The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘pets’ Category

HISTORY, HANSOM CABS AND HIZ HONOR

During the Holidays my parents and I would frequently take long walks through Central Park.  Sometimes, if the weather were conducive, those would take us past Wollman ice skating rink and down to the park’s southern end.  I always enjoyed those long walks – particularly because it gave me the opportunity to go up to and pet the horses that drew the hansom cabs.  My favorite was a roan named Buttercup.

My parents strongly believed that children should be raised with non-human companions and so there was always a dog in our home.  They believed that sharing childhood with other creatures was essential in teaching kids respect for life in all its forms.  There was nothing that upset them or me more than stories of animal abuse.  This was my introduction to respecting life and celebrating diversity – long before the latter became technically chic and we restricted the definition to other humans.

One night , two weeks before Christmas, dad came home from work and made an announcement at dinner.  The following evening he was going to take us to Central Park and we were going to take a carriage ride in the hansoms.  I remember my sense of excitement at this news.  I had always wanted to ride in the back of one of these vintage carriages but I knew the rides were expensive.  I hoped that we could ride in the carriage that Buttercup drew.

As it turned out, Buttercup was off duty that evening so our ride was pulled by a horse named Alfie.  It occurred to me that in the hour the carriage moved along that this was an incredibly slow way to travel.  It gave me a new appreciation for the pioneers who made their way west in Conestoga wagons.  And I must admit that the ride wasn’t all that comfortable.  Still, it was a fun thing to do and turned into what is most likely to be a once in a lifetime experience.

One of the first pronouncements of New York’s recently elected mayor, Bill de Blasio is that the hansom cab rides will be terminated because they represent an expression of animal cruelty.  Frankly, if I believed that I would be one of the first in line to support their retirement.  But the facts tell a different story.

The horses and their drivers are, like almost everything else in New York, highly regulated by the city.  They are required to get a complete veterinarian exam twice a year; the rules regulating the business requires  that they have at least an eight week annual vacation and are not permitted to work in rainy or extreme weather; and their diet must meet high standards set by the city.

While I haven’t lived in my birth city for a long while, I have a sneaky suspicion that the well-being of the hansom cab horses is not the most pressing one that New Yorkers face.  If it were, they should rename the city, Utopia.  And perhaps as the mayor matures into his responsibilities he will find, as he did several weeks after his announcement regarding the hansom cabs, that New Yorkers are more concerned about the clearance of snow from their streets – particularly in the streets in neighborhoods which did not vote for him.

It always amazes me that the liberal left in their pursuit of securing peace on earth and equity for all so often disregard the bodies they are willing to throw under the bus in the interest of achieving their goals.  In the case of the hansom cabs, those bodies are the two hundred drivers who earn their living guiding their steeds through the park.  Some of them have been at their jobs for over thirty years.

Now in fairness to the mayor, he has a plan to replace the hansom cabs with pseudo-vintage electric cars.  Thus he can both placate animal rights groups and the various environmental groups which helped fund his election campaign.  Oh, and this idea co-incidentally came from a campaign contributor, a chap by the name of Steve Nislick.

Actually, Mr. Nislick is more than just a contributor to the mayor’s successful election campaign.  Mr. Nislick happens to be the CEO of a company named Edison Properties which operates parking lots and storage units.  Interestingly, the bulk of Edison’s business interests happen to be in the vicinity of the five stables which house New York’s hansom cab horses.  Naturally, if the horses are retired those stables would most likely be sold and converted to other uses – such as parking lots or storage units.

Perhaps the casual reader will think that de Blasio’s motivation is nothing more than the typical iconoclastic destruction of anything that represents tradition.  The hansom cabs certainly fit that mold as they have been active since Central Park was opened in 1857.  But that theory comes into question if you realize that the day he was sworn in, he and his family moved into Gracie Mansion, the official residence of NY’s mayors, built in 1799 which had been eschewed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.  Incidentally, the former mayor had, at his own expense, completely refurbished the residence as a gift to the people of the city.

Of course suggesting that personal self-interest might be the guiding force in the mayor’s reversal of his position on the hansom cabs from the days he was a member of the City Council will undoubtedly bring the left to its feet, shouting cries of “racism.”  After all, the mayor’s wife is a black woman.  That is if they have time left over from calling black conservatives “Uncle Toms” and making fun of Justice Clarence Thomas for having married a spouse who happens to be white.

THE POLISH DOG

As you may know, Chicago has the largest population of people of Polish heritage, outside of Warsaw.  This makes the city a good place to live if you happen, as I do, to like kishka, kielbasa and pirogues.  The smells that emanate from the  various Polish grocery stores are noticeable a city block away.  What a treat for one’s olfactory senses.

And the neighborhoods in which people of Polish descent live are amazingly clean and crime free.  Perhaps that is because the residents make the effort to keep them that way.  On any given Saturday, taking a drive down the side streets that radiate from Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of the Polish community’s business district, you can see diminutive old Polish ladies on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalks in front of their little bungalow homes.

Of course, having such a large ethnic community it is not surprising that people arrived at stereotypes for this group of people and began constructing jokes about them.  One of those stereotypes concerned itself with the intelligence level of members of the Polish community – which the joke creators determined was rather low.  And they made up their stories accordingly.

( It was not my experience in my dealings with the many people of Polish extraction whom I knew that there was any truth to this presumption).

But here’s a typical Polish, or in the parlance of Chicago, “Pollack” joke:

“Why did the Polish dog have a flat head?”

“Because he kept chasing parked cars.”

Of course, the dog in this two-liner is a canine and is not to be confused with a “Polish” that comes on a bun.  And if you are wondering, ordering a wiener or hot dog, the correct pronunciation and spelling is “dawg”.

If you should be exceptionally gauche and were to order a Polish dawg, which is both an oxymoron and a verbal abomination, you will undoubtedly be confined to the nethermost place in Hell after your demise and fed a diet of nothing other than Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup through all eternity.  This would be a just and fitting punishment.

Now the reason that I thought of this old canard about the Polish dog was that this morning on my way with Gracie to the dog park, I was behind a man driving a late model car.  I happened to notice that his passenger brake light had burned out.

As it happened, we both were going to make a left turn at the same street and there were two lanes assigned for that purpose.  We were stopped at a rather long light and both of our windows were rolled down as at 6:15 a.m. it was only about 78 degrees outside.  (We had a rather extensive thunderstorm last night which cooled things off considerably).

As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, I said to him, “Excuse me sir – I don’t know if you’re aware of it but your passenger side brake light is out.”

Gracie pushed her head out of the rear window to see if there were any dogs in the other car whose acquaintance she might make.

The man (whom I took to be in his mid to late 40’s) responded, “Yeah, so what’s it to ya?”

I had expected a response more along the lines of, “I didn’t know that.  Thanks for telling me,” so this took me by surprise.

Before I had an opportunity to formulate and offer a response, the light changed and we both made our turns.

It’s an interesting society in which we live.  Fortunately or unfortunately I was raised to assist others when the opportunity presents itself – and I thought I was doing this guy a minor service by pointing out his car’s problem.  But apparently he felt that this was some sort of intrusion into his affairs.

The habit is so ingrained in me after so many years, that I guess, like the flat-headed Polish dog, I’m going to keep chasing parked cars.  Or maybe it was people like me whom Einstein observed when he formulated his definition of Insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.”

So I guess there are a couple of things you should take away from this story:

1)  Never order a Polish dawg unless you’re really fond of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup;

2)  Be a nice person and you’ll get your reward;

3)  You better check your own brake lights because the next time I see that one of them has burned out I might not bother to mention it to you.  (Nah, I will).

ON BUYING INSURANCE

If you’ve followed this blog for any period of time, you’ve heard constant references that I make to the dogs with whom I’ve shared my life.  There was a dog in our home when I was born and I hope there will be one by my side when I pass from this earth.

Dogs have brought me so much joy with their simple ways and honest behavior.  They have in many ways been my guide – as important as any spiritual advisor.  It was not through their words but their acts that I learned.  So if you’ve concluded from this summary that I have a passion for dogs, you are certainly correct.

And that brings me to what I have learned from my companion dog Gracie.

Gracie doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.  She is one of the gentlest creatures who has ever walked this planet.  She interjects herself between other dogs at the dog park if she feels the playfulness is getting a little too contentious – acting as hall monitor.  I have often worried that, if there were a dog who was truly vicious while she was busy interceding and who attacked her, she would have no idea how to respond to this assault.

I’ve met a few dogs in my life who were, indeed, vicious.  Their number is far less than the people whom I could categorize thusly.  Those dogs, like many of those people, were unfortunate victims of their upbringing.  And as we look at our world today, it seems to me that our general abandonment of principle and love (other than the self-centered kind), has loosed far more vicious people on the world than it once knew.

We are now about to embark on a discussion on “gun control”.  The media, already bought and paid for, will show us scenes of horrible tragedies, mass shootings and stories about the helpless victims and the toll their deaths took on their families.  We should all bow our heads in prayer and reflection over what caused these tragedies and mourn those who died in them.  That is the very least we should do – and it is probably all that most of us will do.

Soon the rhetoric will begin on Capitol Hill and from the White House.  It will sound good if you fail to listen closely to the underlying emptiness of the conversation.

It will talk about the number of violent deaths caused by weaponry – and will totally ignore the walking deaths caused by welfare.

It will address itself to the undeniable tragedies of Newtown, CT and Aurora, Co and will lay the blame squarely at the feet of guns, while ignoring the fact that there are mentally ill people in this country for whom we provide limited assistance or help.

It will necessarily re-write history and ignore the reasons that the Founding Fathers incorporated the Second Amendment of the Constitution to uphold the First – Freedom of Speech.

It will ignore the facts about areas which have allowed gun ownership and have among the lowest crime rates and that areas which have restrictive gun control laws have consistently had more murders committed due to the use of illegal guns.

In essence, it will be a lie – as much that emanates from Washington has proven to be.

So today I made a decision.  I will admit that it was one at which I arrived after a lot of kicking and screaming.  I made a decision to purchase a weapon – not because I have any intent to go out and shoot up the town or rob a bank but as a matter of defense – for Gracie’s sake and well-being.

I am not thinking of it as a “gun” but rather, an “insurance policy”.  And while, as with all insurance policies, I hope never to have to call on the benefits for which I have paid premiums, I will be armed – and Gracie will be safe.

That is what responsible parenting is all about.  Isn’t it?

FEELINGS

This has been a disturbing few days.  I thought about the children who were slaughtered and about the kids I trained in my church choir.  They were a little older – but not much, and I cannot imagine how I would have reacted had this incident happened at their school.  Actually, I could.  I would have been a basket case.

Feeling a little low as I contemplated the “evolution of man” I thought about the warmth and joy I knew as a child when I could always rely on my family for a hug, a kiss and some genuine concern.  It has been a long time since they have passed and I have made my way – though always mindful of the sense of security I had when they caressed me and made my fears disappear.

My folks were simple and they raised a child who was simple.  But the simplest and most sincere of all of us are our canine friends – and I am blessed that I have known and cared for many of them.

It has been two weeks since my new found family of Golden Rerievers have been with Gracie and me.  Both of us miss them terribly.  And as I had a few errands to run (some of which were fabricated to maneuver me to their neighborhood),  I took a moment to stop by and see if their owner and they were home.  As luck turned out they were.

When I walked in I was assaulted with affection from all three, but most especially from Kali, the baby.  During the forty-five minutes I sat on the couch in the living room, she only stopped licking my face and standing on my lap long enough to get some water so that she could recharge her tongue.  Her father lay with his head in my lap, as contented as anyone, dog or human could be, despite the fact that his offspring kept pummeling his face in her attempt to express her love for me.  And mom jumped up as often as her progeny would permit to share her affection.

Frankly, I both basked in this display of feelings and I needed it.  I rapidly went from a nadir of despair to an apex of hope – all because of a family of dogs who are not reputed to be the smartest of animals.  That spot at the top of the pyramid, we humans have reserved for ourselves.

I have never heard of any dog who pulled a trigger and slaughtered a bunch of human children. 

I have never heard of any dog who was treated well and didn’t return that kindness ten fold.

I have never seen a dog who wasn’t honest and devoted to those whom we describe as “master.”

To paraphrase Will Rogers, “I never met a dog I didn’t like.”  More importantly, there are few dogs I have met who didn’t like me.

Perhaps it is that, like them I am an uncomplicated individual.  I’m honest – or at least try my best to be – and I live without a great deal of drama. 

Each of us needs to ask ourselves whether we are part of the solution or part of the problem.   Do the ways we treat others promote joy or anger? Because I believe that our interactions are cumulative on those we encounter. Even hard-hearted Scrooge could be turned from selfishness to generosity.

We need to be involved in a passionate way – much as Kali did on seeing me – exploding in an honest, unsolicited display of loving action.  Each of us needs to examine his or her life and ask, “Am I a mindless, emotionless robot?  Or am I a feeling, caring person?”

And if we say that we are compassionate, do we demonstrate that in our everyday activities and dealings with others?  Even to the little children. For in some small way, each of us helps mold them into becoming what they will become – either saints or shooters.

THE GREAT KING

During the Middle Ages there was a king in central Europe who wanted to educate the people of his realm. He heard of a renowned scholar and hoped this man would share his wisdom with the king’s subjects. So he sent forth emissaries to find the scholar and invite him to be the tutor for the kingdom.

The scholar came and met with the king who told him of his plan. He accepted the king’s invitation to teach his people all that he knew. The king was delighted that he was fulfilling the mission he had set for himself.

A number of years passed.

One day the scholar sought an audience with the king who granted his request. At the audience the scholar said, “Your majesty. I have been with you and your people for quite a few years. I have taught you all that I know. It is now time for me to leave and share my knowledge with other people.”

The king was sad to see the scholar depart but he understood that the scholar was doing what he believed to be the right thing.

He said to the scholar, “While we are sorry to lose you we respect your decision. But before you depart, we must have a feast in your honor – for all that you have done for me and for my people.”

The scholar agreed to remain until the feast.

The king ordered that a large wooden structure be erected – sufficient in size to accommodate both the nobility as well as the commoners who had been educated by the scholar. It was a very large building – rather barn-like – with no doors on either side in order to allow easy access to the many guests who were invited to attend the festivities.

The king ordered that a large and fine variety of foods be served at the evening banquet. The fare was exceptional. The king seated the scholar at his right hand at the table of honor.

As the meal concluded, a small bird flew in from one end of the open structure, spent a few seconds flying around the candles at the king’s table, and departed through the other end of the building as quickly as she had entered.

The king took this to be a sign of some sort. He asked the scholar to explain it’s meaning.

The scholar responded, “My Lord – this is the story of life. Abruptly we emerge from the darkness, we spend a brief moment in the light and just as rapidly as we entered, we return to the darkness.”

Today my beloved companion – my Golden Retriever, Spenser left the light. Those of you who have loved companion animals and have lost them will understand the grief and my deep sense of loss.

During our years together, Spenser was my “scholar”. He taught me that extending selfless acts of love is the way in which we should live our lives. He never asked for much yet he always offered everything he had to give.

Would that we would only learn those lessons.

Perhaps that’s what the scholar taught the people in the great king’s realm.

This is a reblog of a post published about a year ago.  Gracie and I lost Spenser on 11/29/11 and I wanted to offer him a tribute but it was too difficult for me to do on the anniversary of his passing.

He was a devoted companion and a wonderful friend – and Spenser, Gracie and I love you and still miss you.

THE SIMPLE JOY OF LOVING

Let’s begin at the beginning which we know is a very good place to start.  My love affair with dogs started very shortly after I made my way into the world – kicking and screaming and annoyed at the bright lights in the delivery room which had disturbed the comfortable warm, dark and secure accommodations I had previously enjoyed.

A short while later I went to a new place that I would call home until the time that I went off to college.  It was a small apartment filled with an amazingly loving and wonderful buff colored Cocker Spaniel named Taffy who would act as a surrogate guardian for my parents and grandmother.

Mom and this guy called Dad had disappeared for about a week on something that was called a honeymoon.  They had been married on Flag Day and ten days and a year later I popped into the world.  This was back in the days when the sequence of events was getting married and then having children.  Even then, (although we had not yet invented the word), there were people who were dyslexic and got these instructions backwards – but they were relatively few in number and polite people didn’t talk about them.

Now Mom had gotten Taffy as a puppy – but by the time of her marriage he was twelve years old and very devoted to her.  She was concerned that he might be jealous of this new addition to the family.  As it turned out, she had nothing to fear.  Taffy considered it his duty to take care of this baby, sleeping by the side of my crib, ever vigilant should anything or anyone disturb me.

Perhaps he saw in me a kindred spirit.  Maybe it was the fact that I pooped and piddled with abandon in those old fashioned cloth diapers which Mom and Grandma had to wash out and launder and then reuse.  Perhaps those smells reminded him of the others of his kind whom he knew only by the aroma that they left on the fire hydrant down the street.  In any event, Taffy assumed the role of my protector and guarded me with all his might.

After awhile my parents decided to introduce me to the wonders of Central Park.  I had a big English stroller carriage and Taffy and I would ride in it together.  I would gum his ears with my mouth and do the same to his nose.  He reciprocated these affronts to his dignity by showering my hands and face with licks and then would resume his rest at the foot of the carriage, always attentive if a stranger came too close to his baby.

Taffy lived to be nearly seventeen.  I was in the apartment but sleeping when he passed away near my little bed.  My parents removed his body before I awakened and had it cremated.  When I got up that morning I remember looking for him.  That was when I first became aware of the principle that where there is life there is also death.  I remember crying inconsolably at the loss of my very devoted friend.

A week later my folks came home with Taffy’s ashes – and a new addition to our little family.  This was a pure black Cocker Spaniel puppy whom they named Ace.  And after Ace there was Andy and a succession of wonderful companion dogs with whom I have been privileged to share my home and my heart with the sole exception of the four years I lived in college dorms.

One of those dogs was a gift, some were rescues, all have been wonderful friends.  Whether it was the two goofy Irish Setters, Finney and Tristan, the wonderful Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix, Josh, the German Shepherd mix, Dusty, the Golden Retrievers, Dickens and Spenser and now, my Lane Bryant girl the Irish Wolfhound look alike, Gracie.  They have all been the most constant and devoted companions.  And, of course, now there are the three Golden Retrievers for whom Gracie and I have been surrogate parents for much of this past year, Bubba, Bébé and Kali.

I had expected their owner to ask us to care for them over Thanksgiving as he was hoping to visit relatives out of town.  As it turned out that trip did not occur and so Gracie and I celebrated the holiday together.  But on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I received a call from him to let me know that he wasn’t feeling well and thought that, if I could, it would be better for them to stay a few days with me rather than with his girlfriend and her three dogs.  So I arranged to meet her at the dog park to pick up the kids.  Gracie and I hadn’t seen them for just over two weeks.

When we got to the park, I could see Kali was the closest of the three.  Her parents were at the far end and were facing away from Gracie and me.  She suddenly spotted the two of us and took off in our direction, running and barking in her very treble voice.  This caused mom and dad to turn around and they too began running toward us at full kilter.

I would have to say that this reunion lasted for at least five minutes, all three of them showering their affection on both Gracie and me and raising such a ruckus that four people who were passing by the outer fence of the park stopped to watch the whole thing.  One of the men in the park came over and said I must be the “Dog Whisperer” of Las Vegas.

I don’t know why dogs seem to have an affinity for me or I for them.  Perhaps it is because we are cast from the same mold of simplicity.  They ask for so little.  A home, some food and water and a little bit of love.  Yet they return so much loyalty and affection for what we bestow on them.  And as for me, the gratitude I see in their face after they have enjoyed a meal, followed by one of them curling up in my lap is the greatest gift I could imagine receiving.

If all our world leaders had a companion dog as a guide to teach them their ways this might be a more harmonious planet.  For in the end, we make the choice if we should follow a path of anger and hatred and war – or whether we should walk down the road letting the simple joy of loving be our guide.

THE PET STORE

Once again Gracie and I get to enjoy the company of the three goldens – this time for two weeks.  I picked them up on Sunday evening.  Their companion person, Barry has gone out of town, attending a family reunion and spending some time with his brother and his family.

Barry asked if I would be able to drop him off at the airport this morning and that worked out fine with my schedule.  We agreed on a time and as I set out for his house a little early I decided to stop to get some gasoline.

As I was filling the tank my phone rang.  It was Barry.  He was running late and asked me to give him an extra twenty to thirty minutes.  At that point I was only about ten minutes away.  So I decided to stop at Pet Smart which was on the way and pick up some additional treats for all four of the puppies.

I know the store quite well so I went directly to the treats aisle and got in line with my two items.  A lady whom I thought might be a few years older than I was returning some canned cat food which apparently her cat didn’t like and had substituted different cans of cat food in their place.  Because all of the 10 cans were different flavors, the return for each one had to be rung up separately.

(If you ever want to kill an extra fifteen minutes, follow me to the check out line.  I guarantee you that someone ahead of us will have a complicated problem).

As I was waiting to pay for my purchases, a man in a motorized wheelchair came into the store with his service dog.  She appeared to me to be a Labrador mixture and was wearing boots on all four paws to protect her from the heat of the concrete pavement.  The man appeared to be in his mid to late thirties and had lost his right arm above the elbow.

He powered his chair and his dog to the other cashier’s station and when she looked at him he asked, “Could you please tell me how much it would cost to give my dog a bath?”  The cashier who must be new since I am in the store frequently and didn’t recognize her said, “You have to ask the people in grooming,” and she pointed to the window just behind the checkout lines where the grooming department operated.  The man thanked her and started for the door that opened into the world of dog bathing and clipping.

I realized that with only his left hand which he used to operate his chair, he was going to have some difficulty opening the door and navigating both himself and his dog through it.  So I stepped out of line and offered to hold the door for him which he appreciated.

When I got back to my place a few seconds later, I noticed that the cashier who had directed him to the grooming department was going on break because she had turned off her light and was leaving her register.

The lady ahead of me still had a few cans to get refunded.   She turned to me and said, “That was very nice of you to help that man.  People don’t seem to be very thoughtful of others anymore.”  I thanked her and just said, “It’s really nothing special.  It’s just the way that I was raised.”

But I went on and said, “You know both my parents were in businesses where providing excellent customer service was important– and that is how I spent most of my working life as well.”

“If I were the cashier whom the man asked for help, seeing his condition and realizing that there were several groomers who were available to assist him, I would have picked up the telephone by my register and asked one of them to come out to help him, rather than make him navigate through a narrow doorway in  a wheelchair.”

I said that for two reasons.  First, that is what I would have done if I were that cashier.  Second, I hoped that my cashier would pick up on the idea should a similar situation ever occur to her – or perhaps she might mention the comment to her co-worker.

The lady completed her transaction and I mine and I headed over to Barry’s.  Traffic was light and despite our delay in starting out he had more than enough time to catch his plane.

When I got home, Gracie and the three goldens were, as is inevitably the case, at the door to greet me.  You would have thought that I had left them for two weeks rather than little more than an hour.  Barking and jumping and tail-wagging and face-licking were the order of the moment.  And I thought about the lady’s comment at the store.  “People don’t seem to be very thoughtful of others anymore.”  Sadly, I have to agree with her.

I guess that’s why I’ve always surrounded myself with those who truly are my best friends – my dogs.  We could learn a lot about the way we should treat each other from the way that they treat us.

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