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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
25 October 2016

The Beauty Of The Real Farm

By: Jon Katz
The Beauty Of The Real Farm

The Beauty Of The Real Farm

If I see a photograph, usually on a calendar of a pastoral farm, freshly-painted farmhouse, gleaming and red new barns, manicured lawns and bushes, I know it is not a real farm, it is either a second home or a Vermont farm owned by a New Yorker. Real farms are beautiful to me,  but they are not pretty or pastoral. They are filled with mud, manure, pipes, old tractors and parts, barns stuffed with nails and spare parts, and more mud, manure, junk. Farmers never throw anything away, and if you are Ed Gulley, you collect many tons of old farm scraps, tools, engine parts and washers.

Yesterday, we were visiting Bejosh Farm and I was struck again by the true beauty of the real farm, a feast of industrial debris, puddles, rusting metal and curious animals.

Posted in General

Veterinary Care And Money, Cont: My Values, Limits, And Ethics

By: Jon Katz
Animal Care And Money: My Code Of Ethics

Red this morning. Animal Care And Money: My Code Of Ethics

Red is feeling fine again, his appetite has returned, so has his energy. Our vet's advice, discussed yesterday,  was right on the button: bland food, antibiotics, probiotics, lots of water. I got to sleep last night, no dread mess to clean  up, no rushing outside at 3 a.m in the hopes of making it. I am grateful to Cassandra at the Cambridge Valley Veterinary Service for encouraging me to bring Red in to see them, when I didn't really want to spend hundreds of dollars (I spent $90.)

Yesterday, I wrote about the growing dilemma many people face over the rocketing rise of veterinary costs –  up 47 per cent for dogs, 83 per cent for cats in the past decade. I described my growing hesitation to go to the vet, even when – as yesterday – it is warranted. More than a third of pet owners in America live below the poverty line, many simply have abandoned the idea of veterinary care.

I think sometimes medical  technology firms and animal rights groups are working together to make it harder and more expensive to be with animals.

A farmer down the road (they rarely see vets) told me of his favorite vet, "Doc" Miller, who charged $10 if he fixed the dog or cat, nothing if he didn't. (He charged $5 for a cow or horse visit, $10 if he was kicked.)  Those days are gone, so is "Doc" Miller.

This issue isn't a case of pure greed or good and evil. Vets do not make a lot of money – between $60,000 and $70,000 on average. Their costs are very high and often include up to $200,000 in college debt. It takes a long time to become a vet, about six years. People who become vets do not do it for the money, they tend to love animals. It is short-sighted to blame them for the system they work in.

Vets will say in private they dread suggesting euthanasia to anyone, even when it's the best option. I do think some vets are quick to suggest or pass along the cost of expensive tests or equipment on to vulnerable patients.

It's a case of systems, not individual veterinarians,  just like human health care.

Veterinary care is becoming an enormous corporate system with expensive technology, large staffs (and insurance), new kinds of medications, some dubious,  more and more regulations,  and most important, increasingly emotionalized pet owners who have lost their grounding and see their animals as surrogate children and are willing to spend staggering amounts of money to prolong their loves or treat them.

The emotional issues involving animal care are staggering, little discussed, and hard for many animal lovers to openly acknowledge. Vets are not trained to talk about money, and most of them don't. Nor are they good social workers. To keep up with their client's demands, they often buy outrageously expensive new technology and then have to retrieve their costs.

They are trained to diagnose and heal, not to deal with emotionalized people who project their neuroses onto their animals. They don't like to talk about money or the death of animals. Animal lovers face enormous bills without much warning or opportunity to think. And many animal lovers are so torn they just don't know what to do in the heat of the moment, when their animals are suffering.

Yesterday, I was flooded with messages from people asking what my ethics are when it comes to veterinary care. As you know, I don't care to tell other people what to do, I can only write about what I do. I am not interested in arguing my beliefs or yours. We all do the best we can. If you don't agree with me, that is fine with me, do what you think is right.

If it is useful for people to know what it is that I do, I'll relate my ideas here. Every dog, cat, horse,  human and issue is different, there is no all-encompassing idea to cover everyone and their animals.

You have to do what is comfortable for you to do. I'm afraid there is no book or video that will do your thinking for you. I certainly won't, that is the American disease, although I sometimes do try and challenge people to think. The "left" or the "right" can't help you, neither will a book or video. You don't need to do what I do, you will have to think about it yourself and with your family.

And don't forget therapists and psychologists. If you are stuck, frightened and can't let go, don't be shy about getting help. I had 20 plus years of therapy and it saved my life. Free advice online from strangers is not generally a good substitute.  I meet pet owners all the time who could benefit from professional counseling, few of them know it. Animal love is a powerful force, and it drives many people to the edge and over.

My Ethics For Veterinary Care

1. Talk to the vet before there is trouble.  Make she (most like to be a woman) will listen to you.

And think about your limits,  resources and life before you have to make tough decisions about animals and money.

How much money do you have in reserve? How much do you wish to spend?  How much debt do you wish to acquire? Will pet insurance save you money or entice you into spending more than you should?

Most importantly, what are your limits? This is something husband and wife, partners or family members should all talk about and know about. Do not ever lie to your children thinking you are protecting them, they will hate you for it.

People are shy about discussing money and reluctant to seem uncaring about their animals. I needed (and need) to get over that. When I took Fate in to have her foot checked, I told the vet to do whatever she needed to do to discover the problem and treat it. So that cost $400, and nothing was found. Fate was running around l like a fool a couple of days later. Not the vet's fault, my fault.

And  don't care to purchase health insurance. If I can't afford it, I shouldn't do it. It seems strange to have to say it, but dogs are not people, neither are cats.

In the back of my mind when I took Fate and Red to the vet, I was thinking I've been through this 1,000 times with my dogs, border collies, Labs and mutts. On a farm, the working dog, the active dog will cut their paws, twist their ankles and joints, vomit and gag, limp and shake, eat gross and infected things, step on glass or pointed objects. Next time, I will look to make sure nothing is embedded, and if it persists, I will make an appointment and tell the vet I want to be conservative and moderate.

Perhaps X-rays can wait a day, or  we can skip some pills. In any case, if I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars, I want to know it in advance, so I can make a good decision. Ethical vets will discuss costs gladly, but sometimes, I just have to ask.

If I didn't wish to spend $400 on a sprain, I don't wish to spend $5,000 on a malignant tumor

I know a man who took $20,000 from his retirement fund to keep his cancer-stricken Lab alive for four years, and another woman who took her daughter's college tuition savings and spent $23,000 on surgical procedures for her dying and very old cat. Both people were proud of their decision and saw this spending as acts of loyalty and love.

I see it differently.

If it is carefully considered, that is one thing. If it is a spur of the moment decision, made on the floor of a veterinary office, it is reckless and dangerous.

When I brought Red in for his diarrhea,  I  said I didn't want to spend four or five hundred dollars off the bat, as it happened I ended up spending $90. But I thought about it and was ready to forestall more expensive testing, which was not suggested. That kind of thinking means Red will get more health care, not less.

It is imperative to set limits and think about finances before hand, and not in the trauma and moment of animal distress or an emergency. Watching Fate limp so badly, I would have agreed to almost anything to stop her pain, so the conversations with the vet need to occur outside of an emergency.

Your love of a dog or cat is not measured by how much money you are willing to spend, but the kind of love you give them,  how much thought you are giving to the animal's welfare, and to yours.

2. To me, it is unethical to spend many thousands of dollars on a dog or cat, no matter how much I love them. That kind of excess is  rarely about the dog, it is often about the human. it is not about what the animal needs, but what we need.

I do not believe in subjecting animals to traumatic and invasive major surgeries that will cause them great suffering and anxiety.

I have experienced extreme financial pressure, and I do not believe it appropriate or healthy to go deeply into debt because of a pet, that is not what having a dog or cat is about for me. If Red could understand human foibles and motives, I am certain he would not wish me to go into debt to keep him alive for a while. That is not about service, and is out of sync with the glorious history of dogs and people.

I have a right to consider my own welfare and security. So, I think, do you.

I will not subordinate my own safety and welfare or that of my family for the welfare of a dog or cat. That seems wrong to me, unnatural and unhealthy. I know people see that as the purest kind of love and loyalty, but I believe it diminishes the dignity and worth of being human, and it distorts the true nature of the human-animal bond.

We live in balance and harmony with animals, for me, it must be a balanced relationship. I do not criticize any person with a working or other animals who chooses to euthanize the animal rather than spend money they don't have and can't afford. That is love out of balance for me, I understand many people feel differently.

3.The first conversation I now have with any vet is about my animal's end of life. I make it clear what my boundaries and limits are.  If the vet is uncomfortable and believes that animals should be kept alive by any means at all costs, I thank them for their time and go find another vet.

When Lenore, Rose and Izzy were gravely ill and in great pain and confusion, I did not consult specialists or agree to multiple surgeries and expensive treatments, that is just another kind of abuse to me.  I am wary of playing God in this way and subjecting animals to traumatic procedures they can't possibly understand or agree to.

My vet understood my feelings and limits in advance, so when the time came for the dogs I loved to leave us, we moved quickly to the most merciful and quick euthanasia. I'm not worried what the vet will think of me, and don't want to hear all of the many options available to the dog or cat past a certain point. My vet respects my position and helps me to do what I think is the right thing, for me and the dog.

This belief has often drawn considerable criticism, especially from people who say they are supporting the rights of animals, but are, in fact, not. They have sometimes accused me of being a murderer, taking the curious position that they love my animals more than I do.I do not discuss these decisions with other people, that is a path to madness and confusion and uncertainty. These are intensely personal decisions, and I take responsibility for the ones I make. I don't really care what other people would do.

Since animals cannot give their consent to our too-often cruel, debilitating and expensive medical procedures, I need to be an advocate for them. I do not subject them to the pain and cost sick and aging humans are forced to endure in our sometimes thoughtless society. My job is love them, treat them well, offer them the best lives I can, and do the best I can for as long as I can. We are all going to die, and we all have to right to die with as much dignity and comfort as possible.  I accept that my dogs will not live long, they are dogs.

Few human beings have the chance to die that way in our world, we can still give this great gift to the animals we live with.

Our medical technology has too often fooled us into thinking we can fight death, or greatly prolong our lives without sacrifice. Therapy work for the aged and for people with dementia suggests that we prolong life with little thought to the kind of life we are offering, a life too often devoid of comfort or meaning.

I don't ever wish to do this to a dog of mine, just as I don't wish it for me. I'm happy to spend money on regular laser and message treatments for Red, I can afford them, and they work.

I love Red dearly, as much as I have loved any animal. If he had malignant cancer, extreme kidney disease, or crippling arthritis or some other chronic and painful condition, if he could not live the natural life of a dog, especially a working dog, I would seek to euthanize him as soon as possible.

I don't have a dollar limit on veterinary care, but I would certainly not exceed more than several thousand dollars, and then only if I had reason to believe the treatments would be effective. And I don't much like spending $400 or $500 every time a border collie steps on a rock. I need to be clearer on that.

We live in a world where many millions of children starve and freeze and have no health care of any kind, I will not spent many thousands of dollars on a dog or cat. We all have our own sense of ethics, that would violate mine. I respect anyone who makes a different choice, it is not for me to tell them what to do, or to have others tell me what to do. Maria's position is somewhat softer than mine, but not by much.

She argued successfully to go ahead with an amputation of Minnie's leg, it ended up costing $2,000, more than we expected.

We both are glad Minnie is alive, I still doubt our choice. We are both clear on not spending money we don't have.

But most often, we are in accord on perspective, it is essential in my mind to the idea of living well with animals. We need a wiser and more mystical understanding of them than this idea of keeping them alive forever and at all costs.

So that is a general outline of my ethics when it comes to my animals and veterinary care. Over the years, it has taken clearer and firmer shape, and I am comfortable with it. When I have to make this decision about limits – it is increasingly necessary in this world – I look in the mirror and respect what I see. I hope this is of use to people whether you agree or not.

And I am grateful to the Cambridge Valley vets for taking such good and swift care of Red. For all of this, there is no source or person I trust more with my dog's health than my vet. I do not ever take advice from strangers online, or seek answers and remedies there. I can't think of a more uncaring thing to do to the animals I live with.

Posted in General

Farm Halloween

By: Jon Katz
Farm Halloween

Farm Halloween

Out of the fevered mind of Ed Gulley, a Halloween display outside of the farm's milking parlor, creations, ghouls,  goblins, pumpkins, sculptures. Ed's mind is always churning. We are invited to go there to trick or treat.

Posted in General
24 October 2016

Video: Maria and Ed: The Birth Of The Key Chime. Inspiration And Encouragement

By: Jon Katz

The artist and her soul-mate.

Maria and Ed Gulley have a powerful relationship, they simply get one another creatively.

Maria was the first person in Ed's life to tell him how good an artist he is, and he says it altered his life. He brings many of his ideas to her, and it is a joy for me to see the connection between the two of them, her honesty, her passion for encouragement, and Ed's rising enthusiasm and energy for his art.

Ed is a strong man with a powerful personality. He makes up his own mind, but he listens to Maria and she is always honest and supportive of his work. Every artist needs a curator, I think. Ed values his, Maria has been a strong advocate for his work.

Ed is a dairy farmer, he and his wife Carol work brutally hard every single day but Ed is carving out time to make his sculptures and farm art. We went to visit him in his giant, three-barn studio and farm museum, I wanted to capture a slice of the wonderful relationship these two have.

Ed's art comes from the farm, it is authentic and inspiring. He is on fire.

On the surface, Ed and Maria could hardly be more different, in reality they are very much the same. They are soul mates. Come and see. This was the birth of a new Ed Gulley idea, and a good one: the key wind chime. I wanted others to witness it.

Posted in General

Sick Dog: When Do I Go To The Vet? Animal Love And Money.

By: Jon Katz
When Do I Go To The Vet?

When Do I Go To The Vet?

Red was sick today, he had severe diarrhea in the middle of the night for the second night in a row and I had to decide whether or not to take him to the vet. It is no longer a simple decision, this idea of going to the vet. Veterinary care has improved tremendously with new technologies and medicines, and the cost of veterinary care has skyrocketed as well.

According to the American Pet Products Association, the cost of veterinary care has risen 47 per cent for dogs and more than 80 per cent for cats in the past decade, and the American Veterinary Association cautions that 23 million pets live in households that are below the poverty line. This means that many animals do not get the veterinary care they deserve, and too many animal lovers go deeply into debt to care for them.

Health care for animals has been corporatized, just as health care for people is.

A few weeks ago, Fate was limping and we went to the vet for an examination. The care was excellent, profession and thorough, and tests could find nothing wrong. The treatment, which included X-rays and some pain killers, cost more than $400. I wonder if I will take Fate to the vet the next time she comes up limping, or let her limp for a couple of days.

I love my vet and the people who work there, they have helped us in so many ways and kept our animals healthy. But we live on a tight budget, and we have a lot of animals. We just can't afford to blow our budget.

When Red got sick yesterday, I have to admit I initially decided not to bring him in for an examination. Like Fate, I wanted to give him a couple of days to get well, which dogs often do, especially border collies. I didn't want to spend another $400 when I knew the problem would likely resolve itself. Dogs eat stuff on a farm, get sick, get over it. Mostly.

I believe my vet to be very honest, they are responsive, thorough and candid. I did take a stool sample and bring it in, and Cassandra, a vet tech I trust completely, and who knows Red well, suggested I bring him in for a look. She was concerned about dehydration, and we both knew that would be a much nastier process and much bigger bill.  Red is older, and he looked very uncomfortable.

I knew she was right in this case. Cassandra convinced me to bring Red in and I knew her only concern was his health, she has been giving him laser and massage treatments for months.

I have a close relationship with the people at my vet, they sensed my unease – this is not something I ever used to have to think about, but I decided not to raise it unless I saw things were spiraling.

In a rationale familiar to so many of you, I thought about how dear Red is, how much I wanted him to be well, so I decided to let the process proceed. I just want him to be better, he is dear to me and many others.

The last thing I ever want is to deny Red medical treatment for money, the next to last thing I never want is to ever be in debt again.

I know the history of dogs, and I know for most of their history, few of them ever saw a vet at all.  People just didn't spent a lot of money on animals. When I grew up, and dogs got sick, they either got well or were put down. Nobody ever spent a lot of money at a vet, it was unthinkable for a pet. I know farmers can't afford big vet bills, when their animals get sick, they often go down.

Dr. Roosevelt examined Red and I didn't need to mention my concern about the cost, she did a brief and thorough exam and suggested we go slowly and cautiously, she gave me some antibiotics for Red and said we should hold off on any further treatment until we saw how he was tomorrow. The bill was under $100, something I could handle, but I knew many of my neighbors would find it a strain.

I don't like having to think about money when it comes to our animals, but I also live in the real world, and I have to. Between Red, Fate, our pony and dying sheep, we spent well over $1,000 on veterinary care this month. We managed it, but we felt it.

In the future, I will discuss this issue openly with my vets and try to honest, rather than embarrassed or hesitant about it. I remember going through this when Minnie's leg was amputated, and it cost us nearly $2,000. We could not afford it, and I am not sure to this day that we should have done it.

I don't know a real farmer anywhere who would spent $2,000 on a barn cat.

I have interviewed people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on their dogs and cat and go deeply into debt, and I have often felt they tend to equate how much they spend with how much they love their animals.

That is manipulative and unhealthy, consciously or not. I know my vets to be ethical and honest, but I'm not sure I trust the corporate system behind them.

I think we need to be aware of our limits and open about them. I can talk to my vet about this, and figure out in advance what I can do and what I can't do, considering my health as well as the dogs.

I have written often about the limits of animal love, and it is something I deal with in my own life often. I believe in thoughtfulness, not emotionalizing and reflexive decisions.

Fortunately I have not been pressed to the limit, but I want to be prepared in case that should happen.  A friend spent $18,000 on several kidney operations for her cat. It is her business, but I am certain I would not do that, not even for Red. It seems over-the-top and unethical to me in a world where so many people have no health care at all. As much as I love Red, I hope to never forget he is a dog, and I have a life to maintain and protect.

And I am one of the lucky ones, I write about dogs and think about this often and earn money with my writing. But it is not discussed nearly as often as it should be.

I also know many of my neighbors go to any lengths now to avoid going to any vet.  They say they used to go often, but just can' afford it any more. That is a serious problem for animals.

I have written extensively about animal lovers and animal illness, and I know the system can greatly exploit the emotional attachment people have to their animals. Ethical vets don't do that, but the costs of veterinary health care, like human health care, has exploded. Poor people suffer, for sure, but the animals of poor people suffer more. When you think of your dog as your child and best friend, the moral equations involving treatment become cloudy.

Red is resting comfortably, and I will find out tonight if his diarrhea is under control or not. I hope so, I need the rest. If not, I will decide what to do in the morning.

But I realized today this is a subject that is on my mind often, but have rarely spoken about, so I'm glad I did write about it. More to come.

Posted in General