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.


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.


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.


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.


Poor Zoe! 

Hayden and Tiger

 My grandniece with Tiger


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.


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.


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.


Pet-Free and Glad of It



Taffy was lying down outside the sliding glass door to my parents’ family room, so my mother let her cat in. This cat is in bad shape. Despite the furry winter coat, you can see the outline of bones in the sunken profile. The cat attempted to jump up on the couch, but can no longer make the leap successfully. Claws scrabbling momentarily on the edge of the seat, the cat slides back down to the carpet. Mom picks up the cat and lays it across her lap, where we were looking through old photo albums. The cat promptly pees all over her.

Mom lets the cat out before taking a shower and changing her clothes.

My mother’s cat, now 18 years old, is on its ninth life. Although she has taken her pet in to the vet in Fresno on a couple of occasions, she won’t spend the money now that Taffy is preparing to fly up to that big furball in the sky. Indeed, her raspy, labored breathing reminds me of what used to be known as the rales or death-rattle. I bet Taffy has pneumonia.

My sister in Texas had two black and white cats, Cookie and Oreo, and both of them died recently. My niece, who is an adult, took it hard. My sister stayed home from work to comfort her.

Many people who I meet, both online and in person, are surprised that a child-free couple like us has no pets. Surely we bestow our love on a dog or a cat? A songbird? Not even a little goldfish in a bowl?

Nope, nope and nope. Throughout our marriage, we have been 100% pet-free. Part of this relates to the fact that my wife grew up with dogs and I grew up with cats, and neither of us particularly understand the other species. Not to mention the fact that we tend to live in tiny rentals where no pets are permitted.

The bottom line for me, however, is that the love bestowed upon us by our pets for years can never make up for the heartbreak of losing them. I realize that we are missing a lot, but every joy comes at a price.  I see what is happening to my sister, my niece and my mom, and I know we have made the right decision all along.

Praying for Rain on Rosh Hashannah

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Today is the last day of the year on the Jewish calendar, the dregs of the month of Elul, our new year’s eve. This is a day that always leaves me reflective, and all the more so if I am visiting my parents out in the country.

My elderly parents have an elderly cat, an 18 year old Siamese named Taffy. The furry beast is full of fleas, but my mom wonders whether she should let her pet in the house notwithstanding, since Taffy has been coughing so much. You see, California is on fire. Here, on the cattle-grazing ranch land at the dead center of our huge state, the fires are far to the north and south. The smoke, however, travels for hundreds of miles and scents the air even here. The news broadcasts warn children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions to remain indoors. Mom reminds me not to open any windows.

My wife is not with me for this trip as she has work obligations on Monday. This weekend, however, she paid a birthday visit to a friend who lives high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to our east. She texts me that the smoke-laden air is totally unbreatheable. Even down here on the valley floor, local high school and college football games are cancelled due to the smoke. Everyone hides indoors and runs the air conditioning full blast against the 100 degree heat and uncharacteristic humidity.

Back home in Sacramento, we have to be careful how we enter and leave our home. Open the door, step outside and quickly pull the door shut behind you. Leave the door open for 30 seconds or so to deposit groceries on the counter or haul out a sack of trash and the smoke alarm goes off.

My mother settles for locking her cat in the laundry room with food and water. Taffy will have none of it and meows up a furious storm until Mom lets her outside again. Mom says she doesn’t want to get bitten by fleas. The feline spends the night in the garage.

Driving down Highway 99 through California’s normally fertile Central Valley, I notice a billboard erected at the side of the road. “Pray for rain,” the sign exhorts us.

The epic drought in the West, now in its fifth consecutive year, has rendered much of the state a tinderbox. The grass in the highway median, the citrus groves, the waving rangeland where the cattle are fattened on their way to becoming Big Macs and porterhouse steaks, the stately old growth forests, all are just sitting ducks, dessicating in the sun, awaiting consumption by hungry flames barreling over the ridge. Everything in the path of the blaze is destroyed, leaving nothing but charred remains. Water and red-hued flame retardant is dropped from the sky by helicopter and airplane. CalFire erects firebreaks but can barely get one fire under control before another breaks out somewhere else in the state. Thousands of acres are consumed. Four firefighters are in the hospital after sustaining serious burns yesterday.

And yet the flames remain unsatisfied. What’s next?

The leafy trees in your backyard. Your house.

Dozens of little towns are evacuated. Residents stuff families and pets into their cars, grab what belongings they can, and flee. Horses are rescued by distant farms with spare paddocks, stables and horse trailers for transport.

Heading down Interstate 5 to work on Thursday morning, I saw plumes of smoke off in the distance. The billows were heading in our direction. I turn on the radio and learn that yet another fire, this time in a local park, had been reported at six o’clock that morning. A haze blankets downtown Sacramento and I dash from the car to the door of the office building where I work, attempting not to inhale the smoky air.

Governor Brown declares. a state of emergency.

My parents are fighting off a plague of ants. Desperate for water, colonies of ants enter through every crack or crevice. We spray and spray, killing ants by the dozen as they congregate in the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, even on the toilet seat.

My mother steps outside in the heat for a few minutes to water the few trees on her property that haven’t already died. She lets Taffy in for a brief respite in the air conditioning. Mom says her cat appears to have gone blind in one eye and isn’t seeing too well with the other. When she calls for Taffy, the old cat gropes around trying to find her.

“I’m afraid she’s not long for this world,” Mom tells me.

“We’re not long for this world,” my father quips in retort.

Dad turns 82 in November. My wife and I have made plans to drive down for his birthday.

I wonder how many more times I will visit this big house out in the country to celebrate Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish new year.

Tonight I will don a white shirt and tie, and we will drive into Fresno to attend the synagogue service marking the start of the High Holy Days. Tomorrow morning, we will go again to hear the blast of the Shofar, the trumpet that is supposed to wake us from our slumber, our stupor, the well-worn grooves of our lives that leave us blind to the neediness and suffering of others. We will greet each other with “L’shana tovah,” may you be blessed with a good new year.

And I know I will be praying for the safety of the firefighters, for the evacuees and their homes, for an end to the drought and the conflagrations that are burning up my home state of California.

I will be praying for rain.

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!) (No explanation needed.)

Duty of Care


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.

My Pants Fall Down and a Job Interview Goes Pffffttt

It all started when my pants fell down.

I think it was bending over that did it.  I heard a sickening rrrippp and my belt was in two pieces.  At least I was in my office at work this time.  The last time this happened to me, I was entering a courthouse.  This was many years ago, when I lived in New England.  After I emptied my pockets, the security guard insisted it was my belt that was setting off the metal detector.  Removing my belt as instructed, I found myself standing in the courthouse lobby in my skivvies.

This time, however, I simply picked up the phone, told my lead worker I was running home for a bit, and headed out the door, holding up my pants with one hand.  I would simply switch belts and head back to work.  Arriving at home, however, I found no sign of my other belt.  I had forgotten that it had already been packed up and moved.  We are in the process of moving from southern California to northern California, and the box in question had already been moved 600 miles up the I-5.

My wife and I drove over to K-Mart to get me a new belt.  I stayed in the car rather than walking the aisles holding my pants up with one hand.  I put on the new belt as best I could in the parking lot, hoping no children or cops walked by.

Within two days, it became apparent that the new belt was a piece of junk.  About half of it had shredded, pieces coming off in my hand when I put it on or took it off.  Back we went to K-Mart that evening in pursuit of yet another belt.

It was late in the evening, almost closing time, and we noticed an apparently homeless dog walking back and forth in front of the store entrance.  It was a beautiful pit bull mix, and we were appalled that someone had abandoned it.  We keep plenty of bottled water in the car, so we planned to give the poor cur a drink.  In our 100+ degree heat, it must have been parched.  Just then, we saw a man approach the dog with a fast food hamburger.  We handed him the bottle of water.  We were truly heartened to witness the act of a good samaritan.  We noticed he had a bit of trouble getting to the dog, as it had begun wandering about the parking lot, following anyone exiting or entering the store.  It was as if the dog were begging someone to take it home.  This tugged at our heartstrings. There are so many abandoned dogs and cats in our community.  We just hoped this one wouldn’t end up being run over by a car, abused by miscreants or suffer from exposure to the searing heat.

But I digress. My newest belt had issues of its own. As the waist has been taken in on all my pants, the belt loops have been altered.  Thus, the only way I can get this wide belt on is to drag it through the loops before I step into the pants.  Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to squeeze the belt through the loops in the back while I twist myself into a pretzel.

I thought I had learned to deal with this state of affairs fairly well, that is until the day of the big interview.  Arriving 15 minutes early, I emptied my pockets and stepped through the metal detector.  Beep!  “Remove your belt,” the guard ordered. I groaned.  Deja-vu!

I pulled off the belt and raised my pant cuffs to show that I didn’t have a pistol stuck in my sock.  Here I go hobbling down the hallway in search of a rest room, holding my belt and padfolio in one hand while holding up my pants with the other.  Ensconced in a bathroom stall, I removed my shoes, removed my pants, forced my belt through the loops, put my pants back on, put my shoes back on. By now, of course, I was late for my appointment.

My morning consisted of traipsing about the building, meeting with supervisors and staff in each department.  The first supervisor came to fetch me from the HR Department.  “Our one and only elevator just broke down a few days ago,” she informed me.  The building has three floors.  Her department was on the top floor.  I have bad knees, one bad hip and a bad back.  I begged her patience as I struggled up two flights of stairs, one painful step at a time.

“What do you do for ADA compliance?” I asked. “Like for customers in wheelchairs?”

“That’s an issue right now,” she replied.

After pulling myself up and down to the various departments, I was told to come back in three hours.  I had drawn the last interview of the day.  Donna and I went to lunch, drove around a bit to check out the town, killed some time buying presents for our little grandniece and took a little nap in the car.

Finally, it was time to go back in for my interview.  I go through the metal detector again.  Beep!  “Remove your belt,” I am ordered.

“But we already went through this earlier” I protested. “Do I really have to do it again? ” I whined.

“Once you exit the building, you have to do it again,” I am informed brusquely.  Off with the belt again.  This time, I had Donna with me.  Holding up my pants with one hand, I walk down the hall to just outside the HR Department, where Donna is kind enough to force the belt through the loops as I turn around and around.

It was a fairly standard panel interview.  My four inquisitors went down their list of questions, then I had a turn to ask a few.  My allergies were just killing me, so I punctuated my answers with coughing, taking sips of water and using my handkerchief to wipe at the snot running down my face.

At the end of the interview, I was asked to wait in the HR Department with the other candidates while it was decided who would be asked to stay for a second round of interviews.

In the HR lounge, one of the orher candidates recognized me.  I was her supervisor years ago, when I worked the graveyard shift and she was an undergrad trying to pay her way through college.  Small world indeed.

Less than ten minutes had gone by when the CEO came out to inform the waiting candidates that there would be no second interviews after all.  It appears there had been a change of circumstances. They had just learned that there wouldn’t be any funding available to pay for the position.  Perhaps funding would become available closer to the end of the year.  He would keep us informed.  Wah-wah-wahhh…

So, in summary, the time and money spent on this 1,200 mile trip was all for naught.  A big ol’ waste for a big heap of nothing.

The moral of the story is this:  I should have done the right thing to begin with by turning down the interview to spend Rosh Hashannah with my parents.

Lesson learned.