The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Golden Retriever’


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.


I was bad, really bad.  Perhaps the more appropriate term is lazy.  Although I again have the three goldens with Gracie and me, I didn’t have the energy yesterday to bake the dog biscuits that they love.  And to make matters worse, I was nearly out of the other little goodies that they get each morning when we come back from the park.

It was too early to stop by Pet Smart to pick up a stash, so I stopped at my local supermarket to see what they had in stock.  Well, they had the treats I normally include as part of the kids’ morning mix, but they were significantly more expensive than at Pet Smart.  So I looked for a short term alternative on the shelf and found one.  As they were on sale they were quite inexpensive and appeared to contain a preponderance of natural ingredients.

As with products I buy for my own consumption, I checked to see whether they were made in the U. S. A. or if, like so much in the pet food department, were a product of China.  I looked all over the package but was unable to find the country of origin listed.  The only statement was that they were “distributed by Del Monte Foods’ Pet Division”.  The term “distributed” led me to believe that they probably were not made here.

When we returned home, (the kids patiently sat in the car waiting for me to get them their goodies), I called the number listed on the package to speak with Del Monte’s customer service department.  The young lady in New Jersey was very helpful and assured me that this product was indeed made in the USA.  And that’s when I learned something.

I’m not sure what law Congress passed that applies, but as my contact at Del Monte put it, “Only products which are made in foreign countries must indicate the country of origin on the packaging.  If you see a product with no indication of where it is made, you can rest assured that it was produced here.”

I wished I had known that earlier as it would have saved me five minutes scrutinizing the package and the time it took to call her and for her to answer my question.  I did suggest that since there is a lot of printing on the package, it might be helpful to the consumer if they simply added the statement, “Made in the USA” to the package, removing any question from the mind of the consumer who cares about that sort of thing.

She agreed and said she would “Pass that suggestion along.”

Well, the good news is that the kids liked their new treats.  And the better news is that I got motivated to bake them two batches of their biscuits.  That is good news for them and for me.  (I have gotten in the habit of eating a couple of them every morning for breakfast).

Don’t laugh.  They are not as hard as Milk Bone biscuits.  In fact, they have the consistency of scones.  And all of us find them rather tasty.  They go very nicely with my morning coffee – and I’m looking forward to breakfast tomorrow morning now that I’ve laid in a new supply.

For those of you who have companion dogs, I have included the recipe below.  If your dogs are like this pack, they will love them – and you may as well.


Dry Ingredients

1/2 cup of original Oat Meal flakes

1/2 cup of yellow or blue Corn Meal

2   cups of flour (I use equal parts of garbanzo, barley, brown rice and whole wheat flours).

1   Tbsp. of Toasted Wheat Germ

1    Tbsp. of Toasted Sunflower Seeds (unsalted)

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together all ingredients until thoroughly blended

Wet Ingredients

1/2 cup of filtered water

1/2 cup of oil (Safflower preferred)

2  large eggs or 1 jumbo egg

1 Tbsp. of pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsps. of honey

3 Tbsps. of chunky peanut butter (almond or pecan butter make a nice variation)

In a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk blend all wet ingredients thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients and blend until all liquid is absorbed.

Turn out dough on a wooden board and form into a ball.  Roll out until about 1/2 inch in thickness and cut into shapes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet place cut out biscuits and bake in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes.  (I normally make two batches at a time and exchange the baking sheets from one level of the oven to the other after 10 minutes so that they bake evenly).  Turn oven off.

Let rest in the oven (door ajar) for another 10 minutes.  Put trays on a wire rack to cool.  Store in air tight containers.

(I have no idea how long the shelf life of these biscuits is because two batches only last us about three days).

“Bone Appetit!”


It’s amazing to me how much I learn about human life from what our dogs exhibit in the conduct of their own.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who sees this – but, perhaps, I’m the only one who is looking.

My visiting Golden Retriever father, Bubba sired four litters.  He is now neutered.  Although he is one of the most gentle creatures, constantly looking for a gratuitous caress or insisting on one by marching between a person’s legs so they cannot ignore him, he doesn’t do well with un-neutered male dogs.

The dog park, with its requirement that all animals over the age of four months must be spayed or neutered in order to use the facility, should be a safe place to take all four of these creatures on our three outings a day.  But it isn’t.  During four of the last seven days, there have been one or more un-neutered males at the park.

I guess it’s possible that the people who brought their dogs didn’t see the sign specifying this rule.  But in most cases I honestly doubt that.  And because I believe that the dogs in my charge have the right to enjoy their time in a non-threatening environment I have felt obligated to point out to these folks the fact that they are violating the rule.

One gentleman apologized and said he didn’t realize that and immediately left with his dog.  The other three found excuses why this rule didn’t apply to them.  As a result, seeing that they were going to stick around, I took my charges and left.  I have decided that if I see them again, having brought this to their attention, I will call the Park Marshalls and let them do their job.  I’m sure they will bring a greater sense of urgency to this than I have been able to achieve.

Since I first met the three golden family about six months ago, Gracie and I have enjoyed their company as guests for almost half that time.  Of course, mom, dad and baby already had a bond – but that bond now includes Gracie.  It is remarkable to me and to others how, when they are visiting, she literally has a smile on her face.  And I think that of the three, she has most closely bonded with papa, Bubba.  The two of them, when we are home, can usually be found sleeping next to each other.

On an evening visit to the dog park the other night, a neutered male, I think an Australian shepherd mix, came in.  He was about three years old and extremely playful.  But he also wanted to do the dominance game with Gracie.  We had completed four laps around the park and were seated in the shade for a few minutes before we began the drive home.  Bubba was sitting in front of me and I was petting him.

When he saw this dog jump on Gracie he stood up and began snarling and barking and snapping his teeth.  Fortunately, I was able to grab his collar.  He definitely had blood in his eye and I know that there would have been an awful incident had I not been able to hold him.  The shepherd continued trying to mount Gracie and Bubba kept up his protest until the other dog’s owner came over and pulled him off.  When she had walked him a safe distance I took the four of them home.

It is clear to me that Bubba has identified Gracie as a member of his pack – or in human terms, family.  He is the alpha dog and he is going to defend his family from any intrusions or threats from others.  He is a devoted papa.  While I certainly don’t want any dog fights to happen, it does make me feel good to know that Gracie, who hasn’t a mean bone in her body and I doubt would know how to defend herself, has him to look out for her.

Then I thought about my childhood – and how I had my own father who would have done anything and everything necessary to protect me from harm.  Dad was a slight man, only about 5’ 8” and 160 pounds, but I know that if I were threatened he would have turned into a giant.  How fortunate that Gracie has Bubba and I had my father to provide for our security.

And then I think about all those children who are abused, left to fend for themselves without a protector – a father figure – a role model.  Although when we speak of child abuse we generally think about the infliction of active physical damage, I would argue that neglect and abandonment convey their own very deep scars.  Those may be invisible but they cut like knives through the makeup of the children of our one parent families – whose numbers are increasing daily.

Could the disintegration of the basic family unit be one of the reasons that we live in an increasingly more self-centered society?  Could it be one of the reasons that our children and young people engage in more and more horrible random acts of violence?  Could the abdication of principle and morality explain so much of what is happening in world?  And can our continuing along this path lead to anything other than our own destruction?


After I lost Dusty I experienced one of the deepest despairs of my life.  Perhaps because he had been so brutally abused as a young dog I always felt that more than with any of my other companion dogs I had to show him as much love as my soul possessed.  As much as I tried I was never certain that was sufficient to overcome the abuse he had known.

Of all the companions I have had throughout my life, I have to admit that I took his death the hardest.  His good friend, my Golden Retriever, Spenser whom he had raised clung even more to me than before Dusty died.

I knew there were people who were well-intentioned and would ask me, “Are you going to get another dog.”  People who made that remark generally didn’t have dogs in their own lives.  Their view of animals was that they were possessions, like a lamp or a rug.  If it wears out or the fashion changes you get a new one.  They’ve sadly missed one of the most important relationships that helps us understand our humanity.

On the one hand I did want to get Spenser a companion.  I wanted him to have the companionship he had known – and perhaps grow into being the teacher rather than the student.  It was, however, far too soon for me.

A year and a half went by and I was looking to list some items on Craig’s List, searching for the appropriate category.  As I was perusing the items that were listed, I happened to see a picture – a picture of a beautiful puppy with a loving face.  She was the last of a litter of ten and was being given away to a good home.  I knew that this was to be Spenser’s new companion – and mine.

When I called, the family said that she had been tentatively adopted.  The family’s kids had named her, Spike.  I put forth my emotional best, telling them how I had enjoyed the company of dogs my entire life, had taken care of my blind Irish Setter, Finney for over fifteen years; in general I talked myself up as a responsible, caring and loving person who, if Spike and I were to come together as a family would provide only the best food, the greatest care and as much love as anyone could offer.

So they agreed to meet with me.

I drove to their home about an hour later and fell in love with Spike (although I was less fond of her name).  So after we chatted for a bit they said they would be happy for me to have her (the previous adopted parents had backed out while I was driving there.  They decided this puppy was going to grow up to be too big for their apartment).

I asked them if they would hold her to the following day so that I would have time to buy the stuff necessary to “puppy-proof” the house.  I think that they would have preferred that Spike and I leave together so that they could break down the area where they held the puppies, but they finally agreed to my request.

So I left Spike with them, went to a variety of places where I found stuff that made drawers baby and puppy-proof and got all the rest of the accoutrements necessary to welcome a new member of the family into a house that was secure from her intrusions.  I also stopped by Border’s to pick up a CD for the kids.

When I met with the family it was clear that the kids had enjoyed the experience of seeing the ten puppies grow during their eight weeks with them – and that they missed those puppies as they disappeared one by one.  Dad assured them that they would have family “reunions” and they would see the puppies again.  But that never happened – although I would have enjoyed meeting Spike’s siblings.  So, believing that this might actually be in the cards in the future, I had a plan to change Spike’s name and I wanted the kids to agree to this change – hence the CD.

The next day I returned to pick up Spike as we had agreed.  It was Sunday and the kids were home.  Now the family lived in an area all of whose streets had musical attributions.  There was Verdi Way, Arpeggio Lane and they happened to live on Handel Street.

When I met the kids I showed them Spike’s new collar and lead and the toys I had bought for her – just to reassure them that she was going to be happy in her new home with me.  They seemed to think I was okay – so that was step one in my plan for changing Spike’s name.  Then I handed them the CD.

I explained, that once upon a time, before there were CD’s we had something to play music which we called records.  The very first record which I bought was “Messiah” written by a man named Georg F. Handel – the same man for whom their street had been named.  (This seemed to impress them – at least a little).

Then I explained that on that record, there was a soloist who was a black woman.  I pointed out that Spike was also black and a girl.  (They seemed to be warming up to my presentation a little).

And I explained that woman was a very famous singer.  Her name was Grace Bumbry.

So, in conclusion, I said, “Since you live on Handel Street, and since Spike is black and a girl and since this wonderful singer was named Grace – would it be okay if I were to change Spike’s name to Gracie?”  They smiled and agreed with me.

And that’s how Gracie got her name.



We have all heard the phrase, “Victim of circumstance.”  I thought about that this afternoon.  The implication is that we are not the masters of our destiny but mere pawns in a game of randomness.  Perhaps that has some merit.  So I thought about it further as it applied to me.

On November 29, 2011 I lost my golden retriever companion, Spenser (post “The Great King”).

Had it not been for that, I would most likely not have started taking his companion, Gracie to the dog park.

Had I not have gone to the dog park with her, I would not have met the three golden retrievers who have become somewhat semi-permanent guests (post “Do Dogs Shed Tears”).

Had they not become semi-permanent guests, Gracie would most likely have continued to cling to me.  Instead she has become “the leader of the pack” and if I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy their company I would have wallowed in my self-pity over losing Spenser.

Of course, hundreds of thousands of these circumstances have brought me to where I am today – enabling all of the above to have occurred in the first place.

Whether we choose to view ourselves as helpless and victims of circumstance or take the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons is strictly up to each of us.

May I offer you more ice for your beverage?


It’s been awhile since I talked about my grandmother.  Those of you who are not dog lovers might find this silly, but with the recent departure of my three Golden Retriever guests my thoughts have been drawn to her.  Both these wonderful puppies and my grandmother showed me nothing but their complete love.  I miss all four of them.

When I began this blog my very early entries revolved around the life lessons that she taught me.  For those of you who missed it, she came from Czechoslovakia at the age of nine without any knowledge of English.  She began as a scullery maid and taught herself a new language with the aid of her aunt and a dictionary.  She never had any real formal education – but in my view, was one of the wisest women who ever walked on Earth.

She married, raised two children on her own after my grandfather’s death.  Became a gourmet cook and totally doted on me.  Many years after her death I am still benefiting from the example she set for me and for all she met.

One of the responsibilities that she took most seriously was expressing her voice at the ballot box.  She would read the papers to inform herself on all the political races and would decide which candidates most represented her viewpoint.  I remember her telling me that she had voted (twice) for President Eisenhower.  (Grandma had a far better record of voting for winners than I have been able to establish).

I remember asking her why she had voted for Ike.  As I asked this, grandma began crying.  She was about to reveal something that she must have felt I was previously too young to know.  She went over to the beautiful desk that was in the hallway and reached into a secret compartment that the cabinetmaker had built into the burled walnut.  Inside that compartment there was a letter, quite worn and yellowed with age.

The letter had been written by a man who worked with my great uncle in the resistance to the Nazis in Czechoslovakia.  Great Uncle Frantisek had been captured together with his wife and seven and nine year old children.  My great uncle was apparently one of the local resistance leaders near grandma’s home town of Kutna Hora.

Three of the SS men who captured them raped  his wife in front of my great uncle and then shot her.  Then they brought his two children in the room bound with rope, poured gasoline over them and lit them on fire.  Then they mercifully put a bullet through my great uncle’s head.

They released his lieutenant who wrote the letter and had witnessed these events with the intent of trying to demoralize those who would oppose their terror and tyranny.  That’s why grandma had voted for Ike.  She viewed him as the liberator of her place of birth and she was grateful to him.

After hearing this story I learned that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of being an American citizen is exercising our right to vote – preferably in an informed manner.  It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

It’s amazing to me that as I think back about how my uneducated grandmother took this responsibility so seriously, so many of us who have had the benefit of receiving so much from our nation take this responsibility as a minor inconvenience – if they bother with it at all.  Perhaps the Great American Tragedy has finally been written.


I realize that for someone who is writing a blog, a claim to maintain a need for privacy seems inherently contradictory.   But it is true – I am a very private person.

I have no problem standing in front of an audience of four hundred strangers and delivering a presentation.  I have far more difficulty at a social gathering where I know few of the invited guests and must interact with them.   I think the reason is really quite simple – I’m pretty awful at “small talk” – since I don’t really recognize the reason for its existence.

The few number of people whom I would categorize as “friends” don’t communicate with me on Facebook or the other social networks.  We talk on the phone, in person and write (even if that has now degraded to the level of email).  We don’t text – we talk – we communicate in real words that we have to spell out.

I am not ashamed to have only a handful of people whom I call friends.  I consider even that small number to be an achievement.  These are people on whom I could truly count in an emergency – and who know they could count on me.  It’s not a matter of quantity but a matter of quality.  Thank you to those few out there – I love you.

My friends truly know everything about me that is important – and I about them.  They are people with whom I have shared my greatest defeats and who have observed my highest successes.  I feel free to tell them anything, to ask them for their advice on anything and to offer mine whenever they request it.  We have built a high level of trust – and that comes from the people involved and with time.

My view of the world is that there are three kinds of people:  The first are those few who are friends; the second is that there are many who are acquaintances; the last group are people who are passers-by.  I try to treat each person I meet in the same way in terms of courtesy and compassion.  That is the only way that a person may potentially move from the second or third group to the first.  I am certainly not averse to adding to my small list of friends.

Recently at the dog park, I met a group who were well established before Gracie and I appeared on the scene.  They are very nice people and I enjoy their dogs – if not more than I enjoy them – but that’s a personal prejudice to which I admit.  I’m always more likely to adore a dog than its companion-person.

One of the people in that group found me interesting enough (or perhaps there was nothing else to discuss) to start asking me questions that I thought were a bit too personal.   I have enough experience to deflect these sorts of questions in such a way that they invite yet more questions which can be evasively deflected as well.

My theory is that eventually the inquirer will get tired of asking probing questions to which they get no answers.  It seems to me a more polite way of turning off this line of conversation than saying, “You know, that really is none of your business.”

What bothers me about this is that on the basis of a mere month’s acquaintanceship, the particular individual who was doing the Torquemada impersonation started asking me about someone whom we knew (at least peripherally) in common.  To me that is gossip – and while I might be willing to reveal (or not) certain things about myself – I refuse to discuss someone else’s life with a third party.  Gossip is probably the one thing I abjure most in the whole world.  (See the post – The Three Murders).

I was asked the question about the owner of my three Golden Retriever houseguests – “Is he gay?”  I don’t know where this question came from or why she would have asked it but it took me back a step – and I was glad that I had the presence of mind to answer it as I did.

I said, “I don’t know about the owner but, Bubba who is the Golden Retriever sire, has reportedly been seen hanging out in Caibars and reportedly did it in the alley with a German shepherd a few weeks ago since neither of them had a credit card to get a motel room.   Please don’t tell his spouse or daughter as I’m sure that would be devastating to them.”

Torquemada laughed at my response – which was what I hoped for in offering it.  And then we turned the subject to something equally as trivial.

Why do so many of us turn our attention to focusing on the business that is rightly the property of other people?  Are our own lives so un-interesting that it is only through a prurient interest in the lives of others that we find satisfaction?   And why do we choose to entrap other people into this lowest form of conversation which is gossip?

I don’t know the answer but I hope my astute readers will be able to offer some suggestions.

Until then, I am comfortable with my policy of keeping my life private – and will certainly respect your doing the same with yours.


Daughter and MotherDAD

I’m taking a momentary break from talking about serious things.  Seriously.  Every now and then, as a matter of trying to insure some modest degree of mental health, it’s time to turn to the lighter side of things – and I’ve put up the above pictures to let you know how I’m going to try to achieve that.

If you’ve been following for awhile you will remember that in late November and early December I talked about losing my wonderful golden retriever, Spenser.  You may also remember a post entitled, “Do Dogs Shed Tears?” in which I spoke of going to the dog park with Gracie and the excitement she exhibited when she saw a man come in with three golden retrievers.  This was only a few days after Spenser’s passing.

As it turned out I got to know these dogs’ human companion and got to know his charges.  Recently, Barry their companion-person went out of town to spend some time with his brother in Florida.  So yesterday morning he transferred temporary custody of the three, a father, mother and daughter to me.  Gracie and I get to enjoy their company until St. Patrick’s day.

The left photo shows daughter Kali and her mother Bebe.  (There are supposed to be accents agues above the e’s in Bebe’s name but I’ll be darned if I can figure out how to get them there.  Those of you who enjoyed the post “On Imagination” can exercise your imagination to place them in their appropriate place).  The photo on the right is a shot of Bubba who is the dad.  What a delightful collection of wonderful goldens.

I am so grateful that Gracie has the soul of an angel.  I think that she is still a bit uncertain what they are doing here, but she hasn’t demonstrated that other than looking a tiny bit confused.  She has certainly not exhibited any antipathy to our three guests – even allowing them to eat from her food bowl.  She truly has a generous heart and a gracious manner.  (Well, Gracie is one-quarter golden retriever so I would expect nothing less).

All three of our guests exhibit that which I have always known about golden retrievers.  They are simply the most wonderful, loving creatures who have no guile and are thrilled with the slightest acknowledgement, a gratuitous pat or hug.  Ah, simplicity – what a joy!

While mom and dad took to me immediately as we met them on more occasions at the dog park, daughter Kali was a little more reserved.  Barry, her companion person said that she is a little “shy”.  But she is coming around.

Last night at bedtime – our first night that we all spent together, as usual Gracie got into bed in her usual place.  As I got into bed and turned out the lights a few minutes went by and all of a sudden there were three of us in bed.  I was surprised that it was Kali – and when Gracie and I awoke in the morning I found that she was still lying next to me.

What can I say?  I must be doing something right.

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