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Tag: compassion

Give us the goods on your veterinarian

veterinarian symbolWe want to know about the veterinarian of your dreams – whether you’ve found him or her, or not.

For an article in an upcoming issue of The Bark on how we choose a veterinarian, we’d like to know what – in your eyes — are the most important factors.

If you’ve found the perfect vet, just what is it that makes him or her perfect? If you’re still seeking that person, just what exactly is it you’re looking for?

As our dogs become more and more like family members, the choice of vet is a decision humans probably take more seriously than they did 50 years ago. Time was one’s choice of veterinarian was based in large part on proximity.

We’re guessing that has changed. Now we seek opinions from friends, question fellow denizens of the dog park, turn to online reviews, and perhaps even make some in-office visits, all in our quest for the perfect vet.

But what makes the perfect vet?

Is it where he or she went to school? Is it a friendly staff, reasonable rates? Is it how quickly you can make an appointment or how long you spend in the waiting room? Is it bedside manner, how much empathy, or compassion a vet exudes? Is it how clearly that vet can communicate? Whether they honor your pet insurance? Is it how the vet connects with you, how the vet connects with your dog, or both?

We want to know what is (or was) the single most important factor in your choice of veterinarian, and how you found the one (if you have) that you can’t imagine ever leaving.

Tell us about the veterinarian of your dreams by leaving a comment, preferably with your name attached, on The Bark’s blog, or here on ohmidog!

(John Woestendiek, who produces the ohmidog! website, is a frequent contributor to The Bark. His story on finding the ideal veterinarian will appear in an upcoming issue.)

Almost home: You won’t see this on HGTV

Before I show you my new place – that’s next week, when I’m done decorating — I thought I’d show you somebody else’s.

We came upon it last week, on the trip to move my furniture down south.

There’s an exit on I-95 in Virginia that Ace and I always stop at — one where I can get low-price, by Maryland standards, cigarettes; fill my gas tank; and grab a bite at the Burger King, whose guide to which sodas go best with which entrees always makes by beverage decision easier.

Then we drive a few hundred feet to the end of a big parking lot, where there’s a large grassy area, next to a copse of trees. I park at the edge of the grass, open the back of the Jeep and sit there to enjoy my picnic lunch while Ace sniffs around the empty patch of grass, takes care of business, then sits and waits for french fries to be flung his way. Or better yet, in his view, a hunk of burger, whose variations at Burger King include a Triple Whopper, and Quad Stacker. As you know, you can “Have it your way.”

The exit — Willis Road, I think it’s called, on the southern edge of Richmond – has become a tradition for us. Ace likes traditions, especially those involving meat.

Last week, with Ace in the back of the Jeep, and my friend Will following me in the rented moving truck, I had tired of music and decided to find a talker on the radio, either flaming liberal or die-hard conservative — for those are the only options — it didn’t matter.

I can’t remember his name, but I ended up with the die-hard conservative — a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, only angrier, who was jumping all over President Obama’s recent remarks about increasing taxes on the richest to assist the poorest.

Obama, it seemed, wanted to help the “less fortunate,” and you would have guessed, from the way the talk show host was saying “less fortunate” that he was smirking and putting finger quotes around it — as if he thought there was no such thing, or, if there were, that they were all sissies.

Though I had spent nearly a year without my material possessions as Ace and I traveled across America on a shoestring; though I’m not employed by anyone other than myself, though I have neither health insurance nor nest egg, I’ve never considered myself among the less fortunate (which I say without finger quotes, because only sissies make finger quotes).

Similarly, I’ve never considered myself too far removed from that group. One overnight hospital visit would probably put me in their ranks.

In our time on the road, Ace and I were homeless by choice, but frugal out of necessity, which explains why we ran into plenty of down on their luck souls – some of whom had made bad decisions, more of whom were victims of matters beyond their control, like layoffs, or foreclosures, or crime, or natural disasters, or unnatural disasters, or health issues or disabilities.

In the America of 2011, with the gap between the rich and the poor having become as extreme as our talk show hosts, I’m thankful to be in the middle, even the lower section of the middle. I plan to try and stay there until the middle disappears. Having reunited with my possessions, called in my pension (it actually came when I called) and begun setting up a new home — albeit without stainless steel appliances – I’m feeling more secure. But I’m aware of how tenuous that can be.

After stopping at our traditional Virginia picnic spot last week, I finished off my fish sandwich, accompanied by a Diet Coke – though maybe Sprite would have been a better choice — and Ace I walked around the corner, where there was a wooden fence with a small opening in it. We stepped through.

That’s where we saw this homeless encampment.

 

I’m not sure if it served as home for multiple people, or just one, but nobody was at the camp amid the trees, just off I-95, where a half dozen mattresses and tarps were scattered, clothes hung on tree limbs and — speaking of accessories that pop — empty sardine cans, their tops peeled back, served as ash trays.

I was wandering around taking pictures, when a medium-sized, copper-colored dog came running out from behind a mattress that was leaning against the fence. Barking furiously, he headed straight at me, then stopped and stared, as if daring me to take another step in his direction.

I tried to fling him some french fries, but every time I threw one, he retreated — only slightly though, never leaving his position amid the modest little camp. That seemed to be his mission — to protect the few meager belongings that were there, to guard over them until his human came back from collecting aluminum cans, or panhandling at the exit ramp, or maybe even working a real job.

The dog acted like it was Fort Knox, and he was a German shepherd.

That’s got to be in the top hundred of the million great things about dogs — they don’t care how much stuff you have.

They are able to show respect, loyalty and compassion to the poorest of souls — in a way Republicans, at least the loudest ones, are rarely able to master. Some Democrats aren’t that great at it, either. I’m not always too good at it myself. How much have I contributed to Japanese tsunami victims? Zero. I need to save up and buy a clothes dryer.

We humans are far more selfish than dogs. Then again dogs aren’t raised on TV ads and shiny magazines that bombard them with images of things that manipulative marketing types persuade them they must have.

I thought about calling the conservative radio talk show host, even though he sounded like a very nasty fellow who would interrupt me. ”Why is it we make a greater investment in accumulating stuff than in our fellow humans?” I wanted to ask. “When did war become patriotic and helping people become unpatriotic?”

And which soda really does pair best with the fish sandwich?

Ace goes to school for a lesson in love

Ace made a big impression on pre-k and kindergarten students at Baltimore’s Lakewood Elementary School yesterday, dazzling them with tricks, soaking up their pats and hugs and swearing in two classrooms whose students took the “Oath of Kindness,” a pledge to be kind to animals.

How this latest stop in our continuing travels came to pass was actually pretty simple, and amazingly bureaucracy-free.

A teacher friend asked if we’d visit. We said yes. She got the necessary clearances and, before you know it, a 130-pound Rottweiler-Akita-chow-pit bull mix was being snuggled, stroked and hugged by a bunch of children half his size.

Karma Dogs, the therapy dog organization of which Ace is a member, came up with two more volunteers who visited the school along with Ace and me –  Janet Shepherd and her dog Tami, and Kathryn Corrigan and her dog Puddy.

Together, we covered six classrooms in just over an hour, administering the oath, passing along some basic dog safety tips and stressing the importance of treating animals kindly.

Karma Dogs developed the ”Oath of Kindness” after the death of Phoenix, a pit bull puppy who was set on fire by Baltimore teenagers in the summer of 2009 — not the first, or last, case of its type in the city.

The oath reads: “I … pledge always to be kind to animals. I promise never to hurt an animal, be it dog or cat, furry or fat. I promise to tell my friends to be kind to animals and if I see an animal that is being hurt I will tell an adult right away. Scaly or slimy, feathered or blue, to this promise I will be true.”

After reciting the pledge, the children receive a certificate,which is “pawtographed” by the dog, in this case, Ace. The hope is that children who have openly declared they will not be violent towards animals will remember that, tell their friends and inform adults when they see an animal being taunted or abused.

Of the students Ace and I appeared before, about a dozen raised their hands when I asked who was afraid of dogs. But only one declined a chance to pet Ace. Several more had some trepidations, but those seemed to melt away as they watched the other children interact with him.

They were eager to ask questions, and talk about their own pets. One girl spent three minutes talking about her Chihuahua, which she said had the same name she did. Not until the end of her dissertation did she reveal that her dog was a stuffed toy.

I cautioned them against  approaching stray dogs, told them to always to ask the owner before approaching a dog, showed them how to let dogs sniff their hands as an introduction and encouraged them to treat dogs as they’d like to be treated — calmly, kindly and lovingly.

Ace made an impression on the children in several ways, I think –through his size alone, his gentleness and his back story: a stray adopted from the shelter, like most of the other Karma Dogs, who went on to try and help humans.

He also made an impression with his pawprint, stamped on each of the certificates that was handed out.

The teacher behind the event (who also took these photos) was Marite Edwards, a longtime friend of Ace’s. When she took the idea to her principal, she learned that the school and district were looking at ways to add dog safety and kindness to animals to the curriculum.

That another case of animal abuse surfaced in Baltimore over the weekend — that of a cat set on fire by two teenagers — confirmed just how much those lessons are needed.

You can find more information about Karma Dogs at its website.

(Photos by Marite Edwards)

A cat named Mittens, a dog named Phoenix

As the case against two brothers accused of setting a pit bull named Phoenix on fire unfolds in a Baltimore courtroom, a cat named Mittens is nursing both her kittens and the wounds she received after being set on fire in the city.

It may not be raining abused cats and dogs, but this — one case entering the public consciousness before the other has a chance to clear it — is how a reputation gets made. And if Baltimore doesn’t do something — something big, something quick — it stands in danger of becoming known not as the city that reads, or even the city that bleeds, but the city that torches, and tortures, its pets.

Whether it deserves that label more than other cities is arguable. It’s also not the point. The point is the torture of animals is a big flashing neon sign, reading ”Address This Issue.” It’s a highly visible symptom of an illness in society that, even though it has been diagnosed, is largely being ignored.

Baltimore has no monopoly on animal torture — and it’s not the only city that’s failing to fully address it. In cities across the country there are pockets of misguided youths who have either failed to develop any compassion, may never have been taught any, or have had it snuffed out of them.

Attacking the problem is something that should be done not just for reasons of image, but, much more importantly, because it has been well documented that children who take pleasure in torturing pets often grow up to inflict harm on fellow humans. Pick a serial killer and you can, almost always, find animal abuse in his past.

If how a society treats its animals is a barometer of how civilized it is, Baltimore needs a massive injection of civility — stat — some large doses of empathy and compassion, best administered during childhood.

The saddest irony of it all is that animals are one of the best ways to administer that, to teach children a respect for all living things. Instead, dogs and cats, who we have so much to learn from about life, love and happiness, time and again in Baltimore are serving as the victims for those seeking sick thrills or acting out their inner hostilities.

Mittens, according to officials at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), was placed into a milk crate by a juvenile who doused both the cat and the crate with lighter fluid, struck a match and threw it into the crate.

In flames, the cat broke free from the milk crate and ran from the yard, running in circles until the fire was extinguished, BARCS said. She then returned to the kittens she had recently given birth to at a home on Saint Ambrose Street. (St. Ambrose, for some more irony, is considered the patron saint of domestic animals.)

That incident came to light after the first day of testimony in the trial against teenage brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson, who are accused of dousing Phoenix, a pit bull, with accelerant and setting her on fire on May 27, 2009.

On Friday, Baltimore city police detective Syreeta Teel tearfully described finding the pit bull on fire on a West Baltimore street and running from her squad car to smother the flames with a sweater.

Despite her quick and heartfelt response, one thing that’s becoming evident during the trial is that the police department doesn’t take torturing and killing animals as seriously as some other crimes.

Teel, according to testimony, left the sweater, which might have provided traces of accelerant, on the sidewalk. The scene was never secured, and the police crime lab was never called. “The Baltimore City Police Department completely botched this,” said Assistant Public Defender Karyn Meriwether, who represents one of the brothers.

The death of Phoenix drew national attention, leading to thousands of dollars in donations to a reward fund and the creation of a city-wide Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, which issued a report last year that found numerous flaws in the city’s response — particularly that of law enforcement — to incidents of animal abuse.

According to a Baltimore Sun report, the prosecution’s evidence is limited in the Phoenix case, and relies largely on unclear surveillance video and the word of witnesses — including a woman who the defense says came forward once the reward topped $25,000.

Phoenix was burned over more than 95 percent of her body. Veterinarians would later find that her corneas had melted, and the inside of her mouth was scorched. She’d lost her footpads to the flames, but she kept fighting until, with her kidneys failing, she was put to sleep five days later.

“On a scale of one to 10,” her pain level was “10,” said a Pennsylvania veterinarian who treated her. Phoenix also had puncture wounds on her neck and leg, indicating she might have been in dog fights, but throughout her treatment she showed no aggression.

The Johnson brothers both were initially charged in juvenile court, but were later indicted as adults on the animal cruelty charges, which carry a maximum prison sentence of three years. Testimony is expected to continue this morning.

Animal advocates in Baltimore are watching the case closely, and hoping that, if found guilty, the twins receive the most severe punishment posible.

But as the weekend’s developments show, as Mittens reminds us, a strict sentence is not the entire solution. It’s reactive, and while it may send a needed message, the city needs to do more, in a proactive way. Investigating, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning animal abusers all need to be done, and done properly, and taken seriously, but what’s even more vital is preventing it from happening in the first place.

*

Our favorite reader comment: ”Kindness and concern for animals is going to have to be taught in elementary school. It’s the only way to stop this problem in its tracks.”

Baltimoregal

To see all the comments on this post, click here.

Leave it to Bieber: Pop star urges adoptions

PETA, knowing better than most how much cute and fuzzy things appeal to the public, has tapped Justin Bieber to start in his second public service announcement for the organization.

Justin sings the praises of adopting pets in a PSA whose tagline is, “Animals Can Make U Smile. Adopt From Your Local Shelter.”

According to PETA, Bieber wants his fans to know that buying a dog or a cat from a pet store or a breeder takes a home away from a shelter animal,  3 to 4 million of which end up euthanized in America each year. Buying a dog, PETA says, supports puppy mills, operations in which dogs are raised in cramped, crude, and filthy conditions.

While preparing for the release of his debut album, My World, Bieber devoted some time to talk to peta2 about compassion for animals — something he says his dog Sam helped instill in him. ”We moved to a city where we didn’t really know anybody, so I kinda wanted a friend around. And Sam was kinda like that friend.”

Bieber appears not with Sam, but with a dog named Bijoux in the newest PETA spot.

“It’s really important that people adopt,” Bieber says. “I really encourage going out to an animal shelter or a place where you can get a dog that has been abandoned or doesn’t have a home.”

You can learn more about Justin Bieber and his public service announcement at peta2.com

Copse and robbers

How do I describe the winds that swept through North Dakota this week? They were relentless. They sliced right through you. They were cold and mean. In a word, they were criminal.

When I finally pulled out of Fargo, I was certain any visions of fall colors were over. No way, I figured, could any leaves still be clinging to their trees. Those winds, like a heartless gang of thieves, surely stripped them bare.

But, as Ace and I traveled west across the state, there were a few bright exceptions: groves of yellow-leafed trees — birch or aspen — that, by virtue of being tightly grouped together, still sported their fall colors.

The only way I can figure it, they were saved by the copse.

By being huddled together in a group, they – at least those not on the periphery — were able to keep their leaves a little longer. They, like early American settlers, bees in a hive and the huddled masses everywhere found safety in numbers.

You don’t hear the word “copse” that much anymore. In “Travels with Charley,” it shows up a few times. When John Steinbeck camped, it was usually in a copse, alongside a river, which is where you’ll generally find the copse — despite what you might have heard about donut shops.

Driving along, I wondered if the copse might hold some lessons for us humans, or at least remind us of some.

When pioneers set forth across America, they did so in groups, depending on each other, and each other’s skills, for their survival. When Indians attacked, pioneers circled the wagons, recognizing that forming, in effect, a copse, was the best defense. They established towns for the same reason — so neighbors would be close, so that help would never be too far away.

And long before that, cavemen and cavewomen learned — apparently from sources other than reality TV — that, by forming alliances, they could better protect themselves from the elements, evil-doers and scary creatures.

For long time Americans lived a copse-like existence. We established a home. We dropped our seed. We watched it grow. Once it did, it stayed around, mingled with other hometown trees and dropped its own seed. Children lived where parents lived. The apple didn’t fall, or roll, far from the tree; it stayed in its parent’s shadow, at least until it ended up in a pie.

Somewhere along the line, that went by the wayside. Children grew up and ventured off, carving their own paths. Mom and dad, once on the periphery of the copse, shielding us from the nasty winds, were relocated to places they can get some assistance with living.

The copse-like closeness has diminished not just in the family, but in the family of man. We’re less inclined, I think, to help each other out. Rather than thinking we’re all in this together, rather than the stronger helping the weaker, the richer helping the poorer, the franchised helping the disenfranchised, we look out for No. 1.

And the more insular we’ve become, the more we fail to stake up those in need of support, the more we turn away from those stuck out in the cold, the more robbers we produce.

In the 21st Century, when it comes to protection, we rely on the cops.

But maybe the real answer is the copse.

Barney gets last wish, Susan gets crabcakes

This one’s about a dog named Stella, a carny named Barney and the woman who sort of adopted them both — a Nashville photographer who motored up to Baltimore last week to carry out Barney’s last wish: that his ashes be spread upon the grave of his mother.

Susan Adcock became enamored with carnival workers more than a decade ago, and continued to count them as her friends long after she completed a newspaper assignment documenting their lives in photos. A highly compassionate sort, she helped them through troubles and sometimes even gave them shelter in her own home.

Among those she befriended was Barney, a down on his luck, hard drinking sort from Baltimore who she met while taking carnival photos. Barney, for a while, had a job as Barney, the dinosaur. He’d put on his purple dinosaur outfit and delight when the audience cheered and called his name, which was actually his name.

When Barney died, it was Susan who saw to it that he was cremated, in accordance with his wishes, Susan who took possession of his ashes, and Susan who cleaned out his apartment.

“I packed up his apartment over the weekend and by Monday afternoon, twelve years of hard living evaporated into space,” she wrote on Pitcherlady.com, one of her blogs. “People that hadn’t seen Barney in forever stopped by to say how sorry they were. They asked for things and I didn’t mind them asking. Most of them loved Barney too. Just not enough to stop by and help him get to the bathroom when he needed it …”

The next day, she took the Baltimore native’s ashes back to her house in Nashville, and found some comfort in having them around.

“Often you have three days or so to say goodbye and then that person in in the ground under a stone. This experience taught me that being able to take the remains of the deceased home with you is much more bearable. I knew in my head that Barney was gone but I was able to sit the box on my kitchen table and we hung out all summer together. That was a gift. My grief was tempered by having him around.”

As summer wound down, Susan planned the trip to Baltimore. Barney wanted to be “returned to the arms of his mother.” She died in 1978. This week, Susan drove to Baltimore with her dog Stella in the back seat, and Barney’s boxed ashes in the front. She took the ashes to a cemetery on Eastern Avenue, where she me Barney’s daughters, and a grandson he had never met.

“Their pictures used to be stuck on the side of his refrigerator with magnets and he told me once that he wanted them there so he could see them from his bed whenever he looked up. He used to tell them goodnight before he went to sleep, ’like the Waltons,’ he said.”

Barney was a big fan of TV, and, for 12 years, never turned off the one in his apartment. “I remembered Barney saying once that wherever he ended up, they better have cable,” Susan wrote.

Once Susan accomplished her mission and the ashes were spread, she — along with Stella, a pit bull also adopted from the carnival — saw a little of Baltimore. She visited Edgar Allan Poe’s house, they took a ride in a water taxi, and she went in search of crab cakes — finding none below $20. That’s when she wrote me.

A regular reader and commenter on ohmidog!Susan knew Ace and I were on the road, and didn’t know we were back in Baltimore for a bit. Long story short, as they say, we emailed back and forth, talked on the phone, met with our dogs in Riverside Park, and went to Captain Larry’s for crabcakes.

Susan, though she has a degree in psychology, decided to become a full-time photographer almost 20 years ago. You can see her work on her blogs, including pitcherlady and carnydog, which centers on Stella, the pit bull she adopted two years ago. Stella belonged to some carnival workers and was three months old when Susan took her in. By then, she — Stella — had already been to four state fairs and a variety of other spots throughout Wisconsin and Illinois.

Knowing how hard carnival life can be, on dogs and people, Susan volunteered to adopt her and the owners agreed.

Stella and Susan left Baltimore Thursday, headed for a visit to the beach before going back to Nashville. We wish them safe travels, and count ourselves lucky to have met someone so compassionate, so talented and so aware that not every creature in need of rescue has four legs.

(Photos: Barney photo by Susan Adcock; Stella photos by John Woestendiek)

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