7 April 2016

A Dog’s Possessions: Then And Now. From King To Red And Fate.

What A Dog Owned

What A Dog Owned

Not too long ago, a dog's possessions were very different than they are now. If dogs were lucky, they were fed table scraps, and on holidays and Fridays, mashed potatoes with some gravy. Some slept in the back of trucks, others in garages, some outside wherever they could find a roof and a warm spot.

Vets were for rich people and cows, nobody spent a lot of money on a dog, not to buy them, treat their wounds, amuse or entertain them. Surely not to give them medications for depression and anxiety.

When I was a kid, well into the century, my father drove by a house with a sign that said "dogs for sale, free." He brought one puppy home, he was spunky, he thought. His name was King. King was a German Shepherd puppy, more or less, the breeder did not want to spent money on spaying or neutering, which was largely unheard of at the time.

So he had puppies to give away two or three times a year. Dogs had sex in those days, all the time. King was a handful. He chased the mailman and the postman every single day, he often came home with pieces of their pants legs or uniforms in his mouth.

I should say that in the 12 years he lived with us, King never set food in the house. If he came home early, he got to sleep in the basement. If he came home after bedtime, he could find his own spot, outside my mother usually left the garage door open for him if she was in a good mood. She would also leave some leftovers and scraps in a plate.

In one awful blizzard, my mother forgot to open the garage door. We found King sleeping comfortably under our neighbor's station wagon.

Buying dog food was unheard of, my grandmother said she met someone in her small shop – a rich lady – who asked if she sold dog food, and my grandmother was stunned,  she said even Americans were not do dumb and wasteful as to buy food for a dog. We never did, not once.

King had no possessions. In the morning, when my parents went to work, they let him out. King was a presence. He tore open garbage cans, sexually molested female dogs – there were many Kings running around our neighborhood – and waited for the postman or mailman.

Since separation was assumed, separation anxiety was unheard of. If I had told my father King was depressed, he would have hauled me off to the doctor or given the dog away. Since people didn't believe in those things, they never occurred.

The milkman came early, opened the door, rushed to the porch and dropped his milk there. He was a sprinter and usually made it back, although not always. King liked to aim for his butt. We sometimes heard his screams.  No one ever heard of anyone getting sued over a dog bite, it was an occupational hazard, nobody walked dogs on leashes, cleaned up after them, or made too much of a fuss about getting nipped every now and then.

The mailman had gloves he wore, and carried a stave, he got skilled at fending King off with loud noises and lunges. King was protective, but no hero. If he had a good shot, he would take it. Otherwise, he would move on. He was just protecting our house.

Sometimes, King disappeared for days, we never knew where he went.

Nobody called the police or put up any signs. If he left and didn't come back, my father said, we would get another dog. There were plenty of dogs around.  My parents would never have given King a human name, that would have been a disturbing and inappropriate thing to do, an insult to people. They rarely, if ever,  touched King or talked baby talk to him, and nobody ever called him a furbaby. At least not twice.

King never saw a human bed or slept in one, he never even saw the kitchen or the living room.

It seemed to me King loved his life. He roamed freely, dodged cars and trucks, had girlfriends every where, and a lot of human friends too. Neighbors often tossed scraps out for him, he had his regular rounds. Kids up and down the block threw balls for him and fed him their Tootsie Rolls, which he loved. He had great teeth all of his life.

Quite often, he limped or was lame – he got in dog fights, was hit by cars, run down by bicycles, probably had arthritis. He always got better.

Sometimes, King went off into the woods or the big cemetery down the street to hunt and prowl around. When he was tired, or if it was snowing, he would come to the back door, paw and scratch until someone let him in. My mother put a bowl of water and an old blanket in the basement. I guess that was one of his possessions, too.

When I think of King now, I think my parents would have been arrested many times over for animal abuse or neglect, but there were no secret animal rights informers prowling around them, and I can hardly imagine the police coming to ask us where King slept or what he ate or why he ran loose.

When King was old, he ran under a big truck and was killed. The garbagemen came and hauled him away,  according to the neighbors, we never got to say goodbye. I always  believed King committed suicide, he was getting blind and stiff and he knew when he was done. One thing for sure, he was going to have a natural death, nobody was taking him to a vet to be put down.

My mother cried when she heard the news, my father went out and got a Bassett Hound puppy named Sam two days later. He was a willful dog, he pushed me out of my own bed and growled if I climbed back in. I loved him.

I think of King when I think of my dogs now. T

hey eat holistic $45 -a- bag of dog food. They go to the vet several times a year, or whenever something doesn't look right. They are neutered. We walk them in the woods and in fields, but they are never loose away from us. They will never have sex.  They never run with other dogs. They sleep on orthopedic dog beds with ridges and ribs for comfort and back support. They have rawhide, toys, frisbees. They even have sheep. They ride around in cars all day, they are welcome everywhere.

When we go away, a loving pet sitter comes to sit with them, throw balls and keep them company. They are never outside in the snow and rain unless they are working. They sleep in heated rooms, on beds or in lined crates.

Times change, and I don't really know if King had a better or worse life than Red and Fate.

I don't like to romanticize the past, but the way dogs are treated this days does seem over the top to me. We have lost track of what they need, and care mostly about what we need them to be for us.

Certainly, King didn't expect any more, and had no reason to be unhappy with his life. Animals do not covet what they don't have, unlike people, who do.

I would say King led a great and happy life, far better than the vast majority of dogs today cooped up in back yards, basements, leashed on short walks, or imprisoned in no-kill shelters for years.

My mother loved King, I could tell, she worried about him. But she did not emotionalize him. He was a dog, that was never forgotten. Children were considered something very different than a dog, and were treated differently. I never heard anyone say King was like us kids.

I didn't see him much, dogs then were at the periphery of our lives, not the center. Once in awhile, I would go out and visit him in the garage, and he was happy to have his stomach rubbed. But if I tried to pat him on the head, he would growl. He didn't like to have his head touched.

King was never sick a day in his life, to my knowledge,  other than his occasional limps, and I guess that says something about gravy and mashed potatoes. It would be considered criminal by many – it probably is a crime – to feed that to my dogs every day today.

King had no possessions to speak of, Fate and Red are rich in comparison.

What King did have was the life of a dog.

I like to think my dogs are content also. They also don't know anything different than they have, they could not have any grasp of the life King led.

I know I do much more for them than they need me to, I do it for me, not them. My parents didn't need to do that, I think. They had their own lives, King had his. More boundaries, I think.

King had  his own life, just as I did, and he had his own problems to solve. Just like I did.

Posted in General

Hamburger Wars, Round Six: 90 Per Cent Lean. Baiting The Trap

Setting The Trap

Setting The Trap

Several people messaged me today, two on Facebook, asking why I didn't just give up and keep food off of the counter. Heh-heh. First off, they don't know me. Maria knows me well enough to know I do not give up that easily, ever. Secondly, I wonder what they think I do for a living? If I don't write about this, then what? You can't make a living off of poems.

So tonight, a trap is set. We know that Fate has not snatched any food off of the counter while I am in the house since her first snatch of beef – I was napping. We know she has not approached any counter with a mousetrap on it.  She took beef, then some bread, and Monday, some crackers.

I need to change this habit. If a border collie does something once, it's an experience. If it does something several times, it's a habit and an obsession.

(To try and forestall the inevitable messages of alarm – some have arrived – this trap has a very tiny opening, good for a mouse head but not for a dog's nose. If she goes get snapped, all the better. It won't happen again.)

I am, as you might imagine, both determined and competitive. I also do know when to give up, that moment has not arrived. She is, after all, a dog. ( I wince even as I write that.) In my home, people set the rules, not dogs or cats. I have the right to put our 90 per cent lean, pasture-fed, organic Vermont cow meat out on the counter to marinate in sauce for awhile. The dog doesn't get to dictate how I prepare dinner, not even this dog. I hope she does not get her hands on any power tools.

Yoiu can see the beef if set back on the counter, for insurance. The first time, it wasn't. The  trap is set in front of it, if she nudges it, it will snap shut with a bang. I am in my office writing now, I can't see the kitchen. I am banking on hearing something if she tries to move it She has locked onto the smell, as you can see.

When I put it out, she walked in brazenly, sniffed it, then pretended she wasn't interested and left the room. I'm  not that dumb.

She will definitely sneak in there while I am working and check it out. Red is napping at my feet, it would never occur to him to steal food from a counter. We'll see. I know most everyone is rooting for Fate, I accept that with grace.

The Joy Dog is sitting at the entrance to my study, she is pretending to rest, but watching the kitchen door. She is the devil.


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P.O. Box 205 – Eunice Sets Me Straight. “If You Are Old, Then What Am I?”

Eunice Sets Me Straight

Eunice Sets Me Straight

My post office box 205 (P.O.Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816) – I think these amazing letters ought to be a book one day  – was a feast this morning, letters from Arizona, California, South Dakota, Louisiana, Michigan and Canada. One that caught my eye was from Eunice Krecek of Morro Bay, California, she wrote me a wonderful letter to set me straight about my writing about age.

"So you think that you are an old man. I'm am going to state a different opinion. But I will not argue with you because i do not like to argue with anyone.  But here is my case for my point of view. People are living longer now than ever before, or so I've been told. You have stated many times that you are in your sixties, now I'm eighty-two. You see, if you are old, then what am I?

 " I live in a nursing home and on of my roommates is 102. So if you are old, then what am I? And where does my room mate fit in at 102? I've enjoyed reading your books and now I am a daily reader of your blog. I am glad that you are writing about the elderly as we are so misunderstood. You have real winners here…"

Eunice, I am humbled and abashed, you are not a woman to be trifled with. I will not refer to myself any longer as old, nor will I refer to anyone else as being old. Old talk is creepy, you are right, and it means nothing. Some of the oldest farts I know are in their 30's, some of the youngest spirits – I imagine you are one – are in their eighties.

Stereotyping people is just foolish, so why do it to myself?  I get it, and thank  you for straightening me out, you do not need to argue with me, I will do as I am told. I would not care to argue with you.

And thanks for writing me. I loved your letter, I love the letters from all over to my post office box, one of the best ideas I ever had. What a daily gift.

I read Eunice's letter to Maria over the phone from the post office. "Wow," she said. "How great. That will shut you up." It will.


You can write Maria and I at Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N,Y. 12816.

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For A New And Wiser Understanding Of Animals

A New And Wiser Understanding

A New And Wiser Understanding Of Animals

I've finished my next book, Talking To Animals, it will be published by Simon and Schuster next Spring. I am excited about the book, it chronicles my very personal and spiritual search for a new and better understanding of animals than seems current or available to us now.

The book was initially inspired by the naturalist Henry Beston's beautiful book on his year on Cape Cod nearly a century ago, it was called The Outermost House: A Year Of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod. Beston was not, I think, an especially gifted writer but he wrote one passage about animals that has reverberated down through time and is even more relevant today than it was then.

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err.  For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."

My book focuses on my own experiences talking to animals and listening to them – Elvis, Winston, Orson, Rose, Julius and Stanley, Homer, Lucky (my very first dog), Izzy, Lenore, Red and Fate, Simon and Lulu and Fanny, goats and hens, sheep and barn cats. In a sense Bedlam Farm is a laboratory for communicating with animals.

Beston's challenge has not been met. We used to see animals as beasts of burden, on the earth only to work with us. In our society, we have veered far from that idea, mostly, we see animals as piteous and dependent creatures in need of rescue (there is only one way to get a dog).

Carriage horses are not our partners but victims, they exist to be rescued from people and separated from society. Elephants are no longer domesticated animals who uplift and entertain people, especially children, they are all abused and exploited, they exist to be saved from us by any means at all costs, even if it means sending them to death and extinction.

Ponies can no longer be permitted to interact with children, expose them to animals,  give them their first ride on a horse's back, they are only objects of cruelty and abuse, they must be sent off to a  mythical wild and vanish from sight. Most children growing up today will never see a carriage horse, an elephant or a pony, not once in their whole lives. And this, we are told, is all in the name of preserving the rights of animals.

My book is not about animal rights or carriage horses, although I devote two chapters to the horses and their impact on me.

The carriage horse story brought me into my community, the community of animal lovers and people who work with animals, the community of people who wish to keep animals in our world, treat them humanely, insist that they remain a part of our everyday lives and not be banished to private preserves and slaughterhouses, where we shall never see or know them again.

The people who know it is not cruel for working animals to work, it is not exploitation for animals to life the spirits of people, animals can help us save Mother Earth, cars and trucks cannot.

In New York, there is no end to the cars and condos and giant apartment towers of the wealthy, but the country's biggest and richest and most powerful city cannot find a way to keep 200 rescued draft horses in safe and clean and well-maintained homes.

The carriage horse controversy made it clear to me that we do need a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. The horses were a powerful reminder of the awful consequences that can occur to animals when well-meaning people make decisions for them without understanding them or listening to them or knowing them. No one who loves a horse believes it is cruel for working horses to work, especially in the cities where they have lived for thousands of years among people.

The people who know how to listen to animals and understand them – the behaviorists, biologists, trainers, animal lovers – all see the horses clear and hear them telling us in all of the way that animals talk – body language, eyes, tails, coats, behaviors – that they are content and comfortable and safe and well cared for.

The animal rights people, many well-meaning, have too often become blinded by anger and self-righteousness, they only see and hear one another, they have forgotten how to talk to animals, if they ever knew. Henry  Beston would, I believe, be horrified at their systematic removal of animals from the lives of everyday people, of their narrow view of animals as helpless children all in need of urgent rescue.

Because no one left in the animal rights movement knows how to talk to animals or listen to them, they almost sent all of the horses out into peril, and would do it again in a minute given the chance.  Lots of elephants will die in the coming years because no one bothered to worry about where they will go once their are removed from the circuses. The horses have narrowly been spared that fate, at least so far.

So my book is a very personal story, and a very spiritual one, it is also an answer to Henry Beston's please for a new way to understand animals and think of them. They are not our piteous wards, they are our partners in the splendor and travail of the earth.

As we suffer, they suffer, as we thrive, they thrive, they are caught with us in the net of life of time. The carriage drivers know this, and the people who truly love the horses know it, and the Native-Americans who lived so closely with the horses for so long know. But many Americans, long ripped away from the natural world and the lives of animals, have forgotten it.

I am grateful to the horses for what they have taught me, for their impact on my writing and my book.

The challenge for every animal lover in our earth is not in saving animals from people, but in re-connecting animals with people. The are not our children, they are our fellow prisoners in life.

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Happy Birthday, Rapunzel Chair (And Leggings)

Rapunzel Chair

Rapunzel Chair

We are approaching the second anniversary of the Rapunzel Chair, a living art project from the fertile mind of my wife and former girlfriend. In a week or so, when we stop feeding the animals hay, Maria says the chair will be finished. Then she will pull another old chair out of the second floor of the barn and begin another fiber chair.

She says she means to keep them, they are all made out of baling string from the hay.

Maria never shops, and almost never shops retail unless it is an absolute last resort. She is very happy shopping in consignment and thrift stores (her new blue boots, purchased at Factory Supply, are a rare exception). On our way to Hampton Beach, she did stop and looked for some new leggings – she loves leggings, and I didn't know what they were until we got married. The store we stopped at didn't have any leggings on sale, so Maria wouldn't buy any.

But hers are getting faded and springing holes. So I went trawling online and found some wild Navajo-designed leggings that I think are in her size (she is a runt, so they must be small.) and are creative and different.

I think she will like them, they are cheap (like her) and she would not ever buy them new for herself.

It was an education for me to trawl through the Amazon reviews and see the comments made about leggings. Women talk so differently and openly about their clothes, and they are hell-bent on helping one another. I'm excited to see if these work.

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