The State of Jim

Those of you who are paying attention, and after all this time I expect that’s a low number, are probably wondering what the heck I am up to these days. I thought I might lay it out for you.

In my quasi-professional life, there is an axiom that has held true for over 25 years. If I’m working in technology, the client thinks there is a magic button that handles all the details, even if they are trying to sell 500 products. If I’m working in design, the client thinks there is magic button, that I have some software that makes all the decisions and pops out a nice, shiny result with no real effort on my part. If I’m working in industrial design, which I refer to as “engineering lite,” since I am not an engineer, although I play one on the internet, and I’m pretty good at faking it… Well, you guessed it, once again there is the perception that there is a magic button and that everything should be fast, cheap, and excellent.

Of course the old production rule is that you can have fast, cheap, or good. Pick two. I can tell you from vast experience that it’s almost impossible to get a client past cheap, and if you can, that’s a client you want to keep.

The interesting part is that client concerns are only part of my equation. The other part is my own narrative. Those of you who have been waiting for the rest of the Renewal, including my infinitely patient and likely disillusioned editor, probably think the client concerns come first, and they do in terms of daily survivability, but beyond that threshold, my narrative is king. A good question is why. Why does my narrative even matter? I mean, I’ve been soaking it all in for almost 51 years, and obvious patterns have emerged. We have issues, I would say. We know nothing, I would say, but I would also say that the minute we stop using the observations to drive our decisions into the future, we have lost what it means to be the leading species on the planet.

We could ask all kinds of questions about whether anything we say or think even matters. I cannot affect the political dialog, which I have come to refer to as “the face of madness.” I cannot groan at our President’s tweets without asking whether we would be in far worse shape under the power hungry, amoral alternative. I cannot live in Liberal mecca without keeping very quiet about the logical disconnects that drive the discussion. Someone would probably burn my house down. I cannot look at politics at all without asking the obvious questions about who our politicians actually work to serve, because it sure ain’t us.

The line between fact and opinion is so blurry that no one can realistically be expected to discern the difference. We are all too busy worrying about the vast detail of survival in the most complex system ever devised. Can you do your taxes on a postcard? Nope. Can you have a significant health issue without 20 calls to the insurance company? Probably not. Can you travel within the borders of our own country without being treated like a potential terrorist? No? Is it because we don’t actually have borders? Can you rent a car without a very specific type of plastic card in your wallet? Do your children have more schedule and legal requirements than you can track, much less actually fit into your daily routine? Well, guess what? The answer is, if you follow the herd, you probably can’t keep up. If you have managed to back up a bit and have actually examined the culture we have created, the answer is: possibly. I definitely know people who can spin a lot of plates, and those people are invariably good at knowing which plates need spinning at any given moment.

The end result is one of two things. Either you have no time to really examine the inputs to your belief system, or you check your facts with some level of critical thought intact. In option one, you choose a narrative and go with it. This is the easy way out. It works until it stops working and then you are you recovering from the shock and you go shopping for a new worldview. In option two, you live with the fact that no one’s narrative is satisfying. No one’s narrative answers the important questions. This, of course, leads directly into the pit of despair (Dilly, Dilly!). It invites endless cynicism and self examination, examination of the facts you can obtain, lots of hair splitting and qualifying of information, and frankly it’s hard work. Most of us are too busy dealing with the minutiae to engage in a rigorous debate with reality, and we choose option one. There’s no judgement in that, in my view. Here’s why…

When things get cloudy, I hit rewind. If I say something stupid, I rewind to some point in my life when I said something smarter. If I hit a professional wall, I rewind to some method or process that worked in the past and try to adapt it to the current problem. If someone does something I purely fail to understand, I rifle through the deck of old events and look for a pattern that may fit. The deck of old cards is our lifeline and our adaptive advantage. In tech terms, the value of those memories depends on how well we have tagged them with our own value system, but all of this process is only the first push of the rewind button. The second push involves history. Just like most of you, I sat through high school history half-listening to Mr. Hawkins (shout out to those who remember) drone on about things that I thought had zero value to my all important teenage life. I went on to college and spent more time watching my Western Civ professor (because she was attractive) than listening to the story of the victors she was spinning. My course of study was not history laden. I got the Cliff Notes version. Over time, I finally found the value of history in the practical, “doomed to repeat it” sense, and these many years later, I look back to realize that I am an ardent student of the subject. It comes in very handy when trying to make sense of the world we live in. In the broad strokes, history is a fabulous guide to human nature, which guides us to the depths of depravity and the heights of nobility before we even notice the difference. Push that old rewind button one more time and you can predate history altogether. This is also informative in very practical ways. For those of you who interpret belief to our creation in the knowable past, this whole thread breaks down quickly. I personally have no trouble blending my belief in the Creator with the evidence of deep history, but that’s an argument for another day. For me, it’s very useful to remove every advantage of civilization and to think of us as lonely tribes working hard to survive in a world that treats us no differently than it does any other species. It’s also interesting to note that there are still tribes that operate on that basis. I think it’s probably too much to expect that there are human populations that have had no contact with civilization today, but there are still people who have not been overrun by our modern systems. We can blithely sit back and judge primitive people, but you can’t really dismiss their own version of accomplishment at surviving without the internet, drive-through windows, or a global just-in-time supply chain. There are valuable lessons in the big rewind.

If you walk back through your own life, you will see the patterns. Good decisions, bad decisions, decisions that had a much bigger effect than you would have predicted when you made them. A narrative of your own life develops. You can chain together your own events in a way that has meaning. How you interpret that meaning is largely dependent on your values and beliefs. When you put it all together, you have a story with meaning. Think about it. Your life has meaning. I don’t care who you are or what you have done, if you apply a set of values over the events of your life, meaning emerges. I can sit back from my perspective and apply my own values to your life, and that has meaning too. As a believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, noting of course that goodness is a value judgment, I expect to find a meaning in your life that is worthwhile, and only rarely am I disappointed. Pretty cool, huh?

Where does that leave us? First off, we like to think we all operate from provable facts and logic, and that is patently false. We operate from belief. All of us, myself included, adopt beliefs for whatever reason, and bend the facts to fit that set of beliefs. I can prove this in the negative by saying that if we all operated purely from the facts available, we would all find ourselves in agreement. Two humans in total agreement is historically impossible, so we can safely say that we do not operate from facts and logic. We all have our beliefs, and we work very hard to twist the available facts to support our beliefs. Period. If you and I are sitting across the table at Thanksgiving and discussing world issues we will get along by belief, not fact. You hand pick facts to support your beliefs, and I can hand pick facts to support mine. If I’m feeling devious, I can support a view that I don’t actually believe. For clarity, an example… If you believe that prison serves as rehabilitation and I believe that prison is intended to be so painful that it will serve as a deterrent, then you and I will disagree on almost every point of what should be part of the daily existence of a prisoner. This example can be expanded to touch every point of life in today’s America. Policy, Culture, Procedure, Tax money, Expenditure priority, and so on…

But back to the state of me… I’m writing. So much writing… In fact, I’m busy thinking up ways to stuff more writing into my life. Let me be clear. Writing is a game of mind management. I suspect there are writers out there with much more practical models for what is worth writing. My motivation is mine. What makes a person sit down and think up an entire cast of characters, inject them into a plot designed to make a point that matters enough to the writer to keep going? I can think of a metric ton of motivations that work for me. Unfortunately, making money is not one of them, with apologies to my wife who has supported my bizarre worldview in superlative fashion. Here’s the thing. I care about the outcome. I really care.

What matters? Happiness, contentment, challenge, what comes next? Who really knows? One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word “experience.” Watch any block of commercials and you will hear the word “experience” these days. It has become one of those amorphous words that means nothing unless it motivates you to spend money in a directed fashion. Traditionally, experience was a lesson, something that happened that taught you something you didn’t know. Usually it came with a painful cost. Nowadays, it’s a cozy place in a totally safe, all-inclusive resort that teaches you that for that for the right price, life becomes idyllic. The worst that can happen is that you miss the bus to the other resort. That’s a long way from the version of experience that teaches you when to plant your crops.

What matters is, who are we? Where are we going? How do we gain the most from the benefits, and perhaps more importantly, the limits of human nature? I believe (operating from a belief model here) that human nature is not something that we can decide to ignore. It is inherent to our existence – for good or bad. I happen to encapsulate both. I am good and bad. If you happen to tip the scales into my version of bad, I will happily write you off. If you tip into my version of good, I will work my butt off to support you. It’s not for me to make the final analysis; I’m sure that at any given moment, there are people who judge me either way. My wife is much better. She begins with the assumption that you are good by her definitions and she will try to help you. I used to be that way, but I became more cynical and realized that I needed a harder filter. People are fully capable of the sublime, and people of are fully capable of the suck, usually in the same person.

One piece of human nature is sex. We cannot ignore it. It happens before thought even intervenes. It makes perfect sense. If sex were not inherent to our existence, we would not exist. As far as we know, sex is still the only way we make new humans. That serves as no excuse to the dirtbags who happily blend money and power into the sex equation in a forceful way. Those losers are bubbling up like the oil in the Beverly Hillbillies opening theme. Look it up, young’uns! In evolutionary terms, if you cannot attract sex on some merit that involves a woman choosing you, then you do not deserve to procreate. Speaking as a man here, which makes me the lowest form of observer in today’s model… A woman can choose you to fulfill any number of roles: friend, helper, supportive listener, protector, lover, person who agrees with her, her child’s father, provider, some subliminal chemical cue, whatever works for her; you do not have the right to subvert that choice through power. Men, be worthy. Women, pick your terms, but don’t be surprised if you fail to gain respect for your choices. It’s your right to say no, and men should absolutely respect that (even the dirtbags who don’t recognize the obvious fact), but it’s your burden to live with your ‘yes’.

Another aspect of human nature we can’t ignore is the big WHY. This is a question that exists on a million levels. If you don’t believe in a higher power of any kind, then it’s an existential dilemma. Literally every choice you make is universal. You can rail and shout at the sky all you want. The problem is that the choices are sitting atop the proverbial house of cards. I can sit in a restaurant and listen to people having conversations that sound like critical decisions in life. The tone is that of people trying to make life-scale decisions; the subject is which app they use on their phone, or what someone said on Facebook. Again, I’m not judging. It’s entirely possible that someone said something on social media that changes your life, but if that’s the case, perhaps you should just call that person and have a conversation. Better yet, meet that person and have a face to face conversation so that you can take advantage of all the non-verbal cues that come with actual human interaction. It’s all too easy to forget that we live in a world that depends on a lot of technological systems working correctly to derive meaning in our lives. If the person in question makes that impossible, then it is credible that a higher order of values come into play, and that person is no longer worth your time, attention, and concern. If you do believe in a higher power, then you can offload some of the outcomes to a greater cause. Is that cause intended to work out in your favor? It’s like the two high school teams who pray before the game. They are both praying for victory in some form, but only one will win on the scoreboard. What is the preferred outcome for your higher power, and does it supersede mine? I like to run with this concept. I’m willing to listen to your beliefs as long as they don’t directly involve harming people with other beliefs. The beauty of beliefs, and the risk, is that we can’t prove them in this lifetime. If we believe in an infinite creator, yet we live finite lives, then it’s fairly logical to assume that we don’t have all the facts. We live in a box of existence that is intended to be measured within the dimensions of that box. The creator of the box makes the rules. We don’t know the rules, and we can’t say that we are winning or losing until we escape the box. In other words, everything we decide is important is a box within a box within a box, ad infinitum.

Do we then fall to an innate sense of rightness? Is that a real thing? God, I hope so. Otherwise, we are lost. Without that sense of right and wrong, it’s all too easy to imagine that we don’t deserve to survive as a species. Using the big rewind button, we know that entire species have disappeared from the Earth. They are disappearing as we sit here, looking at our high definition screens. What if 65.1 million years ago, there were dinosaurs that had decoded morality completely. They had it figured out, and they were destroyed by a wayward asteroid. Does that mean that we are not intended to understand the big picture, or does it mean that those dinosaurs had it wrong? If we have it wrong, does the logic, the hard rules of the cosmos, mean that our view gets replaced by that of dogs? I mean, dogs are far more reliable than we are. If you were a god, choosing between our moral flexibility and the stalwart dedication of a dog, would you choose the random nature of human morality over a being that expresses dedication to its master in unfailing service? The life of a god would be far better served by dog values than human ones. On the other hand, perhaps the hierarchy was intended from the beginning. We serve a higher purpose, and dogs serve us. If that were the case, perhaps we are intended to learn from dogs even as we master them. It’s entirely possible that dogs serve as training for a low order of control over our existence. Which means that we should be paying attention… Just in case.

Control, as in that of a master over a dog, god over a people, or parent over a child, is a delicate balance. In any of those cases, pushing too hard results in rebellion. Those of you with teenage children are nodding your heads vigorously. Pushing your dog too hard in training doesn’t result in rebellion, it results in confusion. That dog is entirely willing to follow your lead, it is simply unsure of what you want. What if you believed in a god named Dewey, and Dewey’s commandments included a clause that required you to do a literal song and dance every time you crossed a threshold? This performance requires 3 minutes of your time, literally every time you moved from one room to another. The rebellion against this commandment would be that we all live in giant rooms to avoid the threshold ritual. We would forsake bathroom privacy to save those 3 minutes, four times per day. Our value system would be literally warped around Dewey’s rules. This is an entirely fictional and exaggerated example of how strong our belief systems are against practical considerations. If you are a parent, you already know these things. I have been a step parent but not a parent of my own offspring (why would I propagate heart disease and diabetes,  not to mention the lessons of my father?) , which means that my entire reference comes from being the offspring of typically flawed human beings. Grain of salt factor … As a side note, being married to a very intelligent and analytical woman means that I qualify every bit of data that I share. I may be guessing, fairly confident, or totally certain. I’ll qualify it in some way. As I tell my wife, if I don’t qualify it, you should treat it as the truth. As the ultimate hedge, my truth is probably not your truth. Luckily, I know my wife well enough to define the truth in her terms. She’s good that way.

I have wandered far afield. Let’s just call it an anchor in the “face of madness” of current events. What you really need to know is that I am writing in several venues. One is the Renewal universe, which is built on a lot of what I have shared in this piece. The biggest struggle with Renewal is that the reference line keeps shifting. 2017 is not 2011. As I wrestle with the story, I keep having to shift my focus into broader realms to accomplish what I intended from the beginning. The current truth is not the broader truth. Two is the Definition universe. It accomplishes a few things in my motivational structure. One is that I have a basic optimism for the future. Two is that historically and currently, we know nothing. This could be a very pessimistic view, but I see it as an optimistic view. If we limit our future based on what we know now, then it is very limited indeed. If we assume that we know nothing, then we have an unlimited future. I prefer that we will continue to re-frame our understanding until we open the doors to the universe.

Keep that in mind the next time you encounter the idiot who doesn’t know how to work a four-way stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Documentary on the Heart of Old Dog Rescue

I’ve done a bit of writing on my heartfelt documentary project, but my wife has helpfully pointed out several mistakes, and one of those is the fact that I haven’t written an overview. What is it? Why am I doing it? What do I hope to accomplish? A documentary about anything is just another way to tell a story. In theory, it should be a true story, but if we’ve learned anything in the past year or two, it’s that truth is malleable and entirely subjective, so it’s safe to say that all I can claim is that this is my truth about our relationship with dogs. I’ve spoken to many people in the course of preparing this project, and I am fully aware that people hold a wide range of truths about the subject. However, it’s also evident that the whole range of dog owners, dog lovers, trainers, handlers, veterinarians, and experts of every stripe hold to a common body of truths about dogs. In a time of profound disagreement, it’s nice to know that we can agree on the simple fact that dogs are good.

Another aspect of story, in any form, is that the process involves taking a massive amount of information, organizing it around a theme, and artfully trimming the information into something that not only conveys the idea but also pleases the intended audience. I’ve been working on this process in many forms during my life, and just like anything else, developing expertise doesn’t necessarily make it easier. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know.

Hope in her favorite lap

In the broadest terms, my documentary is about our human relationship with dogs. It’s a remarkable thing, the domestication of dogs. After thousands of years, we have molded them into an amazing array of forms, functions, and behaviors. If you have spent any time with dogs, you probably know that they are quite good at molding us as well. Of course, I’ve done a lot of research into the more academic aspects of our ancient relationship with dogs. Their history is a close sibling to our own. They have guarded our flocks, homes, and families. They have kept us warm at night. They have fought wars with absolute courage and no question of their duty to us. On a more personal level, I’d guess I have had some lengthy, meaningful relationship with at least thirty dogs in my life, and perhaps more surprisingly, I could probably list them all. Odd that they make such an indelible impression… Currently, there are six of them on the other side of the door.

Wally catching some rays

Like any other relationships, dogs come with their challenges and their rewards. Obviously for us, the rewards far outweigh the hardships, so much so that we not only choose rescue dogs, we also volunteer significant time to rescue efforts. Our primary efforts are with Old Dog Haven, a rescue organization in Western Washington with a very specific mission, and one that they do very well. This brings a tighter focus into the story I am trying to tell. Some animal advocacy is very generic, some organizations would have trouble even explaining what they do, and some fall into territory with which I cannot agree. In the case of ODH, they simply rescue old dogs from the usual fate of such animals. They pull old, unadoptable dogs into their system, and foster them to people like us who agree to care for them for the rest of their lives. We provide the food, the love and care, and the transportation to typically numerous vet visits, and ODH pays for the medical care. This is HUGE! It is a complete redefinition of the whole problem of taking care of old dogs. Most people could simply not afford to provide this level of health care, and even fewer would be willing to take on the extra effort of accommodating the special needs of old dogs. Many are blind and/or deaf. Many have trouble getting around. Many do not last for long and come with complex decisions about end of life. They are the hard cases.

Wally wants a pretzel

While some would argue that these dogs are not worthy of adoption or even rescue, I take a more “dogs are good” philosophical stance on the issue. First, whether we like it or not, these dogs exist. It seems like a simple thing to say, but it becomes a moral argument when we consider that they exist because of us. Yes, we have bred many dogs that could survive without us, but in relative terms those dogs are few compared to the ones that we bred to be completely dependent on us. The math is simple. If there is any kind of fair exchange in life, we owe them the care and protection we can provide. It starts with general responsible dog ownership. Puppies make a mess, but they are so darn cute, we accept the trade until they can learn how to behave. Adult dogs in their prime can do a myriad of things, from entertainment and companionship to truly useful jobs. The responsibility part comes with good training, good food, good exercise, keeping them clean and healthy, and frankly giving a dog a job to do. Everyone who has lived through an entire dog’s life knows that, just like us, eventually they slow down, the health problems mount, and the dreaded day when the final painful decision must be made approaches. That’s where our real obligation kicks in.

Old Dog Haven skips all the easy parts and tackles the difficult end-of-the-life-cycle head on. Because that end is sharper, harder, and more painful, the ODH mission represents the peak of our responsibility to our canine friends. That is why they are the focus of this story.

This guy is not feeling the cone of shame.

There are three main outcomes I am seeking through this documentary. The first is nothing new. If I can raise awareness for Old Dog Haven and the work they do in the context of our partnership with dogs, if I can move a few people in the direction of a broader view of the human/canine relationship, then it’s a win for me. Obviously the hopeful follow-through is that ODH can raise more money and help more dogs to finish their lives in a loving home. In the longer perspective, I hope that ODH can continue to thrive when all of us are gone. It usually takes a few more decades, but we eventually run out of time too.

The second goal is that I can amass a high quality collection of footage so that specific messages can be created quickly by myself or others within the organization. At the end of the project, I hope to deliver a massive library of footage and mini-edits to certain members within the ODH community so that the effort can continue and others can tell their own stories about the work of old dog rescue. Mine is only one perspective, and I am anxious to see what others have to say.

The third goal has sidled up to me along the way. Dogs have become central to my life in a million ways. Sharon and I drive around pointing out our next potential vehicle purchase in terms of how many dog crates we think it can hold. I spend time writing about dogs and working out dogs as characters in stories that really have nothing to do with dogs. My idea of good time is any event that allows me to meet dogs all day. It doesn’t hurt that most dedicated dog people are pretty great human beings. Perhaps most telling is that I’m at least twice as likely to remember a dog’s name than the person on the other end of the leash. Sad but true. The point is that this particular project is very likely to be the first of many films (and books) about our beloved furry partners.

To that end, I’d like to point you to my Gofundme page, and ask that if any of my goals resonate with you, please contribute to the project. Any amount helps. The goal is large in numbers, but small in film production terms. It is an optimized budget to acquire the tools needed to acquire film quality footage of dogs doing what dogs do, to capture interviews that look and sound beautiful of the people who love those dogs, to handle the the technical requirements of compiling all this footage into a finished film, and a bit for travel and logistics as we run all over the Pacific Northwest. In return for your support, I’ll do my best to leverage the whole set of tools into an ongoing effort to tell the many remarkable stories of dogs and their people. Thank you.

Cathy and one of her beautiful Labs

Photo by Lincoln Creek Valley Labradors

What is Wisdom?

For those of you who read this stuff, my answer is no surprise. I’ll use dogs to illustrate my point.

Roscoe is our youngest dog. He is five years old. His version of wisdom is simply to have enough experience with us to know what we might do in any given situation. Dogs are masters of memorization. Show them any situation that may lead to food and they will never forget. Never. If they have ever received food in a situation, they will never fail to check for food in that same situation. Beyond the food imperative, it’s safe to call dog memorization a form of wisdom. It stacks up over time into something akin to wisdom. Pretty much the same as us. Unfortunately, Roscoe tends to overthink it, which keeps him riding the fine line between wisdom and crazy.

A better example is Jay. He’s 9 but he looks about 5. ( we call him “the supermodel” for a reason) He is a timid dog by nature, but over time he has learned to stand up for himself. His version of wisdom is simply that. There is no point trying to run the show, but there is no point in being a victim either. If he voices an objection, you can bet that someone has stepped on his figurative toes. As a side note, he has no idea idea where his literal toes are. We like to say that Hope has no idea where her butt is, and Jay has no idea where his feet are. Yet, he has learned a great deal about our expectations, and he is smart enough to put those expectations ahead of those of the dogs around them. Needless to say, Jay is a great dog. He has developed wisdom, which could be interpreted as the ability to step back and see the larger picture.

Luna (7 years old) and Elke (11) both believe that they are in charge of the entire universe (In Luna’s case, we call it the Lunaverse). Elke is essentially blind, and Luna was born deaf. They have two entirely different versions of authority. Elke’s version is to be the sweetest dog around people, and a total nagging dictator with other dogs. Needless to say, she lives on the far side of a gate from the other female dogs. Hope, our 11 year old chocolate lab, has tried to remove her head more than once, and Elke had it coming. If I nagged anyone that hard, I would expect to have my head torn off as well. Luna has a broader definition. She loves people, but she never wants to be seen in a compromised position of people love. The other dogs might interpret that as weakness and she can’t have that. Luna also manages the magic window, aka the TV. If anything four legged  (that includes two people carrying something) shows up on that thing, she’ll appear out of nowhere to growl at it. The only way to stop Luna from managing everything in sight is to put her in her crate at bedtime. She exudes a tangible air of being off duty. It’s a relief for her, the other dogs, and us. She’s a remarkably smart dog, but as for anything we would call wisdom, not so much. She’s the canine example of intelligence versus wisdom.

That leaves Hope. She’s a Lab, which means she comes with a certain breed wisdom that has made Labs so popular. There are two kinds of Labs. The calm and mellow kind, and the excitable, spastic kind. Hope is the latter. In younger days, she could run laps in the living room without ever touching the floor. Her wisdom is imposed on her by the simple physiological demands of old age. At my own age of 50, this is becoming a familiar version of wisdom. When your hips start to hurt, you either learn to be smarter about how you expend energy or you hurt more. Hope is not good at throttling back, so it has taken her a while to comes to terms with old age, but time is the master of us all. Being a retriever at heart, Hope has a long history of sacrificing her body to be the first to the ball. She would thunder across the park like a Clydesdale and grab that ball. No one else had a chance against her skills. She would sprint out, and sprint back with the ball in total anticipation of the next throw. Nowadays, she will run to the ball, but the thunder is gone. The fetching imperative is undimmed, but if the other dogs get it first, so be it. She will trot back around and hope for better luck on the next throw. She can rely on her skill to grab the ball on a wayward bounce that the other dogs will not anticipate. Her version of wisdom is to carefully balance play with comfort, and that’s something we all face eventually.

In the final category are our Old Dog Haven foster dogs. We lost one, Hagar, a few weeks back, and we are picking up the next one, McTavish, on Saturday. These dogs come in two forms: Physically damaged and emotionally damaged, and frequently in the same dog. The interesting thing about dogs is that they have an automatic wisdom that we have to work hard to achieve. You don’t see dogs lamenting the fact that they have gone blind or lost a leg. They simply proceed with what they have and make the best of it. They have the built-in wisdom of not allowing physical limits to affect their plan for life. However, just like us, emotional trauma leaves deep scars. A lot of ODH dogs were loved well for most of their lives and lost their people for any number of reasons. The dog bond with his people is not to be underestimated. It’s core stuff.

Our first foster, Minky, rolled with the punches. He accepted us easily and quickly. Our second, Hagar, took quite a while before he trusted us. We only had a few golden months before his physical health problems overtook him. Our third remains to be seen. He may accept us before we even get home, or he may take months to decide we are friends and protectors. Please bear in mind that there are ODH fosters who have taken in many of these dogs. We are only on dog 3. We’re noobs. If you want to provide a good home for old dogs, an unhappy old dog is hard. Therein lies the wisdom.

ODH does the unthinkable. They take on the worst cases in all of dog adoption. They comb the shelters for old dogs who have come in for terrible reasons. The owner died. The owner got Alzheimers and forgot the dog was even there. The owner lost their job or support and could not care for the dog. The dog is not likely to be adopted by anyone because old dogs are not nearly as appealing as puppies, and very few people can afford the health care for these old dogs. Old Dog Haven comes in and picks up the toughest cases. They pay for the medical care in exchange for a foster home that will provide a loving, graceful end of life for dogs that otherwise would end up being euthanized on a cold, stainless steel table surrounded by strangers. This is a philosophical mission. It’s based on belief. The belief may vary, but it boils down to the idea that dogs are as emotionally rich and soul-filled as we are. If you think of animals as something lesser than us, this means nothing. If you believe that dogs do indeed feel, that they have souls, that they are worthy of dignity and respect, that they go to a better place when they die, then the circumstances matter. My own belief is that we have made dogs our partners over a history as long as human civilization, and if nothing else, we owe them for their loyalty and devotion. If I have to describe a dog’s loyalty and devotion to us, then you have never had a relationship with a dog, and I feel sorry for you. They give far more than they expect in return.

If you open yourself just a little bit in the presence of a dog, you will feel it. We matter to them and they should matter to us.

Yes, it’s a belief. I can’t prove it, but then, as human beings, we live with the knowledge that most of the important stuff is inherently unprovable. So be it. Wisdom means that we choose what matters to us and we act accordingly. In that spirit, I am willing to donate vast amounts of effort to the mission of Old Dog Haven and to dogs in general. Currently, that is in the form of caring for ODH fosters, and in the form of a documentary. I hope to accomplish a few things with this documentary. One is to explain the value of caring for old dogs based on my beliefs. If these beliefs resonate with you, I thank you. If they don’t, that’s okay too. We all have the right to choose. I want to build some energy around the ODH mission. ODH has been doing amazing things for 13 years, but in practical terms, they are a shoestring operation. They spend a fortune on dog health care and very little on the organization itself. It’s very hard to plan a future without some solid, long term funding. There are people out there, right now, literally sacrificing their lives to the ODH cause. Most of those people are doing so on a completely volunteer basis. Those people may describe their beliefs differently, but the end result is the same. Dogs matter. They are our partners in life, and they are frankly better partners than we deserve.

Aside from a documentary on a subject very close to my heart, I want to give ODH some specific fundraising videos that work in coordination with their mission. In case you are wondering, I once owned a successful video production company, and I know how to tell the story even though the technology has changed several times over since those days. The end result is that I can make a story that is better and more beautiful than anything I could have hoped for in the old days. Yay, technology!

And third, ODH already has some very active video producers, (Tina, I’m looking at you). I want to give those folks the entire footage library from the documentary project so that the message can be amplified over time. We live in a time in which video can be useful for quite a long time, and I’m willing to spend the next six months collecting that footage. Thanks to some early donations, I can get started in fine fashion. The trick is that getting started is not the same as finishing the project.

Production is traditionally dived into three segments: Pre-production is about the planning and general design of the project. In Hollywood terms, this happens before anything is actually shot. In documentary terms, the planning is never ending and is adjusted constantly based on what is possible. The production segment is the part where footage is shot and collected and prepared for editing. My big concern is that I get excellent interview video and audio. There is no better source than the people involved in the ODH mission. Finally, post-production is the editing process, which is the point where all the captured footage is distilled into the real story, the message of the documentary. In Hollywood terms, this is a highly pre-planned process. In ODH documentary terms, the edit is very dependent on what people actually say in the interviews. The goal is to take all the interviews and edit them into a continuous conversation about the value of what ODH actually does. Needless to say, what they do is worth a lot of time and effort on my part.

I’m not about to reveal all my secrets, but I do know that I can make a very impactful film. The catch is that I need a lot of tools to do it. The upside is that getting the tools is far cheaper than hiring it out to those who already have the tools. Hiring it out also has the downside of the fact that the actual shooter cares nothing about the subject. The big downside is that I don’t have the tools and I need your help to acquire those tools. In Western Washington, I have a weather window from now until mid-October to get as much footage as possible. After the turn of winter, I need to have enough footage to be in full editing mode. I also need enough data storage to handle all the footage in secure fashion. Without burying you in technical details, there are problems to be solved.

To that end, I point you to my gofundme page: https://www.gofundme.com/Hand-in-Paw-for-ODH

I know full well that some of you regard this as a distraction from my fiction writing. My response is that everything I find important is a contributing factor to my writing, and your support for this project is entirely equivalent to support for the Renewal trilogy.

 

 

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.