Monday, November 26, 2012

Soda-loving Shepherds

First a word from our sponsor. Fresno author, teacher, and creative writing guru, Bonnie Hearn Hill, chose Lost in the River of Grass as one of her top ten picks for Christmas giving. I'm honored and truly grateful. Here's the link.

I'm taking a few weeks off, so I thought I'd leave you with this video as a thank you for sticking with  me these last 18 months.
Since we had German Shepherds when I was growing up, I added two pictures of my sister with Karlo.

My sister, Kristin and Karlo
circa 1952
Kristin & Karlo
circa 1953

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Plight of Greyhounds

Sao Tome Shrew

I don't normally use this blog to promote books (with the exception of my own,) but I recently participated in the Northern California Independent Booksellers conference in South San Francisco. One of the books I picked up was Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life, not because I rescue greyhounds, but because a dear friend does and it was her birthday. What caught my eye was the subtitle. If you've read this blog more than once, you know I believe in the healing power of our relationship with animals, and the natural world in general. Animals we adopt as pets to give them better lives frequently lead us to understand it is they who enrich ours. Animals as healers is a theme that runs throughout everything I've ever written, so I carefully read Comet's Tale before giving it to Tanya. 

I'm extrapolating here, but too often the question that arises before any consideration is giving to saving a unique habitat and the species found in it--a polar bear or Preble’s meadow jumping mouse--is what purpose does it serve? How is mankind any richer for saving a Sao Tome shrew or a Pig-nosed frog? 
Pig-nosed Frog

That should never be the question. The question should be what right do we have to destroy it? However, for those who think the former question trumps the latter, perhaps greyhounds need protection because we have thousands of veterans coming back from our wars who need help, and there's a chance they might make great service dogs.

From COMET’S TALE, by Steven D. Wolf. © 2012 by Steven D. Wolf. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.

Even if a racer survives (the risks involved in racing,) the dog’s long-term prospects are grim. Hounds who never place in the money far outnumber the winners, and even the winners will start losing one day. Most of the losers are three years old or younger. Because food and care cost money, no racing kennel wants to keep them around. Since greyhound breeders produce tens of thousands of dogs ever year, it’s easy to obtain a replacement. The president of the Pensacola Greyhound Assoc. summed it up the industry attitude when he said, “That’s just a bad part of the business, unfortunately. I compare it to owning a professional sports team. If you have one of you star players who isn’t putting out, then you have to make other arrangements.”
            The “arrangements” are what lie at the end of the road for hundreds of greyhounds. Some are killed legally by veterinarians hired by the dogs’ owners…then there is the other option, known within the industry as “going back to the farm.” A man named Robert Rhodes operated one such farm—eighteen acres in rural Alabama where he admitted to shooting thousands of greyhounds during his forty-year career in the racing industry. An aerial photo revealed an estimated three thousand greyhound skeletons scattered around his property. Rhodes, a security guard at a Florida track, said dog owners and trainers had paid him as little as ten dollars per animal to dispose of their greyhounds.
            Something similar happened in Arizona. In 1992, the rotting corpses of 143 racing greyhounds were found after the bodies had been mutilated and scattered in an abandoned citrus orchard. After shooting the dogs, the killers had cut off the tattooed ears, hoping I would prevent them from being identified. Good police work led to the discovery of some of the ears, and an Arizona breeder and kennel owner was convicted for his part in the massacre. He was fined $25,000, sentenced to 30 days in jail, given 18 months probation, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service. Compare that to the punishment of Michael Vick, the professional football player who in 2007 was convicted of animal cruelty and served a 23-month prison term for his part in a dog-fighting ring that resulted in the death of several pit bulls. The disparity in those two sentences may point to how differently ‘pets’ and ‘livestock’ are valued.
            In addition to the massacre of greyhounds, there are a multitude of documented cases where greyhounds have simply disappeared. Thousands have been ‘donated’ to medical research, and many more have been transported to other countries. Advocates for the Greyhound Protection League say that 24,000 is a conservative estimate of the yearly number of greyhound killings that occurred during the racing industry’s heyday from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.
            ‘If there is anyone to indict here, it’s the industry because this is what they’re doing to these animals. They misery begins the day they’re born. The misery ends when my client gets ahold (sic) of them and puts a bullet in their head(s).' That is how Robert Rhode’s attorney attempted to defend his client’s actions as late as 2003. The defense was ridiculous, but his observations about the industry were on target. A racing greyhound’s misery does begin the day the dog is born. However, owing to growing public awareness, greyhounds are being rescued and adopted in ever increasing numbers. By 2003, 18,000 retired racers were being placed with families each year. Unfortunately, that still left 7000 hounds who were needlessly put to death. While the numbers might be fewer today, the percentages haven’t necessarily improved.

Needles and Jenny
adopted by Tanya Smart and Brent Wright

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tossing Sea Stars

I came across this story online and it reminded me of a post I did last year, which I've included again. It seems appropriate since these bizarre events are happening more frequently. We need to take better care of our planet even it's one sea star at a time. 


Mysterious stranding on Irish beach involved up to 50,000 starfish

By: Pete Thomas,

It was a surreal and somewhat ghostly sight: that of perhaps 50,000 starfish that somehow had come ashore overnight, en masse, and perished on a secluded beach in Ireland. The Belfast Telegraph reports that harsh weather might have been responsible for last week's peculiar and mysterious event, on Lissadell Beach. Click on the link for the rest of the story.

Mass stranding in Japan

“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, "It makes a difference for this one." I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.” ― Loren Eiseley

May little acts of kindness enrich your lives and the lives of others. Thank you for your interest in my ramblings.
Happy Thanksgiving to my USA friends.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

An idiot, full of sound and fury.

On November 15th last year, I posted the story below about my first encounter with an octopus, which was exactly this size. As you might imagine, my heart broke when I read this recent story online. What I really don't get is what makes us strut and pound our chests over taking the life of the largest fish, the oldest elk, or an 80-pound Pacific giant octopus. How demeaning to our status as humans that we have among us the likes of this young man.

"If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans." James Herriot


When I was 15 my parents took me and my sister on our first vacation ever. We lived in Winter Park, north of Orlando. The vacation was to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I remember two things about that vacation: my sister had a shrimp cocktail and a hot fudge sundae at the Columbia restaurant in Ibor City then threw up on the drive home. The other was finding a baby octopus on the floor of the car. The baby octopus looked like a tiny mobile clump of wet sand. It came out of a what we thought was an empty conch shell we'd picked up on the beach, and would never have noticed it if it hadn't crawled out (in search of water, no doubt) and across my mother's foot.

 It died, of course.

All my life--to that point--I'd collected small dead animals and kept them in jars of alcohol. I had quite a collection by the time the baby octopus was added: snakes, lizards, baby turtles, newly hatched birds. This rather morbid curiosity about animals eventually led me to pursue a degree in biology where it was a perfectly acceptable practice to collect and preserve dead things.
I don't know what happened to my dead animal collection. I'm sure my mother put ever jar in the trash the same day I moved to Miami, but since finding that baby octopus, I've loved them. Yesterday, someone sent me this amazing video. As they say, It's awesome!

North Pacific Giant Octopus

Octopus opening a jar with a screw lid

From Wikipedia

"Octopuses are highly  intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they show evidence of a memory system that can store both short- and long-term memory. It is not known precisely what contribution learning makes to adult octopus behavior.
In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs."

"A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow man, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help."
Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Guest Blog by Kate Erickson

An Hour More or Less: Remembering Tucker
My kids were going off to middle and high school, and Wilson, our dog, was no longer a puppy. The house needed new energy, so I went looking for something little and fluffy.
            “There’s a cute dog in that bottom cage,” the Humane Society attendant said.
            I bent down to look. It was cute, but not exactly what I had in mind. As I rose to full height, I came face-to-face with a tiny hedgehog-looking puppy in the top cage. The excitement bursting from those obsidian eyes said, “I’m your boy.” And indeed he was.
            Eleven years later, I would caress his thick fur, gaze into those dimming eyes and whisper, “Sh, it’s okay. You can go now. I promise we’ll be fine.”
Our Tucker-Boy died on November 6, 2011, the day we change the clocks to standard time, the day we get an extra hour, but it gets dark an hour earlier so it’s not really a net positive.
My husband, Gary, and I are normally alert to the depressing one hour shortage of daylight, starting the morning with a brief argument over whether the clocks get turned back or forward and spending the rest of it saying things like, “It’s two o’clock, but it’s really three.”
During last year’s switch from daylight savings, our grief over watching Tucker die left us little energy to give a crap about anything, let alone a mere gain or loss of an hour.
            From the moment Tucker came into our lives, he charged the air. Our lab-border collier mix, Wilson, was an active, yet aloof dog. Tucker was eager to give affection and hungry to receive it. During that first year, the little hedgehog grew into a 60-pound moose. We never knew what breeds combined to make him, but his head was reminiscent of a Rottweiler which gave him a menacing look.
Tucker was far from menacing. He maintained the demeanor of a small, anxious dog. He bounced and danced whenever any of us got up in the morning, returned home, or offered a walk.
He needed to be close to either Gary or me, those brilliant dark eyes always alert to our movements. When I was working from my home office, he’d position himself in the narrow passageway between the edge of my desk and chair, forcing me to step over him every time I went to the filing cabinet or the fax machine. If I made him move, he’d seek out Gary.
Tucker was so adept at pretending to be small that he’d sneak into our cramped galley kitchen while I cooked dinner, moving nimbly around me. I wouldn’t notice he was breaking the no dogs in the kitchen rule until he’d start bouncing with delight when the other family members entered to serve up their plates.
He was easily spooked by thunder, fireworks, and balloons. His certainty that scary monsters haunted the landscape caused him to hesitate at the door and look up at us for reassurance before going outside.
            In the last few months of his life, his energy diminished and he appeared to be in pain. Our vet put him on medication, which helped for a while, but he quickly went from one pill a day to four.
He had a habit of lying on the bathroom floor each night while I bathed. On his final Saturday night, I was upstairs preparing my bath when I saw him struggling to climb the steep staircase to be with me. When I rushed to stop him, he looked so sad that I coaxed him the rest of the way and petted him until his heaving breath returned to normal. He followed me to the bathroom where he laid, like always, next to the tub.
At three in the morning on that Sunday, Gary woke me to say he’d been up with Tucker since midnight. Tucker was breathing heavily and unable to lie in one spot for any length of time. I took him outside to see if he had to go potty, then tried to get him to lie down on his bed, but he wouldn’t. I spread blankets on the floor, made myself a bed, and invited him to join me. He would not. I asked Gary to lie down on the sofa, and after a few minutes Tucker laid down near me and we all went to sleep.
At daybreak, Tucker seemed better, but clearly not well. I gave him a pain pill. Gary and I discussed keeping him comfortable until we could take him to the vet on Monday. By late morning, I was in my office doing some work and thought Gary was napping on the sofa until I heard him yell for me.
I ran into the living room to find Tucker standing, his breathing labored. Gary was petting him and crying. He said that Tucker had come over to the sofa and put his face near his, but when Gary reached to touch him, Tucker had a seizure.
“He was trying to tell me it’s time,” Gary said, his words choked with tears.
Our veterinarian’s answering service connected me with the on-call vet. Sobbing, I told her I didn’t think we’d be able to bring him to her office. In a calming voice, she said she would come to our house. However, she’d have to wait for her husband and he wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours.
As Gary and I waited for the vet to come put an end to Tucker’s suffering, we sat by his side with classical music playing in the background. Through tears, we petted him, thanking him for being our pal, for bringing such vibrant joy to our household, and keeping us always alert to dangers lurking outside our front door.
An hour after the vet removed Tucker’s body, I took Wilson on a walk. This would be our new normal—just him and me; we might as well get started. My heart actually hurt—as if blood was draining from it faster than it was being replenished. What I really wanted was to walk out my sadness.
I had to coax Wilson into his collar and leash. He kept looking around, waiting for Tucker.
“This will be fun, buddy.” My tone was upbeat, but he wasn’t fooled and balked at being led outside.
We headed down the alley behind our house. Every dog walk for the past 11 years had been with Wilson on my left and Tucker on my right. I felt unbalanced without him. I kept remembering how hard he’d worked to control his enthusiasm and learn to maintain a proper heel. I could tell that Wilson felt it, too, as he kept glancing over to where Tucker should be, and then back towards the house.
I let Wilson off his leash when we were deep into the cemetery where the two dogs were free to run and play, but Wilson ran back to look for Tucker.
I called Wilson, put him on his leash, and started to bawl, wiping my eyes and nose on the sleeve of my jacket. He patiently waited for me to cry myself out, then he led me home.
As the dinner hour crept up, Gary and I sat into the sinking darkness, barely able to speak. We chose a meal that held the promise of easing our grief: Jenny’s giant burgers, fries and chocolate milkshakes. Its sedative effects only lasted for the time it took to consume the food.
I doubt that Gary and I will ever forget which way the clocks need to turn in the fall or the spring. The day when we relinquish daylight an hour earlier will always be the time of year when we lost our Tucker. That loss will carry us into darkness until spring arrives and the forward turn reaffirms that grief diminishes as life goes on.

Kate writes an hysterically funny blog about small town adventures on the Mendocino Coast:

Kate & Tucker
November 8th update: Kate just posted this on her blog and it's worth sharing.