Potentially More Final than Refuge

Our current ODH dog, Hagar, is fading fast. We’ll go see his vet in the morning. Please pray that I make good decisions.

We’ve helped the little guy through several health crises in the past six months. We treated his thyroid and got his fur to grow back. We pulled him through an immune disorder that had him destroying his own red blood cells. The treatment for that problem was a steroid, prednisone, which suppressed his immune system until he could hopefully grow his own red blood cells again. That part worked well. The problem is that prednisone has a bunch of nasty side effects and about 10 days ago, Hagar either hit the prednisone wall, or something else happened.

He burst into infections in a very short amount of time, and his behavior changed in ways that suggested neurological issues. If you had asked me the next day, I would have said he wasn’t likely to survive the weekend. He did. Dogs are tough. Even 7 pound dogs…

Here we are, ten days later and he is still alive, but he is clearly suffering. He is very weak, confused, not eating, not drinking, not peeing, not pooping. He still seems comforted by being held, but his heart is racing and his breath is labored. We’ll go see the vet tomorrow morning and unless we can find something new to treat, something that represents a very bright light at the end of a very short tunnel, I’ll probably be forced to make the big call. Hagar and I are attached. If nothing else, we are awesome nap buddies. I don’t want to make the call, but that’s the last gift we give to an ill dog.

Dogs have pride. When they can no longer fulfill their own mission, they understand on an instinctual level that they should get out of the way so that someone else can fulfill the mission. Hagar has been disappearing under our bed, which he never did until a week ago. I wonder if it’s his limited version of wandering off into the woods to die.


Final Refuge

It takes certain kind of person to sign up for final refuge fostering of an old dog. For some people, the answer for that type of person is “crazy”.

Sharon and I volunteer for Old Dog Haven.  This is an organization that literally puts everything into the care of their dogs. They run on a shoestring and drive all the resources into the care of old dogs. There is an argument for more overhead in the future, but for 15 years, this non-profit has managed to put the vast and overwhelming majority of the money into the actual cause. We do occasional dog transport missions, we have recently done radio interviews and benefit concerts put on by another faithful volunteer named Tracy and his band, and we are final refuge fosters.

Final refuge fosters have to be prepared for the fact that these dogs are old, infirm, and could pass away at any time. I’m not sure how Sharon deals with it, but I think of how a dog could die in a shelter in a very cold, clinical procedure and compare that to a dog dying surrounded by people who have proven that they love that dog, and it’s relatively easy. Every day of time is just a bonus to a dog who loves his people in return. Thanks to Old Dog Haven, these dogs usually get life with love that they would not get in any other way. No one walks into a shelter and adopts that old dog with all the health problems. It’s painful, it’s expensive, and it’s heartbreaking. Of course, this is from a person who can fall in love with almost any dog in 30 seconds. Cats take a full minute.

I recently got the blessing from Old Dog Haven to produce a documentary. The film I have in mind is really about human-dog relationships, but the focus is on ODH for two reasons. The first reason is that they do it so well. The second reason is that they work in the extremes of the human-dog connection. Taking on an ODH foster is potentially the worst balancing act of dog relationships. The dog is old, and therefore not inclined towards puppy cuteness. The dog may be riddled with health problems, blindness, deafness, and therefore grumpy. The dog may survive for days, or months, and the caretakers have no way of knowing. The dog may have all kinds of practical disadvantages, such as house training. The fosters may become one with the spray bottle of floor cleaner with no real hope of graduating to true house training. The dog may think that 3 AM is the best time to eat, and old dogs, new tricks… There is not much to be done except to deal with an old dog.

Yet, I still find it worthwhile and rewarding.


In the big picture, we owe them. We have bred them into partnership with us. We offer food, shelter, and leadership, and they offer us unbreakable loyalty and devotion. In the smaller, subjective sense, we can search high and low and find no substitute for a dog who deems us worthy. Nowhere in the entire range of human interaction can we find someone who will put complete faith in us, and live as if that is the capital “T” in truth. There is no human relationship, including 75 years of marriage, that doesn’t come with caveats. Even if we know that a person is entirely on our side, no matter what, we take that with the understanding that our weaknesses are regarded in the equation. Dogs have the sole ability to understand us well enough to see the weaknesses, but it does not affect their judgement. Their devotion is pure, even if we know we don’t deserve it.

My personal goal is simple. I want to support those dogs who are in need. I want those humans who have never actually had a close relationship with a dog to know that they are missing out. I want to support those who go above and beyond in the needs of dogs, such as ODH. Which leaves my question to you… If I put up a gofundme page to produce this documentary would you be willing to support it?



I try to stay apolitical in my writing for the simple fact that it is very hard to have any ideological position these days without hacking off half the world. I like to joke that if most of my neighbors knew what I really thought about the shape of our culture these days, they would have already burned my house to the ground. Unfortunately, I happen to live in Olympia, home of Evergreen University, which is my wife’s alma mater for her masters degree. To hear her tell it, and granted she finished up 20 years ago, Evergreen was a great education. Open dialog and debate were welcomed and her professors sound like sources of more than education. They sound like sources of wisdom.

In the past few days, Evergreen University has made the national news. My take on it is that they had a long-standing policy of allowing a day in which white people were encouraged not to attend, presumably out of respect for everyone else. First off, in what universe is this policy not racist? Why is racism only considered racism if it comes from a white point of view? Racism exists everywhere, in every flavor, and from the perspective of every population. Mexicans look down on El Salvadorans. Russians look down on Ukrainians, and so on… Ad infinitum. Some level of racism is pure human nature. It’s probably fairly easy to argue that racism is tribalism, which had a significant role in prehistoric survival. What the heck is this white privilege that keeps being shot out like cannon fire? Is anyone imagining that white people do not have to work for a living like everyone else? Sure, there are examples from any race of people who happen to be fortunate enough to inherit money, and it’s even possible that there more white examples than any others, but it works in the opposite direction just as well.

I once worked for the US Forest Service, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to continue to work for the agency, I’d better hope that no one of any other ethnicity applied for the job, or I would be out. Guess what happened? There’s your white privilege. There was a lesbian in the front office who could tell as many loud jokes about male genitalia as she wanted without any consequence, but as white guy, even giving a female employee a hug (that she initiated) was grounds for dismissal. White privilege, I guess. We have institutionalized the blank slate to a degree that many would find astounding.

My wife loves her genealogy. She encouraged me to take a DNA test to see what I have in my background. In all honesty, I was hoping for a confirmation of the childhood rumors of Native American ties. I was hoping for some African DNA. At the very minimum, I could have happily created a scandal at the next family reunion in the deep South. I got nothin’. I’m as white European as they come. I was actually disappointed. From a certain point of view this makes the furthest from a racist that a so-called child of white privilege could be. For others, I am the ultimate racist for even noticing the difference.

So, apparently the Evergreen professor in the news, Bret Weinstein, a name implying one of the most horrifying examples of racism in history, although even noticing his name would subject me to racist accusations, has apparently spoken out against the policy of keeping white people off campus for a day. The resulting protest has been either mind blowing or an example of the most illogical thought in my lifetime.

The protesters apparently want this guy fired for racism when his position is patently anti-racist. Unless you buy into the concept that the only racism is that which comes from a white (preferably male) perspective… The only way to make his position racist is to believe wholeheartedly that white racism is universal and any other form of racism does not exist. The protesters blocked the campus police from even checking on his well-being, and even more amazingly, the president of the college has told his campus police to stand down, to accede to the demands of these students who could not logically find their way out of a wet paper bag. Again, my house could be burned to the ground for even espousing these opinions.

What have we come to?

I can only speak for myself. I grew up in the South, which many automatically associate with racism, but I am not racist. On an individual basis, everyone is the same. I may regard a man of Mexican decent as one the finest people I have ever met. (Hi Arturo!). I may worry about the recent health crisis of my Asian friends. (Hi As-Soon!). I may regard some of my high school football buddies as great examples of superlative humanity. (Hi Wayne!). I may regard a Puerto Rican high school friend as the most beautiful girl ever, but then I’m also a sexist, right?

The point is there is no longer any room for judgement. Even if my friend from Mexican descent was a member of a violent gang, rather than one of the most respectable people I’ve ever met, I’d still be a racist for using the word Mexican. Even if my friend As-Soon, and her husband Mike, and her children James, Jonathan, and Jennifer, were working as hard as they can to assimilate into American culture because of the opportunities they have found here, I’d be a racist for even noticing that they are Asian, no matter how high my regard for them stands. My friend Wayne, who I could not help but notice has African ancestry, would not be the slightest bit offended by the fact that I noticed, because he is afforded the respect of a human being, not an African American human being, not a black human being, just a fellow human being. Even noticing a difference is now tagged with a Hitlerian level of disdain.

The logic escapes me. My current mental metaphor is that the progressives, the left, the anti-Trump-election rhetoric, is spoken from inside of a particularly limited balloon. Of course the balloon is blue on the outside, mirrored on the inside to clearly reflect the thinking that is going on without any outside perspective, and the only view outwards is through the cardboard tube at the center of a roll of paper towels, which as we all know, is the pinnacle of environmental destruction, and the biggest blind spot imaginable.

Anyone who knows how to get both sides talking with some semblance of intelligence, mutual respect, and common sense, please speak up.




Although anyone reading my author blog would much prefer to see me making announcements about the Renewal universe, a hard fact remains. I have to make enough of a living to stay afloat. I have spent far too much time doing things that are completely antithetical to the goal of writing, but thanks to a few changes, I am redefining the system as we speak – so to speak.

Anything I write as an independent author has a significant time lag from publication to actually making money. If you are still out there, waiting for the sequel to Renewal, and the sequel to that, then my best case scenario is that I publish and roughly 120 days later, I get paid enough to stop doing all the things I do to keep my pirate ship afloat. If you are not there, if you have moved on, understandably so given the amount of time it has taken, then my chance of being able to focus on fiction full-time is slim to none. If you would chime in at this point, and let me know how you feel, it definitely helps my decision process.

Meanwhile, I need a system that pays for my time in the short term. Paycheck to paycheck. This could be a normal job, which I suck at doing (since most bosses are idiots) or even landing, since I am a profound generalist, jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance man kind of guy with an earnings history that weeds me out before I get started. We all know that companies look for specialists who have spent 7 years doing a very specific thing, using a very specific technology. Frankly, I disagree with this entire approach. Broad expertise that can be focused is far more valuable than a life spent in the side pocket of a pool table, but the stats don’t lie. Companies continue to look for cogs in the machine rather than broad-based problem solvers, and there is nothing I can do about it. Except…

There are things that matter in terms of making a living, and things that matter in terms of making a life. Obviously if we could all solve both at once we would. That’s a rare gift indeed. In my case, I strive for it. I’ve had enough significant health issues that I regard life as too short to spend on things that don’t matter to me.

So, what matters? People, obviously, and what they do, how they cope and interact with each other. How they communicate in world where communication seems to be broken across ideological lines. Animals, and giving them a refund for their total dedication to us, which includes dog rescue in a major way, spoiling cats in a significant way, and acknowledging the glory of beef, pork, chicken, and eggs on my table. The fish, well… I’m not sure they give a crap. Survival is survival.

I dove into sewing for one primary reason. I wanted to make dog clothing for our current ODH foster, Hagar. Hagar came to us as a captured stray. He had no fur, but he was clearly loved and spoiled at some point in his life. I imagine that his people succumbed to Alzheimers and forgot he was in the yard. His remaining person probably got picked up and moved to a nursing home without anyone knowing that a tiny dog was waiting patiently in the backyard. Eventually, Hagar realized that he would have to fend for himself and escaped, and some time later, he was picked up as a stray, wearing a grimy sweater and without his proud mantle of Pomeranian fur. As ODH fosters, we were presented with this dog as the worst of the current crop. The shelter had decided that he may not be in his right mind, and that we may have an impossible task on or hands. Of course this was what we wanted. As my wife said, “If Jim can’t connect with him…” It’s true. I can read dogs very well. The end result was that Hagar was emotionally wounded, yes. But he was not gone. Our connection with him is now is as solid as dogs we have raised from puppies. He trusts us and is excited to be near us. I can’t really express how gratifying it is to gain his trust, but that trust is true. Just like it is with all dog relationships.

So, I decide to tackle sewing to make Hagar more comfortable. For me, every moment of an old rescue dog’s life has become important.  I do my usual massive, generalist data crunch, like I do on every new skill, and I discover a few remarkable things. First is that sewing is massive and highly refined. In sewing terms, every basic sewing problem has been solved to a high degree, and information is raining out of the sky like a Tennessee Summer storm. Second is that it speaks an entirely different language than a man with a lifetime of crafting skills. If I want to make dog clothes, there is plenty of information, but it all falls in the realm of costumes for dogs rather than practical solutions. If I want to make a bed for dogs, I can find tons of good information on how to make an old sweater into a dog bed, which is great, but I can’t find anything on how to make a dog bed from scratch. If I want to compensate for a dog’s behavior in design of a harness, or a grab handle, or flotation, products exist, but they are expensive and they can never cover every case, such as dog that is blind, deaf, old, and happens to like running out into the street for kicks.

I extend this into other problems, such as the 100 times I have tried to design a trade show both and been stymied by the fact that I needed some sewing done, but I was speaking a different language than the sewist in question and I realized… there is giant man-shaped hole in sewing. Go ahead and look. There is no book on sewing for men. This is for two reasons, I suspect. One is that the men who actually sew for a living defend their territory (as men do) for competitive advantage. Two is that sewing is a grand feminine tradition. I do not mean to imply that this is a bad thing. It is a cultural tradition of sharing that probably reaches back to the dawn of civilization. Women are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience in sewing. That’s not the problem. The problem is that men are no more ready to ask the dumb questions than they are inclined to stop and ask directions when they are lost.

That being the case, I have studied the crap out of sewing and reached out to machine manufacturers in an effort to bridge the gap between a grand feminine tradition and the male tendency to avoid a language barrier that equates to asking for directions, even when we know full-well that we are lost. I’m bridging a predominantly female tradition with a male tradition of making things that can shear off hands and shoot flames out of tanks full of volatile gas. As my editor Connie says, “Tailoring requires the same kind of mind that would build a trebuchet.” I think she’s right.

As such, I have created a YouTube channel called Sewing-n-Sawdust, where we will build shop-sewing projects, from a male list of motivations, and see if we end up with something useful. Lest you think it’s a sexist screed, let me paraphrase my friend Miranda, who will always be able to sew circles around me. ” I agree that the sewing world is full of frilly nonsense. Unless I am going to a formal event, I would just as soon burn a dress as to wear it.”

As man facing the women’s world of sewing, we are just trying to catch up, but we probably never will.

Critters and People

Sharon and I are Old Dog Haven fosters. I can’t begin to explain how great the ODH organization is, or how rewarding it is being a final refuge foster home for ODH dogs. If you read this blog you already know some of my feelings on dog rescue. What you may not know is how significant it is for me personally.

I’m not one of those people who was born loving dogs. Growing up in rural Tennessee we always had a few of them around. My brother was always focused on animals. He was born with it. I had to learn the hard way. If you read my blog, you have heard of Henry, a yellow lab of undeniable presence. He was my turning point. Henry was a dog of monumental stature, endless patience, determination, and mission. Even in the last days of his life, when he was no longer capable of fulfilling his primary mission of keeping my dad from killing himself with a tractor, he found sublime satisfaction in brightening the days of everyone he encountered, especially the children. It’s as if he wanted to brighten the entire world, even though he could no longer get up to relieve himself with dignity. Henry was how I began to understand the depth of human-dog relationships.

It took me decades to master, if mastery is even possible. These days, I live in a small house with six rescue dogs, one of which is an ODH dog named Hagar, and three rescue cats, all of which inexplicably regard me as worthy of mild worship. I spend my days alternately trying to swim upstream through a river of all-too-interested critters and finding those moments of connection with them. It’s a good trade that makes it all worthwhile.

Fifty years of dogs and cats, and here is the bottom line. We matter to them. There are those who would argue that we are simply food sources that our pets struggle to understand for their own advantage. I can actually see this argument. It’s practical. It makes sense if we are to dismiss them as simple creatures with no emotion. The problem is that they do have emotion. Dogs smile, dogs feel bliss, dogs feel embarrassment and pride, and they live with a mission, whether we teach them one or not. Cats seek their own connection. The overall impression is that they are far more self-serving than dogs, but that is not to say that they don’t value their relationship with people. Even if I am nothing more than a live-in masseuse for cats, they actually care whether I am there, and show their appreciation when I give them attention. What does it mean to them? Doesn’t matter. What does it mean to you? I dare you to spend time and attention on a pet without the relationship becoming meaningful to you.

My most cynical analysis of this reality is that we have bred them into it. If you accept nothing more than the fact that our partnership has been bred into our pets for thousands of years, then accept the responsibility for it. If you have no interest in the relationship between us and any kind of domestic critter, then at least accept that we have bred them and trained them to need us, and do your part to meet their needs. If that’s all you do, then you have my respect, but respectfully, you are still missing the point.

Never in your life will you find a human being more consistently focused on pleasing you than your dog. Never will you find anyone more reliably excited to see you than your dog. Never will you feel more satisfaction than your dog broadcasts when you give him one minute of your attention (as opposed to teenagers who will eventually regard you as something to be avoided). Never will you feel more pride than when your dog fetches anything and brings it right back to your feet. Part of this is our expectations for a limited creature such as dog (as opposed to what we expect from our children), and part of it is the sheer joy that a dog feels when serving the purpose you set out for it. Never will a dog decide that you suck at throwing a ball. Never will a dog play with you and think that he should be doing something else. The fact is that dogs are amazingly capable in ways that we may never fully understand, but they are also amazingly limited in ways that only we can help them fulfill. They are always like children, but they are mature in purpose. They are remarkably sensitive to our moods, and yet they only live in a striving for happiness, which is a lesson we have lost. As long as we treat them reasonably well, they approach us with pure confidence. (Mistreated dogs are heartbreaking in their split between desire for connection with us and fear of us.) Given the slightest reason, they trust us without any regard for our own internal struggles and obvious failings. They celebrate our existence.

How did they get so good at it? Well, depending on your source, we have been training them for our advantage for a minimum of three thousand years. There are people who would argue that human civilization would have never started without our canine friends. Granted, a dog that could watch your sheep would be invaluable a few thousand years back, but is that the backbone of civilization? To quote my father, “Every little bit helps.” A dog that could save you a few minutes of worry each day gives you a few minutes to consider a broader system for the world. This leads to risky experiments in a time that regarded failure as simply starvation during the winter. Do I consider this as proof for dogs as the foundation for western civilization? No. But it’s plausible that they played a role.

As for cats, it seems likely that we simply used our budding agricultural talents to concentrate mice. Mice equal easy prey for cats. Eventually, cats equated us with access to easy prey, and started sucking up. If I regard that as the start and finish of a very calculated relationship with cats, I could write them off as a side effect of human civilization. With a certain point of view, I could regard them as an invasive exotic species, destroying the ecosystem. Eventually, the knowledge of the human advantage seeped into the very instinctual nature of cats. After that, cats began to grasp that the sheer understanding of their two-legged benefactors was a survival advantage. Today, they know that most human attention works in their favor. Does that make their pleasure in our company any less real? Are they thinking, “This human will feed me if I respond correctly?” The answer from my experience with cats is that they always keep the equation in mind. They are indeed self serving. So are we. Does that make our connection with cats any less real?

In our house, my wife is at least three times more likely to give the cats food when they start campaigning for it. They start the campaign when the bowl is about halfway to the bottom of the last feeding. It’s like they way we start hearing about the 2020 election on TV about 38 seconds after the 2016 election ended. I respond to both factors the same way. I ignore pseudo-hungry cats and ill-timed news equally for the most part. Yet, when we both sit in a room with the cats, they almost always surround me like a purring allergenic honor guard. I take this as evidence that our connection to cats is not a simple food equation. People always say that cats gravitate to those who like them least, or to those who are most allergic to them, as if cats are innately ornery and play fun games with the contrarian nature of the universe. Even if that were the case, it points to a deeper connection than us giving them food. My first real cat connection would have been a perfect illustration of what people say. I didn’t want a cat. I didn’t like cats at any level that overcame the downsides of owning a cat. The twists of life dropped a cat almost literally in my lap. He’s 13 now. He still thinks I’m awesome, and I still think he makes my nose itch, but I know that we have a friendship that goes both ways.

I could plod through 13 years of observation and anecdotes to support my assertion. I could throw in our other two cats to fatten my personal data set. I could fill this page with cute photos of cats looking pleased with themselves to avoid making the point at all. I think it comes down to this: If you hate cats, or are indifferent to cats, there is no way I could convince you to believe in any kind of actual connected relationship with a fricken cat. I know because 13.5 years ago, I could not be convinced either. If, on the other hand, you have spent any real time in the presence of a cat, then I’m just preaching to the choir. At a minimum, cats are nutty little clowns that keep us entertained on the internet. At a maximum, they are companion guardians that plaster themselves to us every chance they get. They use your black pants as a de-shedding tool, roll around as you pet them to make sure you get to all their favorite spots, and gaze deeply into your eyes as if they are trying to communicate some profound truth that we are too dumb to catch. It’s more than a food equation, I think.

Dogs are a much easier case. They just give us more to work with. The first argument is that they are more intelligent than cats. I don’t think we can determine that with any authority. Dogs have sophisticated intentions, plans, behaviors, and reactions. So do cats. I think we can say, subjectively, that dogs’ intelligence is more compatible to ours. It’s a matter of how they map the world, how they map us, and how they communicate with us in a way that is less inscrutable. But we are fortunate enough to be able to adapt to any of it if we are willing to make the effort. We have a little extra mental horsepower to apply to our critter of choice. I’m focused on dogs and cats here, simply because that’s what I know, but I’m sure the same mapping process applies to horses, chinchillas, cattle, chickens, wild animal rescue, and up to a point, circus animals. I’m sure that the same depth of relationship can be achieved with all kinds of species. The real question is not, “Can we do it?” The real question is, “Is it all in our minds?”

I haven’t asked, but I’d be willing to bet that I could go to any boarding stable and find twenty random people who believe that their horse truly cares about them. Clearly, I believe it. I know for a fact that I can go to any Old Dog Haven event and find people who know the meaning of every tiny noise and expression their dog makes. When it comes to mapping canine behavior, these people are pros. I was relieved to discover that I am not the only adult human being who speaks for his dogs in cartoon voices. Not even close. As we all talk for our dogs, looking like idiots to the non-dog-loving population, are we speaking for our dogs with some level of accuracy, or are we simply conjuring a human mirror to practice speaking?

I’d start with consistency. Go to a dog event and meet as many dogs as you can. You’ll find a very consistent set of reactions. Some dogs are shy and will look to their person for cover when encountering a new person. Some dogs are total extroverts and treat the world as if they are doing everyone a favor by saying hello. And everything in between… Watch the dogs encounter each other. You’ll find that some dogs are content to say hi, some are afraid, and some are on a mission to control the space around them. And everything along that continuum…

Now go to a human event and you’ll see that we do the exact same things. If we can observe that dogs follow an almost identical social dance to our own, can we turn around and lop off the rest of their emotional behavior as being something lesser than our own. Sure, I’d say they do it with far more speed and far less subtlety. Where we show up with a carload of baggage, they bring a single duffle bag. Where we change language over time like fashion trends, dogs bark, growl, wag, and roll over. They quiver in fear and excitement, and they manage to convey happiness in every muscle in their bodies. Where we hesitate from any number of imagined future responses, dogs just go with it. Yet, dogs can borrow the future from us. It’s called training, and it basically adds up to a dog imagining his person’s future response. As agreeable sorts, dogs learn to predict our responses to make us as agreeable as they are. Frankly, they do it much better than we do.

My capstone on the whole idea of how we connect to animals is embarrassment. Think about what goes into embarrassment. It’s not a simple response. It involves knowing a whole range of standards for behavior. It requires the understanding of all the possible negative reactions to a failure to meet those standards. It’s a predictive response to a mistake that may or may not have anything to do with any real response around us. That’s why we can be embarrassed in a room by ourselves. That’s why we can feel embarrassment for a fictional character on a TV show. Embarrassment is a very sophisticated internal construct.

If you happen to see a dog slip and fall, what happens?

If you see a cat fall off a piece of furniture, what happens?

In both cases, they regain their footing as quickly as possible. This reduces the chance that anyone notices their mistake. The first instant they correct the mistake, they look around to see if anyone saw them fall. Whether they were seen or not, they are embarrassed. On a dog, you can see the actual facial expression. It will look very familiar. On a cat, it happens in a body language collection of their dignity as they gracefully leave the room. Again, you’ve seen the exact same response in people.

If our animal friends can manage embarrassment, then it’s no surprise to me that they have the emotional depth to regard us with the love and trust we believe we see in their faces. It’s no self-reflecting mirror. It’s friendship. It’s love.