Suicide in Ohio results in the death of dozens of exotic animals.

What a tragedy.

I just learned that a man in Ohio who kept a large number of wild animals as pets, turned them all loose late yesterday afternoon before turning a gun on himself.  The carnage continued from there.  Witnesses called in sightings of roaming lions, tigers, wolves, and bears, after which local law enforcement, with consultation from the Columbus Zoo and other agencies, were given the order to shoot on sight.

As of this writing, the majority of the dozens of wild animals the troubled man set free are now dead.  Of course it could have been even worse.  Additional innocent bystanders in the area, both human and animal, might have easily added to the count.  I’m grateful…I really am…that the ripples of this bloodbath were stopped before they could spread any farther.  But I’m still sobered and deeply saddened by this unspeakable waste of life.

And also…uneasy.

There are clear signs that suicide rates are on the rise since the recession began.  Yet, even while the levels of economic stress and fear are heightening instability, federal and state funding for mental health (which was nowhere near enough to begin with) is now being slashed or eliminated entirely.  Needless to say this is not a promising combination.

IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING SUICIDE: Please, if you’ve wondered if it might stop the pain, or if those you love would be better off without you, or if you just feel so out there on the edge that you’re not sure you can take anymore, pleasebefore you take a last step that can never be undone, make at least one phone call; to a loved one or a friend or a hotline.  (I’ve listed some suicide hotline numbers below.)  If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything by trying.  But if it does work…if, with some help, you’re able to find a way through the current darkness back to a life you love…then not only will you be safe but you’ll also have protected everything you care about most from any taste of the kind of carnage that happened in Ohio yesterday.

FOR FRIENDS OR LOVED ONES:  And if you’re worried about someone else, you can also call one of the numbers listed above.  Or click here for an excellent article with information on what to do if you think someone you know may be considering suicide.

With things as stressful as they are right now, and with the social safety net growing ever weaker, we need to look out for one another more than ever.  I realize the temptation is to get angry over what happened to these beautiful animals and look for someone to blame.  But it would probably do more good to look for others who are still in need of help instead.  Maybe we could prevent something like this from happening again.

My heart goes out to everyone surviving yesterday’s events; Mr.Thompson’s wife and family, their friends and neighbors, the police who were forced to shoot the innocent animals involved, the officials who had to make the difficult decisions, and the remaining animals who have to endure the trauma of loss, fear, confusion, dislocation, and possible euthanasia this has caused.  I wish everyone involved strength, clarity, and forgiveness in navigating the coming days.

SUICIDE HOTLINES:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255

Veterans Suicide Hotline – Confidential Help for Veterans: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1     http://veteranscrisisline.net/

Or go to  http://suicidehotlines.com/ for a list of hotlines by state as well as a hotline for the deaf.

Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt And A Surprising Miracle With Homeopathics

Poor guy.  Poor us.  It’s been a struggle since May.

Dane is a big, black, mixed breed, Humane Society adoptee that we’ve had for (let me get the paperwork out to check) five and a half years now.  He’s almost seven years old and weighs in at over a hundred pounds.  He’s smart as a human toddler, playful as a puppy, imaginative (seriously…he pretends), loves children, kills small animals, is a mortal danger to cats, is cooperative and good natured, can’t get enough of people, and is constantly underfoot because he likes to be in on all the action (unless he’s sneaking tomatoes out in the garden at which point he becomes all but invisible).

He’s also had more medical problems than any dog I’ve ever owned.  We’ve dealt with everything from excessive drooling, incontinence, and hair loss to multiple accidents and epilepsy.  It’s always something with him.  Always.

But this year has been the worst.  He blew out his back knee in May, which was kind of catastrophic for both he and I because we haven’t been hiking together since.  His recovery has been complicated and slow, and I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that he’ll probably never be able to romp across hills and mountains the way he used to.  (Of course, said romping is probably what destroyed his knee in the first place, but still.)  If he can someday at least sniff and explore along trail-sides, I’ll consider us very lucky.

Around the same time our orthopedic problems were developing, we also lost control of his epileptic seizures.  Dane has grand mals and, not only was their frequency drastically increasing, they were beginning to consistently cluster in multiple events.  For those who don’t know, clusters are bad because they don’t give the brain enough time to cool off in between seizures, which can lead to brain injury and even death.  This was happening in spite of a drastic (and I mean drastic) increase in medication.  The seizures also contributed to re-injury of his leg, and the pain levels from that were growing increasingly difficult to manage.  He was losing his appetite, refusing to eat and, sometimes, even refusing to take his (many, many, many, many) meds.

The situation was clearly Spiraling Out Of Control (SOOC) and it was at this point I decided to change vets.  Old Doctor had been our vet for sixteen years so switching wasn’t easy.  However, other than surgeries and continuing to increase the dosage of his meds, (which clearly, to me anyway, wasn’t working), Old Doctor had no other options in his tool kit.  And when I asked him if he was willing to work with me in looking for other options, he told me no.

Wha…excuse me?  No?  Just…no

I was admittedly a little nonplussed but still appreciative of his honesty.

So I plunged back into the searching-for-a-new-vet world with a heavy focus on alternatives and eventually discovered our new vet, Dr. Out-There.  (You want options, baby?  I’ll give you OPTIONS…)  This woman was a banquet…a freaking cornucopia…of other possibilities, and after walking up and down the buffet line a few times I settled on a couple of new treatments to try.

You know what she suggested for his epilepsy?  A homeopathic remedy.  A small blue bottle of some kind of tincture with a dropper as delivery system.  Now, I’m not unfamiliar with homeopathics.  I’ve occasionally used them over the years on myself and the kids, with varying degrees of success.  But for advanced epilepsy?  Frankly, it seemed like a stretch.

However, I dutifully went home and administered the required dosage (plus a little more because one or two dropperfuls just didn’t seem like nearly enough) and, lo and behold, Dane has not had a seizure for 42 days!  Not one.  Which has floored me.  They were coming nine days apart in clusters but now?  Nothing.

(So far anyway.  Knock on wood.  I hope I’m not jinxing this by writing about it.)

It’s been like a miracle.  I can’t begin to describe the relief we’ve been feeling around this house since they stopped.  We’ve also had an orthopedic brace custom-made for his leg and it’s made a huge difference in terms of protecting his knee from re-injury and giving the joint support while it slowly heals.  (It’s also kind of sexy looking.  People keep walking up and telling us that, from a distance, they thought he had a bionic leg.)

The pain is still an issue but we’re able to manage it with a fairly low dose of acetaminophen.  And as for his appetite?  Well, it’s still off but it turns out that has nothing to do with pain.  Far from it.  No.  Our boy isn’t eating his dog food because he’s eating gallons of garden tomatoes instead.  (And yes, gallons is a literal measure.)

At first, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t gotten one ripe tomato off of five heavily-bearing plants all summer long.  Then I started finding the chewed-on but uneaten green ones he left lying around because he’d eaten so many by that point he’d actually grown picky and would only eat the red ones.  (He’d turned into a connoisseur.) That was when I realized what was really going on.  He wasn’t hungry for his dog food because he was engorged from grazing in the garden.

Well this clearly had to stop so, after erecting a bewildering maze of barriers (which utterly failed), Dane was placed on strict house arrest with only monitored visits to the backyard.

But he’s still refusing to eat.  You see, he got used to the chicken bouillon and other moist and delicious tidbits we were putting in his food to try to get him to eat and now he’s not interested in plain dog food anymore.  He’s become a picky eater.  He walks up to the bowl, sniffs a couple times, then turns and walks away to the backdoor where he collapses and lies looking longingly out at the tomatoes.  (Did I mention he’s dramatic, too?)

But…ha ha!  Little does he know he’s dealing with a mother who nipped the picky eater tendency in the bud with her other two human children early on in their little lives.  This cunning mother has a technique called hunger and, given enough time, it always, always works.

I’ll admit that he’s still wining so far because I think he’s sneaking windfall apples back behind the straw bales when he’s supposed to be pooping.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m patient.  Unlike Dane I know that, sooner or later, this other food source will dwindle and then, my friends, he’ll be at my mercy.

Oh yes.  He’ll eat his dog food again.  And like it.  This, I promise.

To close, here’s a little video of him in his better days. 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

For Constance And The Other Pets We’ve All Lost

I learned that a big, flatulent, snore-prone, asthmatic bulldog died suddenly of a heart attack over in Wales a few days ago.  Her name was Constance and her bereft humans are John and Chris.  The news made me sad.  They’d only had her for about ten months…she was a kinda, sorta rescue dog…but in that short time they fell for her pretty hard. 

(Which was something of a puzzle to me, as it often is to non-bulldog people.  Bulldogs are not the most attractive of animals and she could be quite a bitch besides.  But I think that’s part of the reason WHY John and Chris loved her so much, because she was always so fearlessly and unapologetically herself, warts and all, and really, when I think about it, I kind of love that, too.  You go, girl.)

Today’s post was going to be about the dying music that’s come down to us through time, the valuable information embedded in that music regarding how to die, and how in the hell we’re supposed to extract said information all these years later, across changing attitudes, languages, and cultures.

But it doesn’t seem right.  Not today.  Instead, I’d rather play one of the songs I had in mind and dedicate it to Constance and the other beloved, joy-bringing, innocent, vulnerable, and deeply missed pets we’ve all lost over the years.  They’ve mostly died quiet and unnoticed by the wider world.  For some strange reason, we’re not usually given much room to grieve our animals when they die, in spite of the fact that their loss can be as painful and devastating as that of any other family member.  So today, I thought I’d make a little more room.

Goodbye Constance, and all you other beauties who graced our lives for a little while.  We love you.  We miss you.  We thank you.

Lyrics:

Oh all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done
Alas, it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e’er I’ve had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Shark Whisperer

I just stumbled across this three minute, somewhat-unnerving-yet-deeply-moving video of Christina Zenato, a woman diver, interacting with sharks down in the Bahamas.  Frankly, I didn’t believe this kind of gentle relationship was even possible and yet here it is anyway.  Sometimes it feels so good to be wrong.

Disclaimer:  Evidently she’s a pro, so I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home. 


What fascinated me most was what happened in my brain while I watched.  I swear I could feel it rewiring.  Some deep and unquestioned prejudice against sharks took a hit here.  Big time.

(Which was strange, because I thought I was already fairly enlightened in my attitude toward sharks.  The hubster feels a deep affinity for them and his love for them has rubbed off on me over time, so it was surprising to discover these deep underlying layers of stereotype still lurking in the shadowy recesses of my mind.)

Initially, I admit I thought this woman was an idiot, especially when she started feeding them by hand.  But by the end I realized she has a much fuller understanding of sharks than I do, based on actual, nourishing, beautiful and real life interactions with them.   Something I totally lack…which is probably why my bias has thrived.

Prejudice is funny that way, isn’t it?  It feeds on unfamiliarity.  It doesn’t tend to fare as well when faced with living, breathing, sentient beings.

(Stray thought: Believing in stereotypes is like eating cheap carbs.  They’re like white bread, candy, and soda pop for the mind, not very healthy but what a rush!   Relationships with living, flesh and blood creatures, on the other hand, are more like whole grains; harder and slower to digest but far more nourishing in the long run.)

Once again I’m reminded that all creatures tend to respond positively to understanding, patience, respect, and intelligent handling.  I don’t know why I keep falling back into the default belief that some creatures (including some humans) are impervious to kindness and love…that monsters are real.  That kind of early conditioning is hard to shake I guess.

The video is only a couple minutes long.  If you get the chance I highly recommend it.  It’s soothing and inspiring.

About the technique she employs at the end of the video:  “Practicing a little known technique of rubbing and manipulating her fingers across the ampullae of Lorenzini, the visible dots [electro-receptive sensory organs] all around a shark’s head and face, she induces a tonic immobility. To the observer, this looks like a shark falling asleep right in her lap.”  

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Refugee Spiders Helping To Protect Pakistanis From Malaria

Here’s an odd and wonderful story.

Wired UK posted an article today about one of the stranger consequences of the major flooding that took place in Pakistan in 2010.  Evidently, there are submerged areas of the country where the threatened spider population took to the trees and spun draping canopies of webbing which completely cover them.  If you love great photography go take a look at the eerie, beautiful pictures included with the article.

But the most amazing part of the story is the report from Britain’s Department for International Development who is currently working there in Pakistan.  They say there are far fewer malaria carrying mosquitoes in the vicinity of these trees, in spite of the standing, stagnant water surrounding them.

The concentrated spider populations are helping to control the burgeoning mosquito population.  How’s that for a lovely side effect?  This strange partnership between trees and spiders is creating living, arboreal shields against disease for the people living nearby.

I love this; how tragedy can transform a creature we usually regard as a danger and/or a household pest into a profound gift of protection.   I’ll remember this the next time I pick up a shoe to crush one, and instead catch it in a jar and place it carefully outside…in honor of its little, eight-footed Pakistani brethren who are (however unintentionally) protecting my own devastated and suffering brethren across the world.

One small way of gratefully participating in the web of life.  (No pun intended.)

Photo UK Department for International Development

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Squirrels and Spring: The War Begins Anew

The Enemy

The little shits.  I just discovered they’ve gone and bitten most of the flower buds off the espaliered apple and pear trees I planted three years ago.  This…the fourth year…would have been my first to actually get some fruit off these trees, but now?  There will be nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.

No flowers, no fruit.  I’m beaten before the season even started.

Squirrels.  I hate them again.  I spit to the side after saying their name.  I bite my nails at them, chop my elbow and flick my fingers in the air.    I suddenly remember everything they did to the garden last year (every year!) and abhor them with the same passionate loathing I feel in the beginning of each new spring.  My animosity towards them resurrects like some dark and toxic perennial plant, the longer days and increasing warmth calling it forth from its long, winter dormancy.  I recently received a wondrous book for my birthday, The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale, and I turn now to look up hatred because this terrible lust for vengeance I feel requires long and sharpened words on which to impale the little, rodent horrors.

Malevolent, bitter, venomous, antipathy. They are abominations. An execration upon the land. And I hold them, my enemies, in eternal aversion and disaffection.

Take that.

It’s so strange, how this resumption of hostilities takes me by surprise every year.  I’m not sure how it happens but, every winter, I seem to mysteriously forget the previous year’s vandalism and begin to think they’re cute again.  Probably because they are, with their flicking tails and miniature hands and adorable, pointed little faces.  During the season of Long Cold I somehow forget how they laid waste to my peach harvest and bit the heads off every last sunflower and ate my bean sprouts just as they were emerging above ground.  The fact that they gnawed vast patches of bark off our trees and dug up the potted plants and chewed big holes in the tool shed eaves slips my mind and instead, I enjoy watching them hop around the porch, nosing among the fallen bird seed and coming up to peek at me through the sliding glass door.

In winter they’re like a meditation, these tiny gifts of life itself.  A reverie.  A delight.  A lovely, hope-filled reprieve from an otherwise bleak and dreary  garden hibernation.  And then?  Spring comes…poof!…and their true nature reveals itself as they start mindlessly destroying things like the furry, four-footed Jekyll and Hydes they are.  Warm and fuzzy one second, then fanged and slavering the next.

So the battle resumes.  Time to go load up on packages of carpet tack strips to tie along the branches of the peach tree and run some electric wire along anything espaliered.  I need to make more muslin bags to cover the grape clusters as the gray monsters chewed holes through a majority of them last year, but I think I still have enough chicken wire to protect the veggie beds until the seedlings reach a stage where they’re no longer so enticing.

And last but not least, as the most important weapon in my arsenal, I have the squirrel-catapult-is-awful-yet-we-can’t-look-away video.  (Click top video if you, too, need release.) And just so you know, this time of year I make no apology (none!) for laughing oh-so-hysterically when I watch this.  Firstly because, as I mentioned in last year’s squirrel rant, I once saw one fall fifty feet out of a tree in our backyard, stand up, brush its pants off, and light a cigarette.  You can’t injure these things.  C’est impossible. But second and more important, even the squirrels are glad I have an alternate outlet for the violent emotions I feel towards them right now.

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

“They’re Here…” Wolves Near Boise.

Gray Wolf

Well then.  Here’s an interesting development.  The news broke day before yesterday that two wolves took down a cow about a mile west of where I regularly take Dane up hiking in the hills.  Suddenly, the highly controversial subject of wolf reintroduction and management here in Idaho has come remarkably close to home.  (Our home.  About five miles to be exact.)

Residents of Eagle are a little uneasy right now, with some of those living north of town bringing in their horses and other livestock for protection.  The department responsible for dealing with problem wolves in Idaho is USDA Wildlife Services and so far, in spite of numerous flyovers, they haven’t been able to locate the two wolves believed to be responsible for killing the cow.

Which then begs the question:  Do I want to take Dane up there for his afternoon romp today?

Actually, I’m not really asking myself that.  Of course I’ll take him.  I’ve been hiking up in the mountains for years now, in all kinds of places where cougars, bears, and wolves  live.  Is there some risk?  Absolutely.  I’m not a big fan of denial as a risk management tool.  Do I mentally discount the horror of getting mauled and possibly killed and eaten by a wild animal?  Not at all.  While I’m a tree-hugger of sorts, I’ve never been the kind that romanticizes wild animals as either noble or cuddly.   I have a very healthy fear of big claws, strong jaws, and sharp teeth.

wolf skull (note the teeth)

In all likelihood if there was an attack, they’d probably go after Dane.  Wolves are traditionally timid around human beings so those kinds of attacks are extremely rare, but they attack dogs.  There’s definitely a greater risk for him than there is for me.  However, these two wolves are most likely juveniles striking out to find new territory and juveniles tend to be far less predictable than adults.  Cougar attacks on humans, which used to be relatively rare, have been growing in the last couple of decades as humans encroach further into wilderness areas, and the majority of the attacks are by juveniles.   So, while Dane’s risk is greater, I by no means get a free pass.

So here we are, suddenly standing on the shifting front line of the controversy, confronting the complex challenge of species reintroduction on a very, very personal level.  Me?  I love wolves.  But then the majority of people do.  Even the people who oppose their reintroduction admire and respect them.  They’re magnificent, beautiful, wild, and inspiring animals permanently woven into our history, mythology, and group unconscious.  The thought of a world without them is unsettling and unutterably sad.   Having said all that though, I don’t want Dane or I to be dead either.

And therein lies the paradox we’re all confronting, not just with wolves but with much of the ancient world we’ve inherited and are now changing on a massive scale.  I have no idea what the solutions to these kinds of problems will be, nor do I have any idea what the world will wind up looking like someday.  Right now I’m just concerned with getting my dog and I through our next excursion.  Today it’s my turn to figure out how to straddle this place where the past and future collide.

I think, at a time like this, it’s important to consider the big picture.  The truth is, Dane and I both live in a world every day with far greater risks than a wild animal attack.  (i.e. getting T-boned at an intersection, sickened from ecoli contamination in our food supply, or euthanized for attacking the neighborhood cats among other things.)  With all the risks that wilderness and wild things hold, civilization is no picnic either.  In fact, I think my chances are probably better facing a wolf in the foothills than a drunken slob hurtling down the interstate in a two-ton SUV.

But for now, Dane and I need to get going because I really don’t want to be hiking up there when it starts to get dark.  So I’ll  just throw on my boots, grab my bear spray, and we’re out of here. Dane and the valley (back behind) where the cow was killed.

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

Sy the Stomach

I saw a stomach the size of an overstuffed sofa cushion lying by the side of the road the other day.  Literally.  And it wasn’t alone.  It had a partially eaten liver on one side of it and a long, flattened tube of intestinal tract trailing off towards the middle of the road like it was trying to crawl away.  Nothing else though.  No legs or body or head, hair, skin or anything.  Not even blood stains.  It looked so displaced.

I realized immediately that it was, to use the hunting vernacular, a gut pile.

I’ve heard of such a thing but, not being a hunter, never seen one.  It was the entrails of somebody’s freshly killed and dressed deer.  Usually these are left out in the field and I’m not sure why this one was plopped down on the side of a very public, albeit dirt, road.  But there it was, just sitting there.  Nonchalant and relaxed.  Looking for all the world like a great round, hairless hitchhiker slouching against the bank between rides.

I was upset.  At first, I thought it was because somebody might have shot the deer from their car.  This is an unfair practice and a big no no.  Then I thought it was because they left a gut pile right on the road which (I think but am not certain) may also be a no no.  (I’m very rule conscious and tend to ruffle and quiver when they’re not followed, especially where killing is concerned.)  But looking back now, I think I was mostly upset because a big, beautiful deer had just died and the evidence of its death was graphic and shocking.  It took me by surprise and knocked me off center.  I wasn’t prepared for it.

I was just out for a hike.

You’d think that in my preoccupation with all things dying, I couldn’t ask for a better topic than hunting, and it’s true.  It has everything to recommend it, from the complex, physiological processes involved, to the ethical considerations that so endlessly fascinate me, to its profound and shaping influence on each and every person engaging in it.  Even so, I don’t want to talk about hunting today.  People tend to react very strongly to that subject, one way or another, and right now I feel like the controversy would swamp me.

I just want to remember that stomach.

Two crows were on the pile when we were first drove around the bend but they flew away as soon as they saw the car.  I was with a friend and we stopped briefly while I got out to investigate.  Even upset I was mesmerized, because other than the displacement it looked absolutely perfect.  Round, intact, smooth as a baby’s skin.  There was an intricate web of capillaries tattooing the surface like some kind of primeval artwork.  It was still fresh.  There was no smell yet and aside from the liver, no evidence of wildlife depredation.  The stomach looked achingly exposed and yet…a little jaunty.  Like it was enjoying it’s day out.

I named it in my mind, Sy, then said sorry buddy and climbed back in the car to drive on to the hiking trail.

Hours later on our way back down the mountain we’d both forgotten about it so it took us by surprise all over again, when we drove around the bend and saw three or four crows and an eagle lifting off of it and flying into the trees.  Sy was fast turning into the Monday buffet and there was something really comforting about that.  The Cycle Of Things is always comforting to me.  We stopped again and I admired him one last time before we headed home.

And I’ve wondered ever since; why is it that the sight of a single stomach by the side of the road impacted me so much more than the sight of all the constant roadkill I see scattered along the highways and byways of this country?  I mean, it’s not like any of us are strangers to seeing gruesome, shocking examples of violent death on a regular basis.  With our national infatuation with the automobile, smeared animals are about as American as apple pie.

In fact, most of us who drive for any length of time will ourselves kill animals that way.  Perhaps, if it’s one that’s either meaningful to us (like a dog) or big enough (like a deer or a cow) we’ll have to stop and do something about it.  But otherwise we’ll just bump, thump, and  drive on, leaving it behind us fluttering or trembling or limp, helpless or suffering or dead.  Most of us will feel a little bit bad (none of us wants to hurt these critters) but essentially absolved.  These accidents are just part of the price we pay (excuse me…we?) for mobility, our own domestic type of widespread, collateral damage.

It’s not the fact of all this graphic, useless dying and death that eats at me.  It’s not.  I don’t have a problem with the fact that everything dies (although I’m forever interested in improving the quality of the experience.)

No.  What gets under my skin is our pervasive denial about it.  We argue over the ethics of hunting or vegetarianism or industrial farming or habitat loss like we really care, but then we watch a finch bounce off our fender or a raccoon lumber under our tires and barely slow down.  Or we pick up a package of ribs or ground beef, pop a chicken nugget or fish sandwich into our mouths, and don’t even think to connect it to the beautiful, sentient beings that gave up their lives so we could be nourished.

We don’t cast back in our minds for a moment, and remember them alive.  That makes me sad, even though I do it, too.

I wonder what the world would be like if we quit trying to hide, pretend, and compartmentalize about all the dying and killing so much, and just willingly received it instead.  Each time.  Opened our hands, bowed our heads, and said I’m so terribly sorry…and by the way thank you so much. I think it might change us all in big ways, and quickly, if we let ourselves recognize and care about every last, small death we’re personally involved in as much as we care about the big trends.

I wonder if we’d wake up, really see the world around us, and and maybe ache more but also fall a little more in love with life each time.

Here’s a blog post and comments from Going Gently with a beautiful example of compassionate culling.  John raises (and rescues!) a bewildering array of poultry and other animals for both farming purposes and pets.  And as anyone who does this for long quickly discovers, dying and killing are an inevitable part of the project.  A while back he rescued a few chickens that, in the process of being selectively bred for meat, had become so deformed they could no longer survive very long in a natural state.  He took them on as pets and let’s them free range and, not only have they survived longer than expected, they’ve even started laying eggs, something he hadn’t anticipated.  This post tells the story of one who finally succumbed to the inevitable fate of her breeding.         

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

How Much Money Is A Dog’s Life Worth?

Well, Dane the rescue mutt’s digestive troubles mushroomed and Friday turned into an emotional day from hell.  He was off his feed on Thursday and by the following morning refused to eat at all.  This has never, ever happened.  Ever.

This dog has eaten grocery bags, sticks, and bread by the loaf.  He vacuums up windfall fruit, grazes on tomato bushes, and chewed an entire crop of carrots down as far as he could get into partially thawed soil.  He once frantically tried to swallow an entire fresh-caught mole without chewing when he saw me coming.  He eats grass like a cow, cow shit like a fly, and anything at all if it’s started decomposing.  He can down a huge, rawhide chew toy in under three minutes and goes through soft bones like taffy.

He’ll eat anything, gladly and at lightning speed.  We’ve exhaustively tried to train him not to and failed.  Short of a muzzle or strict house incarceration we can’t stop him.  So on Friday morning, when he refused to eat, I felt a flicker of real fear.

Then I discovered the brown, splattered stains of diarrhea all over the guest bedroom carpet.  (Visit? anyone? anyone?) Next I went out in the backyard and a quick survey of four days worth of dog excrement told me this problem had been developing for a while.  Dog flatulence was the least of our problems.  Dane had turned into a sick, little, hundred-pound puppy.

I finagled a vet appointment for 1:30 in the afternoon which left my mind roughly six hours to play in the field of worst case scenarios.  Bowel obstruction?  X-rays and surgery?  Another thousands-and-thousands-of-dollars vet bill?

Or euthanasia?

My mind leaped to these extremes for two reasons.  First, because I was still reeling from the $3400 cat bill last month.  And second, because the hubster (after I put in a worried call at work to let him know what was going on) informed me Dane spent some stolen time five days earlier feasting on rotting, bony, fish carcasses along the banks of the Salmon River.   The hubster and visiting friend had taken him with them on their fishing trip, and he sneaked off at one point and gorged himself on fish skeletons.  Fast forward to Friday and it was time to pay the piper.

Now, just to take you all off tenterhooks, the boy is fine.  The vet concluded the gastrointestinal upset was probably caused by a bacterial infection he picked up while scavenging all the crap.  He’s now dining on four, large, butter wrapped, antibiotic pills a day, along with moist cans of bland dog food.  He can’t believe his good luck and is touting the benefits of eating rotting fish to all who’ll listen.

What I really wanted to talk about here were some of the grim choices I considered during those six, hellacious hours of uncertainty, most of which revolved around the following question:  Financially speaking, just how much is a pet’s life actually worth?

Most pet owners eventually face a vet bill formidable enough to consider the question and feelings can run pretty high about what the answer should be.   There are, of course, the two extreme camps.

1)  People like this:

“Yeah, it is great when people have no money to care for their pet so they put it to sleep. They usually get another one too. Hope you are not that stupid. Pets are a luxury item and you need to be prepared for these type of problems.”

And 2)  the “it’s just a dog” people:

“I don’t know what the rest of you are smoking but its just a dog. I can see someone spending that kind of money to fix your child’s leg but not a pet!…In my opinion, you should let your dad take care of the problem, put it out of your mind, and pick up a new healthy dog at a shelter.”

But while both these views share the gift of moral simplicity, neither addresses the complex reality that an explosion of new, medical interventions has forced on us.

Once upon a time veterinary options were limited and, when it got serious, there was no choice at all.  It was just time to put Spot or Whiskers down.  But the evolution of veterinary medicine has catapulted us into a brave new world where, for those lucky enough to have deep pockets, there are now some real medical miracles available.  There are currently surgical and pharmaceutical treatments for animals that rival human ones, both in complexity and cost, but the majority of pet owners don’t have that kind of money.  In fact, these days most of us are struggling just to meet the demands of our own human, health care needs.

So if the first claim was true, that people who can’t afford new, higher vet bills shouldn’t have pets at all, it would eliminate a large number of potential pet owners.  Personally, I shudder to think what would happen at animal shelters across the country if this ever happened.  Adoptions would slow to a trickle and the number of animals being euthanized for non-medical reasons would balloon.

On the other hand, most people would (thankfully) disagree with the second opinion…that we should look at our pets as disposable possessions, like Bic lighters or paper plates.

So where does that leave the rest of us?  How are we supposed to navigate the conflicting requirements between taking in a beloved companion and not being able to afford catastrophic costs?

Well first of all, I think the original question, How much is a pet’s life worth?, is inherently flawed.  The life of an animal can no more be measured in monetary terms than the life of a human being can.  Life is life.  It’s sacred.  It’s one of the great Mysteries.  We can’t create it or even make it last all that long once its appeared, and it’s ridiculous to try to reduce something transcendent like that to a pile of cold, hard cash.

Yet, here’s the rub:  Even though ultimately we have no control over this thing called life, we’re still all assigned as stewards.  We’re each responsible for at least our own and, every time we drive a car, own a pet, have a child, or vote on a health care bill among a million other things, we’re also shouldering responsibility for the lives of others.  There’s no escape.  And while sometimes this responsibility is a beautiful, luminous gift, sometimes, like when we have to make a life and death choice for ourselves or another, it can morph into a near-unbearable burden.

I cried off and on all morning, waiting to take Dane to the vet.  His illness unexpectedly sucked me down to a place where I found myself considering The Choice.  There was a possibility that we might be facing yet another vet bill mounting into the thousands of dollars and we had to decide whether we could really afford it.  For whatever reason, Dane has been a disastrously expensive pet.  Over the course of the last five years, between health issues, accidents, special nutrition needs, and a strong predatory instinct, he’s cost us into the five digits.  We never dreamed a pet could cost this much.  His needs have eclipsed the expense and work required by every other animal we’ve owned combined, and yet we continue to adore him because he’s an affectionate, joyous, grateful dog who tries so very, very hard to make us happy.

But in the end, we’re not among the lucky few with unlimited financial resources.  At some point, because Dane is the wild, fragile, phobic, allergic, epileptic, boisterous, playful, smart dog that he is, the mounting costs are going to exceed what we can pay without jeopardizing other critical family needs.

And that, my friends, is where I think the real question lies.  Not How much money is a pet’s life worth? but How do I balance the financial needs of my pet with the financial needs of the rest of us? At what point exactly do my spending choices move me from being a caring, responsible pet owner into a negligent parent, spouse, offspring, or general member of society?  Our pets are a big responsibility but they’re by no means the only one.  This will always be a difficult question because there’s no firm answer, each case is unique, yet most of us will eventually have to answer it one way or another, either consciously or by default.

For us, because Dane is only one member of a larger family, someday we’ll probably have to make The Choice and it will probably be devastating and, yes, money will probably play a role.

But let’s be clear.  While finances may set the final parameters for what we can give him medically, money will never, ever define his worth to us.  It can’t.  It can never measure the depths of his big, beautiful, generous heart, or the love, joy, and adventures we’ve shared, or our unending gratitude at being chosen, for at least a little while, as the stewards of his life.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Dog Fumes

I don’t know what he ate but his inability to digest it could kill us.  You could swim in this smell.  Carve holes in it.  You could sew it into a coat and wear it to attract lobbyists.  I think it’s tinting the upholstery.  It’s that bad.  If you don’t hear from me within three days, suspect the worst.

(Image: Wikipedia)

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

The $3,000 Cat Will Live

I went across the street to check on Tinkerbell this afternoon and am delighted to be able to give you the following update:

It’s been a little over a week since she was attacked and the old gal is looking terrific.  I mean, really.  Wow.  I looked it up to see how cat years translate into human ones and I can only hope I’ll look as good as she does after major surgery in my eighties.

The incision (which runs around roughly a third of her torso) is healing beautifully and she goes back to the vet tomorrow to have the staples out.  Evidently, Dane’s teeth didn’t actually puncture the skin so at least there’s no danger of infection there.  The damage was due to crushing and shaking and was mainly internal.  She’s been off of pain meds for a few days and, while she’s clearly still feeling tender, she’s not crying anymore or growling when someone reaches out to touch her.  They had a cone on her head at first but she’s been so good about not licking any of her wounds that they were able to take it off fairly quickly.  She can now climb up and down on Neighbor Son’s bed, where she sleeps, with the help of some makeshift stairs and she’s eating well.  And gloriously, there’s no more gurgling sounds when she breathes so the lung involvement is improving, too.

She was shaved over nearly half her body for the surgery but is being pretty good natured about how ridiculous it makes her look.  I’ve been worried all week that the trauma might radically change her personality.  She was a very sweet cat before the attack and in the first couple days afterwards she became suspicious and hostile.  But the fear and trauma seem to be slowly resolving as well and, while she looked pretty groggy while I was over there, she was also surprisingly affectionate.

She still refuses to go outside however, and Neighbor Lady fears that she may never be able to coax her out again, but I mean really…who can blame her?  If I thought there was a gigantic, black,  hairy, quick creature with fangs lurking outside my front door, waiting to crush and shake me to death the minute I stepped outside, I’d be doing take-out and Netflix till hell freezes over.  You go, girl.  Be strong.  Stay safe.

There’s even a little silver lining to the whole thing: she’s lost some weight from the ordeal which is a good thing since she was fat as a pillow before Dane got a hold of her.  Overall, Tinkerbell is doing far, far better than we, as Dane the Cat Mauler’s owners, have any right to expect.  She’s still got some healing work ahead of her but Neighbor Lady seems to think she’s going to be just fine.

I sat on the bed to pet her for a while and the little darling was purring like a motorboat and rubbing her head against my hand whenever I stopped.  She bore me absolutely no malice whatsoever, even though it was our negligence that caused the whole thing, and frankly, it made me feel like shit.  Smaller than shit.  Suddenly, I realized that up until that moment I’d just been thinking about her as a generic kind of every-cat.  That cat.  And as a dog-not-cat person it meant that, other than the generic compassion I feel for all animals, I didn’t really care.  Even though Tinkerbell is the one who bore the brunt of the assault and suffered all the pain, fear, and indignity it entailed, all my concern was really for Neighbor Lady.

Actually, if I was to be really honest, my concern has only been about a quarter for Neighbor Lady and the rest for us.  (There they are in all their glory again, Ladies and Gentlemen…Wheedle and Cheat.)

But sitting there looking down into her cat eyes, that were so full of genuine affection and good will as they gazed back up into mine, (not the slightest shadow of harm or grudge to be seen), I kind of fell in love with her on the spot.  Powie! Just like that.  I melted and suddenly felt a wave of remorse that was truly, truly painful.  Up until that moment (even with a $3400 vet bill) I hadn’t really gotten it, how bad we’d been as dog owners. Oh, I knew we were legally responsible and financially responsible and I knew we had a responsibility as good neighbors to step up to the plate.  But somehow I didn’t get the suffering.  I just didn’t understand until Tink looked up at me with those big, innocent eyes and suddenly I was aghast at my cavalier attitude.

Neighbor Lady joked with me a couple of times about our $3,000 cat and I looked up at her and told her Yeah. I feel like we’re her godparents now. She laughed and I laughed along with her so she wouldn’t realize I was serious as a heart attack.  I do feel like I’m responsible for her in some way now.  I want her to live to be twenty-five years old, gray, and crippled so I can keep going back over, rubbing her head, and hearing her purr.

I love that cat.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

The $3,399.28 Cat

I’m home again.  Finally.  Two weeks is a long time to be away, even when I’m away somewhere that I love.

We traveled all day yesterday to get back here.  Up at 4:00 a.m., long drive down to St. Louis, long wait at the airport, long flight with two stops in Denver and Salt Lake City, then home sweet home at 8:00 at night.  I was frazzled, exhausted, and shutting down hard.  My cell phone went dead around 2:00 in the afternoon, so I didn’t pick up the two frantic voice mails left on it until after recharging around 9:30 p.m.

That was when I learned that Dane the mangy, rescue mutt, oh mighty predator of predators, attacked the neighbor’s sixteen year old cat Tinkerbell in the afternoon and mauled her pretty badly.

The first voice mail was from our daughter (voice trembling uncontrollably) telling me that the attack took place but everything seemed to be okay.  Daughter was house-, dog-, and garden-sitting for us while we were gone.  Daughter was overwhelmed by those additional duties on top of the five course load she’s carrying this semester at college and the thirty hour week she works as a waitress.  Daughter couldn’t manage Dane’s afternoon walk so she called Sweet and Helpful Neighbor Lady across the street who cheerfully offered to help.  But Daughter didn’t realize that Neighbor Lady had cats and made the mistake of taking Dane Cat-Hater over to her house off-leash.  The rest, as they say, is now history.

The second voice mail was left about four hours after the first.  It was from Neighbor Lady (voice also trembling uncontrollably) letting me know they were at the vet where they’d discovered that Tinkerbell was not okay at all.  In fact, Tinkerbell had multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung, and surgery on her was going to cost about $3,000.  She was sobbing into the voice messaging center that they couldn’t afford it and, if we didn’t pay for it, they were going to have to put her down.  I about shit.  Then I told the hubster.  He about shit, too.

Which is when I first noticed the interesting little voices piping up in my head, having a spirited referendum in there.  The first voice (naturally) was Guilt.

I told you!  I told you a thousand times.  We should have made it a rule that he’s always on leash when he’s out of the house!

The next voice was Blame.

It’s the hubster!  The hubster hates leashes!  He refuses leashes! And how in the hell could Daughter not know that Neighbor Lady didn’t have cats? We’ve been neighbors for thirteen years for godsakes!

Then Wheedle and Cheat chimed in.

Y’knooooow…mentioned Wheedle.  It must be close to an hour and a half since Neighbor Lady called.

Yeaaaaah, that’s right…seconded Cheat.  I wonder…what-oh-what could have happened since then?

Do you think they may have already put her down? continued Wheedle.  It would be so sad…

so sad…echoed Cheat.

But it wouldn’t cost us nearly as much…suggested Wheedle.

It would save us a fortune! chimed Cheat.

It would put the cat out of its suffering, too…said Wheedle.

It would be a kindness, Cheat nodded his head emphatically.

Maybe…Wheedle tilted his head to one side and gazed up at the ceiling…we should just say we didn’t get the message and call in the morning?

How compassionate! Cheat agreed.

Compassionate? said Guilt much struck.

Can we really do that? said Blame perking up.

It was only after this exchange that Tattered Shred of Decency finally spoke up.

Oh, come on you guys, her voice was gentle but firm.  Couldn’t you hear the anguish in Neighbor Lady’s voice?  Tinkerbell is like her child.  We can’t dump this off on her.

But we don’t even like cats, muttered Cheat.

Remember how Tinkerbell used to come in our backyard and shit in the pea gravel pathways? reminded Blame.

And y’knoooow…Wheedle slithered back into the conversation.  Tinkerbell is a very, very old cat…

There was a significant pause here.  It was a hurdle even for Tattered Shred but she powered up and managed to clear it.

Doesn’t matter, she finally crossed her arms over her chest.  Neighbor Lady loves her and can’t bear the thought of losing her.  Not like this.  Don’t you remember all the times Neighbor Lady helped us when we were in a tight spot?

Nobody answered.

Has she ever, ever done anything to hurt us?  Or anybody else for that matter?

Silence.

And is the pain she’s in right now any fault of her own?

Four heads hung down in shame and wagged slowly back and forth.

So the hubster and I called her back.  Neighbor Lady and Neighbor Hubster were still at the vet and Tinkerbell was still alive.  Only somehow, during that hour and a half delay, the surgery’s cost had grown from $3,000 to $4,000.  And by the time I actually talked to the front desk person to give her our credit card number, the upper estimate had mysteriously mushroomed to $5,000.  I wasn’t sure what was going on but at that point I thought it wisest to let the clinic know we were capping the amount we’d pay at $4,000.  Privately, the hubster, Tattered Shred, and I remained flexible about covering more, but we didn’t want the emergency clinic thinking we were patsies.

The final amount topped out at $3399.28 and we considered ourselves lucky.  (Could that be what the clinic was trying to accomplish by raising the upper end?)

I’m not sure why it’s so much harder to be a good human being when large sums of money are involved, but it is.  Thousands of dollars just hurts.  Ow.  However, the fact that Neighbor Lady is such a genuinely good and loving person made it a whole lot easier for me to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

Is goodness contagious then?

(Shittiness certainly is.  I admit if the cat had belonged to the lady who lives behind us, the one who wanted to chop down our apple tree to keep a few apples from falling in her yard, the referendum in my head would have been longer and the outcome uncertain.)

It’s the old Golden Rule I guess.  Be unto others as you would have them be unto you.

Only you know what?  Neighbor Lady doesn’t have any strings attached where her be-unto is concerned.  She’s not kind and decent because that’s how she wants to be treated in return.  It’s just who she is.  She’s a naturally stellar human being.  Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever be that good a person but at least her influence helped raise me a little higher this time around.  Maybe if I put a little effort into it there could be some kind of trickle down effect from all this.  Next time I’m dealing with Apple Tree Hater, maybe I’ll strive to be a little more understanding and forgiving, too.

Maybe this incident could even morph into something that winds up improving our little part of the world.  I owe it to Tinkerbell to at least try.

This morning, the hubster and I drove past a dead cat flung to the side of the road that had been hit and killed by a car.  I felt the twinge of regret I always feel with roadkill and then heard the hubster mutter, That better not be our three thousand dollar cat. We looked at each other and started laughing as we realized that for the first time, for whatever time she has left, we’re now heavily invested in the welfare of a feline.

Could it get any stranger than that?

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Run Over By The Amish

Well, I missed my Friday deadline and may miss next Friday’s as well.   Blogging while traveling is proving far more difficult than I thought it would be.  Serious discussions about dying, assisted suicide, and the like are just going to have to wait until I have the time to treat them with the respect they deserve.

So…in the meantime.  Last night we had dinner with old friends of the hubster.  During the meal one of his friends (an avid bicyclist) told us a story of being run down by some Amish horses gone wild.  Iowa has a large population of Amish and near the communities it’s common to see their buggies tooling along on the shoulders of the highways.  The horses are used to the sounds of car traffic and have always seemed calm and well controlled whenever I’ve driven by them.

Image from Wikipedia

But while they’re fearless around cars, evidently the horses are spooked by bicycles (who knew?) so when the bicycling friend and two of his buddies rode past an Amish family in their wagon one afternoon, the horses panicked.  They threw the wagon and family of four into a ditch before doubling back and stampeding down the highway headed back for the barn.  Our friend was unlucky enough to be riding dead in their path and, because of wind noise, didn’t hear them coming up on him from behind until they ran right over the top of him!  He said one second he was peddling along, minding his own business, and the next he was waking up in a hospital with a broken ankle and numerous cuts and bruises.

Imagine his surprise to find out the exact nature of his traffic accident.  Of course now that everything’s healed he clearly enjoys telling the story and who can blame him?  You have to admit it’s a good one.  How many people can claim they’ve been run over by the Amish?

In any case I guess the moral of this story is, for the safety of everyone concerned always beware when riding your bicycles around horses.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Sky Burial

Griffon Vulture at Oakland Zoo

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

Today is the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and, judging from all the anger boiling up in the last month, it seems as a nation that we’re still pretty raw.

Forgiveness is a challenge for me.  A woman told me once that forgiveness is only granted, not chosen or earned, and I’ve thought about that one ever since.  I always thought I was a very forgiving person but really I’d just been trained to move on.  Put it behind me and not think about it anymore.  Leave the wounded parts in the past like bloody garbage, wrapped up in a cloth and stuffed in a hole.

Over the years I left a lot of wounded parts behind me.

For a variety of reasons I eventually had to go looking for them again, scattered far and wide as they were, and I managed to locate most of the pieces and collect them all in a kind of emotional basket-of-casualties that I kept next to my journal.  While it feels good to have me all back together again in one place where things start to make a lot more sense, still I’m not quite sure what to do with it now.  It’s not like these are working parts anymore.  The remains of the various traumas, big and small, are pretty mangled.

Yesterday, a friend and I went up to More’s Mountain to hike the trail up at the top, and a giant black bird with a yellow beak showed up.  It looked like a crow only three times as large and it came over the trees and flew directly at us, coming in low and circling once, studying us as we stood still, heads tilted back, watching it fly against the sky.  Then, satisfied, it flew back over the trees again and we were left a little awed, a little shaken by the contact.

I wondered if it was some species of vulture.

I went up there alone last month, with a dead crow I found in the middle of the road.  I carried it up there to give it a decent burial, to return it to mountain peak and thin air because…well, I don’t know why exactly.  Because I love crows.  Because it felt more respectful than leaving it to be squished and flattened by successive car tires.  But I think I was after something else, too.  I wanted to whisper a prayer into its wings and then maybe, just maybe, have it carry that prayer up somewhere where it might be heard.

Although it wasn’t a prayer so much as a cry for help, sent out into space, into the heavens, into the void, asking something, somewhere out there to hear and help us as we struggle with all the challenges that are coming to a head in the world right now.  Because it just seems like we need a lot of help.

But when I got up to the mountain with the crow, wrapped in cotton cloth and plastic and cradled in my backpack, I encountered a vulture instead.  It was a turkey vulture and it surprised me, flying out from behind a stone spire to my left as I stood gazing out across the valley far below.  It flew in close right in front of me, twisting its head to look at me, study me, and I realized it must have smelled the dead crow.

It was eerie, I’ve never seen a vulture that close before, and I’ve certainly never been considered quite like that.   It stirred something primal and pre-moral inside me.  I felt a kinship with the bird…and I liked the feeling.

There are still places in Tibet where they practice Sky Burial, one of the ancient, cultural burial rituals of the region.  I’ve read descriptions of the practice and it’s about as raw and graphic as it gets.  Loved ones carry the bodies of their deceased, sometimes on their backs, hundreds of miles to the sites where sky burials are still performed.  Those who perform the service receive the body and place it on great flat stones where they wait until the sun first rises in the morning, illuminating the site.  Then they butcher the body, grind the flesh and bone into paste, and signal to the waiting vultures ringing the site to come.  And they do come, by the hundreds, devouring everything before they leave again, carrying the last remains of that person’s physical life away with them into the sky.

The first time I heard of it I was both repelled and fascinated.  It sounded so strange at first, so gruesome, and yet something in my stomach relaxed at the thought.  I love my body.  I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to live in it for as long as I get to.  It’s like having the greatest horse of all time, my steed, my ally, my companion on this wild journey through the world, and when I die I want it set free again, too.  I want all the hits that it’s taken for me over the years, all the wounds it’s licked, the burdens it’s carried, the pain it’s survived wiped clean again.  Released.  Forgiven.

Not embalmed, enshrined, and buried.

Vultures aren’t afraid of dead bodies.  They don’t look at them with revulsion or disgust and I like that about them, because either do I.  Instead they accept and receive them, taking their inherent nutrients and recycling them, turning them back into something life giving, nourishing, strengthening, and sustaining.

I guess that’s what I want for all these old wounds I’m carrying around with me, these old, damaged, mangled pieces of myself that I’ve reassembled and now don’t know what to do with.

I want to somehow eat them, transform them into something that’s ultimately nourishing and strengthening.  I wonder if maybe that’s what forgiveness is supposed to be about, not some kind of lobotomized memory wipe, but a final consumption and transmutation.  I want to take these horrible old memories, the wounds and scars, and cut them apart, grind them into paste, then swallow them down into some ancient, primal place of acid and fire inside myself that can finally, finally harness what happened, release it, and make me whole and strong again.  Lend strength to my wings and help me fly back into the sky where I can soar around again through the rest of my life, loving and accepting and free.

I hope someday I’ll be granted that kind of forgiveness.  I hope someday we all will.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn