Archive for the ‘Animals & Pets’ Category.

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.

 

The Alarm System

The barking drifts into my dream where it’s incorporated into the plot, but as it lasts I know something in real life is wrong and I force myself to awaken. I come out of my sleep grudgingly, and check the time: 3:30am. The barking is louder now, almost frenzied, and I can tell the dogs are excited. I am no Doctor Doolittle, but spend time with your animals and pay enough attention to them and you’ll understand how they communicate. Whatever it is that has them riled up is new, but has them scared. I dress and grab a high-power flashlight and open the gun safe. Bears are known in these parts and one was sighted on the property next to mine, so I grab the .223. I have no intention of shooting a bear if I come upon one, but I choose the tool necessary in case I need to protect myself or the dogs.

The night is clear and moonless, and all the constellations in the sky are the ones I’ll be seeing next season at a more opportune viewing time. I click the flashlight and scan. “Blue” the pack coward, the one I rescued and intended to become the guard of the pack, is at the edge of the clearing leading into the woods barking wildly. She runs back towards me, obviously relieved to see me, then runs forward in a vain attempt to prove she’s fierce. She’s not but I love her anyway. I call to the dogs, and shine the light forward. The beagle appears, her eyes catching the light and glowing somewhat demonically. A demonic beagle. Not exactly the hellhound of ancient mythology, and I’d appreciate the irony if my heart wasn’t throbbing in my ears and I wasn’t scared to the point where each step became like trudging through sand. Hearing my arrival the frenzy of the pack reaches a crescendo. Now the dogs want to show their bravery and I’m worried that they are going to do something stupid and get hurt. A dog is no match for a bear’s claw which can gut it from nose to tail with a single swipe. I push through the underbrush, thorns catching my jeans and cutting my arms as I hold the flashlight in one hand and the rifle in the other. I begin to regret my choice of weapon. A .223 round has too much velocity and will pass through an animal and put me at risk of hitting one of my own dogs. Perhaps the .12 gauge with buckshot would have been the wiser choice. But what do I know about guns; I grew up in the suburbs and even at the age of 12 my mother forbade buying a toy gun from the local Ben Franklin that shot pea sized rubber balls a whole 5 yards for fear I’d hurt myself with it. I’m learning as I go along.

Self doubt mixes with fear as the barking grows louder, but at least the adrenaline dulls the pain from the thorny vines. I push forward and catch in the light the stray shepherd I feed but who will not let us touch. He’s perhaps the toughest dog of the pack, and by far the wiliest given that he freely roams the surrounding area. But he defers to the dog I believe is his sister, a shepherd chow mix I rescued at the nearby bridge, and the pack alpha, a lab/border collie mix who used to be too scared to go into our backyard to pee in the suburbs at night without the Wife or me being with her. They are dancing and barking around the base of a tree, leaping up in a vain attempt to catch what shelters in its limbs above them. I raise the light expecting to see a huge brown mass of fur.

And find a snarling mouth full of sharp teeth in a long grey snout followed by a loud cat-like hiss.

A possum. The dogs treed a possum. All this over a possum? Possums may not look particularly dangerous when they are squished on the side of the road, but when they are up close to your face, those sharp teeth and claws are pretty scary, so scary in fact that hillbillies in these parts are known to get drunk and catch them by hand for fun. I thought this was a myth until a mid-level told the Wife about finding her husband covered in scratches one night with a can of beer in one hand and a possum by the tail in the other, grinning proudly. Different strokes for different folks I suppose.

Well my pack isn’t exactly the smartest and they are still learning the woods, and honestly I’m too relieved and tired to care. I don’t have to shoot anything, and no one, including the possum, is going to get hurt this morning. I call to the dogs and convince them one by one to leave the tree, and follow me back into the house. Eventually there’s just the shepherd, and he’s got better things to do than mess with a possum, so he’s the last to follow me back to the house where he stops at the edge of the driveway.

It’s now 4:00am, and the dogs are still excited, running around inside the house and barking as if they had won a great battle. And perhaps they had in their own little doggie minds; I was too tired to convince them otherwise. I locked the gun back up, undressed and returned to bed, assured that something even as small as a possum would not escape notice by my pack. It’s not the best alarm system in the world, and heaven knows it’s not cheap given the cost of dog food and vet bills, but it works.

Why Laws Banning Unrestrained Pets Are Misguided

Chicago is considering a law requiring seatbelts or other type of restraints for pets in vehicles. The reason for this is the distraction unrestrained pets can cause drivers behind the wheel. Such a law strikes some as common sense, but not everyone.

I drive with unrestrained pets in my car. As someone who loves all animals but especially dogs I am aware of the risks. I’ve had a flying lab-border collie mix and a min pin missile inside the car during sudden stops, and recognize the potential danger I put these animals in whenever we “go bye-bye.” Restraining them properly in the vehicle is in their best interest, and because of that I am going to change my behavior, not because the State threatens to fine me. The guilt from the pain I’ve caused one of my animals is much worse than any fine the State can levy.

But the purpose of the law isn’t the danger people like me put their animals in: it’s the danger to others caused by distracted driving. My problem with the law is there are many different types of distracted driving. Recently a young man in my area was killed after he reached for a bottled water that rolled between the seats. Are we going to ban unrestrained drinks? Perhaps billionaire Mayor Bloomberg might, but I believe there is a better way. The law is a blunt instrument: legislators cannot foresee every possibility to adequately address each in a law, and therefore the law might make a few people believe the government is doing something while all it is doing is causing trouble for otherwise law-abiding citizens who get pulled over and fined while driving with an unrestrained beagle zonked out in the backseat after a “tutor” appointment at the vet.

The problem isn’t unrestrained dogs or unrestrained water bottles in cars: it’s distracted driving. Now it would be nice if every driver could be free from every possible distraction, from barking lap dogs to billboards, text messages, cute girls, cell phone conversations, intense arguments with passengers, loud music or deep thoughts. But drivers will never find themselves in a perfect distraction-free bubble, so why fight it? We are wasting our time trying to prevent distractions, and worse by legislating against them. For one thing, one of the worst offenders of distracted driving has always been billboards, yet the outdoor advertising industry has successfully killed legislation banning them. For another there will always be cases where something is distracting to some but not all.

I’ve been thinking alot about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Anti-Fragile, and how to apply it to daily life. For those unfamiliar with the book or the concept of anti-fragility, think of it as the old Chinese maxim, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Stress breaks fragile systems, but makes anti-fragile systems better. Our immune system is an excellent example of an anti-fragile system. Every virus you’ve been exposed to, whether through childhood immunizations or illnesses you’ve suffered, just make you less likely to become seriously ill from those or related viruses.

Is there a way to apply the concept to driving? We already do: through experience. As the parent of a new driver, one of the challenges I’ve faced is teaching the Kid how to react when driving gets unpredictable. Some parents try to startle their kids to help teach them to react by shouting “STOP!”, others simply drive with their child long enough so that he or she faces unforeseen events such as another driver cutting him off or running a red light. Our experiences behind the wheel teach us to become better drivers through the close calls we’ve had that we never forget. Like nearly falling asleep at the wheel on Interstate 55 in the middle of Illinois, or beginning to accelerate at a light as a car with no lights runs the red light at high speed and misses t-boning my car by mere inches, or zoning out in a day dream and failing to see the lady stopped just ahead.

We can’t pass 500,000 miles of driving experience to our kids, but perhaps we could train them to better handle distractions as in this Farmer’s Insurance commercial highlighting the trouble caused by distracted driving. We should be teaching drivers how to handle distractions while behind the wheel, how to maintain focus no matter how bad the distraction. Are you allergic to bees? What if one stung you while driving? How would you react? Could you remain focused enough to pull over to the side of the road safely? Perhaps instead of banning certain distractions we should be revamping our driver’s education curricula to handle distractions. Driver’s education courses geared towards experienced drivers would also be good, the payoff being lower insurance rates. Such courses would focus on maintaining concentration while driving, teaching how to prioritize attention so that driving always remains at the top, and learning how to avoid slip-ups like reading a billboard that catches the eye or a pretty girl walking down the sidewalk seen in the rear-view mirror, even texting and eating while driving. What matters is not the distraction but maintaining the concentration necessary to drive safely. In that respect the scenario shown in the Farmers Insurance commercial isn’t far off the mark.

Our society has become so legalistic that it’s almost inevitable the solution to a problem becomes a proposed law. Whether it’s something minor like unrestrained dogs in vehicles or tragic such as the Newtown School Massacre, a segment of the populace usually demands somebody do something, usually “for the children,” and our lawmakers are only happy to oblige. But the solution to every problem should not be a legal one; there are far more effective ways of achieving the goal of laws without resorting to them if we as a society only allow ourselves to do so.

The Truth Revealed: The Real Reason Cats Knock Things Onto the Floor

Gravity is important to cats. Their deep understanding of the subject allows them to accomplish acrobatic feats such as always landing on their feet in a fall. Therefore it is critical for felines to constantly check its state in case someone somewhere stumbles on a disproof of the Theory of Gravity and it ceases functioning. They do this by knocking things at random onto the floor. Some have suggested that this behavior is due to a cat’s instinctive dislike for anything containing an abundance of potential kinetic energy, and that by knocking such objects onto the floor they release the kinetic energy stored in the object and feel better. Of course having 8 cats I can assure you that while an attractive theory, the kinetic energy theory of cat behavior is incorrect. In order to know the truth one must consider the problem from the cat’s perspective.

Imagine what a cat would look like if gravity failed and it was unceremoniously plastered on the bedroom ceiling. No cat would survive the embarrassment, so all cats do the proper thing: test gravity by knocking things onto the floor. In the unlikely event such a test sends an object floating to the ceiling a cat knows gravity has failed and is prepared to execute a graceful turn and land paws first on the ceiling, saving it from embarrassment and impressing anyone – or anything – that witnesses the acrobatic maneuver.

So the next time you find your keys, your watch or anything important on the floor that you didn’t put there, rest assured that by continuously testing gravity the cat not only insures himself against embarrassment, but his human companion from stepping outside during a gravity failure and floating into the void of space.

Cats: Newton’s Gravity Inspectors

Every Pet Owner Should Own Multiple Pets

If you have 1 dog, find another.
If you have 2 dogs, find another.
If you have 3 dogs, find a cat.
If you have 2 cats, find another.
If you have three cats, find a dog.
Repeat

We aren’t going to solve the overpopulation problem until every pet owner becomes a multi-pet owner. I mention this as the owner of 8 cats and 7 dogs who is looking to adopt another dog to bring my home back into balance. All are spayed/neutered and up-to-date with shots. It costs less than you think and brings a completely new dimension to living with animals.

There should be no “cat people” or “dog people”, there should only be “animal people.”

Please don’t buy animals. Rescue them instead.

Lisa Cervone Copyright 2013

Guinness by Lisa Cervone Copyright 2013
According to the photographer Guinness was rescued from a drug dealer and has a new home.

The Last Post of the Year

The household is in grief over the death of our alpha dog, a chihuahua we rescued almost six years ago. He was old and epileptic when we found him, but he packed a lot of personality in that little body of his. He was loyal to everyone but like most chi’s he devoted most of his time to a single individual, and for us that was the Wife, usually sleeping behind behind her knees. He was extremely active and playful, running with us as we walked the upper field in the cold air yesterday evening. He was fearless, and crept off into the night while we weren’t looking after dinner, traveling an eighth of a mile for reasons unknown in the cold and dark to the road where he was hit by a car. I found him laying beside the road, alive but severely injured. A hair-raising drive to the emergency vet was for naught, and we had to put him to sleep.

2012 was a year of brutality. It started for us with the execution style slaying of a man nearby, followed by the killing of a rescued dog that had somehow had slipped our protection and was leapt upon by some of my upper-ranking females and died at the vet. The Wife’s sister was found dead in a Las Vegas parking lot. And now this. Friends have also suffered similar tragedies this year with pets and loved ones. Then there’s the local tragedy where a woman moved into a home and ran a portable generator in the house, killing her two children and almost dying herself. Expanding outward there is Sandy Hook of course and Aurora, and abroad the horrors of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mali and Syria. The Buddha taught that Life means suffering, and for some reason 2012 demanded more suffering both great and small than most years. I am amazed, stunned, horrified, disappointed and disgusted with the world, and I only wish the New Age Doomers had been right about the Apocalypse last week.

With my last breath of the year I am left speechless except to say, “2012: F*** You.”

Trespassers

I just came back from a patrol run on my property. When I go on patrol I go out armed, usually with a semi-automatic rifle and handgun backup. My property is mixed woodland with pasture and bears have been seen on the neighbors acreage. Not that I’d shoot one if I saw one, but I can’t be sure how the bear will react. There are also hunters who occasionally ignore the NO TRESPASSING signs on my property and it’s amazing how polite people get when they know both sides are armed.

Earlier I had spotted two pit bulls near my pond. Both looked like fighting dogs without collars with scars and wounds around their necks that come from to-the-death fights. I have written before about my feelings about pit bulls. I am not comfortable with the breed and trust them less than I do other breeds.  I have eight rescued dogs on my current roster, and none of them would stand a chance against either of these muscular fighters, so I chased them off with my SUV when I went out and after I returned an hour later got on the motorcycle, armed myself and canvassed the area looking for them.

I love animals and that includes pit bulls. I do not fault them for being who they are, and deeply despise the human beings who have bred and fought them for sport. I understand that some are valued pets and would never hurt their owners, but these two I saw on my property were not pets. They were fighters probably dumped instead of shot by their owners. But no matter what my feelings are, regardless of how much I would love to feed them and clean them up and watch them frolic and play with my pack of misfits, the reality is that if they got close to my house they would  likely decimate my pack, from the chow-shepherd mixes down to the minpin and chihuahua.  So bleeding-heart animal lover I am, I set off on my motorcycle to make sure they did not threaten my rescues and moved on, and if they stood their ground I was prepared to kill them. I hate killing animals, hate it more than anything, but Nature rarely cares about the human conscience and confronts me from time to time with threats to my family or my pack. Rest assured that at these times I do what needs to be done to protect those under my care, regardless of the pangs of my conscience.

A horror is unfolding a few hundred miles away, and while I fully expect to hear the usual calls for the confiscation of my ability to protect myself and those I care for, I am prepared to resist them. I understand the pain that causes people to respond in such a way, but I wish they would heed what responsible gun owners have been saying for decades: the solution is not to confiscate guns it is to provide them to those who we task with caring for our loved ones in our absence. We are not going to change the hearts of the insane killers who slaughter just as I am not going to turn the pit bulls who crossed my property into pets happy to join my pack. All it would take to stop such massacres is a person carrying a gun and trained in its use. In fact murders are deterred all the time by law abiding citizens wielding a gun in self-defense, but these cases rarely make the news. They usually won’t because we can never see what would have happened had the gun owner not reacted, had they not carried a weapon and used it to defend themselves, their friends or loved ones.  In such events we have a single dead criminal instead of multiple innocents, but such things ever make the inner pages of the newspaper and are often ignored completely.

There will always be pit bulls that know nothing but killing just as there will be people without souls who will do heinous acts that tear at the souls of those of us who have them. My pack surrounds me, trusting in me to protect them, and I am alert. It is all I know and what I am.

When Pets Have Pets

A few years ago my young son dragged home a stray black cat. It had been tormented by the neighborhood kids, so my son caught it and brought it home figuring that his parents could either care for it or find it a new home. It was a healthy, young female cat, not the friendliest at first but she did warm up to us quickly so we I after a few weeks I made arrangements to have her spayed. By the time of the appointment I noticed that her belly had gotten bigger, and on the ride to the low-cost spay/neuter clinic I realized that she had not gone into heat but had gotten a lot friendlier. Ours is a pro-life house, and it applies even to kittens, so I turned the car around, returned home, canceled the appointment and waited. A few weeks later she gave birth to a litter of four kittens on my son’s bed.

I had never had kittens from day one, but I was determined to raise them into perfect house cats. After a few days I started handling them and had the family spend time with them. As they grew I supplemented their mom’s milk with expensive soft food formulated just for kittens. We brought them into our living room, onto our sofas, and even onto our beds, trying to imprint them with an affection for humans.

Fast forward a few years, and all four kittens are four large cats in my house. One of the cats, the only non-black cat in the lot, is a friendly, well-behaved cat that spends time with us as we move about the house. The other three cats have to be captured to be petted; one grooms himself furiously after being petted, desperate to remove our scent from his fur. The other two will meow at us when they need something, like when their food dish or water bowl is empty but otherwise I rarely see them.

In fact the only time I see them is when the dogs come in from the outside. The cats greet the dogs, padding in and rubbing themselves against them. Sometimes the dogs chase them away, other times they tolerate it, but for all the effort I expended on creating the perfect house cat I realized I have succeeded: I have created the perfect house cat – for a dog.

Another Day Another Animal Rescue

A Monday morning after a shortened weekend thanks to a makeup day on Saturday for a Snow Day earlier in the week (an inch of snow is enough to cause the school superintendent to wet his pants but not enough to build a few snow days in the schedule, go figure.) The mornings are regimented down to the minute as The Kid and The Wife duke it out over the bathroom with the former needing more time than the latter to get ready, proof that the metrosexuals behind the cosmetics and fashion industry have infected straight youth with the siren song of body washes, sprays and other accoutrements that once were the domain of young women. Meanwhile I’ve thrown on something that doesn’t smell (I think – my sense of smell is shot in the morning thanks to decades of smoking), made coffee, and gotten the dogs outside to pee before a sofa or freestanding lamp morphs into a fire hydrant in their eyes. Time is of the essence as we milk every free second between waking up and the first bell of the morning at school. During that time each second is accounted for, and spent on something necessary to prevent nasty letters from the school system telling me how much of a bad parent I am as well as something warm to stuff into the Kid’s belly courtesy of McDonalds or Bojangles. Seconds lost must be made up on two-lane roads clogged with farmers, rural school buses and old people who believe they are majorettes leading parades of cars on unpassable roads through the winding hills of the Blue Ridge foothills.

Then everything comes to a screeching halt as my 12 year old Honda clatters down the gravel drive at the sight of a dog laying next to the railroad tracks. A border collie cowers fearfully at the side of my drive where railroad tracks cross it. She’s young and very healthy. I roll down the window and my traveling dogs (the “bye bye boys”) go into a barking frenzy, but she doesn’t run. I make baby noises at her, and she wags her tail, so I open the door, scoop her up and rewind the morning tape. Seconds later she’s in the house and the pack is outside baying, but I have to leave her and make up time. Pushing the 4 cylinder engine to its limits with squeals of tires around the curves and a bit of luck with the elderly waiting outside of the rebuilt Dollar General for it to open instead of tormenting people in a hurry on the roads, we pass through the McDonalds drive thru and make it to school with a few precious seconds to spare.

Time slows down as I return home and contemplate the latest arrival at my doorstep.

Bi-color, female, border collie with a dark nylon collar. Thin but not undernourished, of average weight for the breed. I take out a tennis ball and bounce it on the hardwood floor across the room. The sound startles her but her instinct kicks in and she fetches it and returns it to me. Over the next few hours I introduce members of the pack and she shows proper respect to the pack hierarchy except for one of my little male dogs who lunges at her. Testing her it’s clear she understands basic commands and even hand gestures, making her smarter than most of my crew, but then again her breed is known for its intelligence. She is very fixated on me, and sleeps at my feet as I work. It’s possible she comes from a single or double-dog household and isn’t used to large packs, but then again few dogs are. Her fur is clean enough and her nails are clipped. Her belly is flat, so she’s either too young to have bred or has been spayed. She is definitely not a farm dog, and the likelihood of her escaping from a pampered home life in this area is miniscule for the simple reason that there aren’t many homes, pampered or not, in the area. In all likelihood she had been dumped at the nearby bridge like so many other animals that I have rescued in the recent past.

Although my home is restless with animals, I am not what veterinarians euphemistically call a “collector” and what most people call a crazy animal person. My pack, my cat collection, my poultry – all are spayed/neutered (poultry excepted) and receive veterinary care. I make it a point to never search out these animals, and will only intervene if one is in immediate danger or is on my property. Those two criteria are enough to build my pack into the barking, braying crowd that “welcomes” visitors to my property.

Keeping these animals isn’t easy. The chickens and ducks need daily feeding and watering and egg collection. The cat’s litterbox is a 100 gallon plastic tub filled with 120 lbs of clumping cat litter which must be shoveled weekly and replaced monthly using the front loader of my tractor. One of the dogs is an epileptic needing twice daily seizure medication, and one of the little dogs, the “dog of the seven bladders” cannot stop hiking his leg up on everything, requiring constant vigilance and floor cleaning. Another dog is sick with worms and slinks into the basement where she has explosive diarrhea on the concrete floor. I washed the floor on Saturday only to find this morning that she had done it again. Every dog needs personal attention which can be a challenge when five dogs decide it’s now their time with me. Over the years I have had cats throw up on me and scratch me in my sleep. I have had dogs pee on me in bed and throw up half-digested deer meat on my sofa. If it comes out of an animal I have stepped in it in my bare feet or cleaned it up as I dry-heaved.

But I can’t complain. As my late mother-in-law often reminded me, I chose this path. My mother saved one of my first scribblings as a child where I promised that I was going to have a home where all the stray animals could come to live together in peace. Without even realizing it I have achieved that dream – though I doubt peace is possible between the Blue Heeler and the Chow mix, two girls who simply will not get along.

I have strong opinions on animal welfare. Living in the South I am exposed to the religious belief that animals do not have a soul. I in turn believe that many religious people lack souls, jihadi clerics and the Westboro Baptist Church come quickest to mind. I no longer believe that it is morally responsible to breed dogs and cats for profit while shelters are full of unwanted ones. I can no longer watch dog shows that celebrate in-bred pure breeds, and would rather watch a dog show that celebrated the intelligence of mutts. I especially hate PETA, a group that intellectualizes animal rights yet does nothing to rescue animals. Worse it actually kills them, saving as an organization in a year little more than what I as an individual have saved in the same time frame. And no one got naked on my behalf.

Supporting PETA is easy. It’s trendy and it makes you feel good. It’s theatrical and knows how to make news. Pulling an elderly beagle with a belly full of ulcerated tumors off a bridge at night isn’t as glamorous, and the expense of the $700 vet bill that follows to remove them doesn’t feel good. As for making news, abandoning animals doesn’t make any, nor does rescuing and caring for them. Movie stars don’t stop by no-kill shelters to publicize them, and from what I’ve seen they prefer to spend thousands on pure breeds instead of tens on strays from the ASPCA.

If you really care about animals, adopt one from a shelter. If you can’t adopt from a shelter, donate to one. No matter where you live there are animal shelters struggling to educate the public to spay and neuter, and to place animals in forever homes. You may not be famous, but the animals you help will think you are a star.