Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

4 March

Getting A Dog (Part Two) Can Be A Spiritual Experience. If You Let It.

by Jon Katz

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” – Milan Kundera.

For me, getting a dog is a spiritual experience. It may be rescuing one, or it may be buying one, but it not a moral decision for me; it a spiritual one.

Since the pandemic began, more than 12 million Americans have added a dog to their lives. For me, a dog is a profoundly spiritual experience. This piece is about how I do it. The first piece in the series ran yesterday.

There is this idea that there is only one way to get a dog, which is to rescue it to prove our compassion and morality. I respect that and have done that.

But I’ve landed – perhaps evolved – to a different place. The moral part of getting a dog for me is making sure I get one that can love me and be loved by me.

If I am careful, I can be almost 100 percent certain that my dog will not be disliked, resented, ignored, exiled to a yard or basement,  returned, or neglected even before it comes.

And I am careful.

Until I met Maria, my dogs were my best and only friends.

They sat by me while I wrote, they walked with me, grounded me, and led me to some of the best and richest experiences of my life – moving to the country, writing books about dogs, meeting Maria, my therapy work in hospice, and eldercare and with refugee children.

They have consoled and loved me during my six years of living alone on a farm. I could not have done it without them.

Dogs led me to my life as a book writer and my subsequent life as a blogger and writer with a farm. Dogs kept love alive for me when it was absent from my life.

Dogs did not replace people in my life; they helped me find people and learn to love them.

Like Kundera, I sat on a hillside with dogs on a glorious afternoon countless times when I moved to the country, and it was Eden. It was peace, the kind I have rarely found with humans. It was what I dreamt of.

Sometimes I bought my dog from a breeder. Sometimes I went to a shelter. Twice I went to rescue groups.

I’ve learned how best to get the dog I wanted and could love and train fully and lovingly in all of these instances.

But I stopped asking other people about it. My point is that finding a dog for me is an intensely personal and individual experience.

Just as there are no two dogs just alike, there are no two people.

That’s why nobody can tell me how to get a dog or what kind of a dog to get because I am the only one who can know.

The answer is inside of me, not outside. I would never dare to tell a person there is only one way to get a dog or what that way might be.

I have to go inside. I have to see the dog in my head, so I will recognize it when I see it.

I have to sit on that hillside in my mind and picture the dog. I did this for Zinnia just last year. I pictured a quiet dog who could sit silently by my side while I wrote along. Writers work alone. Dogs are important.

The more I put into it, the more I get back. It usually takes me between one and two years.

In the case of Zinnia, our newest dog, I pictured a dog who would never threaten, frighten or harm a human or another dog.  For me, getting a dog is all about love and nourishment. I can’t and won’t have a dog that will hurt people or frighten.

I thought long and hard about dogs’ trainability because training is our spiritual connection with them and our way of communicating with them. Training is the language by which we teach them how to live harmoniously with us and safely with the rest of the world.

I read a lot about dogs and breed temperament. I saw that the dog that fit into my dreams and plans was most likely to be  Lab, a dog bred for centuries to hang out with hunters and fishermen and have a soft mouth for retrieving ducks and fish and be so safe around children that kids can often ride them.

They are also one of the smartest breeds.

They are active but able to be still.  They love to be around people.

They don’t bark much or excessively; they aren’t territorial. They are not aggressive to dogs or people, give and expect affection, are highly trainable, and bark when strangers appear, and housebreak quickly and easily.

I wanted a therapy dog to train and replace Red, my border collie who died last year.

I’ve had Labs before Zinnia, but not for a few years. I researched them all over again. I contacted four breeders I heard about, read about, or were recommended to me. Good breeders know good breeders.

I found one in Connecticut; her name was Lenore Severn of Stonewall Labradors.

She and a vet had been breeding Labs together for nearly half a century. I knew would have the data I needed, the histories I wanted to see, the medical records I needed.

I would have to wait a long time for a puppy.

I wanted to know that back for five generations, no Lab of hers had bitten anyone, harmed a dog or child, or suffered from joint and leg problems.

Lenore loves her dogs, and I warn people who ask about her that she will fight for them. I appreciate that about her.

I explained to her in great detail what I wanted and needed in a dog – the therapy work is important –  and asked her to monitor her little carefully for the right dog for me.

Zinnia is exactly the dog I imagined, precisely the one I asked for, in every way the dog I have.

I can’t describe the powerful experience when you come across the dog in  your mind, the dog of your imagination. You know, and they know.

That is the spiritual part for me. I love this new dog more than any living thing other than my wife and daughter. In our training, I barely have to speak. She intuits what I want and what I don’t like and does what she needs to do.

I have never had a dog. I can train so well without even thinking about it. When I walk to the road to get the mail, she sits down 20 or 30 feet away; she knows I don’t want her near the road. But I never had to tell her.

She is not the perfect dog; there is no such thing. And I didn’t need to buy any books about it.

During the covid assault on our lives, I couldn’t go inside an assisted care facility because it was quarantined; I open the car door.

She sits by the front door until she was let in, visits the residents from room to room, and when she was done, she was let out and came to the car and jumped in.

She didn’t really need me at all.

Those visits were so important to the residents. And to me. On a sunny day, I sit out in the yard or on the back porch and look up at the sun and close my eyes.

She lies by my side and stays with me. We watch the clouds together.

That’s Eden; that’s the spiritual dimension.

So is walking in the woods with her and knowing she will never run off, even if she sees a rabbit running on the path. She comes to the Post Office to get a biscuit.

People and children run-up to her on the street, something that isn’t a good idea. I love seeing the pleasure she gives them.

I am selfish. My dogs are important to me. Had I gone out and taken the first dog who needed a home, I would probably not have these experiences.

Had I allowed others to tell me what to do, I probably wouldn’t either.

I try to do good in other ways.

Having a spiritual relationship with a dog is not all that hard. There are millions of dogs, purebred and rescue, that would love to come home with us.

Rescuing a dog is absolutely the right thing for so many people to do.

It is not the right thing for every person to do all the time.

To get a dog like Zinnia, I knew I had to go to a conscientious and accomplished breeder. There was no other way to be sure. And in my therapy and hospice work, I have to be sure.

Dogs are an extension of me.  They bring out the best parts of me and expose the worst.

They support me and my life in many ways. Zinnia and Fate and But are worth every minute of the time I spent looking for them and deciding about them.

But every dog is not the right dog for every person, and every person is not the right person for every dog. That takes clarity, thought, meditation, and some work and time.

I don’t advise strangers, but so many people are getting dogs now.

I think it’s important to offer some. All I would say is this:

I can’t tell you what kind of dog to get or where or how; I’m not that arrogant.

I can suggest that you make it your personal and individual choice. And that you wait for it.

That you think about it and ask a lot of questions, that you picture it and define the spiritual connection you seek with one of these remarkable animals.

I have been surprised to learn that what I imagine as my intent often becomes what is true. When I first saw Zinnia, I saw the dog in my head, and she rode home in my lap, where she fell asleep. I had my dog; she had her home.

What makes it a spiritual experience is getting the dog you want and need. I’m afraid that isn’t an instant moral decision, as gratifying as that can be. A spiritual dog is your dog, not somebody else’s dog.

The good news is that it is possible. The hard news is that nothing so precious in life is easy or quick.

Photo/sketch from The Domestic Dog: It’s Evolution, Behavior And Interactions With People, by James Serpell.

4 March

Rescuing Constance

by Jon Katz

The heavy snows pushed one of the pasture fences down, and the snow and ice have kept it down. This has allowed some of the sheep to walk over the fence and into the North pasture.

Constance is one of our new lambs and is adventurous and bright. Three times now, we’ve found her wandering alone in the pasture, not sure how to get back in.

We can’t fix the fence until some of the snow melts, so we opened the gate, usually closed in the winter, so Constance and the other sheep can get in and out.

When she gets stuck out there, she makes her presence known – her baaahing voice is loud and piercing.

4 March

Come And See What It’s Like To Be Awakened By The Wake-Up Squad

by Jon Katz

I was checking my bank account on my Iphone when the door burst opened. Three dogs burst in followed by my laughing wife, gleeful over catching me still in bed.

Before crouching and putting up a hand, I managed to get in one shot before Maria’s posse leaped up onto the bed joyfully and then onto me.

My left arm shot up to hold off  Fate, who was about to shower me with kisses. Bud was beginning to climb up on my chest and Zinnia was about to leap on my stomach.

Seconds later I was scrambling to get out of the bed while the dogs had a blast climbing over me.

Working dogs all, they have realized the work is getting the old man out of bed. Once I’m out, then they are victorious and successful. Working dogs live to be successful.

I don’t think there’s a lock on the door..Hmmmm…


3 March

Calling The Good: Need Food Cards Soon

by Jon Katz

Sorry to ask, but I’m afraid I’m running very low on food cards at a time of need for some of the Mansion aides and the rescue families. One aide’s husband is very sick, another’s child is sick, another is sick herself.

Beyond that, we need food cards for several refugee families who are insecure, not eating three warm meals, and spending food money to keep their children’s clothes and in school.

This is hard to see, but I’m always buoyed by the help we give. In addition to choosing between food and tuition, some of these families are choosing between tuition and heat.

The meager benefits they received in the past were eliminated by the Trump administration last year, and their city and county benefits are also being slashed, due to budget cuts.

I’m asking for help in purchasing Wal-Mart gift cards.

They are easy to purchase and can be used for food and necessities like toothpaste, toilet paper, tampons, and deodorant. They can be purchased in any amount.

Purchases over $400 needed to be activated when you receive an e-mail requesting activation. It is simple, just a click.

I’m sending all but three of my remaining cards out tomorrow. Each of the ones I have is for $50. You can buy the cards in any amount here.

They need to be sent to my home address, Jon Katz,  2502 State Route 22 Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I know some of you are not comfortable purchasing things online.

If you prefer, send me the money via Paypal, [email protected], or Venmo, [email protected]

You can also send a check to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I see some light at the end of this tunnel.

The refugee families are beginning to be vaccinated and some of their halted jobs opening up. We have gotten them this far, just a short way to the finish line.

No hard-working American family should be struggling to feed their children and choose between school and dinner.

Thanks for helping, the Army Of Good has come through every time, but I never take it for granted. You can buy the cards here.

Don’t be afraid to make small donations. They add up. The big ones are nice too.

3 March

Melak Accepted By LIM Fashion School In New York City

by Jon Katz

Melak, the very brave and wonderful 16-year-old refugee and an especially gifted Bishop Maginn High School student, has been accepted by the LIM Fashion School in New York City.

This is wonderful news; I am so proud of her.

It took a few weeks of ferocious battling, but she decided to pursue a fashion career and stay in school. This is a great choice for Melak, who loves style and all things fashion.

Now comes the hard part – getting enough financial aid so she can go there. The school is ferociously dedicated to getting its students into college and very successful.

Hey Jon, I got some exciting news to share with you.,” she wrote me today.

I got accepted to LIM, the fashion college in New York City. I’m going in for fashion merchandising and a minor major in business. I’m so excited, and I’m happy I listened to you.”

I’m happy too.

Melak, who is iron-willed and fiercely independent, and I butted heads awhile back. She told me she was leaving school; she wants her own place to live and would work instead in an Amazon warehouse.

Melak and I became instant friends; we just connected. She was a student in my writing class at the school and her stories were bone-chilling and inspiring.

We often talked about her life as a refugee, the death of her grandmother, who couldn’t get out of Iraq.

There has been real pressure on Melak about how to dress and live, she is very much her own person. I would be proud to have a daughter like that, as I am so proud of my own.

“I am hoping to study fashion merchandising,” Melak told me tonight when I congratulated her from skipping working at McDonald’s for the next few years.

“I also want to study business and hoping to open my own business through LIM college.”

I wished her luck. The big thing, I said, was that she had committed to finishing high school, then moving on to college. That was what mattered over the long haul.

She was so determined to play with her friends that she risked sniper fire to do it and heard bullets whizzing past her head.

The family lost two homes and fled two countries – Syria and Iraq.

She loves America and was eager to leave school and be independent. This is another big win for the Army Of Good, we have helped Melak in ways that made a huge difference in her life, even before this. Thanks for that.

I talked to Sue Silverstein about Melak’s future, and she said Melak was so gifted, the school was pleading with her to say and move on to college.

I joined the fray and told her I couldn’t in good conscience take people’s money to help her in any way to drop out of school.

I knew she was angry about that; she doesn’t like being told what to do. I told her I wasn’t telling her what to do; I was telling her what I could and couldn’t do.

She focused on LIM, and Sue and school officials spent many hours helping her write her application letter and financial aid requests.

She got a partial scholarship from the school and is seeking federal student loan assistance. We’ll see what happens. We’ll fight as hard as we can.

The school tuition is too high for the Army of Good, but I suspect we will help in smaller ways, and we are all going to see if we can help with the federal loan process.

We believe it will be easier to help refugees now that there is new leadership in Washington. Melak is a movie waiting to happen.

Her family was driven from Iraq and then from Syria and spent years in U.N. refugee camps. She saw an awful lot of things no child should ever see.

She is a wonderful friend, cheerful, tough, headstrong, and creative. She is also charismatic; she can do whatever she sets her powerful mind to do.

I will do everything I can to help. This one mustn’t fall through the cracks or be left behind. I’m very optimistic now that she is determined to be a fashion designer. Hopefully, it will be at LIM. If not, there are other places.

I’m not asking for any assistance from the AOG; this application and loan process will take months.  If she needs help, it probably will be for minor expenses for going to college. But it’s premature to do that now.

I’m so delighted that she has chosen this path, agreed to stay in school and go to college.

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