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Tag: job

Colombian vice president declines ambassadorship — to stay home with dog

garzon-apColombian Vice President Angelino Garzon says he turned down an ambassadorship in Brazil because the climate there would not be healthy for his dog

And when we say climate, we mean the weather.

Garzon, in a letter to the Colombian president, said he was declining the job for personal and family reasons. He elaborated on those reasons in an interview with the magazine Semana.

Basically, it comes down to one family member – his German shepherd, Orion, who he said wouldn’t be comfortable in Brazil’s steamy climate, and who he refuses to live without.

“I have turned down the ambassador job because the dog you see on that picture is very hairy and the hot climate of Brasilia could harm its health,” Garzon, 67, told the magazine reporter as he showed her a photo of Orion.

“Wherever Angelino goes, it goes,” he said.

We find his reasons perfectly acceptable, even admirable (though calling his dog something other than “it” would be more to our liking).

Some, though, are scoffing at his excuse, including Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, according to the BBC.

She called Garzon’s rejection of the post “very embarrassing … When he mentioned personal problems, you would expect something deeper than that. It is as though he doesn’t realize the importance Brazil has,” she said.

We may have a duty to our country, but we have a duty to our dogs, too, and — whether or not “it’s too hot for the dog” is his real and total reason for declining the post — we think Garzon has every right to say no thanks for any reason he wants. We especially like this one though.

Garzon announced earlier this year that he would not run for re-election alongside President Juan Manuel Santos. He said he might consider running for mayor of Bogota or Cali. ”In local government, you can have a bigger impact in improving people’s lives than as vice-president,” he said.

(Photo: Associated Press)

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Talking to animals: What Ace had to say

If I had to guess what was on Ace’s mind at a given moment, here’s what I think it would be:

“Food. FOOD. How about some food? Got any food? Gimme food. I really like food. I like you, too, but I really like food. Is that food I smell? Perhaps you’d like to give me some. Is it time for food? Food. Food. Food.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a far more complex being than that – more than a creature with a one-track mind. He loves and fears and empathizes and, I think, ponders more than his next meal.

But, when it comes to the mysterious song that plays in his head — and I’m guessing it’s a song, for all I know it could be haiku – food would have to be the repeated refrain.

When, during our weeks in Cave Creek, Arizona, we sat down with animal communicator Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals – I sat down, anyway, Ace kind of wandered –  I was hoping that he wouldn’t be so stuck on the chorus that the other lyrics couldn’t come through.

But they did. According to Debbie, Ace spoke to her – sometimes in words only she could hear, also by conveying images and feelings. Only a minute after we sat down, she’d gotten her first impressions of him:

“He’s one  happy dog, and he’s very passionate.”

Animals have spoken to Debbie since she was a toddler, she says. At first, she figured everybody could hear them. Born in West Virginia, and raised in Ohio, she didn’t have pets of her own, but she had long conversations with neighborhood animals – until her mother told her at age 7 that she was a big girl now and it was time to stop doing that.

So, for several decades, she did. She stopped acknowledging that she could hear what animals were thinking, and went on to become a computer programmer.

Her job with a major corporation brought her to Arizona in 1992,  and she took on new responsibilities as she rose through the ranks — including laying off people. After 9/11, she found herself doing more and more of that, to the point it was making her physically ill.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this any longer,’” and with that she began searching for a new calling. While trying to figure out what that was, she started doing volunteer work at Arizona Equine Rescue, where she  met a Shamanic healer who sensed she had the gift. With his help she enrolled in a course in animal communication and resumed talking to animals.

In 2003, she started her own company, Listen 2 Animals, where, in addition to serving as a translator between the human and animal worlds, she helps find lost animals, resolves animal-related conflicts and coaches humans on how to better communicate with their animals. Her sessions, with horses, cats and dogs, usually range from 15 minutes to an hour and run $30 to $90.

Debbie says the messages from animals come to her in different ways.

Sometimes she senses it. ”I’m empathic I can feel what the animal feels,” she said. Other times she  might see a picture, experience a taste or smell, or hear a noise. Some of the information is conveyed to her through what she calls “thought drops,” which made me think of the comic strip device, where what one’s thinking appears in a cloud with dots leading down to the person’s head. Sometimes she hears words, as if they are actually talking. “Sometimes they just come right out and tell me. Sometimes animals know exactly what’s wrong and can tell you, other times they don’t know.”

Her clients range from people who want to know why their cat stopped using the litter box, to what the old dog thinks of a new dog in the house, or — most commonly — people seeking some guidance in making the decision to put an old, sick animal down.

Amost half of her calls are from people whose animals are “getting ready to transition” and want to know how the animal feels about it. More often than not — despite all the human angst – the dog or other animal in question is ready to proceed. “They’re not afraid of death,” she said.

Debbie met Ace and me in a fenced yard behind a store in Cave Creek. It was Ace’s second meeting with an animal communicator. (You can read about the first at the Baltimore Sun.)

The first thing Debbie did when Ace approached was seek permission from him. She says she always asks an animal first if she can communicate with them — “otherwise, it would be like walking into somebody’s house without knocking.”

Right away, she said, Ace told her “he knows why he’s here.” Ace sat at her feet for a few moments, then took off to explore the yard we were sitting in.

I’d explained to Debbie that Ace had been traveling for seven months, and that I wanted to know what he thought of our nomadic lifestyle.

After relating her initial impressions, Debbie said Ace was communicating to her in words: “I actually heard the words, ‘This is what I was born to do.’

“He takes this very seriously,” she continued. “He really feels this is an assignment, or a job, if you will. He’s sharing a feeling of always moving, moving a lot … moving and freedom.” She compared how Ace feels with the feeling she had when she got out of the corporate world and started doing what she really wanted to do.

“Passionate, energized, that’s the feeling he gives me — that his life is about more than just going through the motions. He finds it joyful to met new people, go new places, see’s new things. He’s not tired, he finds it energizing … He likes doing different and new things … What’s really important to him is being with you.

“But still,” she added, “he’s looking forward to the day you get in one place, in a home.”

Debbie passed on some other information as well:

  • Ace likes the color red.
  • The chain link fence around the yard we were sitting in reminded him of his days in the shelter. She saw him as one of a litter of three, who was dropped off at the shelter by someone who didn’t speak English. 
  • Ace has some achiness in his left hip joint, but it’s not painful.
  • Ace “thinks everybody really, really likes him.”
  • Ace likes eggs, and would like to be served them more often.
  • When I asked Debbie if Ace would prefer to eat twice a day, as he used to, or once a day, as he now does, she responded, “He wants to know if there’s a third choice.”
  • Ace enjoys being a dog, she says, as most dogs do. “If we could feel about ourselves like our animals feel about themselves, we would be very, very free. They’re just pleased about who they are.”

Debbie said Ace doesn’t mind riding in the car (which is red, by the way). “It’s not something that bothers him because he likes to be with you. But he would like you to stop more often so he can get out and sniff and stretch. He likes to investigate and see new things.”

The last seven months have provided ample opportunity for that, and it was good to hear that — in her opinion — he didn’t consider our trip a total drag.

Debbie didn’t say that Ace was eager to get back to Baltimore. Even though he doesn’t speak to me in words, I think that’s a safe bet. I’m not certain whether that city will become home for me again, but according to Debbie, Ace already has that part figured out.

“Where you are, that’s home to him.”

In praise of the dogged American worker

Some of you might remember Darcy — the too cute to strangle Boston terrier for whom I’ve served as babysitter while her mom and dad were away.

Twice, I took Darcy into my home for multi-day stays, where she proceeded to test my patience half the time, and be adorable the other half.

That was back when I had a house. Now, upon my return to Baltimore — having given up my home for the purposes of our continuing road trip – the tables have turned, and Darcy and her humans have most graciously taken Ace and me into their’s.

Where, as you might guess,  I proceeded to test their patience half the time (going so far as to clog up their toilet yesterday morning … the house guest’s worst nightmare), and attempted to be adorable (once I had my coffee) the other half.

And all this just before the start of school, no less.

Here in the city of Baltimore, yesterday was the first day of school — so,  with both Darcy’s mom and dad being city schoolteachers, it’s all the more impressive that, with everything else that was on their minds and agendas, they agreed to house one road-weary man and his 130-pound dog over the weekend.

There, in addition to the hazards of using too much toilet paper, this is what I learned:

Teachers — or at least teachers like Dan and Marite – should be appreciated much more. I say this not because they gave us shelter, but because in the days I spent with them I’ve seen how much of themselves, their own time, their own money, their hearts and souls, they pour into what they do.

Yesterday, as Ace and I sat drinking coffee on their front stoop after they left, I watched as children headed down the sidewalk for the start of a new school year, many of them tightly holding the hands of their parents. And I thought how fortunate they were — even in a school system as troubled as Baltimore’s — to have teachers like Dan and Marite. And how much worse things would be if they didn’t.

Dan spent the bulk of the weekend on his computer, finalizing his lesson plans, sweating the details. Marite cooked up some do-it-yourself orange Play-doh out of flour, water and food coloring. When we walked with the dogs down to the shopping center for lunch, Dan and Marite hit the Goodwill store, and came out with a full bag of classroom supplies.

They spent most of the weekend copying, printing and working away on their laptops, sitting side by side and sharing the couch with Darcy and Ace, who generally makes for a pretty jam-packed couch.

But Dan and Marite take chaos in stride. They seem to have mastered patience, which I guess all teachers must. They are so easy going that she probably won’t mind that I — lacking the technical know-how — am writing her name without the accent thing over the “e”.

While their home has plenty of clutter — I would describe their decorating scheme as contemporary-tornado — Ace and I only added to it, what with our leashes and dog bowls and dog food and camera and laptop and dirty laundry. We just wedged ourselves and our stuff in, and felt right at home. (Virgo that I am, I will admit I feared putting anything on a counter for fear it would disappear immediately under a stack of paperwork, laptops and school supplies. By the way, have you seen my glasses?)

The clutter, though – I’d say it’s 85 percent school related — is just another sign of their commitment.

One of the things that has struck me in our travels across America — and maybe it’s because I don’t at the moment have a “real job” — is how commited American workers are.

Most people seem to truly cherish their work — though not always their jobs. And there’s a difference. One’s “work” is doing what they got into a career to do, whether it’s teaching kids, righting wrongs or driving trucks, whether it’s lawyering or newspapering. One’s “job” is what that work has evolved into — thanks to managers, supervisors, corporate chiefs and stockholders.

We the workers, in a way, are their Play-Doh, and they tend to mold, bend and stretch us, sometimes to the point of snapping.

They take your one job and squeeze two more jobs into it; then shovel layers of bureaucracy on top, burying you under piles of  seemingly meaningless paperwork, and doing away with anything that might serve as support. They tell us to do more with less, and, at times, seem to be doing everything in their power to prohibit us from doing our jobs right. Then they — those at the very top — reap the benefits of the more, while we scrape by on the less.

I don’t think that makes me a Communist, just a pissed off worker — or a pissed off former worker, to be precise. (I kind of like the boss I have now, who looks a lot like me.)

As a nation, we fail to show enough appreciation for those doing the heavy lifting. And yet the heavy lifters keep lifting — they, and teachers especially, manage to stay fired up about the work, if not the job, despite shrinking benefits, paltry salaries and all the forces that seem intent on extinguishing that fire.

So, a little early for Labor Day, I salute the American worker, who, like the American dog, keeps at it — leaping obstacles, heeding commands, summoning up energy even when exhausted, snapping at and shaking off all the annoying little bugs that come down from above, buzzing in our ears and getting on our backs.

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

Fired firefighter walks out of appeal hearing

An Ohio firefighter who was fired for executing his two dogs walked out of an appeal hearing yesterday in which he was seeking to get his job back.

As a result, the Civil Service Commission dismissed David Santuomo’s appeal of his firing, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Santuomo, 43, was waiting for the hearing to begin, but left after a television news crew set up a camera in the commission’s hearing room.

“He came here with the intention of going forward but changed his mind,” said Barbara McGrath, the commission’s executive director. The commission had agreed to postpone the original hearing in the fall and informed Santuomo that his appeal would be dismissed if he didn’t attend today’s hearing.

Santuomo was fired in July after being convicted of two counts of animal cruelty and one count of possession of a criminal tool. Prosecutors say Santuomo tied his two mixed-breed dogs to a pipe in his basement and shot them so he wouldn’t have to put them in a kennel while he went on a vacation cruise with his girlfriend. He dumped the bodies in a trash bin behind his fire station

He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $4,500.

How mush would you like this job?

denali

 
Have I got a job for you –  a federal government one, no less — but unfortunately there’s only one opening.

The National Park Service is looking for someone to mush through the Alaskan wilderness amid the heart-stopping beauty of Denali National Park and Preserve.

The job title is “kennel manager,” and it does require running Denali’s 31-animal dog kennel, but it also affords ample opportunity to  mush, mostly to rescue lost and stranded park visitors.

It pays  between $33,477 and $66,542 a year, and out of the 19.7 million federal government jobs, it’s the only one that requires mushing, according to an Anchorage Daily News report. Here’s the actual listing.

“Our candidate must be a strong leader with supervisory skills and will be relied upon to provide all manner of services as a park ranger — from rescuing visitors and patrolling the park wilderness to presenting educational programs and community outreach,” the park’s superintendent said in a news release.

As much as 70% of the winter is spent mushing through Denali’s wilderness on patrol, or to ferry supplies, or take researchers to various parts of the park. Feeding, breeding, training and picking up after dogs are among the duties, and, being a government job, you can rest assured there’s plenty of paperwork involved, but it offers plenty of time in the great, and very cold, outdoors.

The job’s current occupant, Karen Fortier, a Connecticut native who held the post for nearly 10 years, said it’s not cold toes that’s leading to her departure, but a second daughter, born a year ago. The time away from her family became more than she was willing to put up with.

Two Beans, one dollar and a homeless guy

DSC06838

 
It was the sort of scene I can’t walk past: A muttly looking dog, a white-bearded homeless guy and a handmade cardboard sign offering: “Dog Tricks 1$.”

On the sidewalk along Franklin Street — the main drag in Chapel Hill — Mark Williams, after offering me some room on his bench, said he and his dog, Two Beans, have been homeless for about a year. “Work’s kind of slow now” in the construction /handyman/odd jobs field, he explained.

The dog trick — Two Beans knows only one — helps rake in enough money for meals.

I’d gone to Chapel Hill for a meeting of the Board of Advisers of the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, an esteemed panel on which I still serve, despite having left my most recent newspaper job a year ago, and despite – other than doing some revisions on the book I left the business to write, and writing this website — being unemployed.

Twice a year at UNC, members of the board gather to hear what the school is up to in terms of research, fund-raising and curriculum changes, which are coming pretty fast and furious nowadays as the industry, facing declining profits, continues to try to pull new tricks out of its hat, or in some cases get a whole new hat.

This meeting was a special one because it’s the journalism school’s 100 birthday — a benchmark the university’s basketball program also hit this year. That’s pretty old, but there are older journalism schools, I learned during the festivities, such as the highly respected one at the University of Missouri, which was the nation’s first.

DSC06777Getting ready to pick up my dog Ace (who I’d dropped off for a bath during the meeting) and leave town, I was walking down Franklin Street. Doing that always triggers memories of my days as a student. Thirty-four years ago, I was getting ready to graduate with my degree in journalism, and I was sending job applications to newspapers across the country. I used the seventy-some rejection letters I got then to wallpaper my room.

It dawned on me that, today, I’m in sort of the same situation – job hunting, getting a few rejections, and much more often getting no response at all. At least in the good old days they sent you a form letter. Today, many companies often don’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of your application. While students are still finding jobs, the journalism job market — like journalism — seems tighter, shallower and meaner than ever.

So bleak, in fact, that when I saw Mark Williams’ sign, I ever so briefly considered getting my own piece of cardboard, picking up my dog and setting up shop on the next bench down, offering higher-priced, upscale dog tricks (the Starbucks approach) for $5 to cover gas for my trip home.

Two Beans’ trick requires a dollar bill. Having only a $10, I asked Williams if that would work. He pocketed the ten dollar bill and pulled from his other pocket a crumpled one dollar bill. “Now go back in that alley and hide it somewhere, and Two Beans will find it.”

I wedged the bill behind a drainpipe, about waist high, and sure enough, Two Beans, when I called, came around the corner sniffed around, pulled it out, and brought it dutfifully to his master.DSC06809

Williams got the dog from a friend, shortly before he began a stretch of life on the streets. He named him Two Beans, he said, because the dog — a golden retriever-Rhodesian ridgeback mix, he suspects — is not neutered. Williams said police don’t give him any trouble about his street business. “They’d rather me do this than just be panhandling like these other guys,” he said.

In addition to providing some income — as much as $70 a day when there’s a home football game – Two Beans makes life on the streets “a little less miserable,” Williams said. He said teaching Two Beans the trick cost him $3, because the dog ate the first three dollar bills

As we sat and talked, Williams, originally from Greenville, N.C., revealed that he once wrote a book about dog training. It was only 20 pages and, so it wouldn’t cost him much to mail it out, weighed only an ounce. “It was basically plagiarized, and not very good.” He took out an ad in the National Enquirer, offering the mini-book for sale for $3.  He says he only sold two copies, one to a customer in Virginia Beach, another to a customer in Acapulco — making him, he joked, an “international author.”

When he learned I was a former newspaper reporter, Williams revealed that his family was in journalism as well: His grandfather, Walter Williams, founded the journalism school at the University of Missouri.

“That’s the nation’s first journalism school,” I said.

“Yup,” he answered.

Coincidentally, I’d also recently applied for a job there, in my continuing quest to sniff out writing/teaching/multi-media positions. I received an emailed rejection, one of at least a dozen so far.

I don’t print out my emailed rejections. They don’t have the cool logos on them that I once found decorative enough to serve as wall art. I think I also take them a little more personally, now that I have experience and credentials. So I won’t be using them as wallpaper — either the kind you put on your wall, or the kind on your computer.

Instead, I’ll keep plugging along, like Williams, and waiting for the better times I keep hearing are ahead.

Until then … dog trick, anyone?

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