Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

17 August

Going For It: A Yellow Lab Puppy

by Jon Katz

Usually, a situation like this calls for much hand-writing, contemplation, agonizing and drama. I don’t care for drama, I’ve had enough of it in my life and in the lives of the people around me.

Drama makes me almost physically ill at this point in my life and here on the blog I’ve promised to be open and honest.

No secrets, no games.

The script calls for me to grieve, recover from the death of Red and mull my next dog move. Then to make a sudden (and dramatic) announcement about it, after everyone is in suspense.

But that would be a lie, and contrived. I hate being coy.

It isn’t that I’m noble, I just have become clearer and more aware of the intentions and decisions that motivate my behavior. Maria and I have talked about getting another dog – we talk about everything that happens in our lives and on the farm – and we are both agreed.

I also talked with my big sister Jane, she knows just about everything there is to know about the emotional motivations and underpinnings around getting a dog. If you see it is a gift, she said, go for it. And I do see it as a gift.

We want a Yellow Lab puppy. A female, I think.  A quiet, gentle, sweet puppy, not too outgoing, not too shy. Something in the middle.

I’ve found an excellent breeder with a pregnant dog (I just don’t like the term bitch), and if she accepts me as a fitting recipient for one of her dogs after we talk, then I’ll send her a deposit as soon as the dog has had her ultra-sound check, and we know for sure she is having babies.

Since the due date is late September, the tests should be soon.

As many of us know, many things can go wrong in canine birth, there are no guarantees and few certainties.

I have always Labs and border collies.

I love both breeds, I have always been drawn to the working breeds.

We have two wonderful dogs. Fate is a magnificent creature, disinterested in herding but eager to love up people in our therapy work. I love having Bud, the small dog experience is richer and more interesting than I imagined. I love his character and ego.

The mix of these dogs – a border collie, a Boston Terrier, and a Yellow Labrador – seems wonderful to me.

Red has left a big hole in my life, and I write about dogs and love having them, so I want to fill that hole with another great dog.  I am older – 72 now – and I don’t subscribe to the idea that older people should not get dogs that might outlive them. To me, that would be a weak rationalization.

Maria is 17 years younger than I am, and I doubt a new Lab would come close to outliving her. And dogs are often happily and successfully rehomed by the millions in any case. People who love dogs should have them. No dog should ever have to languish in a no-kill crate for years.

This dog will cost a lot of money – $2,500, a big consideration – but dogs are my livelihood, I expect she will earn back her cost in one way or another.

There are few dogs cuter than yellow Lab puppies. And I will, of course, share the experience of getting her, training her, and chronicling her integration into our family.

Dogs from honest and experienced breeders have produced some of the most wonderful dogs I have known – I think of Rose and Red in particular, and Pearl. A good breeder keeps the best traits of dogs alive.

A prime consideration for me is my therapy work with dogs.

I wish to continue my hospice therapy work, and my deepening work with the elderly, especially at the Mansion. Labs can make wonderful service dogs.  I will want to see five generations of paperwork showing good temperament in any dog I buy for therapy work.

Labs love working with people, and if properly bred, can have an absolutely reliable temperament. I will never have one of my dogs frightening or snapping at a dying or elderly person.

Maria and I each have veto power over any animal that comes into the farm.

If either one of says no, there is no argument.  We just don’t do it.

We both have said yes to a Yellow Lab puppy, I love the way this mother looks, she is a beautiful dog.

We will, of course, go see the puppies and make certain it’s the right match all around.

I can start training a Lab puppy from scratch, and I believe those are the dogs that make the best therapy dogs for me and the close-in therapy work I like to do. Red was a once-in-a-lifetime dog, I won’t try to replicate him.

Fate will continue to work with me, her therapy dog training is coming along better than I imagined. But she is four years old, and there are some things I wouldn’t try to do with her – like hospice work.

She just gets a bit too excited for hospice work, she is great for the Mansion.

The armies of the righteous online are already displeased with my mention of even thinking about a purebred bought dog as opposed to a rescue like Bud or  Frieda or Izzy. I’m told there is only one right way to get a dog, and that is to rescue one.

Almost anyone who really knows dogs or cares about them knows this is bullshit. People tell me they are disappointed in me. I tell them to get lost.

They are obnoxious, not persuasive, and they give animal rescue a bad name, which seems somewhat self-defeating.

There are lots of ways to get a good dog, and the best is to get one you want and love and think of as a blessed gift.

Those of you have followed my blog know there are two things that make me need to work on my patience and gentleness. People who tell me what to write, and people who tell me how to get a dog.

I consider this the height of arrogance and ignorance.

I’ve written a dozen books about dogs, and gotten them in many different ways – rescue, shelter, breeder. I don’t need advice about how to do it.

Nobody who tells me there is one way to get a dog is my friend or someone who deserves to be listened to.

The rescue people I respect – and there are many – would never tell me to get any dog but one that I wanted, in whatever way I wanted.

I’ll get this dog thoughtfully and carefully, and I’ll share the process. I am excited about this, I think getting the puppy will be good for me and for Maria, and I believe it is also an honor to Red, a dog I loved so much I want to do it again.

Stay tuned. This puppy, if it works out, will not come home until November. Updates to come.

17 August

Not So Bad

by Jon Katz

The storm was pretty intense for 20 minutes or so, lighting hitting all around us. My Weather Underground lightning app said there were scores of strikes within minutes of the farm, one (0 miles away).

I took one photo of the storm as it arrived, and had to retreat because of wind and rain.

I gather the towns to the west of his got hit pretty hard, lots of trees down and power loss.

Maria and I sat on the porch, watched the wind bend our trees, saw the lightning flashing around, heard the thunder growling and booming. It’s quiet now, our power is on my lightning app has quieted down.

Fate isn’t bothered by lightning or thunder, I put Bud in his crate, he trembles during storms.

No damage and the animals are already out grazing.

I admit to taking these storms more seriously than I used to, we’ve had some awful damage in our town over the past few years, everybody acknowledges the weather is changing, and dramatically.

I have a hunch we are all going to get even closer as Mother Earth reminds us of what will happen if we don’t take care of her.

17 August

Big Storm Over The Hill

by Jon Katz

A nasty line of severe storms heading right over the hill, lots of thunder and lightning, hail and downed trees up and down our West. I’ll turn off the computer and we’ll get the house ready.  A new part of life, extreme storms that blow and blow.

So many people have experienced it, check in with you later if we keep our power. Alerts all over the place.

17 August

Fighting With Reality: Acceptance, Fear Grief And Loss

by Jon Katz

I’ve been writing about grief and loss for half of my life – books, essays, blog posts – and yet, I feel as if I am just beginning to grasp the importance of acceptance – some call it radical acceptance – as a tool for managing fear, loss, anger, and grief.

I love this topic, and my wonderful dogs always re-ignite it for me when they die, which if you know dogs, is often.

More and more, I find that radical acceptance is a part of me, and the more I understand it, the greater my awareness of it’s being profound.

Almost everything I write about grief and grieving seems to be controversial, I have learned,  at least to some people.

The subject seems to draw out a kind of Middle School spasm of name-calling.

I am continuously accused of not having enough empathy, or sympathy, or of being mean-spirited or cruel. Of denying my feelings, or posing as tough.

People assume I am telling them how to grieve, or implicitly criticizing them for the way they grieve, or not being sympathetic enough to their grief, no matter how many times I say I write only for myself and don’t tell others what to do or feel. We are all different, our differences are sacred, not heretic.

Radical acceptance is not about surrender or weakness, it describes the process of embracing with my total being what is happening now.

It challenges me to accept that I can’t control life, and I can not control others.

It means accepting myself as I am, no matter who or what I am.

Accepting the reality that I am not in control has not been easy for me, it takes discipline and persistence and practice to understand why it is that I react so strongly to things rather than understanding that I am often acting out of reality.

Radical acceptance does not mean I resign myself to mistreatment, cruelty or injustice. Quite the opposite. When I began to accept who I was, and what I could not control, I found that I was more able than ever to know myself, to find meaning and purpose for myself in the world, and thus to speak the truth.

To protect me.

When I write about my grieving process – and yes, I wrote only for myself, I don’t really need or seek the agreement or approval of anybody else – it means that I accept the universal reality of death, taxes, the rising cost of things, the fecklessness of politicians, the quirks and tics and oddities of friends, the drama of real families.

Being alive, wrote the philosopher Paul Tillich, means being in a body – a body separated from all other bodies

And being separated means being alone.

This is true of every living creature, but it is truer of man than any other creature. Man is not only alone, but he also knows that he is alone. He is not only going to die, but he also knows he is going to die.

I am going to die, and everyone I know, have ever loved, anyone I have ever met is going to die. I respect this about life, and I accept this about life. No one has it worse than me, at least not for long.

We are taught to hide from death and fantasize about life.

We are taught that money conscientiously hoarded and saved and invested will make us happy and secure, will give us a safe and protected life. Mostly, it enriches other people.

I’ve been working with the elderly for some years snow, and I have yet to meet a single one who agrees with the notion that money secured the life they wanted in the way they wanted.

Almost every single one has told me they wish they had done what they loved instead of what they were told was safe.

An old farmer told me he threw an insurance salesman out of his farmhouse when he said the old man needed a million dollars in the bank to retire safely. “Hell,” he said, “I’d rather shoot myself than do that.”

When people talk about death or seek to move forward with their lives, or forego the endless and grim rituals most religions bestow on death – elaborate wakes,  sacrifice, and mourning, ritual – they are almost accused of being uncaring, of lacking empathy. This ethos shuts down the discussions about death and grieving that we all need to heave.

This, of course, is yet another way in which we are intimidated into not thinking;  manipulated into spending our money or saving it for the profit of others.

I remember my mother and aunts grieving for days and weeks when they lost their husbands, an orgy of cooking and weeping, entertaining strangers and relatives past exhaustion, rendering their garments, covering up mirrors, days wracked with grief, baking and baking obscene amounts of food to feed the hungry mourners.

It was a painful thing for me to watch. There was no peace, no rest, no time to heal.

It seemed to me the dead were lost in a thoughtless orgy of emotion and obligation and exhaustion. I promised myself I would find another way to grieve.

I do not equate the length of grieving or the money I spent on health care, or the debt I incur with my love or Red or any dogs. I do not measure love and commitment by money. Neither do dogs, so far as we know.

I do not see the value for me in searching for sympathy and prolonging grief on Facebook or Twitter.

I will grieve as long as I have to, and not a day longer.

I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, I am not sorry about my life.

My love for Red is not measured by how much money I spent to keep him alive, how many tears I shed for him.

My feeling for him is measured in the highest compliment I could pay any companion: I went on to live my life as fully and quickly as Ican.

If that seems uncaring or cold to other people, too bad. Go read something else.

Accepting life is liberating. People, dogs, flowers and animals will die, every single one of them. It is often sad, but often much more than that. I always think, well, I’m sorry I lost a friend but I am still here.

My life is waiting for me, every second of it.

I can get another dog, and I want one, and I better get moving because I am getting older.

Do not ask me how deeply I grieve or how sorry I am. Ask me how I intend to use my time, how I am living my life, what do I hope to accomplish.

After the fog of death comes the spark of life. One is wedded to the other, they are not different things, they are the same things. It is important to grieve. It is beautiful to heal.

Tara Brach, the author of the ground-breaking book Radical Acceptance, writes that “the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness and dissatisfaction.”

And with grieving, lament, and self-pity and anxiety, mostly about things we cannot foresee or change or control. When I think about all the time I was worrying about things I couldn’t alter or change, I could really grieve.

I’ve learned to separate and organize my feelings about life: things I can control things I can’t control.

It’s a question I ask myself all the time. I’m getting good at it.

I work on the former, I accept the latter and let go. I do not speak poorly of my life. I don’t bitch about the cost of things, or paying taxes, or kids today, or troubles in my family, or my macro-bank account.

We say we wish to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to experience the joy of life. Yet each day writes Brach,  we listen to the inner voices that keep our lives small and fearful.

For me, conventional notions of grieving offer me one of the great opportunities to learn from the battleground between the inner voices that keep us small,  and the liberation and meaning that comes with accepting every single thing about our lives.

Freedom comes from embracing and awakening to the eternal now, our day to day, minute-to-minute experiences.

I will never forget walking into a Quaker Memorial Service in Providence and listen to the joyous celebration of life as well as the sadness that follows a loss. I had just spent a week watching my relatives grieve.

I knew I had come home.

For me, grieving is a benchmark, a landmark opportunity to learn how to accept life, move forward and drink from the cup of life.

We are allowed to think about it differently. I will never be scolded or bullied out of that.

When we lose ourselves in their script, in the stories others have written for us, we lose touch with our reality, our actual experience. We enter someone else’s dream or dogma.

I respect and understand that this is not a common view or even a popular view.

If I could in some way ease the burdens of grief for other people, and wave my magic wand, I would be happy to do it. But that’s not for me to do.

I can’t control what other people feel, and I don’t ever want the power to do it.

I want to awaken from the trance.


16 August

Bert In The Great Room

by Jon Katz

It was a photographer’s light in the Mansion tonight. I was lucky, I brought my monochrome black and white camera, and a used old Leica 500 mm lens. I love the lens, but I need a special light for it, and I got it tonight.

I handed out a bunch of Fall sweaters and heavier shirts, the chilly nights are not too far away. Bert took one of the sweaters and went to sit in the Great Room, just as the slight from the setting sun touched on her.

Bert and Georgiann are close friends, they trade clothes and cigarettes all the time (smoking is only allowed outside). There is inevitable isolation to the elderly, even when they are surrounded by other people.

It’s as if every experience of aging is special, different. A kind of aloneness sometimes.

Peggie asked me for a Furby for her birthday, it’s on the way.  I’m getting some Leggos for the young children of the aides, I know they don’t have a lot of money for presents and toys, especially the young single mothers.

Ellen had a Bingo Prize, she asked for a stuffed animal instead. Stuffed animals are very important to her. I ordered a bear.

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