23 January

Could I Ever Kill Gus?

by Jon Katz
Can’t Kill Gus

Maria and I were having breakfast this morning, watching Gus closely to see if his gulping would end up in regurgitation or vomiting (he has megaesophagus), as sometimes happens after he eats in the morning. I turned to Maria suddenly and shocked us both when I said, “I don’t think I could ever kill Gus.”

I’m not sure where that thought came from.

Obviously, Gus’s disease has raised the possibility that he could die of malnutrition or starvation or pneumonia. Or that if he got truly sick, we might have to euthanize him, so I guess that was hovering in my mind at some level.

Killing dogs is a taboo subject in the animals world usually, and that’s precisely why it’s good to write about it.

I have  thought a lot about dogs and death and written a great deal about the subject in my years with dogs, and in my books. I have killed a number of dogs – Orson, after he bit three people, including a child;  Rose, when she developed several neural trauma, probably cancer; Izzy, when he got throat cancer, Lenore when she suffered agonizing spinal damage.

I have strong feelings and personal ethics about killing dogs. I am grateful to be able to end their suffering when it is acute, something we cannot do for our mothers and fathers or other people who suffer greatly at the end of their days.

My most controversial dog-killing decision was Orson, who was damaged, but physically healthy. It was a controversial decision, people called me a  callous murderer and accused me of not lifting a finger to save him. They did not pay any of the $15,000 in veterinary, behavioral and neurological tests it cost to have done on him.

I would not do that again; that is, I would not spend that kind of money on a dog again, it seems unethical to me in a world where children starve and have no health care.

I do not wish to have a dog that bites children in the neck. It was the right decision for me, and next time, I would do the same, only sooner.

Otherwise, all of the dogs I have killed have been in great pain or suffering, I am their advocate, I helped them leave the world in dignity and comfort. It is one of the cruelest forms of abuse to me to see a dog suffering for the emotional gratification of their people. I won’t ever do it.

In a sense, I believe in killing dogs if they are suffering and can’t live the natural life of dogs. It is my last gift to them, as they have given so many gifts to me.

Rose worked so hard in her life, when I saw her vomiting and twitching at the floor, I knew I had to help her, she was ready to go. Izzy’s tumor was spreading so quickly he only lived a few days after the diagnosis, I spared him as much pain as possible. Lenore, the Love Dog, was in dreadful pain.

If Gus’s disease worsens and he is starving, then I would of course put  him down.

A number of people have messaged me to say they will gladly take him if he worsens. But once again, I balk at the ethics of handing a dying dog over to someone who wishes to keep them alive at all costs and by any means. For me, that is not humane, it is cruelty in a disguised form.

Gus is not dying, or anywhere near it. I couldn’t kill Gus because most of the time, he is not suffering at all. Somewhat to my surprise, we are living comfortably with a bit of vomiting and regurgitation. You can get used to anything, I think, if there is a good motive. I think I know that if he did worsen dramatically, I would want to stop his suffering.

Another reason I couldn’t kill Gus is because he is so ridiculously cute, and knows it. In the morning, after dawn I see his big ears pop up over the blankets and his big ears swerving like radar screens. The  second I open my eyes he is all over me, licking my face furiously. All day, he brings me stuffed animals to throw for him. I like doing that.

And I couldn’t kill Gus because he has so much vitality and affectionate. I wonder if Gus may be the first dog I could not bring myself to kill, even if he got much sicker.  And I hope I could do it if I had to do it,  I could do it, it seems my responsibility to him or any dog I love.

Maria said she understood what I was saying – she usually does – she said she didn’t think she could kill Gus either. Oddly, it was not hard to kill Rose. She was not cute, she was a proud and loyal working dog, and she was entitled to her dignity when she was ready to leave the world.

It was good to have this conversation, to think about this long before it becomes a reality.

It  is healthy to talk about these things out loud, especially when there is a nasty disease to deal with.

I’ve written a dozen times that we need to have these conversations about the life and death of our dogs before we find ourselves in an examining room having to make spur of the moment decisions that have great emotional, and financial consequences. For me, the welfare of the dog is paramount. I come second.

Gus is in a good place right now, most days our new diet and protocol is working well, he has a good appetite and an inexhaustible amount of energy. This is not anything we can’t live with. I’m glad I don’t have to think about killing Gus, and I don’t anticipate I will for a very long time.

Gus has a riotous personality and we  have great fun with him. He belongs here. I don’t think I could kill Gus.

23 January

At The Mansion: Apple Pie Day, Tea Party Wednesday

by Jon Katz
Apple Pie Day

At the Mansion, Gail and the residents made an apple pie this afternoon, and then sat around having a good dessert. The pie was great, it had a scoop of ice cream on it, I sat with Red and we all ate our pie together, the kind of Mansion moment I enjoy.

Tomorrow evening, Maria and I have been invited to a tea party in the Great Room. We got a written invitation from Sylvie and accepted quickly. Red is invited also, of course. Party starts at 6 p.m.

23 January

A Good Samaritan Helps The Soccer Team Find A Place To Practice

by Jon Katz
Helping To Practice

Ali and I and the Risse soccer kids are delighted today, a good samaritan named Kevin Smith of Sportsplex of Half Moon negotiated an agreement with me today that will give the RISSE team space and time to practice once a week for 90-minutes.

Kevin also wants to get the kids pizza and shirts. He is a good man, eager to help. We negotiated a deal in minutes.

Soccer in America has become a popular,  serious- and increasingly expensive – sport, especially in suburban areas where leagues often form. The kids on the RISSE soccer team often speak about the parent-funded and very wealthy teams they play against.

The financial challenges of sports in America are revealing and sometimes chilling. To play soccer and have access to playing fields and other teams, teams must pay general fees – often up to $500 or $600.

Soccer is the hot and trendy sport, and parents spend a fortune to prepare and equip their children. The suburban teams RISSE plays against pay for warm weather practice and playing fields and then for two indoor practice sessions a week from November to March or April.

Their parents pay for each of their kids for practices fees, which run $75 a session and up. These parents take the games very seriously.

Some have personal or team training coaches, stunningly expensive custom-made soccer shoes. Soccer leagues charge steep fees for entry and tournaments, teams have expensive, custom-designed jerseys that range from $50 to $300 apiece. At games, opposing teams have several coaches, deep benches, and scores of fans and parents lined up to cheer along the sidelines.

Back home for these kids, soccer is a national sport in many of the countries refugees and immigrants come from. In the United States, it is a booming sport, mostly in the suburbs. In their home countries, soccer is often played barefoot, not in uniform and in backyards, dirt roads and grassy fields. All they need is a soccer ball, there are no fees or fancy shoes.

The Bedlam Farm Warriors had only Ali, and usually, just enough players to field a team. They do not have much in the way of training or other equipment. We did get them new uniforms, we did not have the funds or the will to get the most expensive (and that is not necessary.)

The refugee team at RISSE – the Bedlam Farm Warriors the team is now called, over my complaints, have to play mostly suburban teams if they want to compete and play soccer.

Most are new to the country and have language or other barriers. They are not the least bit daunted by the odds against them, they can’t wait to play, and they love practice.

They have none of the advantages American kids have – most of these kids have single parents who are busy working several jobs, many don’t have cars, and hardly any have extra money for the fancy sneakers, trainers. These stories are familiar to anyone who understands the refugee experience, I could be talking about my grandparents or yours.

Their parents can’t pay for the  fees and charges by the large indoor stadiums where the soccer teams go in the winter to practice. Ali has been scrounging for months for spaces to practice in – colleges, high school gyms, even open fields in the winter.  Ali is tireless and ingenious, he never stops scrambling to keep the soccer team practiced and equipped.

Sometimes he buys an hour (thanks to the Army of Good) for training. A few local colleges give him free space when their schedules permit. But it’s catch-as-catch-can, and the team will suffer if they can’t practice all through the harsh upstate New York winter.

Enter Kevin Smith, a good man, a patriot, a businessman and sports lover with a good soul.

I was introduced to Kevin Smith a couple of months ago after he bought the kids dinner one day for the soccer team when they came to practice.  He was impressed by their camaraderie, manners and hard work.

He told Ali and me – I raised the money to pay for an indoor soccer tournament over the holidays in which the Bedlam Farm Warriors placed a surprising second against the best teams in their league. He said he wanted to help them, and thanked me for sponsoring the team.  He thinks they might have a shot at winning a tournament in late February.

I knew Ali was looking for space, but it wasn’t until this morning that he called me and wondered if I couldn’t come up with the money to pay for a few practice sessions at the Sportsplex, the team’s favorite space. One thing about Ali that I earned early on – he is very shy about asking for money.

He comes from a culture where you never ask friends for money. He is afraid, he says, that I will get sick of raising money for the team and abandon them. “You and your people are the only reason we have survived,” he said, “I don’t want to ask you for too much. I’m shy…” This was hard for him to say, I could tell.

I asked Kevin what else the team might need that Ali might not have asked me for, and he told me about a big tournament coming up in late February. We agreed in a $375 entry fee – also a substantial discount, and I told Ali about it, it was a surprise. “God bless you wherever you came from,” he said. He couldn’t wait to tell the kids. It was the Army of Good, I reminded him, not me.

Kevin said he greatly admired the discipline and hard work and skill of the team.”And they are such nice, good kids,” he said.

I called Kevin up today and we negotiated quickly and easily. We started at a good place. Sometimes I have to haggle hard for the things we get for the team, this was a pleasure.

We both agreed we needed to make this happen.

I said I wanted to purchase two months worth of indoor play space for 90 minutes a week.  It isn’t as much time as the suburban teams, but it would mean a great deal to the team. That space would normally cost up to $800 for two months – one session a week.

Kevin agreed to give the Warriors a generous discount. I told him I didn’t want him to be hurt financially or agree to anything that might make him uncomfortable. He said he would find time that wasn’t in so much demand. I offered $600 and he agreed. The team will practice on Saturday mornings, and Kevin said he would be open to supporting the team in other ways as well.

This is a big break for the soccer team, and for the fiercely loyal community they have formed around Ali and their team.  Ali was overjoyed. Ali says the team has built discipline and connection, and kept some of the kids away from drugs and other trouble on the streets.

It has also given them a sense of pride and strength during a time when they have become political footballs for people without morals or heart. Thanks Kevin Smith, one of the best things about the work the Army Of Good is doing is that meet so many good and caring people.

The refugee and immigrant experience is a central part of the America experience and the American soul. People like Kevin let the boys know that we are  generous and compassionate people, and that they are welcome here. This team needs to succeed, and I am committed to helping them, as are so many of you.

This week, I also meeting the members of the new RISSE all-girls basketball team, I hope I can be of some support to them, funds permitting. None of us in the Army Of Good are rich, the money comes in small and precious donations.

I thought it might be nice of anyone wished to thank Kevin personally for his support of the soccer team, his e-mail is info@sportsplexhalfmoon.com.

If anyone wishes to help support the refugee fund – subsidies and program and tuition and aid funds are being slashed every day – you can donate to my post office box – Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. The money goes to varied refugee and immigrant projects, not just the team.

It also is funding the new Monthly Grocery program, where Ali and Maria and I buy a months’ worth of groceries and deliver them to a refugee family each month. February will be our second month.

Please mark “refugee fund” on your checks. If you wish to contribute to my work with the residents of the Mansion Assisted Care facility, you use the same address, please mark the payments “Mansion,” or also “either Mansion or Refugees.” thanks.

We are off to a good start in 2018. It is better to do good that argue about what good is.

23 January

Portraits Of Connection. The Retreat.

by Jon Katz
Portraits Of Connection

I appreciate my friendship with Ali (Amjad Abdullah), a young man who hopes to be an electrical engineer one day, but who has, for now, devoted himself to the boys and girls at RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center in Albany, N.Y.

Ali brought the soccer team to the Pompanuck Farm Institute over the weekend for a joyous retreat. I liked this photo, I think it captures the connection between Ali and these young men, who are greatly in need of community and encouragement and support.

Thursday, I’m going to Albany to meet with Ali and the new RISSE all girl’s basketball team, getting organized now for Spring play. They are planning to come to Pompanuck also (but not, it seems, with the boys.) I’m excited to meet them, they will need some new uniforms and shoes as well, and I hope to persuade them to be photographed Thursday.

I never force my own cultural ideas or beliefs on these kids, I respect the values and traditions they bring it is for them to change, not for me to preach to them. I will never rush anybody into anything they are not sure of doing. That would be culturally offensive.

In some immigrant cultures, it is considered unseemly for women to have their pictures taken, as i have learned, or to be quoted in media. Blogs are strange and dangerous things to some of these kids.

Americans are sometimes slow to understand this caution, but when you hear their stories, it makes absolute sense. Many have brothers and sisters and fathers and friends back home, it could be dangerous for them if the wrong thing was said or misunderstood.

The women seem to feel this the most acutely.

I think I have moved past this with the boys, but I never quote them about their former lives, and I always ask permission before taking photos.

I am always mindful of the dangers of that. Sadly, there are dangers in our country too, the boys face much hostility and indifference in their lives now.

Ali says the girls are fired up about basketball, they also want to call themselves the Bedlam Farm Warriors, I will urge them to think of another name, I don’t need that.

Ali and I work beautifully together, he has been instrumental in guiding me into the refugee and immigrant community in upstate New York, a group that is quite understandably wary and tightly-knit. it takes awhile for strangers to get in, it has taken me months.

He and I are brothers now, we  see into the souls of each other.

I am in a we of his dedication to these young men and women, they mean so much to him, and they are, in many ways, his life. I often wonder where people like Ali get the heart and drive to do what they do. I think they are angels come to earth to lead us to better places.

He is always available to these children in need, and will never let them down.

23 January

Frida And Diego

by Jon Katz
Frida And Diego

I stopped at a pet store to get some fish to give to the RISSE soccer kids this weekend, and on an impulse, I got a goldfish (the one at the top) and named it Frida, after one of Maria’s favorite artists, Frida Kahlo. I wasn’t sure Maria would want a fish, but she was delighted to have it, and the two of them chat often during the day.

She actually liked the fish so much that we went back to the store and got another fish (the dark one) which really had to be named DIego, after Frida’s brilliant lover and fellow artist.

The two are thriving, active and alert and very healthy. I had tropical fish for years when I was growing up, and it is kind of neat to have fish in the house again, although I’m leaving these two to Maria. I might get one for my study, I suppose.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were one of the great and  storied lovers in all of art history. They had a tempestuous, on-and-off passion for one another that lasted all of both of their lives. They are certainly a great inspiration to Maria and me, although next to Diego, I am quite bland and mellow.

And here, long after both Frida and Diego are gone, there are two fish swimming around in an old farmhouse in their honor. Life is strange, life is wonderful.

Email SignupEmail Signup