Things I’ll Miss, Things I Won’t

My wife and I live in a tiny house.  Not as small as some of those tree house/doll house thingies you see on TV, but very small nonetheless.  There is a bathroom just inside the front door, and there’s a decent-sized bedroom.  Between the front door and the bedroom is a small space that serves as kitchen, living room and office.  When I step inside the front door, it’s 18 steps to our bed at the farthest end of our humble abode.

We have enough room for a table and the falling-apart love seat that came with the place.  The love seat is my wife’s office (she works from home and spends about ten hours a day there) and where she eats her meals; she rests her laptop on a folding tray table.  The table is my office (where I do my writing, that is) and where I eat my meals.  The TV is wedged kitty corner on top of a bookcase and next to our printer.

Workspace

My office workspace/kitchen table

My wife enjoys working remotely, and I can see the appeal (even though my own attempt in that vein was less than a positive experience).  She can work any hour of the day or night (even in her PJs, if she so desires), as long as she gets everything done.  It definitely saves money on gas.  Also, we can travel at will, wherever there is a wifi connection.

As for me, I’m glad that I work downtown rather than being stuck in our little space all day.  Yes, even with the price of gas.  Even though I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to snag my handicapped parking space.  Even though more than once I’ve nearly met my maker while merging onto the freeway in the predawn darkness.  Even though it takes me 45 minutes to drive the 12 miles home in rush hour traffic.

We have now lived here in our cozy mouse hole for 2½ years.  I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be here.

The best thing about our little place is that the monthly cost is far less than the inflated rents charged for the privilege of being wedged like sardines in a can known as a Sacramento apartment.  And we enjoy the luxury of having everything included — electricity, heat and A/C, water, trash collection, cable.  We experience extraordinarily hot summers in this part of California, and it certainly is a relief to be able to blast the A/C without worrying about a $500 electric bill (what we had to pay in June, July and August when we lived out in the Mojave Desert).  This time of year, however, it gets cold.  One wall of our place is attached to the owner’s garage/workshop, and I don’t think there’s much in the way of insulation.  This situation is further aggravated by the wonky thermostat that we can’t get off the “temporary” setting, hence converting the air temperature from toasty to freezing several times daily.

This place was originally built as a mother-in-law suite, out in back of the main house where our landlord lived with his wife and four kids until recently.  When the landlord’s in-laws decided not to live here, he began renting it out.

My wife likes the place because we’re behind a big iron gate that opens and closes electronically (so far, I’ve only hit it once while attempting to back out of the driveway).  She says the gate makes her feel safe.  Well, there’s a lot of crime in this area (can you tell me of an area where there isn’t?).

Recently, our landlord sold his painting and cabinet installation business.  He had quite a few employees, and he was exhausted after years of supervising them here at his workshop and at installation sites.  His kids were growing up fast and he felt that he didn’t spend nearly enough time with them.  He is relishing in the opportunity to start afresh in Arizona, where the kids’ grandparents are close at hand.  I hear he’s looking for some other type of business to run.  How exciting to start a new life!

Thankfully, our landlord is not selling his house, at least not for now.  He will be renting it to two women whom I believe are distantly related to him.  This means that we get to keep our itty bitty love nest.  We’ll stay here as long as we can, but our guess is that it won’t be too long before he sells the entire place.

Having one’s landlord reside just a few yards away comes with its pluses and minuses.  In some respects, we’re rather sad to see the family go.  But honestly, some things I will miss and other things I won’t.

What I’ll miss:  Having the landlord just a stone’s throw away when the toilet starts leaking, we get attacked by ants, the dishwasher or microwave go wonky, or one of the recessed lights burns out (replacement of a bulb requiring the climbing of a ladder).

What I won’t miss:  The used car lot vibe.  Some days I’ll come home and find two enormous work vans, two of my landlord’s personal vehicles, and my wife’s little beep-beep of a Ford all wedged into the driveway.  Some days we have to park on the street until a vehicle or two can be moved.

What I’ll miss:  Having the kids around.  They’re still a bit shy around me, but they absolutely adore my wife.  And they get excited when my five year old grandniece comes to visit.

What I won’t miss:  The piles of toys, bikes, tricycles and four-wheelers seemingly strewn everywhere.  We’ve learned to dodge the daily detritus of a flock of kids, although we periodically end up stepping on something (an action figure, a toy truck, a grape) or running over something with a tire.

Bikes

The bike pile

What I’ll miss:  The little things.  Showing the landlord’s wife (who home schools the kids) a shortcut for teaching the multiplication facts, receiving a surprise gift of strawberries, handing out ice pops to the kids in the summer, listening to Jonah excitedly telling me a story in incomprehensible baby talk.

What I won’t miss:  Being unable to do laundry for three days in a row because the washer and dryer in the garage are blocked by a work crew busy with a big painting project.  Contending with sickening paint fumes for days on end when cabinetry for multiple accounts is being painted at the same time, just on the other side of our wall.  Stepping around and over cords and generators used to run the electric equipment used in the landlord’s business.

Painting

One of the landlord’s recent painting projects in the garage just on the other side of our bedroom wall.

What I’ll miss:  The animals.  Zoe, the German shepherd.  Tiger, the striped kitty.  And the flock of chickens.  My heart was warmed when, at first, we were told that the family was taking all their animals with them to Arizona.  Gradually, however, I discovered the truth.  Zoe was given away to a nephew.  (Hopefully she’ll be able to run around and get more personal attention in her new home than she does here, locked up in her pen all day.)  The chickens and their coop were given to the neighbor lady.  And, so far, I hear that they’re still planning on taking the cat with them.  I sure hope so.  My wife, who doesn’t even like cats, feeds Tiger all the time, and he follows us around every time he sees us.  Wherever you end up, Tiger, I hope the rest of your nine lives are purrrfectly content.

Zoe

Poor Zoe! 

Hayden and Tiger

 My grandniece with Tiger

Chickens

The hen flock, just outside our front door.

What I won’t miss:  The animals.  Zoe is a really good dog who ended up with a bum rap incarcerated in doggy jail most days.  We routinely bring her our leftovers from restaurants.  My wife makes her chicken broth ice pops when it’s 110 degrees outside (and goodness knows how much hotter in that thick German shepherd coat).  Zoe, I won’t miss hearing your signature first bark, followed by a whine when you’re shocked by that electric collar.  Cruelty!  I won’t miss seeing you throwing yourself at the aluminum fencing, begging for a little attention from someone.  Tiger, I won’t miss trying to figure out where you’re hiding so that I don’t accidentally run over you with my car on the way out to work.  And as much as I’m charmed by the clucking and pecking of the hen flock, I won’t miss the steady parade of chicken poop left on our porch.  Watch where you step!

Good luck in Phoenix, guys.  May blessings be upon you.

 

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Siamese, If You Please

I am not a pet person. (I’ve mentioned this fact on a number of previous occasions in this space — here and here, for example).  Today, however, I almost wish I were.  You see, our county animal shelter is full.

I’m not exaggerating here.  The Bradshaw Road facility out near Highway 50 is usually pretty close to capacity (they chalk it up to a combination of overpopulation due to a failure to spay/neuter and the general public attitude that cats and dogs are disposable).  But this is different.  They are full.  No vacancy.  No room at the inn.  Can’t take any more no matter how desperate the situation.  Nowhere to put any kitty or puppy that shows up at the door.

How can I adequately explain how desperate the situation is?  At the beginning of December, the shelter’s occupancy level was labeled “extremely full.”  This week, however, the Sacramento Bee reported that a local animal advocacy group posted the following on Facebook:  “The shelter is beyond capacity.  There is NO MORE ROOM!”

Because I am a hopelessly sappy sucker, I’d actually consider adopting one of these critters if I didn’t live in a place where no pets are allowed (except for the landlord’s pets — more about that later this weekend).  I’m lucky to have something to save me (and the poor dog or cat who got stuck with me) from my own folly.

Arthur   Ophia

Arthur and Ophia, two of the pit bulls currently available for adoption at the Sacramento County animal shelter.

I suspect that one of the reasons for the shelter being overflowing is that most of the dogs currently up for adoption are pit bulls.  Like German shepherds and labs, these dogs are big guys.  This means that they demand a lot of the shelter’s resources.  Also, they’re harder than a lot of breeds to adopt.  They eat a lot, they poop a lot, and they need a lot of space to run around in.  You probably shouldn’t have a pit bull if you live in a one-bedroom apartment.  Also, well, pits have a bad rep.  Some people are afraid to have them around babies and little kids. And every so often, you read a story in the news about some unfortunate who was mauled to death by his or her own pit bull.  There are plenty of people out there who love this breed, but pits are clearly not for everyone.

Then there are the cats.  This evening, I’m seeing 62 of them on the shelter’s website.  Six of those were recently adopted.  This is as opposed to 17 of the shelter’s 74 dogs having been recently adopted.  More than a few of the available felines are labeled as “barn cats,” which I suppose is an appeal to those who have mice to get rid of.  Then again, I suppose “barn cat” is a not-so-subtle hint that this is not a cute, cuddly kitty who is going to curl up in your lap and purr while you’re watching Netflix.

Oh, I should mention that there are also three rabbits and four chickens up for adoption at the shelter.  No goldfish, turtles, hamsters or snakes, apparently.

It’s no surprise that the adoptable chickens are not the egg-laying hens that everyone wants.  No siree, they’re loud, obnoxious, pugilistic roosters.  We’ve got plenty in our neighborhood, some of which have a predilection for crowing in the middle of the night.  My guess is that if these guys ever get adopted, they’ll go straight in the pot with a bunch of carrots and onions.  I see them for sale all the time in cages by the Mexican butcher shop at the corner of Main and Rio Linda Boulevard.  I can only hope that they don’t end up forced into illegal cockfighting, a fate arguably worse than being served up next to the mashed potatoes.  As for the rabbits, they need to hold on for another three months or so until they’re in demand as Easter gifts.  Otherwise, they may well meet the same fate as the roosters.

I have to wonder how many of the shelter dogs and cats will end up murdered — I mean “euthanized.”  As if I had to mention it.  You know what euthanized is a euphemism for.  Back in school, I learned that “euthanize” is from the Greek for “good death.”  But you know that half of what you learn in school is propaganda and lies.  I was well into adulthood before I learned that the correct translation of the Greek is “couldn’t get adopted.”

Some have registered surprise that an animal lover such as myself doesn’t have pets.  I mean, since I’m vegan and all.  And especially since I don’t have kids.  (As if pets can substitute for children.  People are so dumb.)

Honestly, I can understand why more people don’t adopt dogs and cats.  They’re a lot of work, they cost a lot of money, and then they die on you.  I had to laugh this week when I read an article about a dog that helped save a fat man’s life.  This guy weighed 340 pounds, was taking 15 different medications, and all efforts at weight loss had failed him.  He hurt all over and tried not to move any more than he had to.  (I weigh more than that.  You’re not telling me anything I don’t know.)  Apparently, he was spurred into action by an embarrassing moment when a plane he was on had to be delayed while they found a seatbelt extender large enough to fit him.  Haha!  I’ve got that one all figured out.  I don’t fly.  Oh, this guy had to travel for his job.  So do I.  Luckily for me, my employer insists on using the discount carrier Southwest, which has a rule that fat people have to buy two seats.  Score!  Now it’s cheaper for me to drive than to fly.  I’ll be laughing at my destination while the others are waiting hours to get through the TSA line.

So then this guy makes an appointment with a naturopathic doctor, who tells him to switch to a plant-based diet.  Again, haha!  Plant-based diets are certainly gaining popularity; even Kaiser encourages this now and has messages about it on their interminable “hold” recordings.  But after three years of being vegan, I can tell you firsthand that eating plants won’t by itself make you thin.  The article cited Bill Clinton’s diet, which I’ve read is not totally vegan despite his representations to the contrary.

Then the naturopathic doctor ordered this guy to go to the animal shelter and get a dog.  “Why a dog?” he said.  “Can I adopt a cat instead?”  The doctor responded:  “Have you ever walked a cat?”  Again, haha!  No, I have never walked a cat, nor a dog either.  As I see it, you have a nice fenced yard, you let the dog out, it does its business, it comes back in.  Or, like our landlord, you leave the dog in a large pen outside the house all day.  But going out in the dark of night (this time of year, I go to work and come home in the pitch blackness), freezing cold, wind and snow with a plastic bag and pooper scooper?  No how, no way.  Oh, and by the way, if I want to go walking for exercise, I don’t need a dog (or cat) to do that.

All of which brings me to my mother.  Her beloved Siamese cat, Taffy, left for kitty heaven a little over a year ago at the age of 18.  Taffy was originally my sister’s, but wasn’t doing well cooped up in Sis’s condo.  She drove Taffy and her meds down from the Bay Area to my parents’ house, in hope that the country air and space to roam about might improve her health.  It did.  Taffy took to her new life as an outdoor/indoor cat and throve with my parents for more than a decade and a half.  Now she’s buried out at the back edge of their property.

Taffy

Mom’s Siamese, Taffy, back in 2015.

My sister from Boston, who came out to visit this past week on the occasion of my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary, decided that the time has come for Mom to get another cat.  I suppose I can understand this, as she’s nearly always had a cat (or two).  There were entirely too many for me to remember, but I do recall a gray one named Pussy Willow, an all-white one named Snowflake, an orange hellion named Mewcus (eww), another gray one named Schwantzy and a huge white one with black ears and paws with the unlikely name of Baby Baldrick (who ran away to become a Canadian chat when we attempted to retrieve him from a kennel at a campground in Québec).  Mom doesn’t believe in spay and neuter, so we had cats that would have as many as three litters per year.  I remember my sisters and I standing with a boxful of kittens on Saturdays, yelling “Free Kitten!” until we were hoarse in front of Pathmark on Route 59.

Nevertheless, I think Mom, who is well into her 80s, should decide when she’s ready for another cat, not my sister.  But Sis pushed the issue, taking Mom to Petco to look at the adoptable cats, then to the local animal shelter, where over 200 felines were available for adoption.  Mom was impressed by the way that the cats had free reign over the place, prowling in and out of cat doors to visit each other in various rooms and out of doors, as well.  But she couldn’t seem to find exactly the one she wanted.  She said she doesn’t wanted a little kitten, nor does she want an older, lazy fat cat.  So what exactly did Mom want?

A Siamese.  Mom’s favorite cat was a Siamese named Pouncy who was run over crossing the road in front of our house when I was two years old.  She lives on in my father’s reels of Super 8 home movies.  After my parents retired and moved to California, Mom’s first cat was a dusky blue-eyed Siamese beauty named Bonnebeau (supposedly because she was beautiful and good).  Of course she wasn’t spayed, so Bonnie, an indoor cat, went into heat and meowed piteously to be let out to have at it with the neighborhood toms.  Eventually, she did manage to get out and celebrated her newfound freedom by taking off for parts unknown.

Unfortunately, Mom and Sis did not see any Siamese at either Petco or the animal shelter.  So my sister got online and showed my Mom pictures of cats, including Siamese, available for adoption from the Cat House on the Kings, over in Fresno County.

Then my sister got on a plane and headed home, after which Mom admitted that she doesn’t really want to deal with another cat.

 

The Little House

Little House

Home sweet home

A little over a month ago, we decided we were living a little too far away from my place of employment.  We were spending a little too much on gasoline each month and wasting a little too much time sitting in freeway traffic.  My wife was getting a little tired of spending a little less than four hours on the road each weekday.  In short, we were getting a little sick of wasting our lives commuting.

To be honest, we were also getting a little tired of living in a little parsonage next to a little church in a little town located a little north of nowhere.  Granted, we were more than a little grateful that we had the option of camping out at the parsonage at a time when we had little other choice.  That occurred a little less than two years ago when my former employer found itself a little short of funds and a little long on staff.  After the layoff, we moved a little more toward the northern part of California and were grateful to be a little closer to both my wife’s family and my own parents.  The timing was more than a little auspicious, as our niece had just popped out a little one and we wanted to be able to see a her a little more often than just on Christmas and her birthday.  It all worked out, except for the little fact that I didn’t have a job up here.  It took a little too long for me to remedy that situation, which involved a little too much travel to southern California for interviews as well as a little too much debiting of our little bank account.

When I was finally hired, it was for a temporary position that was slated to end in a little less than ten months and also paid a little less than I had been earning previously.  Nevertheless, I was more than a little relieved to be working again.  In a little while, I found myself promoted to a “permanent” position, although there is still the little matter of passing my probationary period, on which I have a little more than nine months to go.  As luck would have it, our governor gave state employees a little gift of a (very) little raise that will take effect next month.  We are more than a little appreciative of the many little blessings that have been bestowed upon us in the last little while.

Among those blessings is our new place of residence, which we have officially dubbed The Little House.  Originally built as in-law quarters, it sits behind the main house, which is occupied by the family to whom we pay rent on a monthly basis.  Our little corner of paradise consists of a bedroom and another room that serves as kitchen and living room.  There is also a little bathroom tucked a little inside the front doorway.  We have a little couch (courtesy of the owners) that affords my wife and I a little less room than we need to sit comfortably, particularly at time like, say, now, when we are each wailing away at our little laptop computers.  There is too little room for both of us to use a mouse, so we entered into a little compromise under which I sit a little to the left of my wife and use the little touchpad mouse on the keyboard.  Oh, and we also have a little patio just outside the back door that has just enough room for a little chair.

Abby Rufus

Abby and Rufus

Strawberry

Strawberry

Oreo

Oreo, our resident kitty

On the upside, our 600 square foot little piece of air conditioned heaven costs us a little less than an apartment in an urban complex filled with a little too many noisy neighbors.  Here we have peace and quiet, that is, except when the owner’s dogs decide to bark all night, an event which occurs a little too often.  He raises Yorkshire terriers and sells the puppies for a little less than three months of rent payments.  I think people are more than a little crazy to pay that kind of price for a dog when there are so many cute canines sitting in the city animal shelter and waiting to be taken home for the price of getting them vaccinated.  At any rate, we’ve become more than a little fond of the critters, even as we feel a little bad that they’re being treated like factories for creating more little ones.  But money makes the world go ‘round, does it not?

Chickens

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Damned if I know!

We live just a little outside of Sacramento in an area that looks a little like somewhere out in the country.  Across the street is a little flock of chickens that cluck and coo to their heart’s content while they are lorded over by a couple of roosters who are a little too sure (cocksure?) that they own the neighborhood and therefore needn’t be concerned about their little habit of cock-a-doodle-dooing any time they please, like say, a little before two in the morning.  Oh, and there is also a pair of peacocks a little way down the road who come a-visiting every now and then, often with their brood of little ones following behind.  As anyone who has ever visited Casa de Fruta on the Pacheco Pass Road between the Bay Area and the Central Valley knows, the male peacock loves to preen and show off its fancy feathers.  What we didn’t know, however, is that peacocks have quite a little set of vocal cords on them.  When they decide to screech, the blood-curdling yowl can only be described as a little like a call for help uttered by a cat being raped.

In our short time here, we have come to appreciate the many murals, sculptures and old signs that are found throughout Sacramento.  I present a few of our discoveries here for your amusement.

Nahl Satire

Probably my favorite downtown Sacramento mural.  This is a satire of a 19th century painting, “Sunday Morning in the Mines,” by Charles Christian Nahl.  The original, without benefit of the 3-D effect of people climbing out of (into?) the painting, is on display here in town at the Crocker Art Museum.  This mural is painted high on a building, with the man at the bottom (yellow jacket) appearing to stand on the top of a billboard.

Downtown Mural

So, yes, I am a fan of 3-D effects.  We drive by this mural every day and I still can’t get over how real it looks.  The cat is a nice touch!

Scarcity

William Leung mural in the run-down Del Paso Heights/Haginwood neighborhood of Sacramento.  For the text of the Tim Kahl poem above the center of the mural, click here.

Canada Dry Sign

Old Canada Dry sign, 16th Street in North Sacramento.

So, what comes next?  Reno, that’s what!  We have three trips to that ramblin’, gamblin’, broken-down town scheduled for this summer, one each in June, July and August.  The first of these little jaunts is scheduled for this Friday.  I can hardly wait to hit the video poker machines road!

Daffodils Howe Avenue

Daffodils, Howe Avenue, Sacramento

Dogs and Babies

Shelby
Shelby

I have recently discovered that dogs and babies have something important in common (other than being cute, that is):  They both like to vomit in the most inconvenient of places and at the most inconvenient of times.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against either dogs or babies.  I’d probably be un-American or some kind of heartless ogre if I objected to either.  Seriously, they rock our world.  And I believe that both are entitled to good homes and the best of care.  Just as long as it’s not my home or my care.  This is largely a product of the aversion to bodily secretions (and cleaning up same) that my wife and I share.

For 15 years, my wife and I enjoyed a blissfully child- and dog-free married life.  Then I was laid off from my job and we moved in with family, 650 miles away in northern California.  Now we spend a lot of time babysitting for my little grandniece.  As for my two young nephews who live here in town, each one seems to own three or four dogs at any given time, and usually a couple of cats thrown in for good measure.

Among my realizations as a human and canine uncle is that, in both cases, there is a lot of slobber, puke, pee and poop involved.  It looks disgusting, smells worse, and I routinely go running to find someone else to clean it up.

After Pastor Mom opened her birthday gifts on Saturday, many of us walked from the social hall over to the church (where the air conditioning was actually working) to sing karaoke.  This proved to be an interesting experience, as my nephews promised Pastor Mom that they would be duly respectful of the church atmosphere and would avoid singing any inappropriate song.  In this day and age, that pretty much eliminates everything.  My nephews settled on country music, a genre in which there are a few songs that do not contain any profanity, references to drinking or drugs, or overt misogyny.  Okay, very few.

As a technodork, I had to ask my savvy wife how this was going to work.  She explained that it is no longer necessary to have backing tracks on CD because karaoke versions of most popular songs are available on YouTube and can be played directly from a smart phone through the church’s amplifiers.  Mindful of their limitations, my nephews settled on, of all things, Bobby Vinton songs.  For some reason, however, there didn’t seem to be any karaoke versions of “Roses are Red” or “My Melody of Love” available on YouTube.  Undaunted, the boys proceeded to use the versions that were available, meaning that we were treated to decidedly unique performances of Mr. Vinton and my nephew singing over each other.  No matter, however; there were several babies in attendance, and we were soon treated to the distraction of one of them barfing all over Pastor Mom.

Unfortunately, we’ve had no better luck in the canine department this past week.  Pastor Mom’s friend (also a pastor) was here visiting and helping with the birthday party preparations.  Although she lives in the Central Valley, she came here directly from visiting friends and family in Oregon.  Now, Pastor Mom’s friend had her dog with her.  Pastor Mom planned to drive her friend home to drop the dog off with a neighbor, then turn around and come home, only to do the trip a second time after the party.  My wife and I told Pastor Mom that all that driving was just ridiculous and that there was no reason we couldn’t put up with the dog for a week.  <insert laughter here>

Weeeelllll… Um, where shall I begin?  What a cute doggie!  A chihuahua/terrier mix with a face that looks somewhere between a bear’s and a fox’s.  And, of course, she had to come with a cute name, too:  Shelby.  And then she’d jump up on the sofa, curl right up next to me as if I were her BFF and start licking my hand.  Even if you’re not a dog person, how can your heart not melt?

And then I awoke at 3 a.m. for one of my never-ending pee runs (among the many delightful perks of being 55 years old), only to find that ol’ Shelby had beaten me to it.  Only she didn’t bother using the toilet.

And the next night, we moved from liquid mode to solid mode when my nocturnal pee run was met with, uh, well, let’s say I just barely missed stepping in it.  Peee-yooo!

And the next night, my niece, who was also visiting with us, allowed Shelby to jump into bed with her, whereupon our canine friend proceeded to barf all over the nice clean sheets.

Everyone, repeat after me:  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  Okay, you can beat me over the head now.

Good girl, Shelby.  Yes, I’ll pat your head and scratch your ears.  Please stop begging me for my food.  Your food dish is full.  Besides, dogs aren’t supposed to like pickles.

I suppose I should digress here and mention a little something about my mother’s cat, Taffy.  Now, Taffy is a very old cat at age 17.  She no longer stays outside at night, instead curling up on the couch or on one of the rugs or else just roams the house as she pleases.  We stayed over at my parents’ house two nights last week.  One of their two bathrooms is out of order at the moment (which could itself be the subject of an entire blog post), meaning that if either of my parents needs to pee in the middle of the night, they have to leave their master suite and walk down the hall to the bathroom that is near the front door.  On our second night there, my father did so in the middle of the night.  In the dark.

Taffy
Taffy

Well, you know what comes next.  “Mrrrooowwwww!”  My father stepped on poor Taffy, narrowly missed pratfalling onto the floor himself (not a good thing when you’re 80 years old), and suffered a lovely scratch on his left foot to seal the deal.

Back on the home front, Shelby had to take her turn playing this little game as well.  I guess she was happy I was home.  After all, it only took two days for her to quit barking her head off every time I walked through the door.  I think she finally figured out that I live here.  So when I entered the house with an armful of bags and took a hard left into the kitchen, Shelby bounded after me and ended up underfoot.  Before I could put the bags down, I heard a sickening yelp that let me know that I stepped on her paw.  I believe I yelled something decidedly uncharitable in her general direction, for which I am truly sorry.  I promise never again to refer to any canine friend as a cur, a mongrel or a bitch.  Honest, I do.

As for babies, toddlers and their stinky bodily secretions, I may also need to take back some of the things I may have said in various fits of olfactory pique.  After all, just tonight my little grandniece finally said the word “uncle” for the first time.

Turn me into jelly and knock me over with a feather, why don’t ya.

The Kindness of Strangers

watermelon

The little wiener dog hopped merrily up the church steps and lay down at my feet.  Its long leash trailing down the stairs, the dachshund looked up at me with pleading eyes and a Mona Lisa half-smile.  I might have bent over to rub its belly had not a volunteer worker from the Catholic Ladies’ Relief stepped out of the church vestibule at that very moment to thrust a clipboard into my hand.

I had to sign for the food boxes I was about to receive, listing my address and the number of people in my family.  My eyes fell upon the line above, and I noticed that the last visitor had indicated his address as “Homeless.”

That’s when he came around the corner to retrieve his dog.  Grabbing the leash, he called his canine partner by name, although I couldn’t understand the disembodied syllables.  He was likely not much older than I, although he hadn’t a tooth in his mouth save a straggler or two.  The story of how the remainder had escaped was burrowed in the deep lines and creases of his grizzled face.  Shirtless as well as homeless, I could tell he had had a hard life.  He looped the leash around one of the handlebars of his bicycle and pedaled off.  As he disappeared back around the corner, I noticed his two food boxes, fifty pounds of aluminum cans, stacked in a wire basket attached to the back of the bike.

That was Monday, four days ago, but I think of the gentleman and his dog as I wait in yet another early morning food distribution line.  I’m just a mile or two from the freeway and the shopping centers, but the wide swath of green athletic field on the other side of the chain link fence makes me feel as if I’m out in the country.  Across the street is a low-income apartment complex, likely infested with vermin, while up the road is a similarly afflicted SRO motel where Pastor Mom visited a parishioner yesterday.  The woman needed a ride to her previous place of residence to retrieve her clothes.  She had lived there prior to her recent stint in the state mental hospital.  Tomorrow we will go see her again, bringing along Kotex, headache pills and a box of clothes culled from the closets and bureaus of my wife and my mother-in-law.  On the way, we will stop at the Burger King drive-through to bring her some food from the dollar menu.

SRO

But for now it’s Friday and all of us waiting in line on this grassy strip between the parking lot and the fence outside the American Legion hall are grateful to be able to obtain some free food, maybe even meat and fruit, before the start of the weekend.  We are the beneficiaries of yet another U.S. Department of Agriculture distribution of foodstuffs to the poorest among us.

Pain and suffering is all around us, if only we would choose to see.  It is there in the faces, just beyond the wan smiles and the mumbled “good morning”s.  There are women and men, twentysomethings and senior citizens, some neatly dressed in sporty attire, others in filthy t-shirts and ratty old cutoffs.  Some have been here dozens of times before; others, like myself, are first-timers.  All of our stories are different, and all of them are the same.  Gravity has dropped us to the bottom of the heap and tamped us down firmly.  Illness, unemployment and family troubles are written in bold somewhere on the pages of our lives.  Some of us are on fixed incomes; some of us receive $23 in Food Stamps each month.  Some of us are mired in bureaucratic red tape, the holy grail of a Social Security disability check forever just out of reach.  Some of us are homeless now or were at one time; some of us hang on to the roofs over our heads by our fingernails.  Some of us live month to month, or week to week, or meal to meal.  We dodge bill collectors and eviction notices and soothe our children, telling them it will all turn out alright.  We may don a mask of stony stoicism that allows us to do what we have to do to feed our families.  Just ask, however, and we will tell you all about what we’re going through.  We have nothing to hide.

After yesterday’s debacle at the county “brown bag” food distribution, I have learned a thing or two.  This time, I come prepared.  I show up early, at 7:30 am.  Already, all the parking spaces are taken.  I pull up onto the grass next to a dirty red pickup that is unlikely to pass a smog test.  About fifteen people are already in line.  One group, apparently friends, converse animatedly.  I greet them, mentioning that the food bank sent me.  “The end of the line is over there,” a man among the group gruffly informs me.  “Then to the end of the line I shall go!” I reply as cheerily as I can at this ungodly hour of the morning.

My supplies consist of a folding chair and a Walmart bag containing a bottle of water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I have no idea whether I’ll be here for half an hour or until the middle of the afternoon.  As Barbara from the food bank reminded me yesterday, “the truck gets there when it gets there.”  I take her warning to heart.

Retreating to the end of the line, I open my metal chair and sit down.  In front of me, a man and woman chat amiably about the relative merits of Ford trucks.  I wave hello, take out my phone and attempt to mind my own business.  About fifteen minutes pass and my neighbors each produce cigarettes and proceed to smoke.  I am grateful that they have the courtesy to blow the smoke away from me.  Soon, the man leaves the line, excusing himself by saying that he must sit down.

Without her partner in conversation, the woman begins chatting with me in short spurts interspersed with long periods of silence.  I am unable to determine her age; she could be forty-five or sixty-five.  She apologizes for her dirty t-shirt.  No need, I assure her.  I learn that she has two sons in college in Reno and that she cannot seem to convince them to take part-time jobs for minimum wage to help defray their expenses.  She says she can’t afford the petrol to get up there to see them much.  After a while, she mentions that her husband, who used to be a ranch cook, has been disabled and out of work for some time and was just recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  I tell her that I was laid off from work nearly nine months ago and that I have applied for 130 jobs without success.

Nearly an hour after I join the conga line, the food truck arrives.  “There’s usually two,” my new friend informs me.  And sure enough, five minutes later, truck number two shows up.  Tables are set up and the slow process of unloading the trucks commences.  Box after box is handed down from the trucks while workers hurriedly make up food bags.  About ten more people have queued up behind me.

At 9:00, the line begins to slowly creep ahead.  The chatty woman in front of me unfolds a miniature grocery cart on wheels.  I stand up, drag my chair two steps forward and sit down again.  I repeat this process about a dozen times before I approach the steps to the side entrance of the American Legion hall and I fold up my chair and lean it against my leg.  Meanwhile, I have confided to my friend that I anticipate difficulty in carrying whatever food I am given to my car since I already have a heavy chair and a bag with me.  “Stick with me,” she says, assuring me that she can squeeze the food bags for both of us into her little cart.

I climb the two steps into the foyer, noting the rest rooms I pass on my way into the main hall.  I reach a table staffed by three workers, where I engage in the usual routine:  Print your name, sign, list your address and the number in your family.  But I notice an extra question on the form this time:  Is this your first time here this month?  “This is my first time here ever!” I assure the clerk.  “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that,” she tells me, handing me a food ticket.

The line moves through the building to an exit door on the other side, then down two more steps to the food distribution tables.  To my surprise, I am handed a frozen turkey.  At the next table, I receive a paper bag filled with canned goods, then an 18 pack of eggs.  Noticing a bin of bananas, I reach out to take a few and am rebuffed.  Only the workers are allowed to touch the foodstuffs.  Bags of produce have already been prepared (a few potatoes, a bell pepper, a large beefsteak tomato, some brown bananas); I may have one or choose a watermelon instead.

A watermelon!  Imagine that!  My wife loves watermelon and I am rather a fan thereof myself.  As I ask for the melon, a worker quickly grabs back the produce bag that she had thrust into my friend’s rolling basket.  At the last table, I hand in my ticket.  True to her word, my friend has arranged all of our food into her cart, tucking the two packages of eggs into the sides (only two of the eighteen eggs in my package end up breaking) and balancing the two watermelons on top.  At each table, she tells the worker “I’ll take hers, too.”  Although I have referred to my wife several times, mentioning that she is at home with the flu today, my friend appears to be confused about my gender.

She asks me where I am parked and we begin the trek back across the parking lot.  I notice that about fifty people are now in line for food.  Arriving at my car, my friend helps me unload the bags into the rear hatch.  I thank her over and over again.  I relate that I am overwhelmed by her generosity.  She tries to hug me, which devolves into us giving each other a couple of pats on the back, somewhat embarrassedly.  My gratitude notwithstanding, I have always been horrible at navigating social situations.

When my wife was with me at the brown bag food distribution yesterday, she referred to the woman who allowed me to briefly sit in her wheelchair as my “girlfriend.”  “It’s good to have girlfriends,” was Pastor Mom’s pithy response.

Like Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, I will always be grateful for the kindness of strangers.

 

Do Dogs and Cats Have the Right to Live?

I guess I’m a hypocrite.

As much as I hate to saddle myself with such an imprecation, it would be dishonest for me to say otherwise.  You see, I haven’t been practicing what I preach.  Last time, I wrote about our duty to care for stray and abandoned dogs, cats and other animals, yet I myself live a pet-free life.

But, as I mentioned previously, not everyone has the proper living situation or adequate finances to take on the responsibility for caring for a pet.  So what’s my excuse?  We spent years living in apartments that did not permit pets (not that we didn’t see the occasional illegal dog being walked).  We also developed a fairly active lifestyle that involved a lot of traveling on short notice.  Every time we thought about adopting a pet, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to just pick up and go for work or pleasure.  Then we moved to the parsonage of a church.

There’s also the little detail about being unemployed for more months than I care to think about.  I am always amazed when I see a bedraggled homeless guy sitting up against a wall with a sign begging for food — with his best canine friend seated right beside him.  I guess they’ll be sharing that hamburger that we give him.  Maybe we’d better get two.

It’s not just dogs, either.  Back when we lived in Fresno, we knew that almost any time we visited a particular store on South Blackstone, we’d be greeted by a homeless woman and her overflowing shopping cart — with her black and white cat curled up atop her belongings.

Thus, I am forced to admit to hypocrisy.  It’s hard to make excuses after seeing the homeless care for their quadruped charges.  For some of them, I’m sure their animal companions are their only friends.

There’s also the laziness factor.  Although I’ll be the first to try to find a home for a pet that needs one, I know I wouldn’t give the pet a very good home myself.  The thought of having to walk a dog or clean a cat box simply does not appeal to me.

At least I know myself well enough to realize that a dog or cat would not have a very good life with me.  Too many people, however, take on the care of pets (and children!) without considering how much time, attention and money such a commitment involves.  Perhaps this is why we see so many abandoned pets wandering the streets.

I believe that these homeless dogs and cats, roaming about in search of a morsel of food or a drop of water, are at minimum, entitled to be accorded the decency owed to all living things that suffer and feel pain.

Alas, there are those who do not agree, believing that dogs and cats do not have any rights at all.  For example, my fellow blogger at jewamongyou (who claims to be an animal lover and states that “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer”) posits that “we shouldn’t assign human rights to animals” because the very concept of “rights” is a human one.

While I do believe that this guy’s heart is in the right place, I have to wonder just what he means by “human rights.”  Does he mean that dogs and cats should not be accorded the right to vote?  I think that would be reasonable, as I doubt that the idea of representative elections would be very meaningful to our pets.  This is also why my one-year-old grandniece does not have the right to vote.

I have at least two points of disagreement with my fellow blogger, however.  For starters, I find it a bit of hubris to equate our species’ age-old fascination with “rights” with the idea that no such thing as “rights” existed until we called them into being.  For example, I love the following famous words from the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”   In other words, the existence of the rights about to be enumerated needs no source of proof; “self-evident” means that no reasonable person can contradict their existence.  The Declaration of Independence refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  This is a way of stating that basic rights are divinely or naturally granted (depending on one’s beliefs) rather than granted by humans.

Of course, the Declaration of Independence goes on to state that “all men are created equal” and have certain divinely granted “inalienable rights.”  My point, however, is that the basic rights of decency, whatever you believe them to be, are granted by God or nature, not by man.

Second, even if one believes that the concept of “rights” is a human one, why does this by definition exclude certain rights from being extended by humans to other creatures?

I don’t claim to understand what my fellow blogger means by “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer.”  I’m sure we would both agree that the disgrace that is animal abuse would fall under this category.  What exactly constitutes “animal abuse” is, of course, subject to debate.  Nevertheless, I’m sure we would agree that such barbaric practices as dog fighting and cock fighting would be included.

Is a dog or a cat made to needlessly suffer when it is abandoned to fend for itself?  I would argue that it is.  I would argue that an animal that is not provided with food, water and shelter is indeed being made to needlessly suffer.  Remember, unlike adult humans (and very much like human children), domesticated animals do not have the ability to do this for themselves.

What about when an animal is deliberately killed?  I would argue that this, too, constitutes needless suffering and that, if nothing else, an animal has the right to its life.  Historically, however, humans have treated other animals as chattel, mere possessions that can be disposed of at will.  This reduces a living creature to the status of a mere thing, just as if a dog or cat were an inanimate object such as a car or a table.  Just as the owner of a table has the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or chop it up for firewood, historically the owner of a dog or cat (or cow or horse or sheep) had the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or kill it and chop it up into food or clothing.

How this plays out is entirely cultural.  While animals are considered sacred in many parts of India, for example, eating dogs and cats is commonplace in certain parts of Asia (and elsewhere).  What may be an abhorrent practice in the United States may be standard operating procedure in another part of the world.

Thus, the social norms of a particular culture may grant animals more or fewer rights than those granted by God or nature.  Just as we humans have trampled upon each other’s rights throughout history, many cultures continue to trample upon the rights of our fellow creatures.

There will likely never be an end to the debate about what rights animals do have (by those who believe that such rights are granted by God or nature) or should have (by those who believe that animals have no rights other than those granted them by humans).

My favorite example of this ongoing debate is whether it is amoral to kill an animal “humanely.”  Personally, I nominate that one for the Oxymorons category in Zynga’s game “What’s the Phrase?”

Well, humans are animals.  Is it okay to kill a human if it’s done humanely?

Somehow, we fail to make the connection.

The fact that animals have rich, happy lives just as we do and suffer just as we do does not seem to resonate with most of us at all.  We simply draw a line in the sand between “them” and “us.”  While we celebrate our own higher-functioning brains, our free will and our ability to distinguish between right and wrong, we go right on acting in a instinctual black-and-white fashion as if we were the very animals that we continue to demean.

The bottom line, of course, is money.  Animals are treated as if they have no rights because there is big business in killing dogs, cats, cows, pigs and other animals and selling their flesh — because they taste good and people will buy these animals’ ground-up, hacked-up parts for their tables.

I think I’ve belabored the point enough.  Ultimately, everyone has to make their own decision.  However, I do want to close with a few interesting websites I’ve run across in the last few days (along with brief comments).  Food for thought.

From thentherewerethreeHeck, I will eat Donner and Blitzen, bring it on…I love wild game! I just like to know that my meat was off enjoying the sunshine, and frolicking with some pals, and feeling the wind on its face….before it came to nourish me and the Fam.  (Yeah, you’re all heart…)

From honkifyourevegan.comThe setup was in a supermarket where a guy gave customers samples of cooked sausage and then tried to get them to buy fresh sausage that he was cranking out of a machine on the spot.  Whenever a customer wanted to buy fresh sausage, however; the machine was empty. But this was not a problem because the sausage man had live piglets on hand. So for each customer, he put a piglet into the machine and ground sausage from it.  Despite the fact that no one had a problem tasting the cooked sausage, customers were horrified when the piglet was ground before their eyes. One woman even hit the sausage man with her purse.  It’s a gag, of course, and the piglet is not actually harmed. But isn’t it interesting?  (Not really.  You broke the social compact!  You’re not supposed to show us what we’re eating, silly!)

koreandogs.org (No explanation needed.)

Duty of Care

chickens

My wife and I lived way out in southeastern California’s Sonoran Desert for three years, where we saw a constant stream of stray dogs in our little town.  Big dogs, small dogs, dogs of every color and description, loose and cavorting in the middle of the street, jauntily bouncing down the sidewalk or tearing across someone’s lawn.

Some were picked up by the local dog catcher (oops, “animal control officer”), then housed at the shelter behind Ace Hardware, where they became stars ready for their close-ups to appear in the town’s twice-weekly newspaper under the heading “offered for adoption.”  In other words, come quickly, all ye animal lovers, and pay ye the fees for the dog’s shots and license lest this adorable pup (how can you resist such a mug?) be summarily sentenced to death by lethal injection without benefit of judge or jury.

Other dogs, I suspect, were better at eluding the net and remained on the lam for quite some time.  Some were escape artists, taking advantage of opportunities for freedom unwittingly provided by their people.  Dogs were supposed to be kept in fenced-in enclosures or on a leash.  But there were always pets that managed to jump the fence, burrow under it or find a gap to squeeze through.  Much like cats climbing trees without giving a thought to how they’ll get back down, dogs would devise clever methods of getting out, seemingly without giving a thought to how they’ll survive on the other side.

Like the wandering dogs of Sochi that we heard so much about during the televised coverage of the Winter Olympics, we’re pretty sure many of the dogs we encountered were actually abandoned pets, not strays.  It seemed as if no one cared what happened to them, whether they lived or died. Although they once had homes, they were no longer wanted and would be heartlessly tossed out of a car on the side of the road.  When I was growing up, my parents used to do this when one of their cats committed some offense that they deemed unpardonable (usually scratching someone, although I believe tearing about like a hellion qualified as well).  My father was the one assigned to doing the deed, which he referred to as “taking the cat for a ride.”  He’d drive several miles away, by which time the cat was generally sufficiently panicked to jump out voluntarily at the first opportunity.  At least once that I can recall, the cat managed to find its way back home.

As for the stray dogs of the desert, they’d bake in the 115°F heat that we “enjoyed” six months out of the year, desperate for a drink of water.  Some would hang out on the strip of fast food places down by the freeway, hoping for handouts.  Those were usually picked up fairly quickly by animal control officers on their rounds.

One night, my wife and I had to make a quick run to K-Mart just before the store closed, where we found a large dog pacing back and forth by the entrance and exit doors, just hoping that some kind person would grant it some attention.  We went to get it some water, but quickly discovered another good Samaritan approaching with a fast food hamburger and a drink.

There were stray cats, too, and we used to put out our leftovers for them as well as for the many hungry birds that inhabited our neighborhood.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about chickens.  Not exactly in the same league with dogs and cats, you may say, but I keep seeing these beautiful birds hanging out at a busy intersection in Yuba City.  To this city boy’s highly untrained eye, they all appear to be roosters.  We have no idea to whom, if anyone, they belong.  However, just like the stray dogs of the desert, we suspect that they were simply abandoned.  After all, they don’t lay eggs and they disturb the neighbors with their infernal crowing, so what good are they to anyone, other than for making soup or drenching their wings in barbecue sauce?  Passersby must be feeding these guys, else I doubt that they’d stick around.  I’m surprised they haven’t been picked up yet, but perhaps the local dog catcher doesn’t “do” chickens.  I am reminded of an incident, several years ago, in which an entire flock of chickens turned up beside a southern California freeway, resulting in much rush hour gawking, some near auto wrecks, and many people posing the age-old conundrum anew:  Why did the chicken cross the road?

So my question of the day is:  Do we have an obligation to care for abandoned animals?  And if so, is such obligation individual or communal in nature?

The Bible (while certainly not the final arbiter for many of us), appears to argue that we do have such an obligation, and that each of us is required to take on this responsibility personally.

“If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.  If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.”  Deut. 22:1-2

The following verse underscores this point by stating “you must not remain indifferent.”  In other words, community assignment of an animal control officer does not negate our individual responsibility for caring for our fellow creatures.

Granted, the emphasis of these Bible verses is on helping avoid a loss to one’s neighbor rather than on assisting the animal.  The fact that the Scripture refers to animals that have “gone astray” seems to indicate that it would be unheard of to deliberately abandon an animal.  While this may be due to the economic value of cattle, sheep and donkeys kept as work animals or for sources of food and clothing, the concept of animals kept as pets does appear in the Bible as well.  I refer to the parable of the poor man who “had only one little ewe lamb that he had bought,” recited by the prophet Nathan to King David.  “He tended it and it grew up together with him and his children:  It used to share his morsel of bread, drink from his cup, and nestle in his bosom; it was like a daughter to him.”  2 Sam. 12:3

I find it encouraging that a source as ancient as the Bible, with its emphasis on justice and doing the right thing, recognizes that pets can be members of our families and demands that we care for strays rather than ignore them.  The implication, then, is that the Judeo-Christian tradition finds a moral imperative to attend to the needs of animals, whether we have voluntarily taken on their care as pets or whether we happen upon them along the road.

It is no secret that failure to heed this duty of care is likely to result in the death of animals that have no means to care for themselves.  While I rarely think of donkeys (or chickens, for that matter) as being strays, their mention in Deuteronomy reminds me of the fully-grown donkey that we found dead by the side of a state highway in the middle of the desert a couple of years ago.  We later learned that wild burros and horses continue to inhabit the Sonoran Desert, sometimes causing wrecks when they cross the roads (we had a close call with a wild horse late one night) and often dying of thirst, hunger and disease.

While most of us do not have the means of caring for every stray that shows up on our doorstep or is found wandering forlornly on a roadside, it is my belief that it is immoral to ignore these animals, hoping that perhaps someone else will step up.

Nor is it an excuse to insist that this is why we pay taxes to support animal control officers.  A communal conscience is certainly a good thing, but when stray and abandoned animals are likely to either be killed (I find the phrase “put to sleep” to be obscene) in so-called animal shelters, or to be run over or starve to death before they are rescued, it is difficult to deny that the responsibility for these creatures is ours alone.  Closing our eyes to this duty of care casts a dirty shame upon our supposedly enlightened society.