Wednesday, September 29, 2010

And now for something completely different... Indian Burial Grounds

While I do enjoy writing about helping critters, I occasionally find myself thinking about topics that are totally off-topic, and wishing I had the time, energy and ideas to write numerous blogs on a wide variety of subjects. Such was the case this evening, when I was invited to come take a look at a local Indian - Native American - burial site.

It's very small, off the beaten track and probably not of any great historical significance (John Wayne never starred in a movie based in Michigan after all), but the site is of local interest, with links to a former Michigan governor, Henry H. Crapo. As a scared Chippewa site, I feel the rescue and restoration efforts must do something to help the local karma too. And believe you me, in mid-Michigan, we need all the good karma we can get.

We drove down a small farm track to a small grouping of ancient pine trees on a slight rise. In our unprofessional and amateur opinion the trees must have been planted around the time of the earliest known grave - Chief Wabaness's father in 1864 - although the land had been used by the tribe before 1860. Strangely enough, rather than the usual poison ivy which is so common in this part of the world, the ground is covered with vinca (periwinkle). While the area is mostly farmland, the burial site is surrounded by either brushy trees, swamp or large bedroom-community homes.

There are only a couple dozen graves which are marked with simple sandstone slabs and wooden crosses. Unfortunately in the 70's the local youths adopted the site as a party spot and destroyed the original markers. Fortunately a local resident, George Cook, had drawn a simple map of the site a few years earlier, so the location of many of the graves, including the earliest grave which belongs to Chief Wabaness's father, are known. Attempts to locate any fragments of the original markers have failed, despite the efforts of Bill Morgan, whose dedicated efforts have driven the rehabilitation of this historic site.

But humans weren't the only vandals. A fox has made a home under one of the pines, and our guide said when last he visited there was a leg bone outside the den. "Rabbit?" I asked naively. "No," he replied pointing to his own leg, "human." Either the graves are very shallow, or the fox is very industrious. No attempt has been made to dissuade the fox however - he even has his own maker: "Fox Den, Do Not Disturb".

But what impressed me about the burial ground is the community spirit which made the restoration happen. Locals came together to save a bit of history and culture which would have otherwise been lost. The work has all been done by volunteers - Native American, "European Americans", and probably Mexican and African Americans too. The materials and the equipment to improve the site have all been donated, and the land was donated as well, again through the persuasion of Mr. Morgan.

It impresses me that in this day and age, with the local economy gone down the poopper, people living hectic lives have given their time and their money to preserve something special. Over the last few years I've seen similar efforts elsewhere, run by dedicated local enthusiasts with a mission, ambition and commitment to do good. A massive bell for the local veteran's memorial. The relocation and complete restoration of a train depot. The preservation of a historic theater destroyed by arson.

But preserving local history or honoring local heroes aren't the only ways volunteers can make their little patch a better place to live.

Come on, you didn't really think I'd write something without dragging things back to how we can help critters, did you? Especially with the bit about the fox...

Volunteering and donations are wonderful ways to help animals too. The projects mentioned above had a core of almost full-time volunteers, but also had time, materials and equipment usage donated by others who spent a just few hours helping out once or twice a month, gave a few dollars or a bit of fencing/lumber/paint/metal, or loaned the use of a tractor, truck or power washer.

Please consider helping out a local project - or a local animal charity. It doesn't need to take a lot of time or money, but you will help to preserve a bit of history, honor those who need to be honored or you may even save a life or two - or twelve!

As an aside and back to the issue of karma, I hope I haven't messed mine up tonight. I have a stone from the site sitting on my desk, given to me by our guide, Kenneth Gallagher, who is also a long-time family friend and drinking buddy (a story for a completely different blog). While we volunteered to assist with the next project (moving a large pile of dirt), and respected tribal custom by leaving an offering of crushed tobacco, I am worried that removing the stone might not have been appreciated by the "occupants". I meant no disrespect, but wanted a piece of history for my own memory garden, which is filled with stones from our travels. But if I have any strange dreams tonight, that stone's going right back tomorrow....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Coping With the Kamikaze Kitty

Earlier this year I rescued and subsequently adopted Piglet, a tiny, shy kitten someone dumped (probably) in our front yard, in the country, on a busy road. Tiny kitten + dumped + country + busy road = death sentence, as anyone with an ounce of sense would have, should have realized.

Pig is now about four months old now, not so tiny and certainly not so shy. I think he must be in the kitty-equivalent of the "terrible-twos". Piglet has become the Kamikaze Kitty.

While I don't know much about dogs, and I'm certainly not a professional, I am somewhat used to what they do, and I can pretty much cope with their various behaviors. The puppies I've raised and have worked with had their "terrible-twos" too, but it wasn't like this.

I know Pig is becoming a very good kitten really. He comes when he's called, doesn't use his claws when he plays with me (mostly) and has stopped biting me when I pick him up (mostly). He's getting along with the dogs, and is trying to get along with the resident cat (she's a bit bitchy). He doesn't claw the furniture or the curtains (we're still working on the houseplants). He also "helps" me by discovering new functionality in the various MacBook programs I use.

What I haven't been able to overcome are his Kamikaze missions. When I'm not paying attention - working at the computer or cooking dinner, or even just walking from one room to another with a hot cup of coffee, he runs at me, grabs my leg with his claws and bites HARD, then tears off. I'm always caught off guard, swear loudly and feel a total failure at dealing with an unwanted behavior.

When I'm not really busy, I grab my squirt bottle in one hand and my bag of treats in the other and work on "breaking" this habit of his, and it seems to be working. I walk back and forth - if he attacks, I squirt, when he doesn't, he gets lots of treats, praise and attention.

The problem is A) sometimes I'm busy and can't/don't care to be interrupted by Kamikazes or training a cat, B) I suspect Pig does these things for attention, which he certainly gets, and C) Piglet is focused on his "mission" more than I've ever been able to focus on anything, ever. I know all of these things and I'm still frustrated by my lack of time, patience and failure to understand and remember what cats need.

If feel like I can't cope, how do "average" pet parents deal with pet "problems"? What right do I have to be scornful of pet parents who don't follow my advice, when I don't always follow it myself?

And the sad truth is that many pet parents don't deal with the "problems". Too many "bad" pets are subjected to a lack of training, bad, cruel or outdated training methods, or a quick trip to the pound (or dumped in someone else's front yard. We buy expensive toys, but don't spend time playing with our fur-kids. Dogs are labeled hyperactive, cats are labeled anti-social. Dogs are confined to crates for their crimes, kitties are booted outdoors. And we humans blame them, go on with our lives without regard for the animals WE'VE invited into our homes, and the "superior" species refuses to take responsibility when things go wrong. The animals suffer.

Which brings me to the track on the broken record I seem to be playing lately. When you adopt a pet, you take the good with the bad AND you accept responsibility for spending the time, money and effort to ensure they have what they need - attention, exercise, training, restrictions. You train them to be the pet you want them to be, but accept that they are still dogs, cats, parrots or ferrets.

When I give this little lecture to myself, Pig becomes a little less of a menace and becomes an opportunity to learn, which makes the bites and scratches a little less painful. I remember to perform "random acts of positive reinforcement" (thanks to Deborah Flick), and keep treats stashed around the house just in case. I remember to watch for the signs that a Kamikaze attack is on it's way (spooky-kitty back and tail, poofy hair, wide pupils) and take a defensive posture. I try to avoid causing Pig to go Kamikaze through my own actions - playing too rough or making inciting motions/noises when he's already wound-up. And I keep Piglets nails trimmed - much less painful for everyone.

In other words, I try to remember to be a better pet-parent.

Am I perfect? Hell no! I'm still learning and anticipate I'll be a student for a very, very long time. But I've taken the first step - I've accepted responsibility for my own part in Pig's behavior and for the life I invited into my world. It's what I would advise all pet-parents to do...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Adopt A Less Adoptable Pet Week

September 19 through 25 is Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet week. What classifies an animal as a "less adoptable pet"?
  • Old
  • Black
  • Big
  • Health problems (missing limbs, eyes, deafness, HIV-positive, diabetic)
  • An "unacceptable" breed (Rotties, Pit Bull-types, Dobbies, Dogo Argentino)
  • Shy, anti-social or "only" pets
However, these are all very poor reasons indeed for NOT adopting an animal with one or more of these issues.

While some of these characteristics may require a bit of work on your part, not only are you going to save a life, but the feeling that comes with helping an animal overcome their issues is well worth the effort. I know, I've adopted one dog that meets ALL of these requirements to be labeled as "less-adoptable" - and she stinks to high-heavens most of the time too! The joy of turning an old, black, overweight Pit Bull mix with health and socialization issues into a happy, trusting and healthier dog has been more than ample payment.

Spudz was a reject - her owners wanted her and her canine pal euthanized because they were no longer wanted. Fortunately, a local rescue group saved her and when I was told "She's old, overweight and not much to look at" I knew she was the dog for me. Spudz was indeed old, overweight, had hip and back problems, smelled very, very bad and at age six or seven she wasn't housetrained. She wouldn't eat, drink or go potty if I was looking. She would hit the ground shaking if you had a belt in your hand. And she was black too, although I actually prefer black animals as they go with most of my clothing!

It took months (and the adoption of my Mad-Mac) before Spudz started being a normal dog - and sleeping on the sofa, which is the best place for a dog to be. She still isn't totally housetrained, and starts smelling just a few days after her baths. She loves walks and is at a decent weight, but despite the gentle ministrations of my chiropractor, her back continues to deteriorate. With coming out of her shell came little naughty behaviors like counter-surfing and stealing treats off the coffee table. But the important thing is that a less-adoptable pet is happy.

So please consider passing by the perfect Golden puppy or the bouncy adolescent tiger kitty and take a look at the older, black Pit Bull or an HIV cat. You won't be sorry...

Blogging for Dogs - Donations complements of Pedigree

Just in the nick of time I discovered this opportunity to help a few homeless dogs, complements of Pedigree. I had just discovered a new Twitter user named Mikey and his blog, which is great, albeit a bit frightening - A) I always thought the dogs were on our side B) He looks a LOT like my own fur-child, Mac:

But I digress...

Pedigree is generously donating a 20 pound bag of food for every blog written, but the deadline is today September 19, so get busy blogging! It's a part of their Adopt A Dog program, with a goal of ending "doglessness" - the suffering of humans suffering from a lack of a dog in their life. "I Love Rescue Animals" lists the blogs who have participated so far, and there is a link at the end so you can add your blog to the list.

You can also help by becoming a fan of Pedigree on Facebook - they'll donate one bowl of food for each new fan until the end of 2010. You might also want to follow them on Twitter.

Many pet food companies make donations to help animals and humans in need, and Pedigree is one of the best. I could be my usually cynical self and just assume it's all a marketing ploy, but between the commercials, the Pedigree Foundation, their Internet campaigns to help homeless dogs and the good info on their site, I think they're pretty sincere.

This was possibly one of the easiest blog entries AND easiest donations to my favorite cause - Thanks Pedigree! And thank you to everyone who helps homeless and need dogs (and cats). Every little bit helps.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What living with a woolly mammoth can teach us about living with dogs

OK, so none of us have or ever will (probably) live with a hairy, ice-age elephant cousin, but watching a program on extinct, prehistoric animals got me thinking about our expectations in our relationships with dogs (and cats too).

I was having yet another fit of insomnia, and while channel surfing I discovered "Prehistoric Park" on Animal Planet. It's billed as docu-fiction, a kind of "Jurassic Park" meets "Hatri!", via "Timeline". A time-traveling zoologist (Nigel Marven) captures soon-to-be extinct animals and brings them back to the present day to live in his "exotic" animal sanctuary. As a sci-fi lover, and only news, sports and infomercials as alternatives, I decided to suspend my disbelief and watch.

As I joined the program, Nigel was collecting a woolly mammoth. The specimen was found starving and injured, mourning the loss of her herd-mate who had fallen in a kill-pit dug by cavemen. Nigel and his staff managed to get her back on her feet, through the time portal and into the safety of the Park. However, after several days it was apparent to the Park staff that the mammoth, named Martha, was unhappy and dying. I was silently screaming "She's a herd animal, why the hell are you keeping her isolated!!!", while Nigel and the staff veterinarian where trying new foods and doing blood tests. "Why do you go back and save her herd-mate?!?!?! For cryn'out loud, if you can go back once, why not go back again!?!?!" I mumbled under my breath.

In the next commercial break, I had a BFF (blinding flash of the obvious) - we humans, in our arrogance and ignorance don't always consider the needs of the animals we bring into our lives. We expect animals to set aside their basic natures in order to live in the world we want to live in.

Dogs are a case in point and particularly relevant to me, given the ongoing problems of my furry-friend, "Moose-boy". Dogs are social animals, yet we expect them to live much of their time alone, while we're out working and playing. We don't give them the attention, exercise, training, environments, food, toys they need because as "owners" we expect our dogs to forget their basic natures in order to live in the world WE want to live in.

Back to the program....

After several stressful moments and commercial breaks, Nigel and Co. finally decided that yes indeed, Martha needed friends. However, instead of going back in time for her friend, a "simpler" plan was agreed upon. They introduced Martha, a very woolly mammoth, to a herd of modern elephants. They did this through a rather flimsy looking 5 or 6 foot wooden fence. They talked a lot about how elephant herds will often kill a strange elephant if they don't like the look of her.

Yes I know this is science fiction and that Martha was a CGI - no one was going to get hurt. However, back in real world, we expect all sorts of animals to just get along, whether they're a good match or not, again, just because it's what WE want. Puppies and kittens aren't socialized properly and are intolerant of other animals and people. We take on a second or third animal without making proper introductions - or without considering whether our first dog or cat really WANT a friend. And we certainly demand our animals get along no matter what - at dog parks, on the street, at family gatherings - and then blame the critters when there are problems.

Back to the program...

The next hurdle for Martha was the temperature - the Park is in a rather warm climate and Martha is an ice-age animal. Do they ship her to another park in the Arctic? Do they walk her above the snow line of one of the local mountains? Nope - they give her a hair cut!

How many cold-climate dogs (Newfoundland, Husky, St. Bernard, for example) suffer through the summer in Florida, Texas or southern California? How many of these normally shaggy dogs get buzz cuts to help them through the summer heat? Again, we don't take our animal's needs, we attempt to mold them into what WE want them to be.

The next time you think about adopting a new pet or if you're having issues with a pet you already live with, please think about what THEY need to be happy, not just trying to get them to change to suit you. I'm certainly not recommending that you spoil them rotten, but consider their needs first, even if it means changing YOUR lifestyle.

(If I could go back in time, I would certainly get Moose-boy's friend before she disappeared....)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Other Heroes of 9/11

I won't say anything about the history or the never-ending controversies of the 9/11 tragedy - I only know enough to have opinions which come straight from the gut. It was a tragedy, it should not have happened and I hope the world never experiences anything like it ever again.

But I will ask you to remember the heroes of September 11, specifically the 300+ canine heroes who assisted with the search and rescue operations, including Sirius, who died on the day. These dogs worked side by side with their human partners, they suffered exhaustion, injuries, post traumatic stress and depression, and there were rumors that they also suffered abnormal high rates of cancer and respiratory disease.

Today, more dogs are still working - and dying - in the mess which is the result of 9/11. Dogs work in airports, train stations, on borders, in shipping ports - anywhere security is an issue. Dogs work in Afghanistan and Iraq, their lives are on the front lines protecting their human counterparts, guarding bases and looking for bombs. Dogs work as therapists, helping veterans overcome physical and psychological problems. And pet dogs wait patiently for the return of their masters and mistresses.

We owe dogs so much and they ask so little. So when you remember the Twin Towers on Saturday, remember the canine heroes too. When you remember the men and women who are fighting now as the result of that horrific day, remember the dogs who protect them, help them and wait for them to come home again.

My Twitter-friend, fellow blogger and dog lover Dino Dogan asked several of us to post this moving tribute to those search and rescue workers, put together by Ken Bell of The Dog Files. Please watch and pass it on, but have tissues at the ready.

And please, let us find the strength, compassion and understanding to learn to live in peace with one another.

You can follow Dino Dogan on Twitter and Facebook.