24 July 2017

This Morning, To Mandi And The Mansion. The Work Goes On. And On

By: Jon Katz

The Work Continues

Mandi Mulready works in the office at the Mansion, the Medicaid Assisted Care facility where Red and me – and now Gus – to much of our therapy work. She is a passionate dog lover, she has warned me not come without Gus and Red, so I am bringing Gus  along when Red and I come to deliver a Honeywell 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner, purchased with your donations, to Robert and Shirley, a couple recently arrived at the Mansion who are living in a small apartment upstairs.

The Mansion is not air-conditioned – it is a sprawling old building – and it can get especially warm up there. We brought an air conditioner to Connie and a strong fan to another resident, and we are working to cool off the hottest rooms where people sometimes get uncomfortable.

One room at a time, one air-conditioner at a time. Some parts of the building get the sun all day.

The Mansion technicians will be waiting to help me get it out of the car and into the building and upstairs. They will set it up for Robert and Shirley. When I told this sweet and devoted couple that we were bringing them an air conditioner – it was a sweltering day – they looked panicked.

Its okay, I said, it is paid for. And then they looked relieved and very grateful. This is a fine way for me to start this week. On Thursday, I'm going to Albany to meet a brave refugee mother who walked thousands of miles across Africa to save her family and get to America. She lost two of her children along the way.

This is a wonderful way to start a new week, it fills me with hope and peacefulness. People are good, given the chance.

I am presenting this amazing mother with a cash scholarship so she can help continue her education in any way she chooses and she has agreed to be photographed and interviewed. It is a small amount of money, but it will help. It will also remind her that we are a generous and welcoming people, our hearts have not turned to stone.

Working with these two vulnerable groups – refugees and the elderly – is dizzying sometimes, but always exhilarating and meaningful. It is selfish, really, because it permits me to feel good about myself and my life every single day, even in the face of perpetual conflict and argument, and angry and cruel people who seem to be ascending momentarily in the world.

Bringing this air conditioner to Shirley and Robert is something concrete that I can do, something concrete we can do together, to remind all of us that there is good in the world, and that life is precious and wonderful. On a stifling day, they will have comfort and peace.

Our mission is to fill the holes in the Mansion, not to transform it, or change reality. Speaking only for myself, I am not God. But we can do good rather than argue about doing good.

Thanks for helping me buy this air conditioner. I'd like to get a couple more. You can contribute to this and other Mansion projects if you wish by donating through my Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal Friends And Family, my ID is [email protected] The Honey well cost $349 but I am not sure precisely how many other people need one just like that. I will find out.

This will be Gus's fourth therapy visit to the Mansion, he is looking good (once he stops trying to eat earrings). Thanks again to the Army of Good, you just keep marching on.

I'll be going to see Mandi shortly.

Posted in General
23 July 2017

Gus At Twelve Weeks, A Critical Time

By: Jon Katz

Gus At Twelve Weeks

Gus is now twelve weeks old, the age when some small dog breeders release their puppies into the world (large dogs go sooner). He will grow rapidly in the next few weeks, begin to develop stronger bladder control and enter a critical period of socialization.

People whose dogs have behavioral problems often tend to blame abuse, but behaviorists have documented the fact that dogs who are not socialized in that period, do not get to meet different kinds of people in different situations often become fearful, withdrawn, even aggressive – these are often the symptoms attributed to abuse.

Gus loves people and has been socialized beyond imagination, people every where around  here want to touch him. He stays at the dentist when I'm there, greets shoppers at the Farmer's Market – it takes a long time to move through there, hangs out at the Round House Cafe, is a favored attraction at Battenkill Books, and on Main Street, has done three therapy visits to the Mansion.

I want to do more socialization.  You can never really get enough.

This is the period during which the dog develops many of his or her attitudes towards other dogs, people and the world. Soon, we will stop getting up at 3 a.m. to take him out of his crate, he will be able to get through the night.

People with older dogs try to socialize them years after puppy hood. It is very difficult to do, anybody who says otherwise is probably trying to get you to spend money.

Gus's digestive system will change also and he is entering the period of focus and concentration where more advanced training can begin – lie down, come, stay and sit. He sits on command reliably now, and mostly comes when called. This is period of  change, it is visible every day.

He is beginning to look like an old soul.

When I talk to him or say his name, he looks me in the eye and tilts his head (above), a great sign for  training. Dogs that know their names and respond to human voice are the trainable ones, they can't learn if they are never paying attention. And many dogs do not know their names and won't respond to them.

At this age, Gus may suddenly become terrified of things he didn't notice before – trucks, airplane sounds, the sudden movement of sheep. They are traditionally sensitive in this period about loud noises.  That will pass. Gus will get even more playful, if such a thing is possible, but he will rest more frequently.

The more he gets outside, and around, and in the car, the better off he will be.

Gus will still need to be taken out frequently – he just can't control his bladder for too long, and he will get mouthy, and needs plenty of available and appropriate things to chew on. He does not need for me or Maria to be a loud noise.

I'm going to step up the therapy dog training, this is an age when he can "get" more sophisticated ideas and requests. Although vets suggest that this is a good time to teach a dog his name, Gus knows his very well. We are fortunate to both be working at  home all day.

I remind myself that positive reinforcement training is especially critical at this state.

We all may lose our tempers from time to time, I certainly do but this is a time to be especially gentle and understanding. By 16 weeks, Gus will mostly be who  he is going to be, it is very difficult to change the natural and learned behaviors of an older dog we know nothing about.

Training should be brief, occur at a regular time, clear and fun. Commands should be given in one or sometimes two words "sit," "stay," "lie down." If he blows me off, I wait several minutes and try again. I never shout at him, run towards him, or jerk on his leash.

These are the weeks when he gets his final shots and tests. In a month, he will be almost fully formed.

We are in a good place. Gus is a bit less cute than he was two weeks ago, I think, and more of a dog. He is eager to go out, and  happy to come in. He loves being with the other dogs and he is always checking on me and Maria. We rarely pick him up, and he never gets to sit up in our lap or on furniture. Given the breed, that may change, but we will try not to make it a tradition or a habit.

He completely gets the idea of rest and quiet in my study. As I write this, he is lying by my feet, next to Red. He is at ease on the car, and ides on the back seat or on the floor in back.

The different stages of development for a puppy are well known and critical to training and behavior. They can be Googled online or discussed with the vet.

Posted in General

Last Touches On The Little Free Library. No 57046

By: Jon Katz

The Little Free Library

We put the last touches on our  Little Free Library this afternoon, and put up the plaque they sent me.  Maria scraped the paint off the window glass and we screwed the official library plaque on.

We even have our own number registered to our library – 57046. Jay Bridge is coming over to put a poke in the ground and move the library to the front yard, where it will be visible from the road.

People are asking me if we need or want donations, we do not. The idea of the free library isn't to give books away, but share the books we have read with others, and get some back in  return. Besides, we have hundreds of books and do not need any more here thanks.

It will be along time before we run out of books.

We know of one other free library in our town, it's over on Route 313 near the Vermont border.

Perhaps other people will try it. People who have these libraries – most are in rural areas – say it takes awhile before people  get the idea – take a book and return a book – but that others usually sprout up once the notion spreads.

It does take some work and some money – they are not as simple to build as I would have thought. But we are pretty excited about our library, I think the colors are good.  (We also discovered today that we have a previously unknown pumpkin patch growing right by the hay feeder in the pasture.)

We have to figure out exactly where to put it. Not too close to the highway to be dangerous, not too far back to be  hard to spot.

Grass roots community building are spreading across the country, especially as news from our government becomes less and less bearable. I hope to look out of my study one day and see people stopping to take home one of the books we have  read. That will be a nice thing to see.

I have always hated to see my  books gather dust on shelves for years. They ought to be shared and have many lives. Now, that may be possible.

Jay is haying on his farm, it might take him a day or two to get here, but our library will be up soon.

Posted in General

Porch Blogging

By: Jon Katz

Porch Blogging

Maria likes to blog and write on the porch in warm weather – she loves hot weather. She has company these days, Gus was happy to sit next to her and take a nap while she wrote. I like the image, it is peaceful and speaks to the way dogs can enter our lives and be with us. They looked quite natural together.

I expect that is an image I will see quite a bit over the years.

Posted in General

On Supporting Refugees And Immigrants Who Are Women

By: Jon Katz


Refugees And Women

Writing online for nearly 30 years, I have become quite accustomed to getting cruel, and snarky messages from strangers.

From my perspective, these new forms of communication, while miraculous in some ways, seem to be teaching people how not to communicate with other human beings in a rational or decent way.

I often write about these kinds of messages, one of my long and futile crusades has been to challenge the angrh people who write them and work for a civil kind of communications online.

I do not permit comments on my blog, and I ban anyone on social media who attacks me or anyone else in a personal way. I've driven most of the nasties off of my Facebook Page, but you can't catch them all, this is America. It's how we do it now.

There is a fine line, of course, between a valid question and an offensive one.

I follow my instincts on this, if someone makes me feel uncomfortable I challenge them to stop, or failing that, remove them. Yesterday I got a message on Facebook from Angeline S.

I was hurt and insulted by her message, but in all fairness I have to admit she raised a a fair question, and others have raised it also, although perhaps more politely. It deserves an answer, which is easy enough. I am nothing here if not transparent, I believe in an open life.

I was writing about issues relating to small dogs, stereotypes and sexism around Gus, our new Boston Terrier puppy,  and how men can and should reconsider language when it is offensive to women, including terms like "chick magnet."

I do notice that many people, including many women who are justly concerned about this issue, have no trouble speaking offensively to me. Real change comes slowly.

"And yet we've seen you shrug off the idea of sexism in the way you interact with RISSE," wrote Angeline. "No girls have received scholarships, none came to the retreat, none came to the farm, maybe one at the Great Escape, and, yes, a single one of the soccer team. It's great to hear you consider how you label girls and women. Real progress would be to acknowledge you've set up a program to benefit refugee boys (and name it as such) or truly incorporate the girls equally. It matters."

The idea that I shrug off sexism is especially hurtful to me, as is the pompous  suggestion that I need to make "real progress" and stop being a hypocrite indifferent to woman's rights. I consider the message nasty, although I've seen a lot worse,  but that does not mean Angeline and others don't deserve an answer. Her manners are her problem, not mine.

I answered her on Facebook, in some detail and I think it's appropriate to do the same thing here. I thought it was obvious that women would – have been – intrinsically involved in my writing about the refugees from the beginning. But perhaps it wasn't. It is also true that for the past two months, the redoubtable soccer  team were the only refugees and immigrants I had ready or full access to.

They were my gateway – and a very successful one  – into this refugee world. They have already earned the love and support of many of you reading this, that is good news for RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center based in Albany.

By earning the trust of Ali, the kids (male and female) and their parents, I am finally able to pursue my goal of writing truthfully about these people and hopefully shattering some of the awful stereotypes about them.

Angeline had no regrets about her message and suggested the fault was mine for not making myself clear enough about what I am doing. Fair enough.

This is hard  and painstaking work for me, and I know Angeline doesn't care, but I am also deeply involved in my farm, my books, my photography and also working with the residents of the Mansion Assisted Care Facility, almost all of whom are women.

I don't run RISSE and it's programs, I don't choose who goes where, I can't incorporate any "values" into their programs, it would be presumptuous and arrogant. And their values are quite wonderful.

As always, I am supporting the team, but not on the team.

RISSE doesn't need any lectures on equality for women, from me or from Angeline. it is a cornerstone of their program. I don't care much for lectures either. I asked Angeline just what she has done for refugees in America, male or female, other than write messages to me on Facebook, but she seemed to disappear after that.

The women in my life can speak to my views on women and their rights more than I can, and more credibly.  I believe every one  close to me will support my values. But I don't like to see any falsehoods to make their way around the Internet and hurt RISSE. They have enough troubles, and they do righteous and holy work. On the Internet, lies have many mothers and fathers, but facts and truth are orphans.

Some truth:

First of all, two of women coming to the retreat got sick and one was uncomfortable spending time overnight with men. They were not only invited, they planned to attend.

Many women from RISSE, young and old have come to Bedlam Farm to meet us and see the animals. At least a half-dozen trips to the farm are scheduled for the summer, all involve young women and men, I am no longer limited to the soccer team.

Some wished to be photographed here and were, many were not easy being photographed at that point, it was the height of the new administration's xenophobic labeling of refugees and immigrants as criminals, rapists and parasites, job-stealers and eroders of white and "Christian" American values.

Lots of people were – are – afraid to expose themselves in public. I have been and will continue to be sensitive about that, the women in this photo were eager to be photographed and I am grateful for them. I will certainly be writing about them if they agree.

It is true that few women have appeared in my writing about the refugees recently, although I photographed and talked to many when I first arrived at RISSE a couple of months ago.

Here's what is actually going on, despite some people's vague "impressions."

Getting access to the refugees – especially children and especially female children – has been a long and fraught process for me. You don't just show up and order up some women because someone demands that you appear balanced and equal.

People like me, armed with big blogs and cameras, are especially fearsome to refugee groups for all kinds of reasons – cultural, religious, security, political. They can't really trust me until they get to know me. That takes time. I am proud of myself for taking it. When I first showed up at RISSE, they nearly threw me out, Maria, who was with me, assured me they didn't want me there. I persevered, and am proud of myself for that.

You don't get handed trust, you have to work at it, and since I live some hours away from the refugees, the opportunities to do so are few and sometimes far apart. Nobody there knew me, or understood why people like me would take the time to come around and talk to them and take their photos. Nobody had. They just didn't understand it. Through the writing about the soccer team, they can see what I have in mind, and they are now very supportive of my being there.

I should say that among the refugees there are also numerous cultural and religious obstacles to women doing physical and other activities around men who are not related to them.That includes bus rides, retreats and soccer teams.

Some women in the program have gotten past that, some haven't. At RISSE, whose programs are overwhelmingly female, there are no blocks or obstacles to women of any age doing whatever they wish. The program is committed to equal access to education, sports , work and life.

Two months ago, with RISSE and the refugees and immigrants there came when  my friend Ali (Amjad Abdalla Mohammed) paved the way for me to gain access to the mostly male (the goalie is a woman) soccer team. Finally, a way in.

Ali and I became friends, we love one another like brothers. He  understands the value of being open, and he knew this exposure would benefit the kids on his soccer team, and it has. My hope is to do more of this work, for as many of the 90 young men and women as I can. I had to start somewhere, it was a great place to start.

I am forever grateful to Ali and will continue my work with him. I won't abandon the soccer kids either.

I knew I would not be able to meet and photograph more of the refugees and immigrants until the program administrators and I met on the procedures and policies of RISSE and until mid-July – now – when summer adult and children's classes fully resumed.

This Thursday, I have an interview with a women I photographed before  (she was on my blog) who walked across two countries in Africa and lost some of her children on the way to freedom and America. She has agreed to meet with me and be photographed, I requested this meeting months ago, she has a wonderful story to tell, and I am fortunate to be able to tell it. Why on earth would I refuse to hear it?

I am  hoping to offer her a scholarship in our  program, if the administrators agree: $200 to support her life and her interests, whatever they are.

There will be plenty of women in my photos and stories,  just look at my blog, for God's sake. I love to photograph women, they are often extraordinarily articulate about their stories, it would be idiotic to avoid them, and for me, stupidity is as bad as sexism. So is self-righteous and arrogance.

But I will never pressure a young or adult women to abandon her religious or cultural values because if fits the political agenda of one of my blog readers. That is not my purpose or my right.

I am sorry if I wasn't clear enough, and sorrier even more to read a message like that directed at me. But we live in a world where people no longer know how to simply talk to one another. And where Truth weeps every day.

Snarky comments on Facebook are easy and free, and without consequence.  They contribute to the sorry reality that nobody trusts anybody or believes anything they read or hear.

But I thank Angeline for prompting me to explain this more clearly,  and my wish for you is that you don't write things that are false on social media without thinking about them or trying to ascertain truth and facts. They can do a lot of harm, very few people pursue the truth anymore. I hope I am one of them, to my last breath.

I'm glad equality for women matters to her, it is a righteous cause, but I didn't really need Angeline  to tell me stuff like that. The truth matters too.

Asking me questions is easy enough to do, my e-mail is [email protected], people ask me questions all of the time, and I try to answer as best as I can. RISSE is doing remarkable and urgently necessary work every day. I will support it in any way that I can, and I thank the Army Of Good for helping me so directly and enthusiastically.

If you wish to donate directly to RISSE, which is tax-deductible, you can so here. If you wish to contribute to my Refugee Fund, which is separate (and not  tax-deductible) you can send a donation to P.O Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. I use the money to support the individual needs of refugees and immigrants, children and adults, things like retreats, athletic and musical equipment, birthday parties.

You can also donate through Paypal Friends and Family,  my ID is [email protected]

Thanks for listening and I hope this helpful.




Posted in General