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
While, as you can see above, the First Lady quickly seized control of the situation, the Second Dog got in a little trouble yesterday at a White House Christmas party.
Sunny Obama, the second Portuguese water dog the Obamas adopted, was part of a minor incident in which, by most reports, the one-year-old dog’s over-friendliness caused a party guest, 2-year-old Ashtyn Gardner, to fall over.
Sunny, adopted in August, jumped up on the toddler during the 2013 White House Holiday Press Preview.
The moment – not the worst violation of etiquette to ever take place in the White House, but maybe the cutest — was captured by Associated Press photographer Charles Dharapak.
Michelle Obama hosts the party every year, unveiling the White House’s holiday decorations with families of military service members.
Ashtyn, both of whose parents are in the Navy, was attending the party with her father, John Gardner, who later said that Ashtyn was fine.
Sunny reportedly apologized right after the incident by licking Ashtyn’s face, and both Sunny and Bo, the Obama’s first Portuguese water dog, were allowed to remain in the room afterward.
The Washington Post said Sunny “bounded into a State Dining Room full of children dressed in sparkly shoes and lacy dresses and headed right for little Ashtyn Gardner, 2, from Mobile, Ala. All of a sudden the blond girl with ringlet curls … was down on the rug. …
“Are you okay?” said a concerned Obama, mom-in-chief, tugging back on Sunny’s leash. But there was no need for damage control. Before Ashtyn could answer, she was back on her feet and Sunny was licking her face. All seemed well again, and the kids from military families could get back to frosting cookies and making paper poinsettia flowers with the first lady, crafty projects that have become a part of the Obama holiday traditions.
The Associated Press also avoided saying Sunny made contact with the girl, reporting Ashtyn “lost her balance and dropped to the carpet when Michelle Obama led the leashed puppy (a separate handler held Bo) into the State Dining Room…”
The dogs, in addition to attending the fest, also are a large part of its theme. Two life-sized replicas of the Portuguese water dogs, made from black satin ribbon, are on display, and miniature versions of them, made of chocolate, are part of the annual gingerbread White House display.
(Photo: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, ashtyn gardner, associated press, bo, bo obama, Charles Dharapak, christmas, decorations, dogs, etiquette, first dog, first lady, girl, jumped, michelle, michelle obama, navy, obama, party, pets, photo, photographer, portuguese water dogs, president, second dog, sunny, sunny obama, white house
Truth, always elusive, is even tougher to get a handle on in the chaotic aftermath of a tsunami — and that’s one reason the fate of the two dogs pictured in the now famous video of one stranded dog loyally watching over another remains obscure.
Despite reports from CNN, UK Telegraph, NPR, PETA and others that the dogs were rescued — all based solely on Facebook posts by Kenn Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan — their fates remain unclear and uncomfirmed.
The best account we can find is one prepared by Global Animal, an online animal magazine that, unlike most major media, interviewed Sakurai, who is being described, without documentation, as both a savior or a charlatan in Internet posts
Global Animal reports that Sakurai told them the two dogs were rescued by friends of his who are off-road bikers and that the dogs are being treated by an undisclosed veterinarian.
Sakurai lists his occupation as president of Butch Japan, Inc., a dog food company. Oddly, for a self described animal lover, his Facebook page lists Michael Vick among his “favorite athletes.”
Sakurai has reportedly deleted all negative comments from the page — as well as those that questioned his involvement in rescuing the dogs.
Sakurai’s page says he was born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo and the UK and went to school in Tokyo and New York City. He says he was involved with the development of Tokyo Disneyland and that he now is the importer of ”the safest dog and cat food on the planet.”
After the tsunami, he set up a paypal account so that people could donate to his effort, but, in his later posts on his Facebook page, he says he plans to donate that money to established shelters.
Still, many remain troubled that he has presented no photographic evidence that the two dogs are safe.
Global Animal reports: “Mr. Sakurai says he promised the bikers that he wouldn’t reveal the location of the veterinarian because they don’t want animal rescue organizations to take the dogs for their own fundraising purposes. This is why no pictures are being made available, claims Mr. Sakurai.”
In an editorial written by Arthur Jeon, co-founder of the online magazine, Sakurai is quoted as saying he would try and send the organization photos. But, the magazine said, “we are not hopeful that credible evidence will materialize.”
“Our best guess is that some difficult truth may be hidden here, and that either one or both dogs have died, possibly on the trip or shortly after. Or, that this is a story that got out of hand, perhaps being used to raise money by Mr. Sakurai himself, though he is not associated with any animal rescue organization that’s mobilized in the devastated areas.”
Global Animal provided readers interested in donating money to the animal rescue effort in Japan with a list of legitimate and long-standing animal rescue organizations.
The editorial concludes: “It’s human nature to yearn for a happy ending, to be able to move these dogs’ misery off our mental list of anguish and to find heroes in a horrible reality. It also makes for ‘good copy’ by mainstream news organizations who hit it for its feel-good elements, then move on. However, the web and Facebook are not good places to collect facts for substantiated reporting; these reputable news organizations know better.
“Ultimately, the two dogs … deserve the truth. As do we. If Mr. Sakurai responds with verifiable truth that the dogs are alive and well, nobody will be happier than the hardcore animal lovers and readers of Global Animal.”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 21st, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, company, dogs, earthquake, facebook, fate, global animal, japan, kenn sakurai, loyalty, news, news media, outcome, pet food, pets, president, reports, rescue, rescuing, sakurai, truth, tsunami, two dogs in japan, video
Last year, at an association meeting, a list of candidates and their qualificatons was announced.
Ms. Beatha Lee was described as being interested in neighborhood activities and the outdoors. She was a relatively new resident of the community who had experience overseeing an estate of 26 acres in Maine.
Apparently wanting to see a new face in the office, members unanimously elected Beatha Lee and the slate of candidates with whom she was running, reported the Washington Post.
A few weeks later, when the association’s newsletter came out, residents learned that Beatha Lee is a Wheaten terrier.
About 90 dogs live in the community (though they don’t have the right to vote), as well as about 250 human residents — some of whom found the news funny, some of whom didn’t.
“It was a first and last name, so everyone thought she was human. I’m not thrilled, I’m embarrassed,” said one.” Others saw it as a nice break in the monotony.
Dave Frederickson, who read the dog’s name and qualifications to the crowd at the annual meeting, said, “Many people, like myself, were amused. But some were extremely upset. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone explaining things.”
Beatha belongs to the former assocation president, Mark Crawford, who inherited her in 2008 from his mother and stepfather in Maine.
Crawford had served three consecutive terms as president — the limit — and after his requests to run a fourth time were denied, he decided sign his dog up as a candidate, with himself as vice-president.
“We wanted to send a message to the neighborhood that they needed to get involved and get engaged. That they can’t count on the same people to do this year in and year out,” he said.
Crawford said nothing in the association bylaws states that the president has to be human.
Asked how Beatha was faring in the post, Crawford said, “Well, she delegates a lot … That’s what executives are supposed to do – delegate.”
Posted by John Woestendiek February 24th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, annandale, beatha, beatha lee, civic association, dog, dog elected president, dogs, elected, election, hillbrook, neighborhood associatioin, pets, president, tall oaks, virginia, wheaten terrier
Here he is in an official White House photo, sitting nicely in front of a glowing fireplace, upon which the Obama family’s stockings, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are hung by the chimney with care.
Two potted poinsettias are also featured (a plant that, while not likely to kill your dog if they eat one, can irritate their mouths and stomachs and result in vomiting, according to the ASPCA.)
Rather than focusing, Grinch-like, on that, though, we’ll tell you that Bo – he’s two now — has become an integral part of the Obama family and their White House Christmas traditions.
This week, Michelle Obama and Bo visited the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. , where the First Lady, as she did last year, read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
And the official White House Christmas card this year comes with the signatures, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, of all the Obamas, and includes a paw print from Bo.
For more photos of Bo and Christmas at the White House, visit PeoplePets.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bo, bo obama, card, christmas, dog, dogs, first dog, first family, first lady, holidays, obama, pets, president, traditions, white house
The value of Bo — a gift to the president from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — was listed on annual financial disclosure forms the White House released Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Dollar-wise, the Portuguese water dog, was a mere drip compared to the president’s other income, including royalties from his books, “Dreams From My Father” and “Audacity of Hope,” which brought in between $1 million and $5 million each.
In addition to his $400,000 annual salary, Obama listed a number investments which, including those held jointly with his wife, were worth between $2.2 million and $7.5 million in 2009. His Nobel Peace Prize carried a $1.4 million award, but the president donated that to charity.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, barack obama, bo, bo obama, bobama, disclosure, dog, dogs, financial, first family, gift, income, news, obama, ohmidog!, pets, portuguese water dog, president, ted kennedy, value, white house
The First Dog has completed his first year in office, and, as far as we can tell, he has performed his duties (that’s duties, with a “T”) admirably.
Bo has been cute, playful and photogenic, and he has made the Obamas, who can come across as a little robotic at times, appear a little more down to earth and, though they live in that big white house, a little more like the rest of us.
(You can view a nice Washington Post photo gallery of Bo — it comes up after the annoying advertisement – here.)
There are those who say the White House could be reaping more benefits from Bo, but in our opinion, it’s not about what your dog can do for you, but about what you can do for your dog.
The Obamas held off on getting a dog until they were settled in the White House. Obama was, in fact, the first pet-less president ever elected — a fact some say cost him pet-lover support during the campaign.
Once in office, the family’s scientific — some might say emotionless — approach to getting a dog, one they could be assured wouldn’t trigger their daughter’s allergies, and the fact they didn’t get a dog in need of rescue, may have taken away some of the moment’s charm as well, but not much.
All of this was studied by Diana C. Mutz — yes, Mutz – the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania who, according to Daniel Rubin in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer column, studied the electoral appeal of Barack Obama in the fall.
Her conclusion, says Rubin: “Dude could have used a dog.”
All of Obama’s pre-election talk about how they were going to get a dog underscored the fact that the presidential contender did not have one, according to Mutz’s research.
Mutz says Obama was the first pet-less elected president (Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st president, didn’t have one, but he was appointed after James Garfield was shot.)
More than 400 pets have occupied the White House, she says, and dog lovers represent a huge chunk of the electorate, with about half of U.S. households owning dogs (Republicans more so than Democrats, by 6 percent.)
Mutz, who has two dogs, three cats and runs an animal rescue out of her home, concluded that the probability of voting for Obama went down 16 percent if one owned a dog.
Quite possibly, she says, dog owners identify with other dog owners, and a sort of projection occurs where dog owners prefer the more “doglike” candidate.
I know I do; and by doglike, I mean honest.
As much as Bo — a Portuguese water dog that was a gift to the First Family from the late Ted Kennedy — might have helped in the campaign, the Obama family getting a dog then would have smacked of exploitation. I respect the fact they waited, and that, in the year since his arrival, he has not been overly-foisted on the public.
So keep up the good work, Bo, and just be a dog.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 16th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bo, bobama, diana c. mutz, dog, dog vote, doglike, dogs, election, first dog, first family, news, obama, ohmidog!, pets, political science, portuguese water dog, president, research, study, ted kennedy, university of pennsylvania, voter appeal, white house