Archive | September 2012

an old lady’s plea for peace

An old lady’s plea for peace

I grew up fearing the bomb. The Cold War was like waiting for big hairy monsters to invade at any time and ruin everything. The red menace adults talked about made no sense to me either. I wondered how a war without soldiers on the ground, that was also cold in the summer, could be so threatening. To me the red menace sounded like a cartoon character, not communists who wanted to control my neighborhood, my country, and then start a world war with nuclear weapons. I grew up nervous and mistrustful of nearly everyone. Potent and powerful, I felt there was no escape from the bomb. It was an invisible case of fleas impossible to shake off.

Air raid drills to a first grader were more terrifying than a visit to the dentist. Stern-faced nuns herded children into a long, narrow walk-in closet barking out orders for quiet. Would crying for our parents set off the bomb? Instead of consoling us big beefy nuns whacked us on our fannies. We stood with our hands over our heads until the principal gave the all clear signal. On days we didn’t hide in the closet, we sat in frightened silence face down at our desks. Sometimes tears landed on my desk wondering if I’d ever see my family again or ride my bike to the garbage dump with the neighborhood kids. Then I wondered how sitting quietly would protect me from nuclear Armageddon? No one ever explained. I once refused to hide in the closet. If the bomb drops on New York City we’ll all die. That’s what my father said. The nun yanked me by the collar and warned me not to scare the others.

I lived in a pre-war dirty brown apartment building. No one had much money. A family of six often squeezed into a two bedroom apartment. Lucky families like us had storage place in the dark spooky basement. On a trip with my dad to put away my older brother’s Lionel trains, I noticed a yellow and black fall-out shelter sign prominently displayed over a barrel marked rations.

“What’s that I asked?

“Nothing, pay it no mind,” Dad said.

“Daddy, it must belong to somebody.”

“It’s from the government,” he said.

“What’s in it?”

“Nothing important.”

“Then why’d then send it? Did Franny next door get one too?”
“You ask too many questions. Let’s go.”

I was on a mission. Why were the residents in our Astoria neighborhood so special that the government hid a barrel of rations in our basement? Rations must be for important people so I had to find out what rations were. Suddenly our status was elevated from working class to important because the government sent us rations.

The food rations were to survive a nuclear war. My grammar school mind could not comprehend world affairs at the time or the growing hostilities between the US and the former USSR. I sensed it was serious especially during the Cuban missile crisis. My sister’s husband was stationed at Guantanamo at the time. All women and children were evacuated so my sister and her children stayed with us. The adults never missed an evening with Walter Cronkite. Only years later did I learn we were at the brink of a nuclear war.

I’m now 58 years old. I moved away from the building with the fallout shelter sign in 1976, The fear of war still lingers even though the Cold War allegedly melted with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. War is like an infestation of cockroaches. It’s all clear in one room then the pests appear in another room spoiling your hopes of a roach free apartment. One part of the world achieves peace and calm then another part explodes in violence and destruction. All living beings are hurt including people animals and the environment.

People fight over land, water, oil or just stupid things. Country A steals country B’s land and country A wants it back. Country A is powerful, strong and rich. Country b is weak, poor and disorganized, no match for the beast who stole their land. Country B asks country C to intervene, talk sense into country A. The bully known as country A shakes off the criticism and tells country’s B and C to go to hell. So a bitter nasty fight ensues. Could it be avoided if country B had money to pay country A off? Perhaps. But how many times have we seen this scenario throughout history. Land swipes, religious differences, refusal to negotiate, lack of leadership and corruption. People not getting alone. People fighting instead of negotiating. People shooting first then asking questions.

The bombs that some nations control are so utterly destructive and powerful that one mistake, one false move, is lethal. It’s the end for us all. There is no turning back. All the good works accomplished around the world is wiped out in a matter of second. The beautiful planet we all share is gone, incinerated, blown up. Gone.

For my sake, the sake of your children, our children, everyone’s children, make this old lady happy. Work for peace. Spread joy, end hate. Don’t let any nation start World War Three because that really will be the end. Be smart, be loving, be peaceful and be smart.

Who really wants war? The companies that make the weapons. Don’t let a war start to satisfy the stockholders. That is what the lobbyists want. Is that what you want?

 

Chihuahua overpopulation

Loved to death

Chihuahua overpopulation in Maricopa County

“You quiero Taco Bell,” says Gidget, a spunky Chihuahua who garners fame in the popular 1990s TV commercial. Chihuahuas snag starring roles on the silver screen and on Broadway. Movie stars carry them around like dolls. The American Kennel Club says the Chihuahua is a popular toy breed.

But a Chihuahua is not a toy and its spike in popularity has a downside. Over-bred, shelters and rescue groups in Maricopa County cannot keep up with the flow of unwanted Chihuahuas and Chi-mixes passing through their doors. Not enough responsible homes exist for every Chihuahua that needs one says Barb Rabe, president of AZ Chihuahua Rescue, a group dedicated to saving Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes from euthanasia at shelters across the state. Phoenix already buckles under a pet overpopulation problem. The Chihuahua is the second most euthanized breed in Maricopa County.

What’s behind the surge in Chihuahuas? Rabe blames Hollywood. “Some celebrities showing off their Chihuahuas actually encourage careless breeding.” More people she says want to emulate the celebrity with a trendy Chihuahua in their purse.

So does Bretta Nelson, Public Relations Manager, for the Arizona Humane Society. Hit movies such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua also spawn fondness for the breed. In 2010, 780 unwanted Chihuahuas and Chi mixes entered the shelter. So far this year intake eclipsed 1,000. While the Humane Society strives to find responsible homes for all its animals, not every pet is adopted including Chihuahuas.

The transient nature of Arizona’s population compounds the problem. Thousands of people move into and out of the state. Not everyone considers their Chihuahua a member of the family so when they relocate the dog ends up in a shelter. Or in worst cases, the Chihuahua is abandoned to the street or desert. The mortgage collapse of 2008 battered Arizona with foreclosed homes and job losses stranding thousands of pets in shelters or in abandoned homes. As a result of the recession, municipal budgets were slashed. Animal control did not respond to dogs left behind in foreclosed homes. Some perished from starvation, disease or exposure to the scorching heat. Even when dogs were rescued by private groups they had to compete with dozens of pets already awaiting adoption.

The Humane Society’s Nelson attributes climate as another part of the complex problem. “Unlike Midwestern and Mid Atlantic states that reach freezing cold temperatures, Arizona’s climate is one for year round breeding.” That’s particularly troublesome in the summer when shelter population peaks and euthanasia rates soar.

Backyard breeders and mall pet stores draw potential adopters away. Nearly all the major malls had pet stores until Westcor, a major mall owner, declined to renew the leases on pet stores. Empty space will now be offered to rescues/shelters. Still, Chihuahua ‘puppies for sale’ signs are often posted to light poles or street corners. Newspapers regularly advertise Chihuahua puppies for sale. Shelter officials speculate some breeders try to cash in on the dog’s popularity, knowing little about the breed.

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC), a municipal facility with two full-service shelters, was so crammed recently with Chihuahuas they ran a special adoption in June dedicated to the breed. Despite lower prices potential adopters had to meet the county’s standards to bring home a dog. Aprille Hollis, public information officer, says, “Not only did we clear out kennel space for the busy upcoming holiday (July 4th) where we see the highest number of dogs coming to the shelter, but some wonderful dogs found their forever homes.” At least 140 dogs were adopted.

A vast network of at least 100 rescues and shelters operates in the Phoenix metro area. In addition to AZ Chihuahua Rescue, the Humane Society and MCACC, other groups pitch in to help. Foothills Animal Rescue, the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA, HALO (Helping Animals Live On), Akita Rescue and Breeder Release Adoption Service are among the many groups that take in Chihuahuas. It is not known how many Chihuahuas and Chi mixes each group saved in recent years but it is probably in the hundreds, perhaps thousands.

Rescues and shelters operate aggressive adoption programs. AZ Chihuahua Rescue for instance sponsors weekend adoptions at Petsmart and Petco stores. Many groups partner with the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition (PACC 911.org) and attend their off-site adoption events in the cooler winter months. Yes, it is not always insufferably hot in Phoenix. PACC adoption events are well attended and hundreds of pets are placed into responsible homes.

Adoption alone will not resolve the staggering over-population issue. Spay and neuter programs are available county-wide. The Arizona Humane Society has an on-site clinic with reduced fees. Programs are also found through the AAWL & SPCA, Altered Tails, and MCACC. Some private veterinarians offer reduced fees too. All dogs and cats available for adoption at local shelters and rescue groups are spayed and/or neutered.

Regardless of advances reported by the no-kill movement spearheaded by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and the No Kill Advocacy Center, euthanasia of unwanted shelter pets including Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes continues in Maricopa County. Rescue groups and shelters work jointly to promote adoption and spay/neuter especially among low income families. But as long as there is a shortage of responsible homes and an abundance of Chihuahuas, there is no way to end the killing. Chihuahuas must be considered part of the family and not left behind at shelters for trifling reasons. All pets are lifetime commitments.

Written for a breed magazine in 2011 but never published there.

 

having my say

The Huffington Post reports that Wall Street is back to its reckless ways. Money managers evidently learned nothing from the 2008 crash that led to record job losses, foreclosures and the collapse of storied Wall Street firms such as Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers. If not for a Federal bailout the American banking system may have fallen apart completely. Bankers who absolutely resist regulations threatened national insolvency so Uncle Sam would act and act fast. To calm rising fears, the Federal government had little choice but to rescue the reckless. Wall Street did not mend its wayward ways. Instead, they are again behaving like thugs, hooligans and goons risking America’s money as they roll the dice hoping for high returns. Losses may pile up and guess who will pay the price? Don’t expect protection from Congress. Generous contributions from Wall Street lobbyists ensure Federal regulations protecting consumers will never reach the House or Senate floor for a vote. It’s either an act of God or a matter of luck that the entire financial system doesn’t collapse from excessive greed, lack of regulation, and gross mismanagement. Wall Street is the only place where you can legally steal, pillage, and rob without fear of prosecution. What happened to our morals in an allegedly Christian nation? Maybe it’s time to stop saying one nation under God and say one nation under the almighty dollar. That’s what it seems like.

Animal Writes

Biscuit Needs a Home

As shelter worker Buddy Kimbrough barged into the kennel, the dogs erupted in a chorus of barking. At his side was a scraggly brown and gold mutt, the size of a Beagle. Buddy led the dog down the narrow aisle and left her inside a cage.

“You sure are cute. Too bad you don’t have an ID tag. We’d call your owners,” Buddy said. “Maybe they’re already looking for you.”

The dog with the matted fur slurped up water. Then, she looked around and noticed her feline neighbor, a skinny gray cat with a bushy tail.

“Hi, my name is Biscuit, what’s yours?”

“If you’re talking to me, the name is Harriet, greatest cat in all of Phoenix. Don’t forget that.”

“What brings you here?” Biscuit said. “I’m lost. The cops found me and brought me here. What about you?”

“My story may take a while. I’m not just any cat.”

“Why is a special lady like you in here?”

“Be patient, dog face.” Harriet licked her paws. “I’m getting to that. My owner Candace trusted me with her driver. He was supposed to take me to the vet for my shots.”

“What happened?”

“What happened you ask?” Harriet puffed out her chest. “I’ll tell you what happened. The driver stopped at a park, opened the window and grabbed his cell phone. Then he took a walk.”

“Where’d he go?”

“How should I know?” Harriet said. “While I sat panting in the back seat because of this wretched heat, some punk kids noticed me and poked me with a big stick. So the great Harriet jumped out and ran away.”

“And you got lost.”

“Let’s just say I wasn’t familiar with the territory,” Harriet said. “I’m sure my owner was furious with the driver when she found out. I bet she fired him.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Hold your dog bones, I’m getting to that,” Harriet said. “There’s a lovely community not far from the park. I found a back porch and fell asleep. When a lady opened the door, I was about to scamper away but she begged me to stay for breakfast. The great Harriet never misses a meal so I stayed.”

“My owner threw me out,” Biscuit said. “All she did was yell at her two kids and me. One night she put me in a box, taped it shut and drove me to a far away neighborhood. She tossed the box out and sped away. I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“Look, people are coming,” Harriet said. “Sit up and act sweet. Maybe someone will want you.”

“What about you?”

“Candace will come for me, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t miss a gorgeous cat like me?”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Watch what you say. Of course my Candace will come.”

Your job is to finish the story. Does Candace return for Harriet? Does Biscuit get adopted? Why do people come to the shelter and not a mall pet store?

 

 

 

Dharma: my wonder weenie

Adopted in the spring of 2002, Dharma was a beautiful red Dachsund. The rescue said she was bred around the cycle. By the time she entered my life, she had already produced at least six or seven litters. There would be no more. Fun and frisky, the tail wagging dog fit right into my multi-dog household of Luke and Judy, two adopted mixed breeds. As a shelter volunteer, more rescued dogs followed all of which Dharma played and frolicked with.

Dharma died on August 23rd. Age robbed the old gal of life’s pleasures so it was time to send her to the Rainbow Bridge. Her back legs collapsed when she stood. Bladder and bowel control faded too. When she refused canned food that was the signal. On the way to the vet, I wiped tears from my eyes. I said it’s not fair. I don’t want to let you go but I have to. She died peacefully in the vet’s office where she received years of quality care.

She left me with so many happy memories. We went everywhere together. Dharma sat inside my motorized scooter (the result of a car accident) at pet store protests, at animal shelter fundraisers, and for spins around the block. At Doxie Days, an annual event in Phoenix, she racked up awards for biscuit bobbing and kissing on command. She posed with my other dogs on Santa’s lap at Christmas time. At the dog park, she moseyed around always sniffing out other Dachsund’s. She always knew how to find her own kind.

I fed her twice a day and treated her to snacks yet she stole food from the other dogs every available chance. One of the bigger dogs once bit her ear as a result. She swiped people food too if opportunity presented itself. Sometimes her thieving habits made her sick but she didn’t stop. Maybe she didn’t have enough to eat in her breeding days but as long as I had her, Dharma was a well fed dog.

I lost once for a tense half an hour. That lazy Sunday, I finally decided to change her collars. I took off the old one and planned to switch her ID tags to the new one except I got sidetracked. As my housemate opened the backyard gate to the alley, Dharma scooted outside. She had done this in the past. Usually my housemate retrieved the fleeing Doxie. This time Dharma seemed to disappear. I jumped into my car and slowly drove down the alley, calling out her name. No Dharma. Where could she have gone in such a short time? I started to panic. I then made a few lost dog signs, got on my scooter to post the signs around the neighborhood. I worried about my dog. She didn’t have on an ID collar but at least she was micro-chipped. Still, I fretted someone might keep her, thinking she was unwanted. After riding around on my scooter posting signs I saw my neighbor. I asked if he’d seen Dharma. No he hadn’t but he another neighbor around the corner just found a dog. Ask her he suggested. I rolled right up to her house and sure enough she had my dog. I was so relieved. I hugged her as if she’d been missing for a month.

Dharma sometimes behaved more like a cat than a dog. One evening I was just about to bite into a plate of vegetarian lasagna when I heard Dharma growling at the other dogs, not typical behavior for my weenie. I looked up to see Dharma protecting a dead pigeon on her dog bed, surrounded by three curious dogs. Somehow, she stalked the hapless bird in the back yard and nailed it. She brought her prize inside. I felt sick. I couldn’t eat. I shooed the dogs away and picked up the dead bird, covered it with a towel and disposed of it properly.

Despite a few bouts with mast cell tumors, pancreatitis and malignant melanomas, she lived until almost 16 years old, give or take. I loved her every day. I sometimes think she’s coming back but I know she isn’t. Dharma’s death also represents the end of an era. I lost the house I shared so I can’t rescue dogs any more. I live in a trailer that’s way too expensive and the rent eats up half my disability income. For years I thrived on dog rescue since I no longer work. I would have rescued cats except my former housemate didn’t like cats. Now I collect aluminum cans to make ends meet. Losing Dharma and the ability to rescue dogs was a bigger blow than losing my mobility in a car accident. I have one dog left, Midnight. I’m hoping against hope to find a subsidized apartment that takes pets. That dog keeps my hope alive.

Don’t attack animal shelters

 

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the Arizona Humane Society and other animal shelters are under assault. No kill advocates blame shelters for the nation’s pet overpopulation problem, which they did not create. Simple supply and demand leaves shelters with no choice but to euthanize. Child protective services struggle to place unwanted and abuse children. Similarly, there are not enough suitable homes for every unwanted or abused pet.

 

The no kill movement, however, is not satisfied even though owners surrender pets to shelters for paltry reasons such as a seven-year old cat meows too loudly or caring for the 12 year-old dog becomes a burden. Of course shelter dogs and cats deserve good homes. That’s why so many shelter workers and volunteers work tirelessly to place them into responsible homes. No kill leaders say that every adoptable animal must be placed. Model communities, such as Tompkins County, are cited as stunning examples of no kill success. The Tompkins County SPCA is located in a small largely white educated section of central New York. The population is around 100,000 and half the residents earned college degrees. There are no Indian reservations within the county. Reservations, by the way, are known for deep pockets of poverty and pet overpopulation.

 

Although Tompkins County SPCA considers itself an open intake shelter, if a pet owner is moving and wants to relinquish a pet says shelter director Jim Bouderau, “we always ask for an appointment so that we are prepared to receive the animal being surrendered.”  The shelter performs animal control for seven of 10 cities and towns within the county, thus limiting their intake.

 

Furthermore, the no-kill movement dismisses the complexities of pet overpopulation. For example, the mortgage meltdown of 2008 stranded thousands of domestic pets including horses in abandoned properties by frantic owners who lost jobs. In particularly hard hit states such as AZ, FL and NV shelters already reeling from pet overpopulation became burdened with even more unwanted pets. Animal control was drastically curtailed. Dozens of stray dogs could not be picked up. Animal control in many places never picked up stray cats.

 

Even the vagaries of illegal immigration play a role in pet overpopulation. An undocumented but loyal pet owner may get arrested then deported. What happens to her dog if there is no one willing to assume responsibility?

 

Pet stores and backyard  breeders are a formidable competitor to shelters. The Macerich Corporation made a welcome announcement in 2012  not to renew pet store leases in the malls they own yet the public continues to patronize mall pet stores. Unethical breeders still profit from puppy mill misery.

 

Wall Street affects the lives of homeless pets. Inflation, gas prices, interest rates and events across the globe affect workers. Workers with jobs and disposable income are more likely to adopt. On the other hand, job losses lead to owner surrenders and fewer donations as happened in 2008.

 

Here in Maricopa County, a vast network of shelters and rescue groups already saves dozens of lives. There are affordable spay/neuter programs, TNR for feral cats, saving pets from the county’s euthanasia list and much more through the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition (PACC 911). Yet the combined intake rate for both the county and the AZ Humane Society is at least 94,000 dogs and cats per year with 50,000 euthanized. Yet there are repeated calls for shelter reform. Pet overpopulation is thorny and complex. A one size fits all solution does not resolve pet overpopulation with social, economic, political and personal roots.

 

The idea of a no kill nation is a laudable goal indeed. Every domestic pet deserves a loving home. Animal shelters need public cooperation to resolve a problem not of their making. Save a life by adopting a homeless pet from one of our many shelters and/or rescues. Blaming shelters for the senseless destruction of domestic pets is shortsighted, foolish and clearly shows a lack of understanding that pet overpopulation is a complex problem with no simple quick fix.

 

The author has been involved in animal rescue since 1989, locally since 1997.