A Word That Should Be Less Needed

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The word “compassion” is used a lot by animal advocates and others, in terms of those suffering at human hands.

By the time it’s necessary to have compassion (sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it) there is already a victim.

While compassion is good, in that the victim needs help, it would be better to not have a victim.

To reach that state, what our species needs before compassion is empathy (the feeling that you understand and share another being’s experiences and emotions, the ability to share someone else’s feelings), which leads to decency (polite, moral, and honest behavior and attitudes that show respect for other people/other animals), justice (the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action) and fair play (a way of behaving or of treating other people/other animals that is honest and fair).

If we would simply have respect (a feeling or understanding that other beings, human or otherwise, are important and valuable, and should be treated in an appropriate way), a lot would fall into place, and we would only need compassion for those suffering for reasons not caused by us. We would drastically cut its use in conversation, since we presently account for a huge chunk of the suffering of those shaped unlike us.

And if our human lifeform truly had Love, few words would be needed at all.

The Unwelcome Reply

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The longer you live, the more friends leave you.

I had been trying for weeks, without success, to contact my friend Brian, who also had done my taxes for years, his profession.

I met Brian years ago, in the dog park. My new dog companion, Bo, loved it there, and although he was very shy, the large expanse gave him plenty of room run without making contact with strangers. Many people who saw him and wanted to make contact with this big beautiful dog were hurt and disappointed, as he gave them a wide berth, as if they were Charles Manson. But when Bo saw Brian, he ran to him as if he were a long lost friend. This cemented our friendship. Any friend of Bo’s…

Some years ago Brian sold his house in the Valley and moved to Frazier Park, a more rural setting. I always felt he had regretted it, but was making the best of it. He had some problems with neighbors and his dogs. One had cruelly taken his dog to a distant pound, but Brian had tracked him down and gotten him back. More recently, one of his dogs decided to live with another neighbor, and Brian respected the dog’s wishes. A while ago, I learned his other dog, Buddy, had passed away.

I had some tax prep questions, but when I tried to call again, none of his phone numbers were in service. I did a little hunting on the internet and found a local business owned by his family members. I sat looking at the phone number of the business, but couldn’t make myself call to ask. What if they were estranged and I was walking into awkward family business? What if there really was bad news, and I ambushed them?

So I wrote two paper letters. I wrote them by hand, as my printer was not hooked up. One I mailed to Brian at his PO Box, the only address on his letterhead. The other I sent to his family, expressing my concern and asking for information. It seemed the least intrusive route.

Tonight, a little while ago, I noticed I had missed a call on my cell while I was out feeding the cats. I didn’t recognize the number, but there was a voicemail. It was news I did not want to hear, but which I somehow suspected, even though Brian was a younger man than I. A male voice said that he had received my letter, and that Brian had passed away a while back.

There were times when we had spoken when I did have concerns, but these calls were in the evening, when everyone is tired and may have had a cocktail. I might not have been at my best conversationally on those occasions either, but they did give me pause. I did call back the family for more clarity, but got a voicemail message. I hope they call back, so I can learn what took my friend. The Truth is better than a question mark, although perhaps more painful.

There are people who do things for you which are easy for them but mysterious to you. Brian was always so kind, helping me with tax problems, small in the scheme of things but nerve-wracking, running interference for me when he saw I did not want to dial the IRS, not charging me when things were tight and making me feel–making me know– that someone who cared about me was handling this unfriendly piece of business.

I now have the practical problem of getting my taxes done. Yes, there are many options. But H&R Block will not care about me, will not picture me and my dog running in the green fields while they fill in the 1040 fields, and won’t regale me with stories of the characters in Frazier Park. They will be a business, not a friend.

Brian, thank you for having my back all these years, I wish you still did. If there is a life after life, take care of Bo. He always loved you.

Good Things and Big Dogs named Bo.

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This is a tough world. There are a lot of bad things about it, so the good things are precious, and it’s always painful to lose one. My big dog Bo was one of the best things, and now he’s gone.

11 years or so ago, my former wife found a big German Shepherd mix running the streets. Despite looking for his guardian, she did not find one. She had him penned up on the side of her house, as her own big dog would not permit the lost dog to encroach on his home. She named the big young dog Bo, in true Texas style.

As she was running a business, she was too busy to take him to adoption events, and she asked me if I would mind. I agreed, and took him to a big pet store event. Everyone oohed and aahed, but no takers. The same thing happened the next weekend.

I felt bad that Bo was stuck on the side of the house, and since her house was on the way home from my job, I started stopping by after work to walk him. Then we’d sit on a blanket in the driveway and i’d watch him chew on the toys I brought him.

Then I thought , why not take him to the dog park. It will be good for him, and maybe someone from there will adopt him. So I started taking him to the Balboa Dog Park after work. He was very shy of people, but the five acres at the dog park gave him plenty of room to make wide arcs around scary encounters, so he was very happy there.

All the while, I was promoting him for a home. My last dog, an invalid who I had literally carried for a year had died, and I had resolved to not get a dog in order to see where my life might go without that responsibility. For more than two years I had adamantly avoided giving in to the numerous dogs I met who needed homes.

One day I ran into a friend in town who had property in Ojai where she operated a bird sanctuary. I ran into her unexpectedly, and almost out of habit asked her if she wanted a dog. She said she hadn’t been looking, but that if I had a dog who got along with the birds, she’d consider it. I wasn’t sure I was glad that she was receptive, but we made a date for Saturday to take him up to Ojai to test things out.

The Friday night before the Ojai trip I took him to the dog park, and then on a whim I did what I had never done, I took him home with me. I had been hesitant because I didn’t know how he was with cats, which I had, but I took him home and kept a death-grip on his collar. I led him into my room and closed the door. As he lay on the floor, he gave a huge sigh and closed his eyes and slept. The weight of his ordeal seemed to lift. I thought of the date the next day and figured I was under no obligation to give him up, but that I might as well keep the date and see what happened.

He passed every test with flying colors. He ignored chickens and ostriches alike.

” We’ll take him. I’ll put him in the yard with our Rottie.”

I drove back to Los Angeles in tears.

The next morning my boisterous neighbor Don came calling at my fence. When he saw my downcast face, he asked what was the matter. I briefly told him, and he insisted he take me for a morning beer to cry in.

As we sat at the bar with him at least getting happier and happier, he finally said to me. “Why don’t you call your friends and tell them you’re coming to get your dog.”

I braced myself, called and got the voicemail. I said “I’m really sorry, but I made a mistake. I don’t think I can live without that dog.”

I didn’t hear back till dinnertime. They had spent all day with their new dog Bo. They liked him a lot.

“Well, ok, ” said my friend reluctantly, “but if you ever change your mind, we’ll take him back.”

I swear I made that drive to Ojai in five minutes, and I know that’s impossible. I wanted to retrieve him before anyone changed their mind.

When I got there, her husband did not come out of his room. He was not pleased with me. When Bo appeared at the end of a hallway, I said his name, he looked up in surprise,  ran to me and stood on his hind legs to kiss me.

As I drove off the large rustic property, I was overcome with guilt for taking Bo away from this Paradise.

“I’ll make it up to you. ” I promised, although I didn’t know how.

Years later, that friend lost the animals in her care due to an unjust action by an animal control agency. Bo would have been among the victims.

Through other unforseen circumstances, I took in two other dogs in a fairly short time. I felt like I was cheating on Bo, but this trio meshed so well that we soon became the Four Musketeers.

About a year and a half ago, Bo had a seizure. This began an escalating series of seizures and other unrelated health issues, many common to German Shepherd dogs, which was clearly Bo’s primary makeup.

Bo gradually lost more and more use of his back legs, had periodic seizures which required longer and longer recovery, developed and fought pneumonia and bronchitis, and smiled through it all. Smiled through the meds, supplements, vitamins, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy and magnetic pulse therapy. Smiled as I helped him up by his tail to go outside to relieve himself. Smiled as I changed his bedding as his incontinence increased. Smiled and and smiled and smiled.

A couple of days ago, when I got up, he was on the floor away from his bed and clearly had experienced at least one more seizure. But something was odd, and the seizure didn’t really seem to be over. I took him to the emrgency vet, who put him on an additional medication to forestall any more seizures, and I prepared to facilitate another recovery.

But it didn’t come. He didn’t get stronger. He couldn’t sit up. He wouldn’t eat. He had a hard time swallowing, so I could only give him the most crucial meds and squirt water and broth into his mouth.  The next day, he was so knocked back that I though I was watching him die. Dina, who gave him to me, stopped by to say farewell.

Friday morning I didn’t expect to find him alive, but he was. But he was having just a little trouble breathing. Although I got his antibiotics into him, the trouble increased rapidly. I tried to find a mobile vet to come to the house to assess the situation and to release him if need be, but they were not able to come quickly. Finally, Dina and a mutual friend who got up from his sickbed came to help me get my big old dog to the vet office. I needed to hear the vet who had treated him tell me the words I did not want to hear from anyone.

When I learned that he might endure days of this difficult breathing should I choose to let him go on his own, I couldn’t let that happen to my sweet boy. As the vet ended his Earthly life, the woman who plucked him from the streets and his human Dad who couldn’t part with him held him and poured out their love.

I have a lot of problems with the design of Life. One of them is the short time we get with beings we would love forever if we had the chance. Life just lost one more chunk of appeal for me. Happiness that has its end destined before it begins is a cruel plan, and whatever created our reality may be powerful, but I think many of us subjects would be more merciful if we were in charge.

Bo, I hope the life you had somehow made up for me taking you away from the country. I tried, buddy, I sure tried. When I met you, I knew I could not live without you. I don’t know yet how I’m going to.

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Free- A Good 4-letter Word

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Some cities and organizations and even individuals catch feral cats and kill them. They say that living free is inhumane, that they are better off dead.

Can you imagine believing that without a lap to sit on and a can of factory-farmed pate, life has no value?

These people must have never tasted freedom themselves, or else they are jealous of the liberty of others.

I know this–there is no squirrel in my yard that would rather be in my house. Same goes for the free-roaming cats. But I am glad that I don’t have to spay and neuter the squirrels. that would be time-consuming, not to mention costly.

FERAL POWER!

What Is A Wild Horse Worth?

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The American Mustang Nation is making its last stand.

Again.

After decades of cynically eroding the safety net of dedicated lands and protective regulations created in the early 1970s after an outcry by the American Public, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), entrusted by us with Wild Horse protection and management, is not far from wiping them out entirely and deliberately. A recent plan to execute 35,000 wild horses languishing in private captivity at taxpayers’ expense was stalled, but not necessarily abandoned, when wild horse advocates publicly sounded the alarm.

A huge and ambitious preservation project conceived by a well-known horse advocate is working valiantly to intervene and to provide a safe haven for some of the threatened horses. At the same time, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), while maintaining an option to kill its current prisoners for lack of money, continues against all conventional logic to conduct “gathers,” their euphemism for the brutal abduction, incarceration, splintering and frequent death of Mustang families and herds.

To a great extent, it is the self-serving business considerations of cattle ranchers, enjoying the bargain usage of our public lands, which are leaving the future of the wild horses in the dust of the helicopters which are terrorizing and forcing them into a chute to oblivion.

The battle cry of wild horse supporters often heard ringing sincerely in the air is that the Mustangs warrant protection because they represent our Western Heritage, that horses have served humanity in war and work, and that they should be saved for the benefit of our children and future generations.

To rely on this argument, however, is akin to arguing that Africans brought forcibly and tragically to this country as slaves deserved their freedom as a reward for all their hard labor, or because their songs and traditions were picturesque. It is as perpendicular to the truth as saying that the splendor of the National Parks should be spared from development because future generations will appreciate a lovely vacation spot. We know these are not the real reasons to do the right thing. They contain some facts, but they are not the Truth.

No, consider instead that the Mustangs generate and perhaps even deserve our love, awe, consideration, protection and respect because they are another ancient and dignified nation of Earthlings, a parallel civilization which developed without our input or despite it, fellow Earth-dwellers of a different and brilliant design with a self-evident interest in survival and life on their own terms. They open their eyes at birth and see the same world to which we as newborn humans awaken, a challenging landscape in which they, like us, and much more quickly than us, must find a safe path to travel. Walking and running that difficult path, their feet feelthe same Earth beneath them as do ours. It is an Earth that is also theirs, despite the papers and rituals we have invented in order to believe that we own something that is far beyond ownership. They are not interlopers, their trail began here. That they are beautiful, or that they signify something meaningful to our species is true, and yet misses the heart of the Truth.

To the extent that a reminder of the horses’ role in human history can be persuasive in the campaign to prevent their genocide, it may be a helpful reference. However, if we hope to once and for all stop the war against them, no matter how often greed and politics lift their unsleeping heads in the future, we must understand to our cores that their worth is not solely in our eyes. We who would save the Mustang permanently must demand that those to whom we have entrusted their guardianship do what is right simply because it is right, rather than in the interest of human benefit, past, present or future. There are also benefits, in some human hearts, to eradicating this noble Nation.

If we battle these crimes against them not as repayment for the horse’s servitude or beauty, but in the name of Justice, we can stop the present stampede into extinction and prevent the next. For if the children who will someday captain our businesses and governments are taught and feel this Truth now, their grown generation will not need to protect the Mustangs. As respected fellow Earthlings, even fellow Americans, the free and natural Horse will not then be under attack.

Unless, unthinkably, we fail today.

Unless, by then, they are just a magnificent memory.

Is It Really Hard To Stop Hurting Animals?

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There is a tendency for some of us who wish to promote veganism—a way of living which excludes the use of animals for food, clothing and other exploitation— to cushion the call to action with a warning / acknowledgement / suggestion that it is a difficult thing to do.

While this is surely the case for some people, for others, including me, it has happened quickly and painlessly when the time was right. To set the stage for interested seekers to expect hardship invites failure or a refusal to even try.

For someone who still really wants to eat animals and their secretions, or still wants to wear a fur coat or a silk shirt, but resists for health or moral reasons understood but not felt, it is certainly hard to do. They have to exert Willpower to resist things they still desire, and this almost inevitably leads to a failure to maintain the “sacrifice”. Someone who gives up meat for “health reasons” very often reverts, occasionally or permanently. But for someone who has internalized the horror and immorality of subjecting other feeling beings to abuse and slaughter, and who simply refuses to, simply cannot—just won’t— be a part of this any longer, there is no feeling of deprivation, and no enticement which can make them go back to participating in these injustices.

I call this Won’tPower, and in contrast to WillPower, it is effortless to maintain. Let me tell you what pushed the button in my being and changed my life in an instant.

At the time, I subscribed to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. I sat down one morning and turned to the feature section, and began reading a human-interest story about a man who had become very bitter about life due to some tragic personal experiences. He had become very hard-hearted.

He somehow got a job in a slaughterhouse, killing lambs—baby sheep— as they came by in procession, he took their just-beginning lives with a knife. One day, a particular lamb passed his station, and he stabbed as before. But before this lamb could fall, mortally wounded, she turned and tenderly licked her own blood from her killer’s hand.

The man broke down, had an instant change of heart, his bitterness melted, he left and became a minister, enriching lives instead of ending them. I folded the paper, set it down, and have never looked back, except to regret that I had not saved the article!

It is important to note that I had already been thinking about the morality of eating animals, primarily due to my experience of having my first dog as an adult, with all the revelations that living with another species brings, and having met someone’s “pet” turkey, who had expressed as much interest in me as had their Great Dane dog. In other words, the time was right for me, much as the time has to be right to change any ingrained habit, whether it’s smoking, drinking or anything else.

So if you have been wrestling with the ethics of consuming and wearing animals, if you are torn, keep wrestling. Keep thinking and considering. Keep the internal quest alive. When it coincides with the thing—your own personal newspaper article—that pushes your moral button, you may find that it is the easiest and most satisfying thing you have ever done.

What Breaks My Heart

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We are agents of Good but represent Evil;
We are children of God but friends of the Devil;
We are called to be Angels but choose to be Demons.
We have hands of true Heros but use them as Monsters.

That is what breaks my heart.