Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

19 September

Video: Do You See Zinnia In This Litter? Tech And Magic

by Jon Katz

Lenore sent me this video of Garnett’s newborn puppies last night, their eyes are not yet open. Turn up the volume to hear their squeaks. I am looking to see if I can spot Zinnia in this litter, I had a sense she was over on the left.

Technology has altered the way in which we see and meet our puppies. I used to relish going to the breeders and seeing the dogs for the first time, getting a sense of them and their temperament and manner.

Just a few years later, I get to see most of the process, I never actually saw puppies when they were this young before. For me, it is exciting but it takes some of the magic out of waiting. On the other hand, it adds magic all of its own. I can participate in the process in a way that was impossible before.

I appreciate my breeder, Lenore Severni of Stonewall Farms Labradors. She is transparent, as am I.  I get to see the process from the very beginning, and I wonder if I’ll be able to pick out Zinnia as the puppies progress.

I think Lenore will guide me. Good breeders are experts on puppy temperament and social skills.

Lenore has been involved with Labrador breeding for 35 years, she breeds for health and temperament, the two things I care most about when I get a dog, especially a potential therapy dog.

Dogs advance rapidly from birth to eight weeks, when they can be taken home. Lenore keeps people away from her puppies until their immune systems are healthy and strong. I don’t know if I’ll see Zinnia before November or not.

When I get a puppy, socialization is very much on my mind. I’ll take the puppy everywhere I can, I want her to meet and see all kinds of people and places, from the smells of a farm to the sounds of a city street. I want her to see people of all colors, shapes, and sizes.  I’ll bring her anywhere I am permitted (I always ask) and observe her in many different situations.

She will be at the Mansion and Bishop Maginn High School often. Jean’s Place and the dentist too.

Somewhere between 14 and 16 weeks, a puppy’s outlook on the world is formed. It’s called a weltanschauung or world view. After that, it’s difficult to change a dog’s attitude towards the world.

Many people who get a dog don’t realize that important behaviors are formed early, this is why I want a puppy for therapy dog work. It is difficult and time-consuming  – and sometimes impossible – to change  an older dog’s outlook or “theory of the world.”

This is something people who get dogs very need to know but are rarely told. As a result, many dogs are returned to shelters or rescue groups, many end up being euthanized or perpetually scolded and yelled at.

For me, getting a new dog challenges me to do a lot of thinking and research and training and socializing.  I understand people who like to skip the puppy thing Lab puppies are active, they chew things and dig holes and eat anything.

Fortunately, they love treats.

It’s good work but a lot of work. I’m getting ready.

18 September

Ploe: After Years Of Danger, He Learns What Friendship Means

by Jon Katz

Above Photo: Ploe in Art Class, lunchtime, in the center with new friends. Photo by me.

Ploe is 15 years old, he spent nine years of his life in a United Nations refugee camp in Thailand, his family was driven from their homes in the Myanmar massacres.

He has been at Bishop Maginn High School for two days, just entering the seventh grade and when I came into his classroom today, Sue Silverstein, the art and theology teacher, pointed him out to me.

He was sitting in the middle of a table full of new friends, all of whom had welcomed him to his new school and made him feel at home. I keep repeating myself, but Bishop Maginn is a very special, a beacon of hope and love in a time of chaos and anger.

I am writing about him because his family needs some help in raising the annual $4,000 tuition, the lowest of any private school in the Albany area (average private school enrollments there can range from $35,000 to $40,000.

I’m hoping the Army Of Good will help Ploe stay int he school by contributing to his tuition. These donations are tax-deductible, you can contribute by sending a check to Mike Tolan, Principal, Bishop Maginn High School, Albany, N.Y., 12202.

Ploe’s parents brought him to Bishop Maggin because he was struggling to deal with continuing and frightening bullying and harassment. He was afraid to talk to the teachers about it because he knew what happened to the kids who are believed to be “snitches.”

He was admitted instantly. But we need to help with his tuition if we can.

Many refugee children talk about being bullied and harassed in other schools. Ploe was a target for three reasons: he is small, he has not yet mastered English, and he is a refugee.

And because he didn’t have words yet to fight back at all of the taunts.

He also doesn’t want to hurt anyone else by fighting.  The Karen culture is gentle. In this culture of anger and resentment, the refugee students report numerous instances of hate speech, harassment and intimidation.

None of them has ever spoken of vengeance or retribution.

Refugee families are reluctant to complain to government agencies or school administrators, they all feel they are vulnerable,  under special scrutiny in today’s America.

A shy and soft-spoken young man, Ploe was reluctant to talk about the bullying, he said it was almost impossible to fight back if you don’t know the language and aren’t a good fighter.

It was out of the question to tell the teachers about it. He just had to get to Bishop Maginn, he said, he and his sister both have friends who go to the school and they told him nobody would harass or bully him or make fun of him there.

He said he doesn’t want to fight, he wants to learn. A teacher told me Ploe wasn’t willing to do the things he was expected to do to survive in his former school.

“I’m so happy here, it feels like home to me,” he told me as we talked in the Music Room of Bishop Maginn (where I’ll be tomorrow afternoon watching the new choir rehearse.)

He loves Bishop Maginn, Ploe said. He is safe, he feels welcome, he had a table full of new friends, all of whom jumped up to surround him and hug him when I took this photo. His favorite subjects are math and history. His teachers are already meeting with him one-on-one to help with his English language skills.

He told me he wants to be a mechanic, he hopes to go to a trade school to learn automotive repairs. His teachers think college is his destiny.

I was deeply moved by the affection and support the other students showed Ploe, he was so happy to have friends he could trust, quite an accomplishment in two days. Ploe said he spent the summer traveling the country with a  refugee aid group helping refugee families clean up and restore their apartments and houses.

It was clear to me that he felt more comfortable in a refugee camp then he did in a local high school. It was so hard for him to even speak of it.

Ploe is really what the school is about: offering safety, learning, friendship, and refuge.  That is their “mission.” The children tell me again and again that they feel safe there, that they are learning, that they have friends, that they have never been bullied or harassed.

To me, that’s what a great school is about.

It seems our public schools are too big and poorly funded to help children like Ploe learn and acclimate. One refugee student has his hair set on fire last year, a girl at Bishop Maginn was beaten so badly she was hospitalized.

It is always difficult to be different in many schools, but these refugee children are very different, and they pay for it.

Please help Ploe stay at Bishop Maginn, we are trying to get some help with his tuition. If you wish, send your contribution to Mike Tolan, Principal, Bishop Maginn High School, Albany, N.Y., 12202. These contributions are tax-deductible.


18 September

The Puppies Are Here! Life As A Wheel

by Jon Katz

That’s the thing about life and death, I have learned that they are not different things, but different parts of the same thing: life.

This morning, we had to kill Zelda, this afternoon I got an e-mail from Lenore, our breeder, that Garnett had given birth to seven puppies, four males, and three females.

So far, everyone is healthy, Garnett looks like a top-notch mother.

I hope one of them is Zinnia, the female we hope to bring home in November and keep as a family pet and train as a therapy dog. If all goes well, we’ll be able to visit at some point and if our Zinnia is in there.

I am well aware of the irony of life as a wheel. Isn’t life like that sometimes?

In the morning, Zelda dies, in the afternoon, our next dog has perhaps been born. Everything has meaning, and this will always be a special day in our hearts, whatever happens.

I have always understood life to be a wheel, it turns and turns. Life and death dance together. I’m excited about these puppies, I believe one of them is the dog we want and hope to have.

Garnett bred early – she was due on the 20th – if Zinnia comes home with us, it will be close to Thanksgiving. It feels like it is all coming together. I control so little of life, I am learning to sit back and appreciate the wonderful spectacle that it is.

18 September

A Spiritual And Unnatural Thing. Disturbance In The Field.

by Jon Katz

Killing one of our own animals is a spiritual thing for me, and an awful thing, a traumatic thing and a beautiful thing.

Maria and I have taken care of Zelda for nearly 11 years, we have fed her, had her sheared, sold her wool for yarn, battled with her, cajoled her and admired her great will and independence.

There is really nothing more unnatural for me than killing something you have loved and cared for for that long. It is a Disturbance In The Field, rituals and routines seem upended, turn inside and out.

There is great satisfaction and pride in helping an animal to end its life with the dignity and comfort our culture rarely allows for human beings. Without bureaucracy and politicians and politics and regulations, we are free to care for the animals we love in the way we think best.

This makes me stronger, even as my heart sank into my stomach when I pulled the trigger and saw the confused and hurt look on Zelda’s face. Zelda gave me lots of trouble, but we got to a good place, one of respect and affection.

My world felt out of kilter, and yet it also felt very right. Nothing about life and death is simple.

She was one of the few sheep that wasn’t wary of me, showing up all the time with dogs. Zelda always posed for me, looked into the camera, came up to sniff my hand, she always permitted me to rub her forehead or scratch my back.

I can’t help but feeling a little like a betrayer by using that trust to shoot and kill her.

Maria and I both felt empty this afternoon, we took a ride together to go to Tractor Supply and get some salt and mineral blocks for the sheep and donkeys.

Earlier, I went to Albany to meet a remarkable young man named Pole, he is fifteen and has spent most of his life in refugee camps in Thailand.

His suffering did not end there, he was bullied and harassed at a local Albany high school and his parents got him to Bishop Maginn.  He is safe there. Meeting him felt good and healing for me, I’ll write more about him later.

It put my day in balance, doing good feels good.

The sadness and shock didn’t last. For much of my life, I could never have imagined I would be out in a pasture shooting a sheep I admired. Who could have predicted that? You can’t know what you’re going to feel, you can only feel it.

At the end of the day, I feel drained, yet uplifted, and that is the spiritual part, my real connection with Zelda.

I did my job, I did the last thing I could do for Zelda, and did it well. And what could be more caring than that?

18 September

Burying Zelda. An Iconic Image, It Speaks For Itself

by Jon Katz

I wanted and needed to share this photograph. It has an iconic feel to it, it speaks to Maria’s strength, the awareness of animals, the circle of life and death. These are the lessons of the farm, of the animals we live with.

They are sacred lessons to me, almost a sacrament. As we buried Zelda, all of the sheep lined up to watch and stay close. Zelda was an enormous part of their lives, even recently, when she withered and weakened.

The photo speaks for itself, I don’t want to cloud it or distract from it with a lot of words. All is well on our farm.

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