Thursday, December 20, 2012

The World Dimming

I take a lot of pictures of Mina because she is perfect. #pitbull #dog #vegandog
Does this make my eye look fat?
When I leave work, two dogs in tow, I am greeted mostly by moonlit paths or complete darkness. Sometimes the stars don't shine, obscured by ugly-beautiful clouds.Walking forward, no light to guide us, Celeste is sure, confident. Mina runs into me. Constantly. She seems perplexed by the sudden discovery that my leg is continually in her face.

It is interesting, really, that I am inspired to write about Mina's diminished vision. Around this time last year, I first realized Mina's poor eyesight when she plowed into a Toyota Prius in the supermarket parking lot.

Mina's vision is getting worse. It is hard not to notice her enlarged pupils, a white glaze slowly seeping across once vibrant eyes. The veterinarian says it is normal. I cannot deny this, that growing old and losing vital senses is "normal" but it is still hard for me.

A couple weeks ago, Mina ran into a chair that had been moved a few feet to the right at my office. For weeks, maybe months prior, Mina had traversed the darkened room with ease. It was all sense memory, her brain telling her muscles to move in a certain direction, a prescribed set of steps to get to the door. She could do it in the dark because she had unfailingly walked the same distance in the light. She trusts her brain implicitly.

Then, the chair! She walked right into it. And in the shadowed room I could see her shock. Her sudden intake of breath, a sharp jerk of her body backwards. A body in motion should stay in motion! For a few seconds she tried to re-adjust, adapt to this novel situation. I could feel her thinking, it traveled up her leash into my arm. And to be honest, my heart just broke. Shattered into a million little pieces, only to re-glue themselves together. Mina has that affect on me.

Begging #pitbull is begging
I see what you are eating and want it in my belly.
Before I downloaded my flashlight app, I would let the dogs guide me to the car. Celeste would get us to the car without too much fanfare (or running into fences). Mina was that way too. Now? Now Mina cannot see in the dark effectively. She bounces off my leg, she bounces off Celeste, and like a little bat she finds her way from those vibrations. Without us, she would plow into fences, trip over bushes, never find her way home.

I inadvertently found out how little she can see in the dark when I stupidly and callously let Celeste and Mina off leash on our way to the car, after work with only a sliver of moonlight to guide us. Celeste did her thing - run off to sniff and pee, sniff and pee, until my calls became vocalizations of annoyance. I trust her to show up. She always does. After a couple minutes, Celeste arrived panting and joyous, leaping gleefully and gracelessly into the car.

But where was Mina? I called and I called, hoping my voice would be a beacon. I could hear her jingling collar, so I waited. And waited. Finally, using the dim glare of my phone's screen, I ventured forth. I found Mina huddled and confused on the wrong side of the yard and parking lot. She was pointed in the wrong direction, turning in circles, trying so hard to find me. Her tail stuck between her legs, her back hunched, all of her senses guiding her wrong.

When she scented me, her eyes eventually followed suit and saw me. She relaxed, tail wagged, back straight and normal. What would have taken a lesser dog time to recover, Mina handled with all the grace possible. She marched past me and led the way back to the car, taking a few moments to sniff under the glow of a phone's light.

Mina is not blind. She sees fine in the day-time and with a source of light guiding her. Dusk, though, is no longer easy-peasy for her. Night-time, minus brilliant full moons, is simply shadows upon shadows muddying up her vision. I downloaded a flashlight app so I wouldn't trip over her and run into a fence. Our evening stroll to the car is much more enjoyable. I can let Mina guide us, tail flipped up in the air, ears pinned forward, nose working hard.

Mina's dream comes true
I am Mina and I am loved.
And if I forget my phone, I place Mina between Celeste and I. Slowly, we move down the path. This is hard for Celeste, but she makes do. I am careful to let my left leg brush against Mina, letting her know my location. Each and every time - not like during the day - I can feel the gentle pressure of her leaning into me. I am not certain, but I believe she does the same when she bumps into Celeste, that she leans in and off, that contact with a familiar friend so important.

Mina will one day go blind or virtually so. She will handle with stoicism and accept it swiftly and without much consideration. She will adapt, far quicker than I ever would. There will be no raging against the dying light for her. She does not need light to rage! And I will be there and hope I will not fail her by being too sad or upset or coddling.

The world may be dimming for her eyes, but her soul is one enormous brightly lit candle. (She would call that metaphor really tacky and cliche).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Super Serious Goat Kid

Did you know goat kids could be so serious? THEY CAN. Noah is evidence of this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reflected Back, Her Eyes, My Fractured Soul

Betsy and friendSome small moments grow with time, expanding in ways you never thought possible. They are unforgettable because they are leeches on your heart and mind.

Looking into her eyes was one such moment. It was 2005. It was the very first large-scale rescue I participated in, and I will never, ever forget her eyes.

I was part of an effort to save the lives of 2,000 hens from a 160,000 hen egg-farm. The hens were nearly two years old, their fragile, slender forms deprived of calcium and protein from laying five times more eggs than normal. Still, despite it all, they had more living to do, they had more breaths to take. They wanted life as much as I do. As you.

Even though their life was not much of a life at all. They lived in cages, crammed and jammed 6-10 per metal box. I saw hens who had died trying to reach the one nipple of water hanging at the top, their six-inch long nails welding them to their spot. I saw decomposed bodies trampled by the living. Death is what I smelled, that and ammonia. It was a fraction of what the hens endured.

We could not save them all. We could barely save a small portion of them.

I remember one moment, one bright, painful moment. Darkness was at our end of the barn. We had flashlights and head lamps and peered through grim shadows to pull birds gently from cages. We shuffled them into large dog crates, their limp, tiny frames melting in our hands. I gazed down at the other end of the barn. It was hard to see, but the doors at that end were wide open, sunlight dipping in...the first and last time the hens at that end of the barn would see.

At that end of the barn were the catchers. Workers paid by how many hens they could catch in a day. Backlit, workers grabbed hens by the legs, the wings, the heads, and yanked them from the cages. I'm sorry to disturb you with this, with this small grotesque moment, but I will never forget. A hen's wing was stuck. She was yanked. And what made her separate from us, that downy soft apparatus of flight was torn from her. I swear I heard her scream above the screams of thousands more. Her detached wing flopped to the ground, dejected, removed from what made it perfect and whole.

I felt nothing. I wanted nothing more than to stop and run and breathe again. I wanted to be back outside in a world that ignores all this suffering, that is stupid and callous and shallow. I wanted to be there. Anywhere but here.

At the end of our final visit, when it was impossible to take anymore birds, I looked into the eyes of one hen.

I can tell you where her cage is. If you took me to the farm, I would march you up the rickety wooden steps, past the platform where a woman would place eggs in pallets for shipments to grocery stores, and into the shed. I would take you down the first aisle, careful to avoid the cracks that lead dozens of feet down into the manure pit. A third of the way I would turn you towards a cage. It will look like every other cage in the barn. It will be the cage on the top row.

And I would tell you about this hen. Like her sisters, she was all white. Her pale, fleshy comb perched on her head flopped over. To my right, her left. It was not so pendulous as the others. She had an orange eye, probably two but I only saw the one. She had stuck her head through the bars and gazed at the activity beneath her. She looked at me, looked me straight in the eyes.

I cannot tell you why I did not demand to take that hen. Because I would not have stopped with her, perhaps. I would have grabbed all ten hens and then stared at the ones below, the ones to her right, the ones screeching in pain at the end of the shed. Maybe I would have shoved the catchers off the platform, stolen the transport truck, drove them all to sanctuary.

I can only tell you that the hen I left behind wanted to live. She wanted light. She was complete and whole and so freaking perfect. I'd like to go back in time and take her.

We saved 2,000 souls during that week of rescue. I worked my butt off to find homes for most of them. The ones we took in at the sanctuary have all died. I have only my shadowed memories of those days. And it is virtually impossible to talk with other rescuers about it, because to talk is to feel and remember and realize how little anything has changed.

I don't eat eggs. I did not in 2005, either. If I could take you to that graveyard, to that barn of brutality and suffering, I would like to think you would not eat eggs either. That you would see the hollow, empty sheds and ache for the lost souls whose suffering went unseen, unheard. I do.

It has been seven years since that rescue. I still think of her gaze.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Police Shootings of Dogs 1/1/12-11/30/12

Mandatory reading for police agencies interested in addressing this issue - The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters

Police Shootings Of Non-Aggressive or Non-Injuries Dogs

Commerce city police officer shoots a mixed breed dog four times, killing her. As she was restrained on a catch pole. After he had tasered her twice. Despite the fact she was just sitting inside her own garage. Remember, she was shot to death while on a catch pole. That means she was totally restrained and helpless. Link (the video is somewhat graphic, you've been warned).

An animal control officer in Virginia shot an 18-mos-old Labrador Retriever three times in the head, killing the dog. The dog was running loose but had not actually bit anyone. Link

Memphis, Tennessee police fighting the war on drugs tried to shoot a dog but instead critically wounded a fellow officer. No word on the dog. Link

Omaha police shot and killed a Labrador Retriever mix for "lunging". Link

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This is how we watch football

Mina loves "grandpa" #dog #pitbull #vegandog
 Mina tries her hardest to convince my dad that she is far more important than some dumb football game.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


It's only breaking news because the dog in question is a Pit Bull.

A guy who wanted to get drunk and avoid babysitting duties, left his 10-mos-old son alone in a bedroom and went drinking.

By happenstance, his dog was also in the home.

Some reports claim the dog was sitting outside the baby's door. Others say the dog was laying down.

We'll never know the exact body position of the dog, but thank goodness we are now aware of how dangerous it is to leave a Pit Bull alone with a baby. You don't know if the dog will sit up or lie down.

If the dog was a Bichon Terrier, this would not be news.

Because this is not a story about an alcoholic father abandoning his defenseless 10-mos-old child in a home with no care. Oh no, that would be too mundane. The story is about a Pit Bull. Who may or may not have been sitting down outside the child's room.

That, dear readers, will always remain a mystery.

Friday, December 7, 2012

She Struggled in Fear, Restrained, They Still Shot Her Dead

Commerce City police are defending shooting Chloe five times while restrained on a catch pole.

They would.

I rarely read of a police agency that admits wrongdoing when killing someone, human or nonhuman. It may be simple legal obligation, but I believe it's more than that. I believe, in many of these cases, police officers feel they are doing the right thing.

And this frightens me.

It scares me greatly that anyone would defend what happened to Chloe.

She was being cared for by a cousin while her guardian went on vacation. Left in the garage, she tripped a sensor that opened the door. The neighbor across the street saw the dog running loose and was concerned for the dog's safety - he called  police.

Animal control and police arrive. Chloe, faced with strange, aggressive men and women, retreats to the only safe place she knows - the garage. She sits down. She is tasered twice, temporarily stunned, further confused and frightened.

I will tell you something. I have no doubt in my mind that the officer who shot Chloe five times while restrained intended to shoot Chloe five times while restrained. He did not intend to allow the animal control officer to do her job, to use a catch pole and transfer a frightened animal to her truck. He intended to murder, I mean DEFEND THE NATION from Chloe the moment that noose slipped around her neck and tightened.

I see a dog scared. I see a dog who is not a threat to anyone. I see a dog who when that catch pole finally sealed her death sentence, tried to run away. This is important to me. Chloe did not try to fling herself dramatically onto the throat of the animal control officer. She tried to run away. At no point did she try to bite anyone. She did not lunge or charge at officers.

She was simply a scared dog sitting safely in a garage.

And for that, for that violation, she was shot five times and killed.

There is no defense. What happened to Chloe is offensive and horrifying. She was not a threat to public safety. Point of fact, the officer shooting off five bullets in the middle of a residential neighborhood - shooting at a dog while she thrashes at the end of a catchpole - is FAR more dangerous than Chloe was or ever would have been had she lived.

Shame on that officer. Shame on us. Shame on a culture that permits "officers of the law" to violate said law and get away with the brutal, senseless killing of a scared, restrained dog.

Everybody's a Critic

Recently I finished reading Jim Gorant's book about Wallace, who you should follow on Facebook as he fulfills his bucket list.

I have been struggling with my problems with this book.

And then it hit me. I don't like nonfictions written like fiction. Gorant takes on the omniscient third-person observer. The one who you believe knows everything there is to know about the characters. When third-person observer in fiction states, Haddie felt a deep yearning for freedom and tennis, you instinctively know that that Haddie really does have a deep yearning for the grass court. Or, clay.

In nonfiction, though, I expect the creative stating of facts and opinions. First person style. So when an author write a nonfiction as a third-person observer in fiction, it comes across weird.

That is how Gorant writes this book - as if he knows exactly how the characters (who are real, not fictional) feel and think and react. But he cannot truly know that.

I feel like I got a better understanding of Wallace, a dog who I assumed was actually quite tolerant of other dogs such that he could be off leash in the middle of a disc tournament.

Yes, do read the book. It's great there are more books putting a positive spin on Pit Bulls and, more importantly, showing that Pit Bull guardians are just normal people struggling with normal problems.

But I just didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Believe They Are Perfect

When you were in your mother's belly, I could feel your head. I could feel your hooves, soft but fully formed. I could feel your swift kicks and winced for your mom, Ellen. She is more stoic.

It is strange to think you would have never seen this world, that your playful leaps of joy would have been absent from this landscape. It is hard to believe that you would have died inside your mom, as she died in the outside world.

Your mom is from a goat dairy. She grew old and thin and perhaps the farm did not want to invest any more money or time in who they thought would give them no more milk. She was shipped to an auctionyard. It's an awful place, full of crying, dying, struggling to survive animals, smelling of piss and fear and the stench of frying flesh at the restaurant onsite. I'm so glad you will never know of that place. I'm so sorry your mother does.

She was bought and brought to an infamous (to me anyway) place. It's a dirt lot filled with hundreds of animals, who are only fed bread until a buyer comes along. Then each animal is shot in the head, their throats are slit, and their flesh sold.

Your mom was saved by an animal control officer who convinced the slaughterhouse operator to sign her over - she could not walk on her front legs at the time, so her value was not even in her flesh. The slaughterhouse operator was going to shoot and dump her body.

Instead your mom (and you!) came to Animal Place and here you will remain.

You are perfect. You are valuable simply because you exist. You are spring and life and laughter. You fill the holes in your mother's soul, left there by cruel human hands. You are the rightful heir to her milk, even if she tells you to stop being so pushy. You have a right to be alive and to grow old and to die with dignity and compassion.

You are Noah. And you are Cornelius (said with a flourish). And you are home.

Rescued Goat Gives Birth Rescued Goat Gives Birth