Our Roster of Love

Well, Hagar was put to sleep yesterday. It was a hard decision and no one wanted to do it, but it was clearly time. The photo above was in his last hour.

 

Hagar in Better Days

First, I need to thank the entire crew at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital for their incredible support. We joked that Hagar was a rockstar, since he liked to wander late at night and sleep until noon, but he was clearly popular at our vet’s office too. We would walk in, and the folks behind the desk would announce, “Hagar’s here!” before the door even swung shut. I thank those techs who came in to say goodbye to him, and I thank Dr. Lina, who went above and beyond in her pursuit to keep him healthy. Old Dog Haven dogs are a tough problem. They almost always come with a mysterious multitude of health issues. I suspect that she was beating herself up with a bunch of woulda-coulda-shouldas, but the fact is that dogs can’t tell you what hurts. It’s a tough job. I’d trust her with any dog.

Minky Feeling Good

The consolation in every ODH foster is that every one of them is a dog who could have died alone and afraid. Instead, they pass on surrounded by people who love them, and they know it. When it’s time to say goodbye, they go with a palpable sense of relief and joy. My guess is that Hagar had some kind of event a couple of Friday nights past, a neurological thing that changed his behavior and made his recovery impossible. We will never know for sure, of course, but there is a certain spirituality in the passing of a dog that tells the tale. Hagar was lost and miserable. His body and mind had failed him. Dr. Lina administered a sedative, and I could feel him relax and let go of the pain. She delivered the coup de grace and he was gone. Usually I can feel it, but this time, it took a while. I imagine it as shaking off the effects of having a damaged brain, but after a while, I could tell that he was feeling the joy of re-connection to whatever dogs reconnect to after they leave this life. It was time indeed.

The ODH foster role can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Every relationship with a dog is rewarding, but these ODH dogs are the tip of the sword. The payoff is usually short lived, and the effort is high. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Will we do it again? Without a doubt.

The Aussie Club

Meanwhile, we have our own pack. I consider Hope to be the matriarch, even though she doesn’t really care for leadership. She cares for love and play. As a large Chocolate Lab, she lives for lap time with Sharon, although it’s a recliner destroying freak show of love. Behind her is Elke, who came into our current life with me. She is a Border Collie Jack Russell mix, which means that she has every form of dog OCD you can name, and she considers herself in charge of everything. The fly in her personal ointment is that fact that she has gone blind. I’d say she is almost fully blind now. It’s a long drop from her youth as a killer frisbee dog, but she has full-on bat hearing to compensate. She still has the ability to find balls and frisbees that our fully-sighted dogs cannot. Let’s just call it focus. Behind Elke is Jay.

Elke in a Tent on a Bike Tour

We pulled him from a shelter adoption day in the tri-cities. He’s some kind of greyhound mix, and he is probably our sweetest dog. He falls a bit on the timid side, but as he gets older, he puts up with less from the other dogs. It’s not hard to hurt Jay’s feelings, and we can tell when he faces the corner with only furtive glances to make sure we can see that he is offended. Then, there’s the Aussie club. Make no mistake, it is an exclusive membership club. They have certain rituals that look violent, but are not, until someone outside the club tries to participate. Luna is 7, and was born deaf. It’s a common problem among Australian Shepherds. In practical terms, it has no effect. She misses nothing. Her younger half brother Roscoe is our youngest at five. He’s not a rescue in the classical sense as he came from a quality breeder and he is as healthy and stout as a fresh NFL linebacker. He is simply a mismark, which means he doesn’t meet the breed standards for markings. This takes nothing away from his beauty and magnificence of course. Breed standards mean nothing to me. He’s a sweet boy, and a little Aussie crazy. I could explain the commands he responds to, but I promise it would make no sense at all.

So, five dogs, five rescues, and enough shedding fur to sculpt a new one every week. Yep, it’s worth it.

Roscoe’s Usual Attitude

I know that some of you wish I could do nothing but write fiction. There is a major appeal in that for me as well. However, if I had not spent my life doing a whole bunch of things, I’m pretty sure the writing would have less authority and less meat on the bone. Some people look forward to retirement. I can’t even imagine retirement. I’d be happy to keel over with my hands on a keyboard. I have a great many things I want to do, and the only sad part is that I can’t possibly live long enough to do them all. Thanks to a certain reshuffling of life, I am fully engaged in writing again. I’m knocking down at least 20,000 words a week now, but that will never be all I do.

In Western Washington, we have a perfect summer that lasts from July 4th to roughly mid October. I want to spend a great deal of that time producing a documentary about Old Dog Haven. This is an organization that deserves every recognition they can get. It is the creation of a woman named Judith, who is frankly remarkable. She burns the candle at both ends. She’s on her mission 24/7 and has managed to build a rescue organization with virtually no overhead that spends $90,000 per month on old dog medical expenses. My hope is threefold. One is to bring in more support with a film quality documentary about dog rescue in general and ODH in particular. Two is to use the footage to create some pointed fundraising videos for  ODH, and three is to make the entire footage library available to the organization for their communication efforts. There are some follow on goals as well, but first things first.

To that end, I have set up a gofundme campaign. If you want to get involved in something very personal and central to me, you can donate here. On behalf of myself, ODH, and a lot of dogs that need help, I would greatly appreciate your support.

 

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.

Why?

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?

 

Apolitical

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.

 

 

Sewing-n-Sawdust

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.