Letting go; loving and learning on.

Saturday Feb. 9, 2019, 4:00 p.m.
This evening and through the rest of the month—about an hour after sunset, if it’s not cloudy where you are—I’d like to ask you to step outside and look for the brightest star you can find. Stand quietly, and listen for a faint and distant AAARRRrrrroooooooh, repeated over and over, circling that star. A one-note, baritone Coonhound bay. What it lacks in musical range it will make up for in enthusiasm and persistence.

The heavens will be brighter with the spirit of Amos Moses Coonbritches running loose there. My boy is free.

8:30 p.m.
So I went out, and it’s kinda overcast. A pretty, hazy crescent moon, but no stars. My thought: Amos has treed all the stars, thinking they’re raccoons. And I laughed out loud.

collar

Always the king

9:00 p.m.
I want to share with everyone who follows Athenspets – GA or any other animal shelter pages a more-than-special ACCAC alum who gained his wings Saturday, February 9, 2019.

Amos was brought into the shelter on March 10, 2014, by a good Samaritan who found him wandering around her neighborhood. I was at AC, in the front interaction pen loving on a pittie girl, when they arrived. My heart skipped a few beats when I saw him. He was impounded with the shelter name Amos. A BIG, LOUD, active, older (~8 years) hunt-trained Treeing Walker Coonhound, neutered and healthy-looking, but lost from his home and then not reclaimed. So after his 5-day hold ended, I took him home, at first as an adopt-to-foster. He never left me. We moved to S.C., and he had almost five years with me. He had a special bromance with my 84-year-old Dad. He ruled the roost and his three adopted/rescued smaller sisters. He survived a bout of kidney disease in 2015, and a Fall 2017 surgery and chemo for a malignant lung tumor.

Saturday, at 13, old-age infirmities that took his mobility, and a bunch of new cancerous, bleeding tumors in his spleen and liver carried him away from me physically, but he’ll be with me for the rest of my days. And after.

Special dogs find themselves at ACCAC every day, every week. They all deserve the kind of second chance Amos M. Coonbritches had. And I am so thankful for the ACOs, staff and volunteers who help them get those chances. Pics are from 18 March 2014, and 1 January 2019.

Amos-3-18-2014

March 18, 2014—first week home

Amos-1-10-2019

January 1, 2019—silver is golden

Thank you. Bless all who adopt, rescue, shelter, and educate. I’ve made a donation to the Athenspets Fund in Amos’s memory.

Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, 8:00 a.m. Reflection.
After Amos’s cancer diagnosis and surgery in October 2017, I made a little vow to myself not to post any kind of daily drama diary of dog illness and the hardship illness brings. All of you who know love and loss know how that feels already. We all see our friends grieving and struggling, and other than prayer, there’s not a lot we can do to fix things. There’s more than enough pain in our news feeds.

So on Facebook, I stuck to the funny and sweet things, the things we all want to remember a year from now. I haven’t blogged this year; real life and mortal beings took precedence over essay-writing.

He had a really good, amazing year—a bonus of borrowed time thanks to surgery and chemo. He surpassed his prognosis by leaps and bounds. All of you who sent get-well cards to him and his granddad at the end of his chemo… that was one of the most loving gestures I have ever experienced. “Thank you” is not enough.

Since Christmas, he declined steadily and quickly. It was really, really tough, because in an ideal world I’d have stayed home with him all day, every day. I have to work to survive and provide for the Residents, so I couldn’t give him that. The last three weeks or so were especially hard for us—for Amos, for my dad, for me.

He dealt with progressing physical illness and weakness much like Dad does: he was angry about it. Some seniors are gentle souls in their last days. This boy was defiant, and often difficult. He was fully incontinent and fell down dozens of times a day. His food-guarding turned to food mania. He bullied his three smaller sisters. They cuddled him anyway. He tried to bite us when we were helping him up: how dare we look upon the king as helpless? My house reeks of urine and feces; I’ve hurt my back several times lifting his 90 pounds, as has my dad. I haven’t slept more than an hour at a time for six weeks. But we loved him anyway. Loved. Him. Through it all. Amos is so stubborn, willful, ornery, and coonhoundy that he kept hanging on. Until yesterday, when he couldn’t anymore.

When Dad said Amos collapsed in my parents’ kitchen and refused treats, I knew it was time. I went to see; I sat on the floor and lifted his head. He laid his head on my knee—he never does that—and closed his eyes. I knew. I DID want to know for sure why, and to give him a fighting chance if there was one. Amos has had a grossly enlarged spleen since I’ve had him—we discovered this on x-ray in 2015. My thought was that he had a splenic rupture.

Dad and I loaded Amos in my car and I took my boy to Fox Nest. A heroic vet tech picked up his 90-pound self and carried him inside. He was such a good boy while he was there, stoic as ever. He never let out a single whine or complaint the whole time yesterday. Following an ultrasound that revealed abdominal bleeding, Dr. Adri Casagrande helped me choose the option of emergency exploratory surgery and if possible, a splenectomy. We went with that, and unexpectedly discovered a bellyful of cancer. So letting him go free while he was still deeply anesthetized was the only right choice. God’s blessings to the three dogs that donated blood for Amos—a basset, a pit bull, a golden—and their humans who stepped up.

I have zero regrets about any of the care we gave him or the decisions we made for him over the past 16 months. We went many extra miles and dollars, and his team of vets and techs did even more. We had bonus time with this precious old man. Extra innings. Double overtime. And in this, we—Amos and I, and his grandparents, and all the friends I’ve shared Amos’s adventures with—we won. I didn’t know him as a pup, or in the first eight years of his life, but in the last five, we had each other’s hearts.

the-paw

These connections never end

For the sake of learning, and with Dr. Adri’s approval after a thorough discussion, she’s sending off tumor tissue for biopsy. Or necropsy. Whatever you call it when the patient’s future is no longer at stake. This is not about closure, but about science. Everything about Amos’ primary pulmonary carcinoma in 2017, his aggressive chemo, his handling that chemo like a champion, and the length of his remission defied the odds. It feels important to discover if the cancer in his spleen and liver were metastases, or primary tumors from some other cause. We’ll share the results with the oncology specialists at Upstate. If this matters, I’ve a directive to donate my own body to a medical college for students to learn on, when I leave it. That Amos. He has something to teach. He has been teaching me since I brought him home in mid-March 2014.

And then his ashes will come home. His huge presence, joie de vivre, and resilience will always be here.

Far more than grief, I feel gratitude. No matter how hard things get, no matter how painful the goodbye even when you know it’s coming, it is a BLESSING to be allowed the love of a dog. It makes me a better person. And God knows I need all the help I can get with that.

Previous posts about Amos:
A positive moment
Out with the old; in with the unknown

About pet rescue and loss and healing:
Continuity
Adding Patches to the Quilt
The foster – the bridge
Heart animals and angels flying too close to the ground

 

Amos10-30-2015

The eternal soul is just that.

Don’t hog the puppies

323,459.
That’s how many views to date that my most popular blog post has received. I didn’t think it was “all that” when I wrote it, and still don’t. I was blowing off steam. Venting. The intended reader audience: folks in rescue who have dealt with enraged, entitled wanna-be adopters. But anyway, the response boggles my mind.

It’s not great literature or art; it’s factually accurate snark, but Adoption Application: Denied for some reason struck a chord with a lot of readers. It’s pissed off some too. Ultimately it’s turned into the only essay I’ve written that anyone wants to read or share, so I retired it. Poof.

Let’s call this a sort-of flip side to that post. Neither adopters nor rescue entities are perfect. Humans aren’t perfect, and given power, at least half abuse it.

Here, I’m not going off about the unreasonable expectations some rescues have for adopters (I’ll rant write about that someday; others have written about the topic).

Instead, I’ll focus on one weird issue: how some competitive rescues make it damn near impossible for a competent, experienced, highly qualified prospective adopter in my region, the Southeast, to adopt a young (8- to 12-week-old), healthy puppy directly from an animal control shelter, because those rescues swoop in and snag them all up before adopters have a chance to apply.

This is likely gonna make a lot of folks mad, too, but so be it. Bear this in mind: when I say healthy, adoptable puppies, I mean exactly that. Not sick pups, underage pups, special-needs pups, or any other type where rescue is the only sane option. God bless all rescues who step up for babies who need far more than the average adopter can provide.

Shelters, pounds, and ACs around here often give rescues the privilege of pulling animals when the facility is closed to the general public, after hours, even on holidays. And if there’s a surrendered single or a litter of adorable, healthy-looking babies over eight weeks of age (most responsible shelters won’t adopt out pups before that age, nor should they), those rescues race in and grab ’em up.

The pulling rescue may then beg for temp fosters, start fundraising for money for shots, spay/neuter, and health certs, and then all too often ship the babies “up north” to that magical land where there’s a mythological dog shortage, fosters grow on trees, and adoption fees for cute youngsters run $500­–600 and up.

Those healthy, homeless, ADOPTABLE 8- to 12-week-olds the pound just posted on Facebook at 5:00pm? Those little guys who got 400 comments in ten minutes? They might just have found perfect, loving, forever homes fast, without rescue-group brokering.

But the Caped-Crusader-to-the-Rescue-on-a-Mission-from-God rescue called AC after hours and the pups’ post was updated ***♥!!RESCUED!!♥*** before regular people who have to abide by rules even got to apply. Of those 400 who may have commented on the pups’ Facebook post, some were qualified local adopters, now disappointed, and probably not for the first time.

Ponder this: Some of us regular Southern folk may not want or need to adopt from a rescue; sometimes we’d prefer to adopt straight from that “kill shelter.” Not every Southern adopter is a backward, ignorant, cheap-hillbilly-redneck dumbass, a neglecter/abuser, a backyard breeder, or a purveyor of bait dogs. And—surprise—it’s not because the Southern adopter is “too cheap” to pay a rescue group’s adoption fee. It’s this: Not every Southern adopter wants or needs everything done FOR them.

Believe it or not, some folks want the full experience AND the responsibility AND the personal expense of doing all the work themselves—yes, really! Many have years of canine care experience, have spent many hundreds or thousands of dollars giving companion animals the best of care, and have been fosters themselves. They’re ready to cut out the middleman, and do the basics from the start. Because for some of us, basics are an integral part of the process.

The basics like taking that pup for the vaccine series, for microchipping (and perhaps they’d like that microchip registered in their own name rather than to a rescue group who in essence retains default ownership for the dog’s life), for frequent puppy wellness checks, for spay/neuter surgery. Basics like doing the housetraining, crate-training, leash-training and basic obedience work. The reward is getting to see and grow and bond with that puppy as a baby, from the stage where it’s legal to adopt onward.

Yes, there are actual responsible, civilian non-rescue folks here in the South who can do all the startup work, and who prefer to. But in some areas, they can’t, because rescues who have an “in” with the AC pull all those healthy, adoptable-aged, precious pups the minute they’re listed or even before that, while the shelter’s closed—before qualified would-be adopters have a chance.

What’s the alternative for those would-be adopters? Buying from a breeder? From somebody with an oops litter? From somebody selling puppies out of the back of a truck in the Walmart parking lot? Or paying a rescue’s adoption fee, jumping through dozens of subjective screening hoops, and signing a multipage contract that allows the rescue to “check in” for the next 15 years at will, and to take back the dog if they see or imagine anything at all they disapprove of? Or driving around the countryside looking for a “stray” pup that may or may not belong to someone, and may or may not be semi-healthy?

mixed-breed-pups

Source: Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Look, rescue groups. “Rescue” used to do two vital things: relieve shelter overcrowding, and give second chances to the unwanted, uncared-for, unhealthy, unsocialized pets who need the extras that only a nonprofit charity can reasonably provide. That includes  underaged babies separated from their mothers, that need extra care, OR abandoned moms with their neonate/unweaned litters incarcerated together and at risk for parvo, distemper, URI, and other diseases that plague shelters. I won’t even go into rescues that pull puppies and leave their moms behind.

Sure, there are legit situations where a rescue should hustle to claim adoptable pups if that rescue can act fastest: the shelter is overcrowded, and even adoptable puppies are at instant risk for euthanasia for space. The shelter has a communicable-disease problem. The shelter is poorly run or understaffed or can’t begin to screen adopters adequately (and this is often a subjective judgment, since many consider all facilities that euth for any reason “hellholes”). Etc., etc., etc. But to claim these scenarios are ALWAYS the case across the board isn’t legit. Many shelters prioritize adopters before rescue groups. More should, if they have the space and resources. That’s great.

If you’re pulling adoptable, of-age pups to recoup some of the expenses you incur when you take in dogs with a lot of pricey medical needs and long foster commitments—that is, because healthy, desirable pups offer quick turnaround, low expense, and a ready adoption fee—that kinda stinks to the average observer. Ditto if your fosters have puppy mania. Why do they take precedence over adopters? If you assume that NO ONE but you/your group can take care of those initial puppy needs because all the locals are inbred yokels/backyard breeders/dog-fighters and YOU are the shizz, you need to examine your bigotry and your control-freak tendencies.

Ditto with the healthy, well-adjusted, highly desirable purebreds and toy-sized dogs that don’t need an intermediary to get good homes. Stop snagging them out from under good potential adopters. Highly territorial breed rescues that grab ALL animals of their breed that land in shelters, regardless of interest from adopters or all-breed rescues, are a mafia in themselves. If the breed isn’t a “difficult”* breed to raise, vet, train, and socialize, an adopter is just as good as a rescue. But that’s another essay.

*GSDs, English Bulldogs, Cane Corsos, Border Collies, for example. Sensitive, major high-energy, serious medical challenges, tend to guard their humans, etc.

Please consider: some of us here in the South are competent, caring, compassionate, intelligent, dog-knowledgeable grownup folks with years, even decades of caregiving experience, who might like to give a young pup a great home for life without conforming to the rigid rules of, or forming a long-term relationship with, Rescue Big Mama. Who don’t want the miles of strings attached and pages of terms and conditions. When you constantly moan on social media about how harried, underfunded, under-fostered, in debt, and stretched thin your rescue group is, yet you snap up every cute, healthy, highly adoptable infant doggie or litter thereof from every facility within a hundred-mile radius before actual adopters can apply, it’s gonna look like your martyr complex is showing.

Don’t hog all the easily adoptable puppies. Please. And think the points in this essay through carefully, slowly, and objectively, instead of just reacting.

 

Out with the old; in with the unknown

Another year ends, according to the Gregorian calendar. A little blue-green-brown speck completes another full circuit around a minor star.

If you’re reading this, you made it.

This has been a not-good year for me, so I’ve mostly refrained from spouting off in this blog. No one wants to read a whine. I didn’t even want to write a whine.

I still find it interesting which of my old posts folks read and share. Thank you for that, though I get a little discouraged that the snarky writing is the most popular. The greater part of me is kind, empathetic, compassionate, intellectual, objective, non-snarky. Thus — I guess — boring as hell.

My 12-year-old shelter-rescued treeing walker coonhound, Amos, has late-stage metastatic lung cancer. Pulmonary carcinoma is one of those cancers in elderly dogs that’s essentially symptomless until it’s well advanced. Early symptoms look like normal signs of aging. Twelve is geriatric for a large-breed coonhound. By the time he started coughing frequently enough, at the end of September, for concern and a diagnostic vet visit, a large malignant tumor in his right accessory lung lobe was pressing on his heart and cancer had invaded the lymph nodes surrounding and attached to his heart, lungs, and major thoracic arteries.

Amos had surgery on 19 October [month corrected] to excise the affected lobe and biopsy the tumor and one accessible lymph node, and is now close to finishing an eight-round course of vinorelbine chemotherapy. The surgery and recovery from surgery were rough on him, but he’s tolerated the chemo like champ. He won’t be cured; we’re buying him quality time. He’s doing really well right now. I’m grateful for every day that he gets to enjoy his home-made food, his walks with my 83-year-old-dad, his massages, his “hunting” adventures baying at wildlife in the back yard. He’s LOVED. He knows it, and loves us back.

So we take things a day at a time, and savor the days.

Amos12-26-2016

The one unqualified bright point of 2017, for me, was cataract surgery in mid-September. We tend to think of cataracts as a disease of old age, but younger people can develop lens opacity. I’ve had significant eye defects and impaired vision all my life. Coke-bottle glasses. Ever-changing contact lens prescriptions. Legal blindness without corrective lenses. I had the right cataracted lens removed and replaced with a corrective implant in 2012. The left one’s now got a toric lens implant that corrects my lifelong myopia and astigmatism. For the first time in my 54 years, I have 20/20 reading and distance vision. SEEING clearly is a new joy that I never tire of or take for granted. Every day, there’s something new to observe, especially in the world of nature.

Those two bright spots — good eyesight, and a companion dog who despite a terminal diagnosis is still alive today and enjoying life — make 2017 worthwhile. They’ve cost me the equivalent of a year’s pay, but that is what it is. Worthwhile things can sometimes be expensive things.

The rest of 2017 unequivocally sucked and I’m glad to kick it into the gutter of history. A new year of possibilities and 365 new opportunities to fuck things up rolls in.

I’m not making resolutions, nor do I wish anyone anything for the new year. There is no “normal” anymore. “Hope is the thing with feathers…” that men with firearms destroy with impunity, laughing as they kill.

I’m seeing out the year with a good, peaty single-malt on the rocks and no year-in-review highlights or nostalgia whatsoever.

But I hope you can snag or create some joy of your own in 2018. Don’t forget to remind your loved ones that you love them.

IMG_7045

 

Quality, not quantity

“Save them ALL! Save them ALL!”

Rescues and advocates, please be prudent.

For the sake of the individual animals, please place quality over quantity.

Compassionate rescue ensures each and every dog or cat pulled from death row has all of his/her needs met while in care of the rescue, and ensures he or she will go to the most appropriate home.

Warehousing in large numbers with mediocre or sub-standard daily care, minimal vetting, little human contact, socialization, or exercise, months or years in a crate or boarding kennel, or life in a muddy, cluttered yard crammed in with 20, 50, 100 other dogs isn’t good rescue. It’s hoarding.

A companion animal doesn’t see your good intentions or hopes for a future that may – or may not – materialize. He or she only knows the moment.

I see animals getting sent to rescues where their living situations will be worse than they were in the shelter. Armchair warriors love to holler “SAFE!” and move on to the next death-row dog or cat without knowing whether the pet they plugged all over social media for five days went to a responsible caregiver, or a hoarder, or a flipper, or an attention whore who exploits an animal from a dramatic abuse case to raise money or enhance reputation at the price of that animal’s quality of life.

Quality over quantity.

There are worse fates than death in a shelter.

Patience to teach

We are all uneducated and unaware about some topics.

As advocates for companion animals, we should see a question asked by a newbie as a teachable moment, not a moment for ridicule. We should never be too impatient, or complacent in our own acquired knowledge, to reach out with kind and factual answers to someone’s questions.

It’s a chance to add an ally instead of making an enemy.

Often I fail at this, and react with impatience, forgetting that there was a time when I didn’t know much about much of anything, and that time wasn’t so very long ago.

Come to the party

What if you threw a party, and nobody came?

Many nonprofit animal rescue groups here in my region (the Southeast) feel like no one will come to the party.

The “partygoers” they invite are volunteers, foster families/individuals, donors, sponsors, transporters, fans who publicize the needs of the rescue and the animals it saves, and adoptive homes where those pets can live safely and happily the rest of their lives.

The flood of dogs and cats entering “kill shelters” and county or municipal pounds, or thrown away by people who think they can’t afford to care for them, increases in volume as our economy worsens, but the resources that rescues need to help give these pets second chances dwindle under the same circumstance.

No one has time.

No one has room.

No one has money.

But everyone has dogs and cats that need homes.

Rescue does not end when a group springs a dog from death row at AC. That’s just the beginning. That dog needs thorough vetting, including (not limited to) sterilization and possibly treatment for illness or injury, a foster home with someone who can work on social skills and healing and can take her to adoption events, and publicity to be seen by potential adopters. The same kind of publicity she got from social-media crossposters while impounded at AC.

Rescue groups and the companion animals they care for need you and me! Please… come to the party. Support a good rescue – do your due diligence and select one local to you that you can actually check out to make sure youre resources are well-invested – with your voice, your funds, your hands, and your heart.

Dear Dogs: Memos from The Management

At the suggestion of a few of my Facebook friends, I’m sharing this collection of letters from “The Management,” to the canine residents of my personal Little Green Inn for Wayward Dogs. These are Facebook status updates dating back to 2012. Memos are chronological, beginning with the most recent. I’ll keep adding to this post whenever The Manager feels the impulse to pontificate.

Please note that the intent is humorous, and the writing is deliberately pompous, overwrought, and silly. Those of you of a certain age may be familiar with a 1970s British sitcom called Fawlty Towers, starring John Cleese of Monty Python renown. Cleese played the bumbling, monumentally inept proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast inn where nothing ever went right. The guests were loons but the innkeeper was loonier. This was the inspiration for the Little Green Inn for Wayward Dogs.

September 5, 2015
Inn drama – Saturday afternoon.
[Scene: front hallway of Inn.]
[ Action: all four canine residents mill around, vocalizing, as Manager’s dad attempts to get a leash on Amos to take him for their afternoon male bonding ritual walk in the woods. All four dogs attempt to bolt through the door at once; Manager grabs both short dogs by collars with one hand and restrains them as Granddad, Amos, and Weasel exit.]

Aggie: “SCreEeEEEeeAmmmMm! snaaaark! snap! growl! snarksnarksnark-snort-squeal.”

Beasley: “Grrrrrrrrowl! Yapyapyap-hic! sneeze! yap-squeal grrrrrr! yapyip!”

[Eyes bug out. Spittle flies. Manager slams door and separates the debaters.]

Aggie: “How dare you, you short, squatty, snorty, funny-looking, stinky little old man interloper! This is MY house and MY mom and YOU freakin’ TOUCHED me! I oughtta rip you limb from limb, you illegal alien, you. And you’re FAT.”
Beasley: “Oh shut yer pie-hole, you ill-tempered, short, pudgy, self-important, drama-prone little tri-colored trollop! YOUR mom came and got ME out of a shelter just like she did you, so SHE wants me here. I don’t care what you think, and while I’m here it’s MY house too. You snore louder than I do, BTW, and you have no manners or respect for your elders, so sit your plump dumpy rump down and shut up and get out of my face.”

Manager: “Stoppit, you two little short fat bad actors. Aggie, you are not in charge here. No one is stealing your glory. Beasley, she’s all mouth and no action, so don’t egg her on. You’re old enough to know better.”

[Manager rolls eyes so hard she dislodges a contact lens.[
[ Both short dogs run into the back yard and howl at granddad for not taking them walking with the tall dogs.]

September 8, 2015
Dear Mr. Amos and Mr. Beasley,
It is forty minutes until the appointed dinner hour.
Standing on either side of the Chef de Cuisine, yelling in stereo, will not get your dinners any sooner.
Unruly diners may be removed to the patio so as not to disturb the better-mannered guests.
Civilly (just barely),
The Manager

September 2, 2015
Dear Amos Coonbritches,
The Manager does not appreciate raccoon hunting BC (before coffee). Neither do the neighbors. At 5:30 am.
Cordially,
Mgr

August 24, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The Manager just removed fourteen battered dog toys – four defluffed stuffies, seven bones, and three balls – from the daybed in the office. It was so cluttered with toys there was no room for even one dog to lie on it comfortably.
Upon arriving home this afternoon, the Manager also noted that the living room couch had been ransacked; there was a puddle in the foyer, two dead wasps on the Manager’s bed, several new trenches dug upon the grounds, and one dog – whose name shall remain unspoken but rhymes with Cheesel – covered head-to-toe in red-clay mud.
The Manager needs one canine psychologist, one boot-camp-style drill sergeant trainer, and one large (50+pound), high-energy, boisterous, playful, friendly young dog with a bomb-proof disposition and a rhinoceros-thick hide to make daily visits to address Miss Cheesel’s incorrigible behavioral issues.
The Manager values the living Residents far more highly than the inanimate furnishings of the Little Green Inn. But let’s not get ridiculous.
To the one-dog demolition crew: you’re fired.
With much irritation,
The Management

August 21, 2015
Dear Dogs,
When the Manager gets up at 5:15 and opens the patio door for you, that is an invitation to GO OUTDOORS to potty rather than on the living room floor. You are all adults and were – at one time – fully housetrained; there is no need to be afraid of the dark. If this is some kind of passive-aggressive protest, the Manager is missing the point.
“Out, damn’d Spot!” to quote Lady Macbeth.
Sincerely,
The Pissy Management

August 11, 2015
Dear Amos M. Coonbritches,
Community members within a half-mile radius of the Little Green Inn who tried to go to bed early tonight may be showing up here at any moment with torches and pitchforks. The Manager notes that your resonant, elephant-like calls have successfully removed those dangerous deer from the vicinity.
Right now the Manager considers those clarion calls, along with the thunder of your paws charging up and down the fenceline, to be the most beautiful sounds on earth. The neighbors can suck wind.
Bay to your heart’s content, beloved boy.
Sincerely,
The Management

August 14, 2015
Steamed spinach on the dogs’ dinner.
Weasel: “Seriously? Do I look like Popeye to you?”
Aggie: “Whaaaah… well, this is different.”
Amos: “NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM-SNORX-HIC-Buuuuurp.”

July 18, 2015
The Manager walked into the bedroom to check on Amos Coonbritches during the thunderstorm and found this.
Amosthunder_01

June 27, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The Manager can’t understand why you find the whistling tea-kettle so irksome. Vengeance is mine, saith the Chef. Bwaaaahahahahaha.
Delightedly,
The Management

June 17, 2015
Dear Amos M. Coonbritches,
The Manager does not consider hound slobber a condiment. Snatching food off the Manager’s plate WHILE THE MANAGER IS EATING FROM IT will not earn you extra recreational privileges. 
Nor will licking the fork or the iced tea glass. 
Inhaling loudly and insistently will not have the effect of suctioning fruit across the table like a vacuum cleaner.
Please refer to Miss Manners’ Manual of Coonhound Etiquette regarding dining decorum.
Cordially,
The Management

June 16, 2015
Dear Miss Agatha,
Thank you for scooting your little anal glands across the bed at 11p.m.
Disgustedly,
The Management

May 29, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The Management would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your remarkably proper deportment today while the Manager was on the road cheating on you with other dogs.
Miss Weasel, we appreciate that you released the chipmunk you caught this morning at 8:05, and that he appears to have made his escape by climbing the tulip poplar tree, and has not been found dead or alive. You were observed almost catching a squirrel at 5:15PM, and there is a reliable report that you chased a deer yesterday. You must realize at some point that live toys are quite breakable; this is why you have three dozen non-biological toys in your toy basket. We recognize that you are some kind of Jack Russell Terrorist/Greyhound/Pointer hybrid and cannot control your need to chase and wave trophies around. The Activities Director will look into lure coursing, which would be an ideal sport for you.
The AD will also consider trying to procure a life-sized, radio-controlled dummy raccoon on wheels for entertaining Mr. Amos, who joins the rodent pursuits too late and too vocally to catch anything. The Kitchen Attendant and Housekeeper have suggested that we try affixing the dog water buckets to the floor with marine epoxy, since you knocked the same full, 2-gallon bucket over twice this evening and four large towels were needed for cleanup.
Miss Agatha, considering the patio door was left open for you, there was no need for you to poop in the dining room, unless you simply prefer a cooler ambient pottying temperature or the grass outside was tickling your bum.
Mr. Jesse, we hope you value being hand-fed bites of organic chicken on these days when your appetite is sub-par. You are a lovely old gentleman and the Manager does not feel offended when your ADD kicks in and you wander away with kibble on your nose. The Manager will even continue providing your medications in tinned deviled ham on a Ritz cracker, even though potted meat products are revolting.
The Residents left the Little Green Inn for Wayward Mutts in remarkably sound and tidy condition despite the Manager’s seven-hour absence. The Management is grateful and will provide BACON at breakfast.
Sincerely,
The Cruise Director

May 16, 2015
Dear Dogs,
While your zest for seizing life with all four paws is admirable, your choices for expressing that zest are – at best – sketchy. The Manager is sure that fresh, abundant, glistening pile of whitetailed deer poo looked tempting, but rolling in it, eating it, and fighting over the last morsel – all three of you – is a breach of house protocol.
This fecal obsession is not healthy. Please re-read the Manual, Section 14, Article 3, on the consequences of poo-eating.
This evening’s yoga class has been rescheduled for a time when the three of you do not stink.
Cordially,
The Management

P.S. The Groundskeeper has not forgotten this morning’s Snake Incident.

May 13, 2015
Dear Amos M. Coonbritches,
Dinner is served promptly at 6:00pm. It has always been served at 6:00pm when the establishment observes daylight savings time, and at 5:00pm on regular time. It will always be served at the same time. In your fourteen months at this establishment, you have never missed a meal. You can count on the toes of one paw the times your dinner has been late because the manager has been late.
You are back down to a respectable weight of 88 pounds from your Biggest Loser high of 106, and still do not need to eat every hour on the hour, no matter how many times you suggest it. The Manager is not fat-shaming you; she does not want you to explode.
It is not necessary to bay at the Manager for a solid ninety minutes every evening as a reminder of when you should get your dinner. The Manager is more intelligent than she looks.
We shall now observe a few moments of pre-meal silence. Kindly do not mistake these moments as an opportunity to pray that your dinner comes a half hour early.
Cordially,
The Management

April 24, 2015
Dear Miss Agatha,
Read the Handbook. “Thou shalt not dissect and defluff the bed pillows” is in the Commandments Appendix: Article IV, Section 107c.
Less-than-cordially,
The Management

April 15, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The Manager would like to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your thoughtful gifts today. A soggy dead wren, three dead carpenter bees, a large chewed-up stick, and a trail of poo leading from bedroom to patio door: each is a delightful and personal gesture.
The Manager must remind you, however, that the Green Cottage for Wayward Mutts is a not-for-profit asylum, so attempts to buy influence with extravagant material bribes may be frowned upon by Corporate Headquarters. Please consider leaving live birds, live bees, chewed sticks, and poo outdoors where both Residents and Staff may enjoy them fully with no appearance of impropriety.
If the offering of gifts becomes unavoidable, modestly priced Scotch may be deemed appropriate.
You may expect an extra portion of Taste of the Wild at dinner this evening.
Cordially,
The Management

April 10, 2015
Dear Dogs,
You are behaving like assholes tonight. Stoppit immediately.
The Manager

April 8, 2015
Dear Dogs,
A quorum of Residents has insisted that, since it’s warm outside, the patio door remain open throughout the day so that residents may run in and out of the fenced recreation area at will. While this is undoubtedly loads of fun, the Mansion of Misfit Toys is now full of red-clay mud, last year’s dead leaves, mosquitoes, and stinkbugs.
In addition, the Housekeeper collects eight or ten muddy toys from the outdoors every day, wipes them off, and returns them to the toy basket in the kitchen. One Anonymous Resident immediately begins moving toys back to the outdoors.
The Housekeeper has filed a medical report citing purple funnel syndrome – a rare variant on carpal tunnel, caused by repetitively picking up after weaselly dogs day in and day out, sweeping and mopping up mud and leaves, swatting mosquitoes, and removing stinkbugs back to nature.
The Housekeeper has requested a brief sojourn in the Bahamas. The Manager suggested a toddy and a nap instead.
The Anonymous Resident is politely advised not to leave any more squirrel half-carcasses on the porch; we are running short on liquor, and reliable housekeepers are hard to come by,
Cordially,
The Management

March 17, 2015
Dear
Dogs,
One of the Residents, who shall remain anonymous but whose name rhymes with Cheesel, rolled in wildlife poop today and failed to report the incident in a timely manner. The Manager does not appreciate the late-night olfactory assault occasioned by this Resident’s demand for snuggles.
A bath will be scheduled in the near future once the Manager regains consciousness.
Cordially,
The Interim Manager

March 13, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The Manager is waiting patiently for the rain to abate so that she may venture out in search of Miss Agatha’s missing collar and tags, which Miss Weasel thoughtfully removed from Miss Agatha’s person and hid somewhere in the back forty.
The Management does not sanction unscheduled games of Hide the Collar. Please refer to your Code of Conduct Manual, Section 113, Article 61B: “Residents will not steal another resident’s identity.” Appropriate penalties will apply.
Cordially,
The Management

February 28, 2015
Dear Dogs,
The housekeeper reports that when she closed the bedroom door this evening to furnish the bed with clean linens and sweep up wreckage from your last soirée, certain individuals staged a full-scale riot, worthy of a World Cup defeat, outside in the hallway.
The alleged instigator was She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-but-whose-name-rhymes-with-Cheesel; however, a large Coonhound and a small Beagle were reportedly baying, whining, squealing, and scratching on the door while using a Terrier as a battering ram.
The housekeeper is threatening to retire to the Caribbean if the residents’ delinquency, vandalism. and loutish yobbery continues. Please be advised that competent housekeepers who work for free are hard to come by.
Tonight’s jamboree has been postponed for lack of staff.
Courteously,
The Management

January 13, 2015
The Manager: “C’mon, Dogs, it’s time to go out and pee. Sun’s coming up.”
Dogs; “It’s raining. It’s 36 degrees. Sun is not coming up. We are not going out. We will hold it until we explode.”
The Manager: “Daybreak! Out! Time to do business! You can come right back in when you’re done!”
Dogs: [Four dogs look out open door. One crawls back onto bed. One goes into bathroom and stands expectantly beside space heater. Two wander into commons room and pee and poop on floor, then crawl back onto bed.]
Manager: “Aaaaaaugh.”


December 24, 2014
Dear Manager,
For the third day in a row, it is cold and raining.
I did not order this weather; please take it back and remove all charges from my bill.
While I may appear to be a large, uncouth-looking dude—the Larry the Cable Guy of the coonhound world, as it were—I am, in fact, quite delicate and fragile. Prissy, even. I do not like getting my dainty, dinner-plate-sized paws wet. I resent being dragged into the woods like some common peasant to do my business, so I “held it” for three days until I looked like a piñata and then deposited a Matterhorn-sized load right in front of your porch.
Since I have done my duty under protest, you must now dry me thoroughly—the green towel, please, not the red or beige one—and then I will go roll on your bed, joining my small female companions who’ve already raced in there, sopping wet, and sullied the bedclothes with muddy paws and dripping hair.
Then you will offer me a bacon treat, whereupon I will chomp your fingers to the third knuckle.
I request a Walker Hound-sized serving of sunshine tomorrow. It IS Christmas day, after all.
Sincerely,
Amos M. Coonbritches, Esq.
Resident, Bawlty Towers Inn for Wayward Dogs

December 5, 2014
Dear Miss Weasel,
The concierge’s computer mouse is not to be mistaken for a chew toy. At your current stipend, we do not believe you can afford to replace it. Please confine obsessive-compulsive mastication to appropriate non-electronic objects.
Sincerely,
The Management

July 26, 2014
Internal Memorandum:
Aggie and Weezy are digesting some dense subjects. They’ve sampled Deutsch Heute,Zielsprache Deutsch, Mélange Littéraire, Western Civilization, The Illustrated Pepys, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves, and Problems in American Environmental History. My old college textbooks have become chew toys. Brats.

July 12, 2014
Dear Dogs,
Awakening the entire facility at 5:30am on a Saturday by stomping up and down the stairs, baying, is inconsiderate of other guests.
Cordially,
The Management

June 24, 2014
[Internal memo]
Flea preventative time = Rodeo Nite in Point Peter. Chase 4 dogs through the house (one by one; the remaining two are on Trifexis), corner them under furniture, drag them out, sit on their heads and hope they don’t bite my butt, and listen to them wail while I apply the Advantix II. You’d think I was gonna pull their toenails out with pliers. Dear Lord, please send me some normal, well-adjusted dogs next time. My special-needs kids take a lot of work.

May 15, 2014
Internal Memorandum:
Bratty canine activity will be the death of me. Miss Agatha Friskie CANNOT stay out of trouble. While I was on the phone, she sneaked up to the kitchen and stole a “roach motel”—a box-shaped sticky trap for pantry insects that doesn’t have any pesticides but has a weird maple-syrup smell—out of the broom cabinet. She took it to a rug to chew on, and Dad heard weird noises. Aggie had chewed the trap open and gotten one paw stuck to the glue inside, and was walking around thumping and bumping and whining. I got the trap unstuck with some vegetable oil. Aggie lost a few whiskers too. If I have a coronary anytime soon, this is why.

April 18, 2014
Dear Miss Agatha Friskie,
The Management would like to note that screaming, snarling, squeaking tri-colored Beagle-diva temper tantrums are no more attractive nor sanctioned in the South Carolina establishment than at the Georgia one. Your big brother Amos did not mean to lie down on your toy, nor was he responsible for you being left behind in the rain while he got to go for a ride today. He didn’t make you refuse your dinner or poo at the foot of the stairs. The housemaid washed all your toys because they were rank, not to torture you. Amos ate your portion of veggie burger because YOU walked away from your dish and he assumed you were done. Little 24-pound ladies should not beat the hell out of their 87-pound buddies, scare them into a howl, and crush their delicate Coonhound feelings. You should really be ashamed of your spoiled-brat drama-queen self.
One more violation of social policy and you will be given house arrest, affixed with an ankle monitor, and assigned a parole officer.
Cordially,
The Nerve-wracked Management.

March 18, 2014
Dear Aggie,
Mom sees what you are doing. Santa will not visit you until you are at least five at this rate.
Sincerely,
The Management

February 28, 2014
Dear Dogs,
The Management posts entertaining notes about your hooligan behavior, your late-night canine karaoke, the interesting items you destroy, your uncivilized potty habits, and your mealtime demands. However, the Management would not trade you for a winning lottery ticket, because of your unconditional love. Without that, the Manager would have checked out permanently long ago.
Sincerely,
Manager

February 25, 2014
Internal Memorandum:
Management just caught Minnie, Max, and Aggie engaged in a territorial war of words in the driveway over… a turd.
Why don’t we ever have normal dogs at this establishment?

February 20, 2014
Dear Dogs,
Residents may not become nocturnal without written permission from the Management. Whacking the Manager in the head at 11:15 pm with a Nylabone will not hasten policy change. Kindly stop partying and go to bed.
Cordially,
The Management

January 25, 2014
Internal Memorandum:
Three dogs are mad at The Management. They barked and tore up the house for two solid hours and I finally yelled at them.


December 14, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Yes, it is raining. Yes, there are puddles in the yard, and water falling from the sky. No, you will NOT melt if you actually step off the porch to do your business. You will not die if your delicate undercarriages touch wet grass. The Manager would, in fact, much appreciate you risking getting slightly damp rather that doing said business indoors. The Manager is irritated that she had to go out into the yard and stand in the rain in order to inspire you to leave the porch. By the way, the Lodge used to have nice fuzzy rugs on which dogs could wipe their wet paws… until dogs urinated and defecated on said rugs. Thank you for eliminating OUTdoors in designated areas despite the inclement weather. In front of the TV in the living room, the corner of the bedroom, the middle of doorways, and the dirty laundry basket are NOT designated areas. The butler, housekeeper, bellhop, and scullery maid gave notice years ago and the Manager is running this establishment alone, overworked and underpaid. She now has soggy shoes, bedraggled hair, and a headache.
Sincerely,
The Management

November 11, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Last night was chaotic at the Casa de los Canines.
We had a report of poo in the bedroom; the Management was unable to locate physical evidence, so must assume someone was hiding a dingleberry.
Miss Agatha tossed her cookies on the bed at 1:03 AM. This is what happens when one consumes newspaper, twigs, and part of a Rubbermaid bin in the course of a single day.
Mr. Max and Miss Minnie decided to hold a singing competition shortly after 2:00 AM.
Thereafter, the Manager had to go pee, and someone used this interlude to grab the Manager’s iPhone and chew it beneath the comforter.
Later the Manager’s feet got cold because all three canine residents opted to sleep on her head and chest.
The Management hopes that these issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of all guests. Your bills will be amended accordingly.
Curfew is at 11:30 PM and proper indoor voices and mannerly comportment will be enforced.
Sincerely,
The Management

November 3, 2013
Internal Memorandum:
Several canines (names withheld to protect privacy) are having hysterics at what they perceive to be the Management’s negligence 10 minutes past their appointed dinnertime.

October 31, 2013
Dear Princess Agatha,
It is against palace rules to rip the bedsheets in the wee hours of the morning. Spoiled princesses who awaken the royal household by said method between 4:30 and 5:00AM to initiate rambunctious play shall be banished to the tower. And remind your big brother Prince Max that loud snoring and farting are ill-mannered and are reserved for the moat dragon.
Sincerely,
Ye Management

October 4, 2013
Dear Aggie,
Mom has a sinus headache. Bashing her in the head with a chewed Pop-Tarts box will not cure her, nor will yapping into her left ear.
Sincerely,
The Management

September 17, 2013
Dear Agatha,
Just because it’s called “Reader’s Digest” doesn’t mean it’s digestible. Waiting that extra ten minutes for dinner wouldn’t have hurt.
Sincerely,
The Management.

September 15, 2013
Dear Miss Agatha Friskie,
The management looks forward to the day when you lose your last two baby fangs, and to the day when you realize bedtime need not be preceded by 40 minutes of unbridled hyperactivity, loud yapping, pouncing on the other residents, stealing towels, and leaving the manager’s hands and arms perforated and bloody. Until that day, please enjoy restful nightly repose in your crate.
Sincerely,
The Management

August 29, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Next time you decide to celebrate Let’s Be Annoying, Destructive, Loud Pains-in-the-Butt Day spontaneously, please give the management 24 hours’ notice so she can sedate you—and herself—accordingly.
Sincerely,
The Management

August 5, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Thank you for jumping up and down on my head, chest, and nether regions precisely one-half hour prior to the customary dinner time to ensure that I don’t actually nap through your favorite three minutes of the day.
Cordially,
The Trampled Management

August 2, 2013
Internal Memorandum:
O.M.F.G. For a baby puppy, Aggie has the musical repertoire of a seasoned Met contralto. Thirty minutes in the crate and she’s still giving me pieces of her mind. Her basic Beagle cry of rage sounds like someone who’s never had a lesson blatting away on a clarinet inside a galvanized dustbin after visiting the dentist for novocaine in both lips. She alternates this with impressions of a Canada goose, a sea lion, a Siamese kitten, and someone banging on said dustbin lid with a ball-peen hammer. She is telling me in two-and-a-half octaves that diva babies belong in mom’s lap, not a damned airline kennel. I am SO happy she feels good enough to complain to the management, but I need a Xanax and some headphones.

June 22, 2013
Dear Nice Dogs,
We appreciate your majority decision to stay up all night scratching, chewing, pacing, wandering from room to room, whining, getting toenails hung in rabies tag loops and screaming bloody murder, wallowing on mom and the bed, knocking over the fan… all without my vote. The full moon is TOMORROW and no, you do not need to practice being pains in the butt. You have it down to a science. At this rate mom will be the one howling at the moon. 2:30 am is not party time in this house.
Sincerely,
The Management

June 7, 2013
Dear Dogs:
Your repeat of last night’s 3:00am play session has been cancelled; tentatively rescheduled for A Decent Hour (like noon). Your mom needs her beauty sleep.
Sincerely,
The Management

March 22, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Thank you for the entertaining game of musical chairs you played in my bed last night. You made four hours feel like a year! I will enjoy the heartburn, black eye, and bruised spleen from being trampled, rather like waking up with a tattoo after a monumental jaegermeister binge. Please do not be surprised if I wake you from your naps every 15 minutes all day to ask if you’re comfy or need more blankets. Or sit on your heads to show you you’re loved.
Sincerely,
The Management

March 5, 2013
Dear Dogs,
Dinner will be served tonight at the usual time. Just because Mom opened a can of something for herself a few minutes ago, it doesn’t mean she had your dinner herself and will leave you to starve. Jumping on Mom, barking in her ear, tugging her pant leg, and sitting 14 inches away staring at her will not be necessary. Dinner is at 6:00PM sharp.
Thank you,
The Management

January 22, 2013
Canine Complaint Department Instructions:
Please write complaint in black ink on a 3″ x 5″ index card. Fold card 3 times and shove it up your arse.
Thank you,
The Management


November 8, 2012
Dear Dogs,
November is upon us. The season comes with wind, rain, fallen leaves, and cold.
Mom will not be leaving both the front and back doors open so you may race joyfully through the house all day long. Sorry that dapper doorman with the Burberry trench coat and golf umbrella is no longer here to open doors for you every five minutes and to call the bellhop to carry your luggage so that you can roll in leaves and mud and then on mom’s bed.
The concierge, room service, and housekeeper are also on furlough; we had to lay off those ladies and gentleman due to the economy.
The new house rules are: Dinner is at 6:30pm. You play outside when it’s sunny and mild. You play inside when it’s cold, rainy, or dark. If you refuse to come when called at 10:00PM, your ass will freeze.
Mom’s bed is not the place to dismember dead birds and mice, or to chew up fallen pecans and litter the room with pecan shells.
You will be charged for use of the mini-bar and fridge.
Thank you,
The Management

November 4, 2012
Memo to Dogs:
There should be no barking in Mom’s face at 4:15 AM on a Sunday unless something’s on fire.
Thank you,
The Management

October 24, 2012
Dear Magnificent (furry) Seven:
Thanks to you and your evil overlord—he of the toxic socks, who leaves a toilet looking (and smelling) like Hannibal’s army encamped overnight and all the elephants had Taco Bell takeout—the house and yard are now eligible for an EPA Superfund cleanup grant. Given, thinking like chess players is not your forte. But pissing all the rugs into oblivion and shredding/unstuffing every one of your dog beds means that wood floor is gonna be awful cold and hard this winter.
You will not all fit in Mom’s bed, and Mom is not sleeping on the couch or buying you replacements that will only last ten minutes. Mom’s underwear is not dental floss. 6-roll packs of paper towels are not for filling the hallway with fake snow.
Recycling is not actually YOUR job—the county handles paper, plastic and glass off-site, not all over the lawn.
And really, is a plastic soup ladle worth fighting for?
The eight non-Mom occupants of this house need to start shitting me Tiffany cufflinks to earn their keep.
Thank you,
The Management.

September 29, 2012
Dear Dog(s),
Three drops of rain do not constitute “severe weather” and do not justify peeing on the bath mat instead of going outside. Don’t make me call a town hall meeting to discuss local ordinances.
Thank you,
The Mayor

April 15, 2012
Dear Dogs:
Thank you for waking me up at the crack of dawn by standing on my chest barking, just so you could take over my bed. It’s now 1:00pm and I am waking you up so you can go fold laundry and clean the kitchen.
Love,
Mom (source of the free lunch and comfy big bed).

April 28, 2012
Dear Dogs:
Number one Saturday rule is no hyperactivity before sunrise. Read the memo.
The Management, bleary-eyed

April 23, 2012
[External memo]
Dear shelter dog adopter:
I am so disappointed that you find it inconvenient to drive 45 miles to meet and complete paperwork for the dog you saw online and wanted to add to your family.
Do you realize that some crazy people drive 800 miles or more round trip to take rescued dogs that aren’t their own to people they’ve never met, and don’t get paid to do it?
It’s all about priorities. What are yours?
Sincerely,
Rescue Supporter

photo by author

photo by author

uGlY DogS wiTh GoOd HeaRTz

[Written 1/31/2012]

In junior high and high school, I was the ugly fat girl with spitballs in her hair. Taller than everyone in the class, chubby and graceless, thick glasses, braces, a faceful of zits, bad hair, unfashionable clothes. I was “smart” but painfully shy, introverted and depressed (although at the time I had no idea what clinical depression was, or that I “had” it).

You know what the teen years are like; you have the popular cool kids, the jocks and cheerleaders, the stoners, the honors-class nerds. Those cliques have been the same for generations—only the fashions, music, technology and slang change. The smart kids accepted me into their group as a friend and peer, yet I felt so unworthy I was still an outsider. So misfit that I was an outlierthe data point that sits so far outside the normal curve that it gets thrown away when the statistics are plotted. And yet… my senior year, my class inexplicably voted me “most talented” when choosing the Senior Superlatives. Not “most likely to end up institutionalized,” which was how I felt. I was so down on myself and bitter that I was embarrassed by that honor and pretty much chose to ignore it. Too much irony, considering I felt I had no life at the time.

Thirty-plus years have passed, and that fat ugly kid with spitballs in her hair still lives in me.

This matters less now. Time is an equalizer. Some of the early bloomers have faded, and the late bloomers finally have had their day in the sun. Me, I’m still the bud that never opened at all, but I’ve learned—in a very personal way—the value of looking inside for the true worth of a being. There really is beauty in me; it’s just not the visible kind. These beauties I had to look pretty hard to find. I have a loving and tender heart. I have the active imagination that empowers empathy. I have a keen if disorganized intellect. I have a well-developed sense of humor, particularly at my own expense. My shyness made me pursue good writing, because that’s often the only means I have of reaching out.

And I love dogs, because dogs have always been there for me when people were not. Dogs don’t give a damn what I look like. They don’t throw the past in my face or pressure me to try become something I’m not in the future. So I’ve become an advocate, and I advocate for “ugly” dogs—the ones no one else wants.

Remember that “beautiful” and “ugly” are subjective terms. What matters most? First impressions and outward appearances, or lasting knowledge and content of character?

What really matters—to me at least—is NOT what’s on the outside.

praying for the unwanted under a full moon

(17 February 2011, night before the full moon)

Full Mother Moon–sweet, soft and bright,
bathe our dim world in your loving light.
Tell voiceless millions down below–
frightened, alone, no place to go–
that each random, accidental birth
has reason and purpose, value and worth.
Let them know that I do care,
that I pray for them, and know they’re there.

Please tell them, Moon, with your gentle eye,
that if tomorrow they should die,
I won’t forget they once lived here.
When my own dying time draws near,
I’ll think of each and every one
I couldn’t help, and when I’m done
with prayers, I’ll say “I’ll see you soon,
across the Bridge, under full Mother Moon.”

fullmoon

You’re there

[to the ones we can’t save]

You’re there, wandering the roadside, lost.
You’re there, chained in a back yard, forgotten.
You’re there, starving under a house with your newborn litter.
You’re there, cowering in a kennel at the pound, hopeless.
You’re there, on a steel table, waiting for the needle.
You’re there, in the landfill in a black plastic bag.
You’re there, even when no one else sees you.
You’re there, every time I close my eyes, look over my shoulder, look into my dogs’ trusting faces.
You’ll be there, when I stand before God and give account of my life.
When I kneel to ask forgiveness, will you lick my face?

[11/1/2011]

One of the lucky ones.

Weasel – one of the lucky ones who made it.

They are not “less” than you

“There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.”
—William J. Brennan Jr.
 (1906–1997; US Supreme Court Justice 1956-1990)

I posted the following mini-editorial as a Facebook status update on the morning of July 17, 2014. Somehow it struck a chord with many people who count themselves among the online rescue-and-advocacy community, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share here. As with any of my opinion-piece essays, this is a work in progress and needs some fleshing out to cover the many much-needed roles and opportunities for volunteers and supporters. Please check back on this same post in the next few days as I continue writing and reflecting.

Also, as you’ve probably noticed, I point out the glaring negatives I see in our community far more often than I wish I had to. Along with this commentary, I want to thank each of you—in every role of every size and prominencefor what you bring to the table. You are needed. Caring and dedicated people are always needed.

Recently I heard of an incident where rescuers labeled a dedicated hands-on shelter volunteer as “just a dog walker,” implying that her contribution was less valuable than theirs, that she was unqualified to help shelter pets and was doing “less” that they were. I’d like to remind rescue folks that those “dog walkers” are the ones on hand at ground zero, evaluating pets and getting useful information about their apparent health, temperaments, needs, and status as impounds out there so that rescues actually know whether or not they require rescue as opposed to private adoption, and often acting as liaisons with shelter staff. They’re sometimes the last and only friendly voices some animals will ever hear.

And in many cases, you’d never know a shelter dog exists if not for that “dog walker.”

Some of those rescues disparaging the subordinate roles of volunteers also whine about how they can’t stand to visit the shelter because it’s too sad or depressing or frustrating.

Reality check.

If you have to run down someone else’s role to try to amplify your own, you’re not helping. You’re creating rifts where you should be building bridges. Animal lovers help and contribute as their time, resources, personalities, skill sets, and hearts allow. Each cog makes the wheels keep turning. Please pay less attention to your status in the pecking order and acknowledge valuable team members for their worth.

They are not “less” than you; they are different, and you need what they do.

Please don’t feed the hoarder

I’m not going into specific details about this (don’t ask; not happening) but I am very, very glad today that I decided to adopt Amos M. Coonbritches and not send him off to go to a rescue I knew nothing about on the other side of the country… or to a rescue that I knew too much about in a nearby state.

When I reshare a news story about a breaking or ongoing rescue-hoarding story (and I share published news articles that include animal seizures and charges filed, not rumors or allegations made by individuals or other rescues), it is NOT to encourage you to bash the person(s) who’ve been busted. Bashing doesn’t actually help anyone—human or animal. I share these articles to draw attention to the fact that cases are escalating rapidly, fed in part by the mentality that “WE MUST SAVE THEM ALL!” Hoarders are often crusaders who proceed a bridge too far, past the point of coping. The very first thing that both the hoarded animals and the human who has reached that state of crisis and decline need: HELP.
Amos3
Hoarding in any form is a manifestation of mental illness. The ones who do it for donations or attention only, or who deliberately harm the animals they collect, are sociopaths. Ditto the breeder-hoarders who keep mill studs and broodies in house-of-horror conditions so they can sell puppies: sociopathy and self-interest. That’s mental illness. The ones who start out as dedicated, caring rescuers and then get completely overwhelmed because they cannot stop taking animals in, can’t get those they have adopted out, and cannot care for the increasing numbers show an array of issues: obsessive-compulsive disorder, cognitive dissonance, denial, depression/anxiety, paranoia, delusional thinking, distorted perception of reality, messiah complexes, and so on. All mental illnesses. Sadly whether the hoarder’s intentions are honorable or selfish, the animals suffer. They don’t understand about intentions; they only know whether or not their immediate needs are being met.

Hoarding in all its forms has a recidivism rate of close to 100%. Hoarders cannot stop, so sadly, they must BE stopped by the proper authorities, and by their colleagues, friends, and families if they have any. These are individuals who are emotionally incapable of saying no, and most of themparticularly those who conduct their rescue business via social mediaDO have a crowd of enablers helping them and making excuses for them. Some of those enablers know the hoarder personally and condone the hoarding, which calls their own objectivity and mental health into question. Others may know the hoarder by reputation or via the grapevine (usually social media), and take someone else’s word that the individual is legit; meanwhile, among a whole network of “someone elses,” not a one of them has actually visited the hoarder’s home, checked a vet reference, or seen real followups on the animals in that individual’s care.

Stopping the rescue hoarder inevitably causes an uproar both in the local community and the “rescue and advocacy community” at large, and elicits rage, denial, rationalization, and excuse-making from that individual, and outrage and defense from her supporters and followers. The process of remediation is ugly. It’s necessary.

You can help by not pushing or assisting the sending of death-row pets, strays and roadside finds, owner dumps, unwanted litters, cruelty-case animals, and so on to people far away, out of state, that you don’t know personally and can’t check out with a physical visit to the premisesnot to rescue, not to foster, not to adopt. Don’t take the word of fifteen people on a comment thread that “she’s greatshe loves them like her kids.” Chances are not a single one of those people has seen the actual living situation of the individual they’re supporting or of the animals she keeps, outside of her own Facebook photos.

Although the various organized no-kill activist groups deny this vehemently, the current manifesto of the no-kill movementthe creed that says, get them OUT of shelters at any and all costs, give them away to anyone who asks, send and transport them to strangers, leave them on the streets or in horrible living situations rather than take them to a regular shelter, hold mega-adoption events and hand over the pets to anyone who signs a form and can pay a discounted adoption fee, because ANYTHING is better than being stuck in a kill shelteris fertile soil for potential hoarders to bloom into full-blown, albeit usually unintentional abuse cases. And sadly, horribly, those same groups continue supporting, defending, and excusing the operators of those rescues that get shut down for abysmal conditions, and even help them start up again.

Every breaking story reads the same: “deplorable conditions”; feces, urine, and dead animals either stockpiled, or wrapped in foil in a freezer, or half-buried, or rotting where they fell; crowded, filthy, unhealthy, unvetted, frightened animals; unlivable stinking, festering premises. These “rescuers” couldn’t say no, and many of you wouldn’t let them say no. THEY passed the breaking point of mental illness, and YOU helped them get there, thinking to yourself, “anything is better than getting the needle in the pound.” Weeks, months, years of suffering is better? I don’t think so. Don’t say “I didn’t know”; take the appropriate investigative steps ahead of time so you’ll know. Why would you send an innocent animal to anyone you don’t know? Presuming you are just motivated by the pure emotion of a desire to save an animal, and have moved common sense to the back burner, and aren’t mentally ill yourself, you still bear responsibility for hoarding when you enable a hoarder. Period.

Let the unfriending and blocking me begin; it’s nothing new to anyone who calls things as they see them. Look deeply into the mirror and your own conscience before you start screaming or writing your own blog posts calling me names—and note that I haven’t called a single name here.

Please don’t PM me with the names of people you suspect of hoardingchances are I’ve already heard of them thanks to Facebook and e-mail. I’m not “the authorities,”  and have no desire to collect the names of bad players and turn them in to “the authorities.” I’m not going to call people out by name, or listen to or spread gossip. If I know you have fifty, seventy, a hundred animals in your garage, house, and yard, and that you don’t have a job, or claim to be disabled, and you don’t have a half-dozen able-bodied volunteers there every day, including weekends and holidays, helping you care for those animals, and you aren’t getting any of them adopted out as you collect more, I won’t support sending you moreit’s that simple. You need HELP, not more animals.

And Amos? He’s snoozing contentedly on my bed as I writea loved family memberinstead of being part of a 100-dog seizure in a rescue-hoarding case, facing an unsure future, or being kept stuffed in a crate for twelve hours at a time and doped with benadryl to keep him compliant.

Amos4

Wake up and smell the reality

“Is this shelter no-kill? I won’t support them unless they’re no-kill!”

OK, drag your judgmental butt out from behind that computer, drive on down to that “kill” shelter, and work as an unpaid volunteer to find lost owners, adoptive homes, and reputable rescues for every. single. dog. and. cat. in. the. facility. so that there will always be plenty of room for the flood of new intakes without warehousing animals. Go clean kennels. Donate food and litter and supplies every week. Take home every pet the pound has no room for, and rehome it yourself. Oh, and fund emergency vetting out of your pocket because the shelter’s budget can’t.

Then maybe you’ll stop asking imbecilic questions and making sweeping statements about situations you know nothing about. Those “kill shelters” – and the animals they house – need more help from the public, not less, not judgment and boycott.

Just checked in on volunteers’ community pages for a dozen animal control shelters here in the Southeast. Every one has a status update saying something along these lines: “Facility is packed, past capacity, putting down animals for space. Adopters, fosters, rescues needed. Please do not choose NOW to surrender your pet because it’ll probably be killed immediately – there’s nowhere to house them all.”

dog-pound-01Surrenders, hoarding/puppy mill/dogfighting busts, and stray intakes are at an all-time high. AC facilities don’t have room or resources for this flood.

For those of you who say, “Just don’t kill them!…. Shelters choose to kill.… There are ten times more people wanting a pet than there are pets in pounds.…”: please WAKE UP AND SMELL THE REALITY. You’re not helping by “disseminating unsubstantiated misinformation” (gossiping; running your mouth without facts) and you’re spreading blatant lies designed solely to make the public feel virtuous by scapegoating pounds. For those who want to help save lives, NOW is the time: Volunteer. Crosspost. Transport. Sponsor. Adopt. Foster. Rescue. Donate. Publicize. Support and preach spay/neuter and pet retention. Don’t support breeders or pet stores that sell puppy-mill animals.

And by the way, the fanatics are busily bashing away at the only organizations, large and small, that actually DO work to originate legislation and carry out investigation of pet-milling, dog- and cock-fighting, individual and large-scale cruelty cases, hoarding, and many other issues facing our companion and domesticated animals. They’re actually telling the public, “don’t send these groups money; they’re frauds.” No, they are not frauds, they simply look at a big picture and aren’t jumping on the fanatic bandwagon to dynamite “kill-shelters” and they are objective enough not to worship false prophets (profits?) of a warped cult.

For those considering dumping your pet at AC and thinking for sure he or she will instantly find a good home: stop smoking wacky-weed and lying to yourself. If you must rehome a pet, do it responsibly… Do it yourself. It’s not the county’s job; it’s YOURS. For those of you considering dumping your pet and not caring whether he/she lives or dies: I kindly invite you to go to hell.

Building a “no-kill community” starts with the community and ends with reduced killing at the local pound, not the other way around.

YOUR local votes elect your community’s leaders. YOUR taxes pay for the local (municipal or county) services you want and get. Your mayor, commission or council, and animal control department require workable, practical, affordable solutions – not verbal abuse – to solve your community’s problems. You won’t get a bigger, nicer, friendlier AC facility with customer service-oriented, well-trained, educated, caring staff by yelling at the current staff. You get it by paying for it. “It doesn’t cost any more to go no-kill”? I call bullcrap.

And if you aren’t responsible for caring your companion animals – keeping and providing for them for life, having them altered to prevent unplanned litters, rehoming them yourself if you must rather than dumping them to be “the county’s” problem, and continuing to purchase pets and facilitate breeders rather than adopt shelter pets – no shelter will ever be big enough, nice enough, friendly enough, or life-affirming enough to save every pet your community throws away.

Screaming “this shelter sucks!” won’t solve a single problem or save a single life. Address the source of throwaway pets and you approach a solution to the problem.

Prevention of indiscriminate and unintentional breeding, and pet retention, are every bit as important as adoption and rescue, and in many communities, more important. Dogs and cats mature and reproduce faster than the families wanting them do. That is real math, not twisted statistics.