Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”
That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.
That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.
I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.
If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.
We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.
After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.
My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.
I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.
That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.
But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.
I charge Lily $6.50 for each session.
In a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.
That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.
We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.
A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.
One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.
She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.
A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.
The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.
It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.
And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits – between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.
I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?
Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility. First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.
For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.
But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.
No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.
(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek March 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: affordable health care, animals, assisted living, benefits, costs, dog walking, dogs, dogwalking, elderly, escort, gigolo, health, health care, insurance, lily, newspapers, north carolina, obama, obama care, pets, poodle, premiums, president, salary, the man
You hear a lot these days about young couples foregoing parenthood and opting for a dog instead. You hear a lot, too, about young couples who take in a dog as practice for when a real baby comes along.
There’s nothing wrong, in my view, with either.
What often gets ignored though — amid the kind of scoffing the dogless sometimes do at dog peoples’ commitment to their animals – is the fact that dogs, while not the equivalent of a child, do indeed prepare young couples for parenthood.
And that’s just the beginning.
After that, they go on to help those children grow up with a healthy respect for living things, teaching them about love and loyalty. And, after the kids depart, dogs help fill the void – though usually not the same dog — of an empty nest.
They, like some brands of dog food, in fact, are there for all the cycles of our human lives — including the the onset of parenthood.
Rebecca Dube does beautiful job of describing how her dog helped prepare her for parenthood in this week’s Toronto’s Globe and Mail – in a piece whose writing was prompted, sadly, by death of the family’s beagle, Lily:
“My dog was my baby; and now that I have an actual baby, I see that my dog prepared me for motherhood far better than any of those What to Expect books.”
Rebecca and her husband adopted Lily from a rescue group, altering their lives in numerous ways — from cleaning up shed hair to shifting their schedules, to dictating where to vacation and where to live — and once Lily got sick, affecting the budget as well.
Lily lived much longer with cancer than the three months her vet originally predicted, long enough to meet the newest addition to the family.
Rebecca writes that, once she became ill, they never questioned the time and money they were investing in her: “She was our baby … And then along came a real baby.
“Our son, Elijah, arrived 10 days early, and we brought him home on a Saturday night. All through my pregnancy, I’d hoped for the moment we finally got, when we introduced Elijah to Lily, and stroked his tiny baby hand against her soft fur. In my greedy heart I wanted them to have years together, for him to laugh at her wagging tail, for her to wait patiently for scraps beneath his high chair. But that tiny bit of grace would have to be enough. Lily died early Monday morning…
“My dog was my baby. She taught me that a slobbery, stinky creature could pee on my shoes, poop everywhere, complicate my life in a million aggravating ways – and at the same time inspire so much love that my heart felt like it would burst with happiness. She taught me and my husband how to go from two to three. She taught us how to be a family…
Rebecca writes that, when Elijah gets old enough to understand, she’ll show him the photos of him and Lily, “and tell him that for a few days he had the best dog a boy could ever want.”
(Photo: Elijah and Lily, Toronto Globe and Mail)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 23rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, babies, baby, beagle, couples, cycles, dog, dogs, lily, love, ohmidog!, parenthood, parenting, pets, practice, rebecca dube, relationships, responsibility, surrogate, unconditional
We told you at the beginning of this week about Ella, a young pup found wandering in Dundalk who was scooped up by a good samaritan.
We’re happy to report at the end of the week that Ella has a new home, in Baltimore’s Riverside neighborhood.
An employee of K-9 Kraving found the dog not far from her home. After knocking on doors in the area, and finding no one who claimed the dog, she took her home, with plans to drop her by a shelter.
When a friend offered to care for the five-month-old pup until a home was found, Ella, as she’d been dubbed by then, was brought to South Baltimore, stopping by my house on the way for a quick photo session.
After her photo and story appeared on ohmidog!, and was picked up by other blogs and spread on Facebook, a Riverside resident — deeming Ella too cute to pass up — contacted Ella’s foster mom.
He met Ella earlier this week, and planned to pick her up today to bring her to her new home, where she will be known as Lily.
Now, if only Miley could be that lucky.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 27th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopted, baltimore, cat, dog, dogs, dundlak, ella, k-9 kraving, lily, miley, mix, mutt, ohmidog!, rescue, riverside, shelters, south baltimore, stray
Posted by John Woestendiek May 10th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, assignment america, baboon, burlington, cats, cbs, dog, dog nurses kittens, fawn, goat, horse, humane society, instinct, interspecies, iowa, kittens, labrador, lily, loeopard, mix, motherhood, mothers, mothers day, news, nursing, ohmidog!, pregnant, shelter, steve hartmann, video
Six kids from across the nation — including a Maryland girl who volunteers at Frederick County Animal Control — have been named winners in the American Humane Association’s Be Kind to Animals Kid Contest.
Be Kind to Animals Week, established in 1915, is being observed May 3-9 this year. It is the oldest event in the nation to celebrate the companionship, friendship and love that animals bring into people’s lives.
Annie Lee Vankleeck, 6, grand prize winner in the age 6 to 12 category, was honored for helping Out of the Pits, a non-profit pit bull rescue in Albany, New York.
After she and her parents, of Shokan, New York, learned that the organization needed blankets and towels, Annie went to work. She collected blankets and towels at the town’s annual Olive Day festival, then went to yard sales and persuaded people to donate. She also collected blankets and towels at school. She’s still at it: For her upcoming 7th birthday party, she is asking her guests to forego bringing her gifts, and bring towels and blankets for “the doggies” instead.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 9th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abby jungers, american humane association, animals, annie lee vankleeck, be kind to animals, blankets, casey mills, children, contest, dog, dogs, frederick county animal control, kids, kind, kindness, lily, maryland, missouri, mt. airy, new york, out of the pits, pets, pit bull, rescue, shokan, st. charles humane society, st. peters, towels, week, youth