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Tag: church

Dachshund won’t go back to owners after all

The old dachshund abandoned with a note at a Los Angeles County shelter, then saved from euthanasia by a rescue group, then offered back to the “poor, sick and elderly” owners who wrote the note, won’t be reuniting with them after all.

Upon further reflection, Toby Wisneski, founder of Leave No Paws Behind, decided life with his original owners — two traveling ministers – might not be best for the 13-year-old dachshund, and apparently Otto’s owners have said they’re good with that decision.

ottoThe owners, initially anonymous, have now been identified as Chris Gonzales and his wife, Christine. That’s Rev. Chris in the video above, seemingly speaking in tongues at times, and not appearing too sick, poor or elderly. (Public access to the video was removed after this post appeared.)

The video, and some other interesting information, was unearthed by Mary Cummins, an animal advocate and wildlife rehabilitator who writes a blog in Los Angeles.

Cummins reported Sunday that Wisneski had decided that, in the dog’s best interest, “he will be remaining right here in our care and his humans agree.”

harley-note2Going back to the beginning of the curious story, the dachshund was found outside the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter March 6, tied to a basket, with a handwritten note that said:

“We are both seniors, sick with no money. We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep.”

Before euthanizing the dog, the shelter called a rescue group, Leave No Paws Behind, which agreed to take him in. They named him Harley, got him treatment for a skin condition and pronounced him healthy enough to be adopted.

Wisneski, the group’s founder, also held out hope, at the time, that she might find the anonymous owners and return the dog to them, along with an offer to pay for all his medical care and food.

When the couple learned of the offer, and about donations coming in to help them, they came forward and agreed to reclaim their dog, whose real name is Otto, when they returned to town at the end of the month.

In an interview with KTLA, Chris Gonzales — though he wasn’t identified by name – said he and his wife were out of town and planned to return to California and pick up the dog once they raised enough money to buy new tires for their car.

What seemed, up to then, a heartwarming story, was slowly getting squirrely — turning into the kind it’s hard to keep the faith in.

Cummins, who had publicized the dog’s story on her blog in an attempt to help reunite him with his owners, did some investigating, and came away less than impressed with the couple.

gonzales-facebook“They are not senior citizens. They are not disabled. They are merely obese. They are not poor. They are traveling ministers who give little talks then beg for money. They are not a legal church, corporation or non-profit. They make $60,000/year,” she wrote.

“He’s one of those faith healers that puts his hands on people and then everyone shakes like someone having a seizure,” she added. “He likes to spit out mumbo jumbo made up words while doing so. He invites people to meetings at Sizzler or the Old Country Buffet restaurants. People pay for their food, listen to him talk then he asks for money. He calls it a ‘love offering.’”

Cummins now feels, in case it’s not obvious, that returning Otto to his owners would be a mistake.

While that means a detour before Otto finds his happy ending, we think that’s the right choice, too — based on what we’ve heard about his owners and the fact that they abandoned him in the first place.

Despite all that faith they travel the country professing, the couple apparently didn’t have too much in their dog.

Wisneski has said all of Otto’s medical problems turned out to be minor and treatable, and that he’s in good health now.

Here’s hoping Otto finds the home he deserves.

And that the reverends find some tires.

Thou shalt not poop

thoushaltnotpoop

When the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine decided it needed to do something about the increasing numbers of dogs pooping on its hallowed grounds, it turned not to a deity, but to a design firm.

That firm’s answer? A series of signs, using Old Testament verse as an inspiration, along with regular English, in smaller print, for those who might not get it.

The Episcopal church, something of a landmark in New York City, isn’t totally down on dogs. It hold a blessing for dogs and other creatures on St. Francis Day. And it doesn’t mind that it has become a popular spot with dog owners. It just didn’t like the mess.

The design firm Pentagram says the church didn’t specifically request humorous signs, but that seemed to be the best approach.

The signs read, “Thou shalt not poop (Please keep dogs off grass),” ”Hold close thy loved (Please keep dogs on a leash),” and “Collect what you receive (Please clean up after your dog).”

(Photo: Pentagram)

An Easter tradition: Sprucing up the graves

One of the reasons Ace and I are lingering in this town – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is so that I can reconnect with my roots here in my birthplace. An opportunity to do that arose last week.

I got a call from Aunt Edna Faye, who, though she’d visited from Raleigh just two days before, had forgotten to carry out one of the tasks she intended to: Placing flowers on the grave of Tan.

Tan, or Tan-NEE, as her nickname was pronounced in full, was Kathleen Hall, who, though not related by blood, grew up as a sister of my grandmother. As my mother’s aunt, she babysat me before I turned one – here in the very same house Ace and I recently moved into. Never married, she was a schoolteacher and administrator. She died in 1983, at the age of 92. An elementary school in town bears her name.

Putting flowers on her grave is a family tradition at Easter – one that, if I ever was aware of it, I had forgotten.

Aunt Edna Faye explained that Tan was buried in the Moravian Graveyard, in what’s known as “God’s Acre,” near the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She didn’t know exactly where the gravesite was: “It’s behind the church, on a hill sort of to the left, near the sidewalk. It’s on the side that’s towards Salem, not towards Krispy Kreme.”

She asked, when she called on Friday, that I get some flowers and place them at Tan’s headstone.

“There are no containers there, so it needs to be something in a pot, and not a very tall one because it would tip over. Just sort of press it in the ground and stabilize it as much as you can,” she said. Last year, Edna Faye got Tan a pink hydrangea.

When I told my mother – who is Edna Faye’s sister — of the mission, she said she had thought about asking me to do it, but didn’t want to bother me. When I finished reprimanding her for that – explaining that the main reason I’ve temporarily moved here is so she can bother me — she asked if she could come along and quietly watch from the car.

“Hell no,” I answered.

I didn’t really say that, but it’s the sort of thing that – as a joke – I might, which could be why she didn’t ask me in the first place.

On our way to buy the flowers, she told me a little about Tan, most of which I’d forgotten. She considered Tan one of her four aunts, and perhaps the one to whom, as an adult, she was closest. When my father shipped out to Korea, Tan was there for her, and for long after that. She babysat my sister and me – I being born about nine months after my father returned. She was a much beloved teacher. Her nickname, Tan-NEE, apparently derived from a young nephew’s mispronunciation of Auntie. Her favorite color was purple.

Leaving Ace and my mother in the car, I surveyed the flowering plants outside a grocery store, opting for a delphinium because it was purple, with shades of blue. Ace approved. More important, so did my mother.

At God’s Acre (or Gottesacker, in the old German) members of the congregation were there in droves. The day before Easter is what’s known as decoration day – a time when relatives and church members tidy up the graves, and place out fresh flowers – partly because it’s tradition, partly because a huge sunrise Easter service takes place there the next morning.

People were hauling in plants, pouring bleach on gravestones to remove grey mold, and scrubbing off the grime, some using toothbrushes. All of the headstones at the Moravian Graveyard are exactly the same shape and size – Moravians being big on simplicity and uniformity. The departed are buried chronologically, in the order in which they are “called home to be with the Lord,” and there are no statues or monuments to distinguish the graves of the rich from those of the poor.

Normally, that would have made finding Tan’s grave difficult. But I’d gone on the graveyard’s website the day before, typed in her name and gotten the precise location: Section 1AA, Row 02, Grave 04. Between that and the map the website provided, finding her was easy.

She was buried alongside other women — that, too, being the Moravian way. Men, women and children are buried in separate sections, which stems from the church’s “choir system,” introduced in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf, the renewer of the Moravian Church.

The congregation was divided into groups according to age, sex, and marital status so that each individual might be cared for spiritually according to their differing needs. At worship the “choirs” also sat together – boys on one side, girls on the other.

When death comes, members are buried not with their families, but by the same choir system.

God’s Acre is still used by the Salem Congregation, comprised of twelve Moravian Churches within the city of Winston-Salem. Members of the church gather there the day before easter to ensure that all of the graves have flowers by Sunday.

Other than her grave location, there’s not a lot of information on Kathleen Hall on the Internet, her death having preceded its rise. Even with an elementary school named after her, there are few references to be found, other than a 1939 Winston-Salem high school year book for sale on eBay – one page of which is dedicated to her for her “friendly, untiring and unselfish services.”

My parents left North Carolina when I was one, so, except for a few visits over the years, I never got to closely know Kathleen Hall, who my sister, with slight variation, was named after.

My mother says that when my sister Kathryn was an infant, and wouldn’t stop crying, Tan would take her for car rides, and that made her finally shut up. (I’ll need to remember that next time I visit.)

When my mother moved back to Winston-Salem, in the late 1970s, I’d gone off to college, followed by my first job, far away in Arizona. My younger brother got to know Tan better than me, visiting her, after her retirement, at the Moravian home, where he remembers she liked watching professional wrestling on TV, and drinking banana milk shakes, which he’d always stop and pick up on the way.

I was hoping to introduce Ace to Tan, as I introduced him a few months ago to John Steinbeck, but I decided to obey the “no dogs allowed” signs. I didn’t want him squirting while everyone else was sprucing. He waited patiently in the car, watching from the window, as did my mother.

At Tan’s gravesite, someone had already left a lily, I set our contribution next to it, pushing it down into the moist earth as instructed. Contrary to Aunt Edna Faye’s advice, I picked a flower that grows tall. But I figured even if it toppled, it would keep growing, albeit sideways.

The hillside was filling up with people, armed with scrub brushes, bleach and Comet, and flowers in buckets and wagons and wheelbarrows, paying respect not just with their presence, but with their sweat.

Slowly, the cemetery took on more and more color, as if blooming — with lilies and azaleas and hydrangea and tulips and geraniums and daisies and daffodils.

And, amid the crowd, at least one purple delphinium.

Praise the Lord, I saw the light

 

It’s dark down here. Even with every light on, even when the sun’s up, the temporary home Ace and I have landed in — a cellar apartment in an old southern mansion — is, given its subterranean location, something less than bright and cheery.

I have window wells, but little light shines through. I look out and assume it’s a rainy day — only to step outside and see that it’s as sunshiny as it can be. Down here, it’s as if it’s always 3 a.m. Ace wakes up, looks around, and — like me — assumes it’s not morning yet.

I haven’t been cursing the darkness. That’s best reserved for internet connections. But I think it has been keeping me from being awake as I might be, and I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done. Instead I’ve mostly been oversleeping, setting up housekeeping and visiting my mother. She lives about a mile down the road, so Ace and I have visited almost nightly — conveniently around dinner time.  I mentioned to her how dim things were in my apartment, and she, being a former newswoman, felt the need to share that — at least with my sister.

“This just in: John’s apartment is kind of dark. Details at 11.”

I’ve introduced you to my sister before, when Ace and I passed through Madison, Wisconsin. She’s prone to random outbursts of karaoke singing, sermonizing, deep thoughts and good deeds, and I was about to be a recipient of one of them — luckily the latter.

She called to tell me she had found four lamps on Craigslist, and that she was giving them to me as a Christmas present. All I had to do was drive to some town called Midway, and find the home of a man named Ken. She sent me an email with the directions. Like all her emails, it ended with the same quote from Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Buying lamps via Craigslist wasn’t an option in Edith’s day.)

Thankfully, Midway was only about 20 miles away. Ken was in the driveway when I pulled in.

I popped open the back window of the jeep. He greeted Ace, noticed there was no air in the tires of my bicycle, still attached to the rack, and offered to pump some in. He helped me load the four lamps into the car, and told me to help myself to the kitchen items packed in boxes in his barn. They, like the lamps, had belonged to his mother, who died last fall at age of 98.

I tried to pay Ken $60 — $48 for the lamps, the rest for everything else I grabbed – but he insisted on giving me change. I stuffed as much as I could into the car — or at least as much as Ace would permit. Ace doesn’t like things rattling around back there, or any of the contents to shift while we’re driving, and given the back seat has been his home for most of the past nine months, I try to oblige.

After loading up, we stopped for lunch in Midway, which is next to a town called Welcome, at a place called The Dawg House, then headed down the road to the Midway General Store, where it was hard to find things because it was dark inside. But I got three copies made of the key to my new place, bought two plug adaptors, three packages of cuphooks and a big greasy hambone for Ace — all for a mere $11.

Ace nibbled his bone as I took the back roads home, passing church after church — all with marquee signs out front:

‘Hands joined in prayer are never empty,” one said.

“The church is a pit stop in the race of life,” read another.

“God’s plans for us are better than our own,” another advised.

Space being limited on church signs, attribution for the words of wisdom on them is seldom provided — so you never really know whether they come from God, the local preacher, Edith Wharton or some book, like “1001 Catchphrases for Your Church Marquee.”

Whether they are original words, or a reflection of somebody else’s, doesn’t really matter — as long as they are getting shared, because church marquees, even those that don’t light up, are all about spreading the light, giving life some meaning, tossing a little hope, inspiration and joy our way.

My new lights, once plugged in, didn’t lead to a hallelujah moment of the religious kind. But I can read now, and find where I put my coffee filters, and make sure the socks I’m putting on match.

On top of that, never having lived in darkness before, I’ve learned that, much like a chili cheese dog, light – the non-symbolic, simple wattage kind — makes me happy.

For Ace, a hambone works just fine.

Roadside encounters: Buddy and Peggy Sue

 

Names: Buddy Holly (named after the performer) and Peggy Sue (the fawn-colored one, named after Holly’s hit song)

Breed: Pugs

Ages: Buddy is 3; pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue is 4

Encountered: At what’s billed as the largest free-standing cross in America, located near Interstate 40 in Groom, Texas.

Backstory: The two pugs, and the couple who owns them, were headed home to Hobart, Oklahoma after a Christmas visit to Arizona.

The owners of the pampered pugs planned a stop at the cross, which is 19 stories tall and, in the flatlands of the Texas panhandle, visible from 20 miles away.

They were big fans of God, Buddy Holly, pugs and, judging from their racing jackets, NASCAR.

Buddy Holly and Peggy Sue enjoyed a long potty stop on the periphery of the property, then jumped back in the car while their owners went to see the church and gift shop.

To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.

Groom, Texas: My cross to bear

 

With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.

This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.

Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.

It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.

“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.

Between the caffiene, her well wishes, and Bobblehead Jesus, who has accompanied us on all of our 20,000-plus miles, I felt prepared for what was ahead — namely Groom, Texas.

In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.

To your left is how that embankment looks today, not nearly as steep and rugged as it was in my memory.

Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.

As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”

For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.

I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.

Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.

Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.

The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.

It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.

It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.

I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.

Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.

I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.

I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.

Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.

Turns out it is now a storage facility, its rooms no longer holding people — only people’s stuff.

Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.

I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.

I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.

I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).

By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.

Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.

But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.

Gourd is great, gourd is good

Here’s an exit sign that piqued my curiosity — enough to make me veer off the interstate to figure out just what makes a pumpkin Baptist, and why they need their own center.

Are Baptist pumpkins preachier? Do they go all fire and brimstone? Do they achieve life everlasting, or is that dream just pie in the sky?

I pictured a chapel filled with orange orbs, sharing fellowship, singing hymns. I wondered if other denominations of gourds had similar facilities — say, Catholic Cantaloupes, Jewish Watermelons, Seventh Day Adventist Squash?

What makes these Baptist pumpkins so holier than thou to think they deserve their own center, even their own exit sign, I wondered as I exited Interstate 55 in Louisiana, not far from Hammond.

Before I was even off the exit ramp, I realized I was barking up the wrong vine.

Baptist was one way, Pumpkin Center the other. Less intrigued, I just got back on the interstate.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)


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