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.
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?
Posted by jwoestendiek April 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, burger king, compassion, conservatives, democrats, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, encampment, greed, helping, homeless, hosts, less fortunate, liberals, mattresses, obama, pairings, patriotic, people, pets, poor, possessions, poverty, radio, republicans, rich, richmond, road trip, sardine can, selfishness, soda, stacker, stuff, talk shows, taxes, travels with ace, virginia, whopper, willis road
Humans need a play stance.
I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).
Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.
Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.
The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.
Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.
This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.
He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.
Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”
I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.
Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.
All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.
We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.
But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?
Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?
It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”
Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.
Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.
Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?
Posted by jwoestendiek March 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, behavior, butts, crouch, dog parks, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, friends, humans, interaction, interpret, meeting, north carolina, park, people, pets, play signal, play stance, queues, reaching out, road trip, signals, sniff, sniffing, social, socialization, socializing, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, winston-salem, wshington park
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.”
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:
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.”
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.”
Posted by jwoestendiek December 29th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, ace talks, animal communicator, animals, arizona, cave creek, communicate, communicating with animals, debbie johnstone, dog, dogs, empathic, empathy, happy, home, horses, job, listen 2 animals, listen2animals, mind, mission, mystery, nomads, passionate, people, pets, phoenix, road, road trip, thinking, thoughts, traveling with dogs, travels, travels with ace, vagabonds, what dogs think
Someday I am going to do a study that shows 62 percent of all studies do little more than confirm what people with a modicum of common sense already know.
Until then, I will dutifully report on them — dog-related ones, anyway.
A new Canadian study, for instance, concludes that dog owners who live alone and have limited human social support are actually just as lonely as their petless peers.
The Carleton University study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships, the Vancouver Sun reported.
“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” said co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university. “… The research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”
However, the study acknowledges, dog owners who do have a social life, with human friends, are indeed less lonely than non-dog owners.
Interestingly, that finding didn’t hold true for people with cats.
The part of the study that does seem worthy of study is that dealing with how, among people who live alone and have ”insufficient” social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat can serve to only increase the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.
People with limited community connections, the study shows, were more likely to humanize their dog — and to nurture their relationship with their dog at the expense of their personal lives. Typically, those people were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.
“We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble,” Pychyl said. The study’s authors also acknowledged that, often, dogs can serve as a catalyst for more social interaction.
In other words, dogs aren’t the sole cure for loneliness, but they sure can help — which most of us pretty much already knew.
The Carleton study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 6th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anthrozoos, canadian, carleton university, cats, depression, dog, dogs, friends, humans, interaction, loneliness, lonely, news, ohmidog!, owners, ownership, people, pets, psychology, relationship, social, studies, study, support, timothy pychyl
Little more than a week after she was on top of the world, Sandra Bullock has reportedly left the residence she shares with Jesse James, and reports are that James’ dog CinnaBun has gone missing again, too.
HomeAgain, a company that monitors microchips in pets, tolds TMZ that a report was filed March 15 with the company that CinnaBun had turned up missing.
HomeAgain sent emails yesterday to residents in the Long Beach area — in the vicinity of West Coast Choppers, where James kept CinnaBun.
“I am asking for your help in finding my lost dog, CinnaBun,” the emails read.
CinnaBun, a pit bull, went missing at the end of January and wasn’t found for nearly a month.
Meanwhile, James has broken his silence on reports that he cheated on his Oscar-winning wife, telling People magazine he used “poor judgment”.
James, a custom motorcycle manufacturer who married Bullock five years ago, said he took responsibility for his actions. But he stopped short of admitting that he had an affair.
Bullock, 45, pulled out of the London premiere of “The Blind Side” on Wednesday after the celebrity magazine In Touch Weekly published claims by a model that she slept with James last year.
“It’s because of my poor judgment that I deserve everything bad that is coming my way,” James said in a statement to People.
Bullock, who received the Oscar for best actress last week for her work in the “The Blind Side,” has reportedly moved out of the home she shared with James.
(An update to this story can be found here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 19th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: academy award, actress, again, california, celebrities, cinnabun, estranged, hollywood, home again, homeagain, jesse james, long beach, microchipped, microchips, missing, moved out, oscar, people, pit bull, sandra bullock, the blind side, troubles, west coast choppers