29 March 2017

Different Styles

By: Jon Katz

Different Styles

When Red goes to the gate, the sheep retreat almost out of sight. When Fate goes to the gate, all the sheep gather right next to her. Different styles.  Fate is a free spirit, she sails above the rigors of daily life, she is a joy dog. Her breeder thinks I might have messed up her training, she comes from Wales, after all. Maybe so, but Fate is Fate, and we love her all the same.

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Solange Mendevu and 50 Art Kits For Refugee Children

By: Jon Katz

An American Story

I believe that doing good is selfish, because it always feels good, so much better than argument and hatred. Today, a chance for me, and perhaps for you, to feel very good. We need $1,200 for 90 art kits for some refugee children. I choose compassion and empathy not fear and division. I don't want my hear to turn to stone, and there is out there an Army Of Good.

Meet Solange Mendevu, in the photo above. A decade ago, Solange, a member of the Banyamulenge Tribe in the Congo, fled a horrific massacre with her family and was living in a refugee camp, hoping to get to America, everyone's beacon of hope and safety and justice. She watched her brother and cousin shot and nearly killed when another tribe attacked the refugee camp.

Today she is a certified accountant, a new board member of RISSE, the Refugee And Immigrant Support Services organization in Albany, New York, the first refugee RISSE  to graduate from Sienna College. A decade ago, she was a refugee child.

In a sense, Solange is a living truth machine. She gives the lie to every awful and false stereotype spread about refugees and immigrants.   posted a photo of her last night shyly covering her face, but then, she wanted to be photographed, on behalf of all of the refugees and immigrants in the world praying to get to America.

It is a disgrace to blame all refugees for the criminal acts of a few, any more than we can tar all of our neighbors for the crimes some commit.

Solange does not steal or tax our public services illegally. She speaks fluent English after years of hard work. She is employed and productive and pays taxes. She is not a terrorist, nor does she know of any. She does know of many of her former tribesmen still dying and desperate in Africa, a dozen were supposed to come to New York this week, their visas – they worked for years to get them – suddenly denied.

"They are very frightened," she says, "they have no place to go." I met with Solange and RISSE officials yesterday, and I hope to get to know them and write about them and help them. In America, newly arrived immigrants come under the care of U.S. Committee On Refugees and Immigration (USCRI). Then, after three months, they are on their own.

Scores come to RISSE whose main building in Albany was burned to the ground by arsonists a year ago, the tires on all of their vans slashed. They function out of a small rebuilt house and the cramped second floor of the Emmaus Methodist Church. They are overwhelmed, broke and in need of everything, from fences for the schoolyard to a new van.

They offer English and business and other classes, and day care and art programs for refugee children, 90 of whom are crowded into small spaces in need of paint and new fencing for the playground.

I have been given permission to visit RISSE regularly, meet the refugees, take photos and hopefully, offer some help. They are cranking up a new fund-raising program on their own. They are sponsoring a refugee art show in Albany on March 30 at the Albany Repertory Theater.

I have been looking for months for an organization like RISSI to visit and write about. As the descendants of immigrants, it is also true that almost no one in my family,  including me, would be alive today if not for the generous and open spirit of America. We are in danger of losing that spirit, it is a cancer that will turn our hearts and souls to stone.

When I came to meet Solange and a wonderful man named Francis Sengabo, the RISSE Director Of Operations (more about him later), I brought ten of the art kits Rachel Barlow has been making for refugee children. This week, she is bringing 50 of them to refugee children in upstate New York.

Solange and Francis loved the art kits and  I said I would try to raise funds to bring 90 more to the children at RISSI, they come from all over the world, they would benefit greatly from the creative tools in Rachel's kit.

These children have suffered greatly in their former homes, they are struggling to acclimate in a new culture, they need to explore their creative sparks, find their voice, build their confidence. Rachel's kits are amazingly creative and fun. It will cost $1,200 for her to purchase the materials for 90 art kits. Maria and I have both volunteered to help her assemble them. We know how healing and empowering creativity can be.

Rachel Barlow is an author, illustrator and painter in Vermont, and she plans to expand her program to refugee children and children in foster care. Social workers say the kits are healing and valuable to these children. I am sorry to be talking so much about money these days, but we are in a great conflict over values.

My choice is not to argue, but to do good, and this is a way to do immediate good. I hope to help RISSE in other ways as well, they are dedicated and worthy. But one step at a time. If you care to help us raise $1,200 for 500 art kids for refugee children, you can do so here.

Posted in General

Fate’s Healing: The New Boundaries Of Our world. Dogs And Their Health

By: Jon Katz


We are living in a new kind of world, requiring new ethics, values, boundaries and thoughtfulness. Technology always seduces us, we buy it and use it and then we begin thinking about how we wish to live with it. Social media can be a blessing or a nightmare, depending on how we use it and think about it.

I spent a lot of time  thinking about moral purpose and ethics, and I have reason to think about that this week when it came to dog's and their health. The Internet has transformed the animal world, and the way we treat, look at and think about our animals, nowhere more so than when it comes to dogs and their health.

People no longer simply trust their vet, they go online, trade stories and medicines, spread rumors, conspiracies and sometimes even good information.

The creators of the Internet like to say the new digital world is democratizing, and it surely is, it makes information available to us, and it makes information about  us available to everyone and every thing else. In just a few years, we have happily given up privacy, dignity, some peace of mind, space,  manners and coherence. Information is money and everyone who goes online or on Facebook is helping make someone else rich.

We have no idea how to trust.   And anyone can present him or herself as an expert and believe they have the right to tell other people what to do.

Fate started hobbling around this week, and we decided to hold off on going to the vet, give her real rest and also some baby aspirin  with her food. And save hundreds of dollars maybe.

So far, so good. She can put pressure on her leg again, and seems to be walking without pain. This time we let nature take its course and it is perhaps the best medicine there is, when it works. We didn't discuss this online, we just thought about it and did it.

I'm often considering the impact of social media on my life and on the life of my animals, and I know it is profound. I got a lot of messages suggesting various things right away for Fate, from chanting to heat pads, orthopedic  bandages (or ice packs), energy work to acupuncture to MSN to Arnica to  massage and Chinese herbs and holistic tablets that were new to me.

Interestingly, no one – not a single one –  suggested I call or visit our vet, which would have been the only feasible option just a few years ago.  And for me, still by far the best option if necessary.

No one suggested doing nothing and giving the leg a chance to heal naturally either, that now being the most holistic and radical medicine there is. I got to think about my own idea of ethics and boundaries when it comes to caring for my dogs and other animals. This is just me, I'm not telling anyone else what to do, its how I am working the new world out.

I have learned a lot from the farmers I know, rather than rush to the vet or for medications, they give the animal a chance to heal. They can't afford to be anything but sensible.

The tragedy of technology is that it brings things and takes things away.  We are alone to sort it out for ourselves. I think about it all the time, as well as use it often. Here are my ideas:

First, I do not follow medical advice given me by strangers on the Internet, to me that would be a major disservice to my dogs.

You get what you pay for, and free advice is just what it seems to be – a crapshoot. Social media are the greatest fake news and conspiracy machine there is, it makes information free and also  sows epidemic fear and distrust and argument. Animal sites, like political sites are now cesspools of division and fury.

I believe the best medical care I can offer my dogs is trained veterinarians. They make little money, they go to school for six years and see sick dogs all day every day. Most are female now, and I find them good and sensitive listeners, they are open to change and new ideas, they listen to me and suggest alternatives.

There is no reason for me to look elsewhere, or to look for strangers online. My vet is knowledgeable, experienced, well-informed and quite  open to holistic and alternative medicines and to my own feelings.

The age of the all-knowing and omnipotent folksy or curmudgeonly (and male) but loving doctor is gone. Red, lame and nearing the end of his work days a year ago, is now working and running thanks to a varied menu of old and new medicine – acupuncture, anti-inflammatory medication, laser treatments and massage.

And they are (comparatively) inexpensive and effective, at least for us. I don't know about your dog.

I never see or really consider recommendations from people online, nor do I ever offer diagnoses or medical advice online to other people.

I am not qualified,  it's as simple as that.

I have no medical background or training in medicine. I consider this amateur diagnosing to be unethical, by almost every standard. My dog is not your dog, your experience is not mine, I am not you, I do not live where you live. That's enough for me, my dogs are too important to treat their health and injuries in that way. Fate has been lame, today she is almost better. That would not cause me to diagnose your dog and tell you what to do about it on Facebook. Just doesn't feel right to me.

Social media promotes a kind of arrogance and narcissism sometimes, because we can speak so easily, we just do. We are not accountable to anyone for what we say, our advice is not reviewed or monitored.

I consider it irresponsible for me to give medical advice under any circumstances, let alone to strangers and unknown dogs on Facebook.  No responsible medical entity would eve diagnose any living thing in that way.

I don't take on the problems of others, and I don't give mine away. That is the boundary that has helped me navigate the new world of social media intrusions, it also has kept my dogs healthy and active.

I have received and witness countless offerings of bad and unproven advice and medical procedures, I am amazed at how much bad advice is generously offered and freely received. Online, no one is accountable for what they say or do. My vet is quite accountable. And responsible for what the does.

I see pages and pages of posts about animal ailments and streams of instant advice, stories about people's animals, and something Aunt Gertrude started doing to her cat.  People grieve publicly and post minute-by-minute details of their animal's illnesses. I hope it works for them, it doesn't work for me.

I see extreme grieving and rampant conspiracies offered about pharmaceutical companies, dog food makers and veterinarians. Some of these accusations have merit, most don't, and how are we to know. They leave many pet owners confused and fearful. And quite alone.

The good news is that I have learned to trust my own instincts as well, I don't look to others to tell me what to do.  If that doesn't work, I get the best help I can get. That's the least I can do for these dogs.

Rather than go on Facebook to discuss Fate's leg with the universe, I watched her for a while and made some decisions, along with Maria. We know our dogs better than anyone, something my vet always tells me. They turned out to be good instincts, in this case,  she will be working by Monday. My goal is to be my own expert, my own guru.

Like anything, this doesn't always work.

If I want advice, i know where to go for it, and I know how and when to trust it. I also understand that the best advice usually costs money. People are entitled to be paid for their hard work.

When I think of my dogs, I think of social media, which offers us so much good and bad information. I think of what it has helped to do to our political system, and is now doing to the animal world. It has not liberated us with information, it has enslaved us in cruelty, polarization, fear, greed and argument.

We humans have failed to consider how we use this amazing new technology, but I can do better for me dogs, they can't go on Facebook and learn to hate one another and tell each other what to do.


Posted in General
28 March 2017

Meet Solange, An American Story, A Proud Citizen. Art Kits Needed.

By: Jon Katz

An American Story

I went to Albany Tuesday evening to meet two remarkable people, Solange Mandego and Francis Sengabo, both agreed to meet me at the offices of the Refugee And immigrant Support Services of Emmaus (RISSE) Church.

Solange came to America from the Congo a decade ago, her family fled the Rwandan genocide. Sengabo, a gentle and easy going man, is now operations director of RISSE, he was in a refugee camp for 10 years, and was one of a handful of people – there were 400,000 people in the camp – who made it to America.

Solange saw her brother and cousin shot during massacre that occurred in her refugee camp. Solange and Francis say they would not be alive today if they did not make it to America. Neither has drained our social services or been a threat to anyone. Solange just became the first refugee in the history of the program to get her college degree (Sienna College), and she is going to join the board of RISSE.

In her country, women did not often get photographed, and she smiled and was just a bit shy, so I took this photo, and then other photos of her face with her permission.  I will post them tomorrow morning on the blog.I thought this photo was a fitting symbol of the terror that has gripped immigrant and refugee communities all over the country. They came her to escape terror, and found more here.

They give the lie to the disgusting idea that they are all violent parasites come to harm us. They are us.

RISSE is an amazing organization, wrapped around a Methodist Church second floor and an ashphalt playground. I want to write about it in the coming weeks and months.

They are overwhelmed with need, and I am going to try to help them in any way I can.I hope to bring them to life here, and follow them closely. We brought some art kits for refugee children, and they were a huge hit. I need to get more to them.

First, I want to help by writing about the refugees and showing that these are not terrorists or job stealers people who drain our resources. We have read a good deal about the small numbers of people who commit crimes and hurt people, but we have read little or nothing about people like Solange or Francis, who come her to work hard and live freely and raise themselves up.  They have all worked to learn English, get an education, find jobs, pay taxes. They love our country and are grateful to be here. It is wrong for them to feel fear and  hatred here.

They are just like my grandparents and perhaps yours. Talking to Solange and Francis, I felt a deep shame for my country. I owe them my support.

The first need of RISSE that I hope to fill – there are many more – is to supply 80 plus art kits (I brought 10) for the 90 children in their after school arts and English program. For that, I will need to raise $1,200 so Rachel Barlow can put them together. RISSE needs everything, school supplies, a new fence for the playground, a new van.

But I want to start with the art kids. They need 80-90 more. Their tiny classrooms are crowded.

In 2014, arsonists burned their building and slashed all of the tires on their aging vans. The new building just opened a year ago.

I'll write more about these two remarkable people tomorrow. Solange is happy for me to show her face. We could use some help in putting together these art kits for very needy refugee children. You can see them and donate here. More tomorrow.

Posted in General

Christie’s Journal: “And The Letters Came.”

By: Jon Katz

And Then The Letters Came

Christie wrote me this afternoon from the Indian River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center this afternoon, she said she just got back from physical therapy (PT).

"I had a very bad night, I have to say the night crew tried everything they could think of to help me. I was having back spasms one after the other. I was feeling down.

And then the mail came."

Christie said she got more than a dozen cards and letters.

"I wish I could answer them but I don't have any writing paper or such. I did have a pretty good day. I slept for two hours after breakfast and then I worked PT all day. I am exhausted, so I am going to put my feet up and rest."

Thanks for writing Christie, as you can see, these messages are important at a critical time for her. She needs to be mobile and healthier in order to get back to the Mansion rather than a nursing home. She is working very hard to get  home, which is what she considers the Mansion.

If you wish, you can write Christie at this address: Christie L., c/o The Indian River Rehabilitation Center and Nursing home, Granville, N.Y., 12832.

She and I have been having a dialogue these past couple of weeks, she symbolizes the struggle of the elderly to keep control of their lives in the face of health challenges and their own attitudes towards life. I hope to see Christie before the end of the week, i do not care to forget her plight. Red means a lot to her, she and I have a connection and your letters are shoring her up.

People like Christie are the forgotten voices in the system, I don't want her to be forgotten or feel forgotten. Thanks for your letters and messages, I know these are the first batch, I expect more are coming tomorrow and the rest of the week. The Address is Christie L., The Indian River Rehabilitation Center and Nursing home, 17 Madison Avenue, Granville, N.Y., 12832.

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