. When I found a Pit Bull/Boxer mix starving on my property and took her in to foster her, her presence caused one of the worst dog fights I have ever had to break up. Several of the dogs were injured including one seriously, and I received several deep punctures on my hands and arms that took weeks to scar over and heal. I mistook Blue’s change in behavior, of hiding under the deck or refusing to go out on walks with the rest of the dogs as jealousy or anger towards the new addition.

Dogs can’t talk to us, and one of the few ways of communicating they have with us to change their pattern of behavior. Blue liked the walks through the woods, and she didn’t usually hide under the deck. These were clues that I should have picked up on but didn’t because I thought Blue was acting petulant towards the new dog.

As you no doubt understand dogs are not 13 year old girls. They cannot act petulantly. What I missed was that Blue was sick, seriously ill with canine diabetes. Canine diabetes does not manifest itself the way human diabetes does. Although Blue was slightly overweight dogs do not get diabetes from being overweight the way humans do. I’m still trying to learn about this disease although it is rare (1 out of 200 dogs) and too late for Blue. But the see-sawing blood sugars would explain why Blue would feel fine one day and not the next. This wasn’t her being temperamental; it was her manifesting the signs of her disease.

So please, resist the temptation to look upon your dog as a little human. They aren’t, and my failure to realize that caused me to miss the signs of canine diabetes.

3. Have Yearly Wellness Checks. I have no idea why I let these slip. About two years ago my old vet left his practice and I was forced to find another vet. Although I kept up with their rabies shots and brought the dogs in whenever I was sure they were sick, I got out of the habit of bringing them in every year even when they were well. Blue had just been to the vet in early May to get her rabies updated and stay in the kennel while we were away. A simple blood panel would have found Blue’s canine diabetes much earlier, and there is no doubt that had I done a wellness check Blue would not only be with us today, but much of the suffering my animals have gone through because of her behavior would have been avoided.

4. Protect Against Rare But Devastating Diseases.  It is better to protect against extremely rare but devastating events than commonly occurring but non-life threatening ones. Take for example cell phone insurance. Many people pay $10/month plus a $200 deductible to insure against the loss or destruction of their $600 iPhone. For many people $10/month will get you term life insurance that will protect your family financially should you die yet few do so figuring the odds are against them dying. This is true; the odds favor healthy young Americans living to their late 70s. But the odds of Blue developing canine diabetes was 1/200, and the odds of me dying within the next five years are 1/100. If the outcome of these events are so terrible, then we should work hard to mitigate the damage or perhaps even prevent them from happening as best as we can.

In the case of animals this means getting vaccines beyond the mandated rabies vaccine. If you can get a jab to prevent your dog or cat from getting sick then do so. Same thing with heartworm preventative meds. For about $5/month you can protect them from heartworms, parasites that can seriously shorten their lives and run up huge vet and drug bills should your pet come down with them. If you are willing to spend $10/month to save a few hundred bucks on a smart phone that will be obsolete in two years, how can you not justify spending the same on your pet who will share your life for the next five, ten or maybe even fifteen years? It’s a small price to pay to avoid the heartbreak of a chronically ill dog.

And speaking of vaccines this also applies to human beings. I have never turned down a jab for my son or myself, but recommend you discuss vaccines with your doctor and avoid the Internet if you have concerns about them.

5. Animals Need More Than Love. Although caring for her wasn’t easy, and she often made me angry, I loved Blue. She was a devoted companion and would follow me or the Wife anywhere, sticking close by instead of running off like the others. In the morning at the same time everyday she would wake us up with her “tap dance routine,” her little excited dance telling us that it was time for us to wake up and let her outside. Occasionally I would sing to her, taking Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and changing the lyrics to “Blueberry Beret.” I had hoped that by working extra hard to find homes for the Pit Bull/Boxer mix and a beagle she always fought with that we would make her life here more comfortable and happier here. Unfortunately she died a day after placement of my last foster dog.

Those actions were motivated by love for the dog, but had nothing to do with reality. It wasn’t a psychological issue she was suffering from but a physical ailment, canine diabetes, that by the time we recognized the symptoms it was too late to do anything about. Proper animal care requires using one’s mind to see the situation clearly, not relying upon ones heart to explain reality. We did the latter, and the dog is dead.

I have no excuses and can only hope that by sharing my experience others may avoid my mistakes and be spared the grief and self-loathing that comes with failing a beloved pet.

There Is No Escaping Yourself

So it’s the day after your shoulder surgery, and one of your dogs is sick so you take it to the vet. You learn the dog is critically ill but makes it through the night. The next day your son is due to graduate that evening, having passed through the public school system without any sort of academic achievement.

The dog rallies in the morning and everyone is hopeful including the vet who promises to call if she takes a turn for the worse. I receive that call at 1pm and within minutes I’m lying on a floor next to the dog who once was the little puppy I had rescued from a one eyed farmer with too many un-altered dogs and not enough sense, sobbing and apologizing to the dog for being tricked into believing she wasn’t that sick. She had only been out of sorts for a day or two and I had figured it was just a stomach bug passing through the house. During those days I had found the early videos of her running around the house and yard as a fuzzy little puppy, and I remembered that puppy as I watched the pink fluid enter her veins ending her life.

What a failure I am, claiming to love animals and failing them when they need me the most. I tell the wife and son. The former is cold and distant, the latter in his own happy world with his friends all lit up with graduating high school and it barely registers. I spend the rest of the afternoon sounding professional when the phone is on, crying when it’s not.

That evening the Wife and I ride to the graduation in silence. We sit on metal seats embedded into the concrete bleachers, and within minutes my shoulder is singing with pain. The ceremony begins and my son’s principal takes the podium and jokes about all the things he will remember about this graduating class. He mentions my son by name, saying he’ll never forget him being late everyday to school and the audience laughs. I turn to the Wife and she is horrified.

Have I died on the operating table and gone to Hell? I wonder for a moment. The physical pain of the shoulder, the mental pain of an intellectual parent failing to raise an academically gifted child, and the emotional pain of failing to act in time to save one of my animals all swirl together as I look down and watch the ants crawling between my feet.

“There is no escaping yourself,” the wife says, breaking the silence on the ride home. Time slows down and I can almost hear G-d laughing at me.  No, there is no escape. No escaping the moment, the pain the sick stench of failure.

No escaping yourself.


We’ve lived under the Obama administration for 6 years, 2 months. During that time we have witnessed a world turned upside down, one where our allies are treated like our enemies and our enemies are courted. Alliances that can be measured in lifetimes have been ignored, such as the “special relationship” with the UK. Others like Israel have been actively undermined. Even the Canadians have suffered at the hands of this administration as it has pivoted to China and kept the Keystone Pipeline mired in indecision and red tape.

Russia annexes the Crimea, the first territorial annexation in Europe since the Third Reich. It assassinates and jails the critics of its leadership. It invades Ukraine and even shoots down an airliner full of Europeans without consequences. Russian propaganda broadcasts throughout Russia unopposed, developing an ultranationalism straight from a work of fiction or video game. Critics of this coddling are accused of Cold War era thinking, and the administration continues to engage with the regime even as the US people view it as the single greatest threat.

The Obama administration leaves Biden to negotiate the status of forces agreement with Iraq, wasting the blood and treasure expended during the Bush administration. Any physics student or poli-sci major can tell you that nature abhors a vacuum, so Iran takes over in the East and an Islamic Death Cult rises in the West. An ignominious Vietnam-like defeat would have been preferable as Obama wouldn’t have been able to interfere in the region as he has done so. No love letters to Iran and certainly no attempt to overthrow the only friend we have in the region.

Leading from behind a harmless loon is attacked in Libya, leading to a failed state in Libya and the death of our first ambassador in two generations. What difference does it make? Evidently none because there are no consequences for the man in the White House or his Secretary of State minion who orchestrated the affair, the latter of whom is measuring the Oval Office for drapes as the 4th Estate gives her a standing ovation.

In 2008 I worried we had elected Carter. It turns out we elected Nixon instead, although one with a press who would call modern-day duo of Woodward and Bernstein racist. When Nixon went to China the Right had no fear that he would sell out our country to the Communists, a political fact that made it into of all things a Star Trek movie. There is no such comfort with Obama’s obsession for a nuclear deal with Iran. The Mullahs can write any deal they want, chanting “Death to America” all the way to the Bomb.

The Obama administration took power, sneering at the apparent ignorance and failures of the previous administration. Yet this supposedly bright and intelligent group of people have done some incredibly stupid things, mistakes so bad they can only be made by extremely intelligent and ignorant people. Boko Haram in West Africa, al-Shabaab in East Africa, ISIS in North Africa and the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan in Middle East and Central Asia, Russia in Europe and Asia, China in East Asia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina and Venezuela in Central and South America. All these actors are stronger in the world today than they were 74 months ago. America and its allies are all weaker thanks to the efforts of this narcissist and his administration.

Can America survive the next 22 months, and if it can, will it have any allies left?


Stinkbug War: 2014

Just a note for you Internet denizens who are plagued by stinkbugs.

The infestation began about around Sept. 11 with the stinkbugs crawling on our screens, windows and siding. We set up indoor traps (lamps above pans of water with detergent in it) and I dedicated a shop vac to sucking them off the outside of the house. I put a small amount of water with non-t0xic detergent in the shop vac, and when it became full I dumped it into the mulch pile and turned the pile.

Current body-count so far: 3,000 estimated but they didn’t go down without a fight. They broke the shop-vac so I’m using an old handheld Shark from my workroom, and if that breaks I’ve got a new 6 gallon one in a box in my truck.

I just spent 15 minutes and sucked up 242. They absolutely love getting between the plastic dog houses and the deck. I scored about a third of the count there.

The horror… The horror…

Illegal Immigrants Are Not Dogs…

So why do we treat them worse?

I am actively involved in animal rescue. Over the course of my life I have rescued scores of animals, finding them forever homes when I could or keeping them as pets. The shelters are full of animals, most of which are facing death. Their crime? Having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I do what I can. I spay and neuter everything I get my hands on, provide them health care and a loving home until I find the right place for them, and treat them with the love and respect that Chance has denied them. I have more pets than most people would consider reasonable and my limit has been reached. What is that limit? My ability to provide love and attention to each one.  I know I’m at that limit because I have a young beagle who needs more love and attention than I can provide. I do my best, but the truth is she needs a home where she can be someone’s special girl.

I can’t rescue them all. I don’t rush down to the county “kill” shelter, throw open the cages, open the doors and let all the animals run free even though they are facing certain death staying where they are.

I also don’t force people to take care of pets they don’t want. I believe that one solution to the pet overpopulation problem is for more animal lovers to responsibly take on more animals, but I don’t demand they do so nor do I expect the government to intervene and force them to.

See where I’m going with this?

I have lived abroad and seen true poverty, so I am very sympathetic to those who are coming illegally into our country. I recognize that most of them are innocent men, women and children stuck in a cage facing death back home. Their crime? Having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are others who aren’t so innocent, as wild and untamed as the feral cats who plague our city parks.

Unlike pets the solution is not to spay and neuter them of course, and we can’t save them all – a fact that immigrant advocates seem to forget. What do we do?

Instead of dumping them on people who don’t want them, how about having them live with those who do. Everyone fighting for the immigrants to stay should open their homes to them just as I have the strays that cross my path. Help them take care of themselves here, learn English and find jobs to eventually become citizens instead of forcing them into shelters run by the government in neighborhoods where they are not wanted.

But the fact must be faced. We can’t save them all. America is not big enough; we have our own black, Hispanic, and white underclasses needing jobs and health care. What do we do?

Ultimately we will need to do some “Yankee Imperialism” to build countries in Central America that aren’t failed states run by goons on the payrolls of narcotics traffickers. That will require a lot of work on our part as a people who must learn that not all cultures are equal – that some are indeed better than others – but in the meantime those demanding the illegal immigrants stay should be opening up their homes and their own wallets, just as people who rescue animals do.

These are people. They deserve to be treated better than dogs. The sooner the immigration advocates realize this the better.




Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

26. (For IT professionals). Learn New Programs/Tools Quickly. Every program or software tool has a unique logic to it. The only way to discover that logic is to use the program as much as possible. You can start by reading the manual, a Dummies book or similar guide, or even reviewing YouTube videos but nothing beats actually using the tool or program as much as you can. What I like to do when I pick up a new program is where the dragons be. These are the places where you’re guaranteed to break something. Learn whee it is then avoid that area. The more intrepid make a beeline for those places and claim they can learn a program or tool much faster by working on the edge. In my view this is selfish when dealing with a distributed tool on a network, so keep to the safe areas unless you are working on your own copy on your own machine. Not only will this skill enhance your earnings potential, but each tool you learn makes others that much easier to learn and the more tools and experience you have, the more important you become in your realm.


Meanwhile in the Communist Paradise Known as China…

Chinese property developer pays $2 million for puppy.

World’s most expensive pet or meal, for some it’s hard to decide which…

The Importance of Right Livelihood in Modern Life

One of the tenets of Buddhism is “Right Livelihood.” In a nutshell it means working at a job that doesn’t contribute to the pain and suffering in the world. This isn’t a problem for most jobs, although a few do come to mind. One that does is performing and assisting with abortions.

I am pro-Life as is my family. We live with and bear the cost of our ethics. Dr. Wife may be a liberal but she won’t work for an institution that performs abortions, and we have made decisions and helped others in tight spots when it would have been much easier for us to walk away. I wrap my pro-Life attitude in a pro-Choice mantel because I do not believe the Government has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body, and that ceding that right to the Government makes it much easier for it to grab other rights.  But the cloth of that mantel is thin; scratch it and you will find someone who values innocent life.

When I read about a Planned Parenthood employee who quit because she just couldn’t stomach it any more, I think about how important Right Livelihood is. Now I’ve read interviews with abortionists who claim they have no difficulty sleeping at night, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I doubt any leaders of the Nazi Regime laid awake at night pondering their guilt, nor do those plotting the next terrorist attack. A Buddhist would say that such men and women have a long ways to go before they understand the error of their choices, but they will eventually. I am not a Buddhist. I don’t doubt Evil exists in the world and have no problem seeing these people for what they are.

It’s not just abortionists. There are those working at kill animal shelters who enjoy killing puppies and kittens, and there are those who lie to themselves until they reach a point where they can’t stomach it any more and have to find their own Right Livelihood. Ditto those who work in slaughterhouses. I’m sure some workers get off on killing cows and chickens just as Sadists fed the ranks of the Serbs who ethnically cleansed Bosnia and Croatia. For others its just a job, and they do their best to ignore it. Others get sickened by it and have to quit, and often do so after providing PETA or the ASPCA with videos depicting the horrors of the slaughterhouse.

At the end of the day with our consciousness about to fade we are left alone in darkness with our deeds and our conscience.  2,500 years ago the Buddha understood this which is why He taught the importance of Right Livelihood. It’s a lesson that is timeless.

Spay, Neuter, Adopt – Repeat

One of the few topics of agreement between liberals and conservatives I’ve found is pets, particularly the problems caused by over population. The cool thing is that when the topic of whether Obama should be impeached or not comes up, and your liberal friend’s head is about to explode, just send him a picture of a cute dog needing rescue. Immediately all will be forgotten and instead of pistols-at-dawn (or since we’re talking leftists who support gun control, re-education camps or at the very least, IRS audits) you’ll be sharing animal rescue stories and plotting how to change attitudes towards spay and neuter programs.

Look we all know Obama is the worst president in history, but whomever takes his place will likely not be able to solve the problem of pet overpopulation. To do this requires not just changing the attitudes of those who believe it’s “unnatural” to spay or neuter a dog or keep their cat inside, it requires changing our attitudes as well.

I used to consider myself a cat person. When I was five I ended up with a tiny little kitten, the runt of the litter who wouldn’t be nursed by her mother. So my mother gave me a doll bottle with kitten formula and I nursed the kitten myself. The kitten became my first best friend. I wrote songs and poetry to her while a child and she repaid me with her company for 17 years. There have been other cats since her passing, but none like her, and because of my experience with her I shunned dogs for the most part until my son came into the picture. We ended up adopting a Bichon, and it rekindled my interest in dogs.

I realized something: I wasn’t a cat person at all. I was an animal person. I found the love I had for animals wasn’t limited to a specific species or breed, it transcended such divisions. As I grew older I met others who felt the same. Some had lived with a special dog that changed theirs lives. I’ve even met people who had a special rabbit and parakeet. There are no dog or cat people at all. There are just animal people.

And it makes sense. We are after all animals. We are products of Nature and have evolved and developed as a species alongside other animals. We have influenced their evolution and they ours. Dogs. Cats. Horses. Cows. The history of all domesticated animals are intertwined with ours as a species, and so it should not come as a surprise that today in the modern era there are people like us who still treasure the company and care of animals.

But not everyone agrees. I’ve lived in places where animals were viewed no differently from inanimate objects – property to be used and discarded at will.

One way those of us who chant the mantra of “spay and neuter” can further help the pet overpopulation problem is by adopting more animals. If you have one dog, add another from a shelter. If you have two dogs consider adding a cat – preferably two – to your home. Most domestic animals prefer the company of others of their kind, and that is true with all the animals I’ve handled whether tropical fish, cats or horses.

You don’t have  to go crazy. I don’t want anyone appearing on Animal Cops. Adopting animals is easy; caring for them on a day-to-day basis is another. I’m running two litter boxes for 8 cats and have to scoop them daily. If I don’t disaster strikes, and honestly it is a chore along with all the other animal chores I have for caring for 8 dogs, 13 chickens and 45 gallons of tropical fish that make daily life a challenge. The idea is to save as many animals as you can properly care for, and that requires having the means to pay vet bills ($4,000 one year not too long ago), the time to exercise your dogs and lavish attention on each and every one of your pets.

Making room in our hearts and homes while proselytizing about the importance of spay and neuter programs, the immorality of breeding for profit, and donating time and money to your favorite rescue group or animal shelter will speed the arrival of a time where every animal is wanted and has a forever home as each deserves.



Wild At Heart Tames The Restless Soul

I’m not sure what it is about the Brits, but they know how to make good television. I grew up watching Benny Hill on the local independent TV station, then graduated to Monty Python, Doctor Who, and what I believe is the funniest TV show ever produced, Fawlty Towers. Thanks to technology I haven’t watched an American network show in years, and with Amazon Prime and Netflix Streaming I have seriously cut back my American cable reality TV viewing to just a few shows. Instead of watching yet another navel-gazing reality show at night, thanks to Amazon Prime we watch Ballykissangel, a comedy/drama set in a fictitious town near the Wicklow mountains in Ireland. It also allowed us to catch up with Downton Abbey. Over the summer we burned through Doc Martin, one of the quirkiest and addictive shows we’ve seen in years about a GP living in a small town on the Cornish coast (I’m saving the last 4 episodes of the last season like a treat to be savored only on special occasions).

We discovered the show Wild At Heart somewhat by accident during a Netflix streaming test drive. The show stars Ballykissangel’s Stephen Tompkinson as Danny Travanian, a vet from Bristol whose wife, played by Amanda Holden, decides to take their blended family on a trip to South Africa to release a vervet monkey brought into her husband’s surgery. While there they are convinced by the owner of a small game reserve to invest their life savings into the park and stay.

Tomkinson and co-star Bovril

The show is a delight for animal lovers and for Africa lovers. It is almost entirely filmed in South Africa as is evident by the light. Anyone who has lived in Africa knows the lighting there is different, likely due to the continent’s elevation and dust in the air, and the warmth the light provides the scenes makes Africa as much a character in the show as the animals or the actors. The stories are well written and the characters grow over time. For example in the early episodes Danny’s daughter Rosie is an annoying suburban girl, and his stepson Ethan is an emo kid you want to slap and send to military school, but by the third season each has evolved into a well-rounded and interesting character to the point when Ethan leaves Leopard’s Den, the fictitious game park, you really are sad to see the kid go. But as anyone who grew up watching British TV knows like Blake’s 7 or Red Dwarf knows, the Brits are much less averse to knocking off characters than Americans, and Wild at Heart is no different, so if you are interested in the show do yourself a favor and avoid reading anything containing spoilers.

Don’t let the “family show” moniker I’ve seen used to describe Wild at Heart put you off. One of the main characters, Anders Du Plessis (played by Deon Stewardson) the owner of Leopard’s Den, is a South African wild man who drinks to excess and won’t be appearing at an AA meeting anytime soon. Wildlife conservation in Africa is not easy, and the show pulls no punches about that. Money is always a problem. Corruption is rampant, and Nature is not pretty. Things die, often in brutal ways, and the show doesn’t sugarcoat this reality. Yes there is no sex shown (at least between humans) but it does get bloody at times, especially during an unforgettable lion attack that was filmed so expertly that it’s one of the more savage things I’ve seen. I don’t think the kids will sleep well after seeing it; at least I didn’t.

Wild at Heart was canceled last year after a 7 season run, supposedly because ITV, the network behind the show ran into financial difficulties producing a Titanic remake. Worse, Netflix Streaming will be dropping the show when a licensing arrangement ends on October 15, 2013, although the first season is available on Amazon Prime and on DVD. All other seasons are available only on Region 2 DVD, meaning they will not play on North American market DVD players.

But I doubt this will be the last we’ve seen of the show. What pet owner has never dreamed of shooing a cheetah off their bed, or having a family of elephants playing in their front yard? The world is a very desolate and at times hopeless place, but for 46 minutes you can lock it in a cage and release your inner hominid to roam freely across the African savannah once more.