Keeper: A Story of Rescue


I saw what you did that morning a few months ago, right before the holiday weekend–guess you were going out of town and thought you would do the deed as one last “preparation” to free yourself for your weekend. You were driving a late-model red Honda: I saw you stop, saw the door open, saw the dog put out. And I saw you drive off.  She watched you, too–sitting there stunned and motionless. Then she started running after you, and that’s when I jerked the car over and started running after her.  Though I was late to work, I couldn’t leave the desperate Sheltie you had abandoned.   

 As a rescuer, I always have leashes, collars, treats, and bottled water in my car, because of course there are many people just like you. Gradually, I won her trust and got her into my car. After I had her safe with me, I was able to examine her: though she was thin and had fleas, someone in her family had  clipped hair around the hot spots on her back, and had placed a red collar around her neck, though her tags were left behind or discarded so she could not be traced. As I discovered during the two weeks I kept her, someone had  taught her to play ball and shake hands; she had learned a little basic obedience, and she was housetrained–a lady through and through.

She was very grateful to me, giving me lots of kisses; but I saw the faraway look in her eyes, watched her pace, sometimes spinning the sheltie spin in her agitation and confusion. She missed whoever had taken care of her; so, hoping I had been wrong about what I saw that morning–perhaps she had been stolen or was the victim of domestic dispute–I tried from the first day to find her owner.  I put up signs; I called vets, shelters, rescue agencies, sheltie clubs; posted her on the Internet web sites; had her scanned for a microchip.

You must have seen the signs.  

What did you think would happen to her when you dumped her? What chance did you think she had where you abandoned her? There was no shelter, no water, no food–only the hot Texas sun and speeding cars. If you didn’t want her any longer, why didn’t you try to find her a home?  Failing that, why didn’t you do a little research to find a rescue group?  Why didn’t you drive her to a shelter?  Why didn’t you at least give her a chance to be adopted, rather than dump her where she could have been hit by a car or shot by another heartless person, or where she might have died of thirst, hunger, or illness?    She didn’t deserve that. No one does.

But Keeper was lucky: there are individuals and rescue groups who daily pull dogs and cats from roadways and try to help them so they don’t die in front of a speeding car or from hunger and thirst. I named your dog “Keeper” because she is a keeper, not a throw-away. She stayed with me until I was able to place her in one of our foster homes and eventually an adoptive home. She  blessed her delighted new home with a full and grateful heart. Fortunately for rescued dogs and cats, there are many more people like Keeper’s angels than there are like you.

Oh, and here’s the coda to the story you began writing for her those many months ago.  After we got her cleaned up, vaccinated, treated for the Heartworm disease you let her contract; after she put on weight, and her damaged coat grew out, she is beautiful–gorgeous in fact.  Her new mom saw the intelligence and possibilities in Keeper: here is a Sheltie who clearly wants to work, which you probably never knew because you know nothing about dogs, especially herding dogs. She is in agility classes, which she loves, has earned her Canine Good Citizen award, and is now training to become a therapy dog.  Her new mom plans to take her to hospitals and nursing homes to cuddle with and entertain young and old who might need a little comfort.  Because Keeper understands just what that is all about, and despite your cruelty to her, like most dogs who suffer at the hands of cruel masters, her heart is large, and she still loves people

You, however, must live with your cold heart and the effects on you all your life from what you did to this little dog who trusted you. You may never give her another thought; you also may never understand what’s hit you down the road in your own life.

But, here’s a hint: Karma, too, is a cold-hearted bitch.

Keeper at Home

Fear of Writing: An Open Letter to My Students


I am always saddened when I read/hear how many students fear or dislike the writing experience because I think you should enjoy writing — even when it’s tough to do, as good writing often is. In fact, most very young children are fascinated by writing: one of their proudest moments is when they learn to write their names, and then other words. But then something happens to cause the fear or dislike of writing, and I believe it begins in early school years, when some teachers may have used writing as punishment.  Examples: “Go to the board and write 100 times, ‘I will not talk in class,'” which was public humiliation often at a very sensitive age in front of critical young peers. “Write me an essay tonight about why you shouldn’t talk in class,” which, though it may have been intended to get the student to think, instantly turned writing into self-flagellation. The child really should have been given something interesting and creative to do in class, so he didn’t disturb others but also wasn’t embarrassed or led to associate writing with punishment. Sometimes that fear or dislike begins when the writing efforts come back covered in red ink with no explanation of the errors or positive commentary or encouragement. The child begins to lose confidence in his ability to write that he had been so excited about earlier. Or the writing assignments are excruciatingly boring because the teacher is too overworked to think of interesting topics: the classic “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” springs to most people’s minds as one of these–unless the child had a scintillating summer vacation. As the child becomes older, her disappointment may become resentment about the entire writing process, expectations, and especially grades. However, some students have always made good grades on their writing, because the teacher likes them or because they use lots of adjectives and ‘big’ words or even because the teacher just gives A’s on the papers rather than teach writing after becoming jaded and exhausted by the whole process of dealing with too many essays without enough time to teach, much less comment on the students’ writing. Then the student enters college and discovers that in fact she has a great deal of work to do on her writing, which is often quite a blow. Of course, there are also teachers in the public and private schools who are doing a good job of teaching writing, and students who truly do write well. But too many students’ experiences with writing, unfortunately, are not so happy.

I will be giving you tips throughout the semester that I hope will aid in developing your individual styles while also training you to be sensitive to your audience. I will always try to be as constructive as possible in my comments; however, I’m also not going to allow areas that need correction to be overlooked since how we write gives a definite impression of us to others, and it’s important to remember that we are working on one of the highest levels of composition: academic writing. For now, here are some objections I’ve heard through the years about having assigned topics, brainstorming requirements, deadlines, and restrictions, as well as fears about writing the paper itself or having the paper returned covered in red ink. These are comments I make in response at the beginning of every semester in every class. This is long, so you may want to print it to read when you have time, but please do keep it and read carefully.

TOPICS and BRAINSTORMING

If teachers don’t give topics, some students might never venture into areas they’ve not thought about, but which affect them and their environment. That said, I always try to give options, and the research paper topic is completely your choice with approval from me only in the sense that it can be handled comfortably in the time and scope allotted for getting it done. The brainstorming exercises I’ve been assigning you are necessary, and I’m asking you to trust me on this. I know some of you feel you write better in the full flush of adrenalin the night before a paper is due — or simply off-the-cuff writing, then turning it in — you may think that is more ‘creative,’ and in some cases you may be right. However, do you think Shakespeare wrote Hamlet like that? Do you think Stephen King, whom many of you like, writes his novels like that?  Do you think your favorite song writer does?  How about great screen plays or television writing or an editorial in a newspaper or magazine? Do you think those writers toss off that sparkling dialogue or those interesting sentences in a rush?  Most good writing goes through numerous stages, headaches, and lots of perspiration before it is ever ‘finished’ (actually no writing is ever finished; just ‘due’ — to a teacher, a boss, a publisher, etc.). Some writers, it’s true, brainstorm in their heads rather than on paper or computer, and some good writing can happen in a white heat; but all good writers go through a lot of ideas before they settle on their topic and focus; and all good writers revise (‘re-vision’: to look at again). If you don’t brainstorm, you might never find the topic and supporting ideas for a really great paper that was waiting for your discovery. If you procrastinate and don’t leave enough time left to revise, what could have been a good paper may not appeal to your audience the way you had hoped; worse, it may be so riddled with errors that it is unacceptable because the flaws distract the reader.

DEADLINES and RESTRICTIONS

If teachers don’t give deadlines, some students might never finish much less turn in an assignment. Practically speaking, if there are no deadlines, the teacher will never be able to read the papers and give the student a course grade. Think about the fact there are deadlines (and rules) in just about every facet of life. Learning to work within the frame of deadlines and requirements is designed to teach focusing, developing, and editing along with discipline. If teachers don’t restrict the length, format, scope, etc., students might not end up with a readable paper for the audience. Deadlines and restrictions exist in almost every facet of life; writing well is no exception.

LETTING GO

Opposite of the student who writes in a white heat right before a deadline, some students are so worried about their papers, they can’t seem to ‘let go’ of them. They will worry over a sentence or a paragraph until they feel panicked by the fact it’s not working out, and may actually start making mistakes not there before. The student who is so worried may have written a really fine piece, but can’t seem to believe that. Of course I want students to edit for errors in grammar; polish for style, tone, and content. But also, I want students to remember it’s an academic paper that, if it follows directions and is well organized, developed, and edited, should have a good reader response (and grade). But it’s not ever going to be perfect, as no writing is. Even Shakespeare wrote some bad scenes–truly. So don’t let worry and panic paralyze the effort. Follow the directions, edit, think about your audience, and then turn that paper in when it’s due. When you get it back with comments, learn from the experience and move on to the next assignment.

GRADING

My teaching career dates back to the early 1970’s (the end of the Vietnam War), before computers, and I always used pencil to comment on students’ papers: one student years ago said pencil ‘softens the blow’, so I never resorted to red ink. However, all of my classes, both Internet and Campus, now submit papers electronically in MSWord, and I use color to differentiate my comments from the students’ text. I type mostly in blue and green in brackets along with yellow highlighting to further catch the students’ attention; never red unless the student is repeating the same grammatical error, and I’m trying to get his attention. But it’s not just the color, is it? Students don’t like to see their papers covered in what they regard as ‘criticism.’ Think about this: if you are learning how to play tennis, do you expect your coach to ignore a poor backhand? If he does, will you be a good tennis player? Would you respect a coach who didn’t correct your backhand — especially if that cost you in a tournament? I realize writing is much more personal to most of you than that: the ‘criticism’ seems hurtful because you’ve poured your heart into that piece of writing, and it wearies your soul to see it come back with the commentary. However, if the teacher ignores grammatical errors; doesn’t suggest corrections for logic, tone, diction, syntax, and punctuation; doesn’t fuss about spelling (especially since just about every technological software and gizmo these days includes spell checkers) — then how will your writing be regarded by others?  Whether we like it or not, we are judged by others when we put a piece of writing in front of them, and they have a right to be upset by and even intolerant of carelessness because we are asking them to spend their time reading what we have to say. 

Actually, you may not believe those teachers who told you they were getting you ready for the ‘real world,’ but they were. Most college professors — in addition to English instructors — will not tolerate unedited student writing; most business professionals abhor poor writing and will not hire candidates without good writing skills or promote others if the problems surface later. In fact, in many ways it is the ‘fear of grading’ inculcated by school boards, administrators, and parents that has caused some teachers to actually back off to such an extent that students have suffered: there has been a marked decline in both reading and writing skills in public schools and colleges across the country for the past 30 years. Why? Fear of hurting the students’ feelings or self-esteem; fear of backlash from the above-mentioned sources; and in some cases, just sheer incompetence on some teachers’ parts. Yet society still demands (and rewards) clear, coherent, edited, sensitive writing. So if you had great teachers who took the time to comment on your papers, did you read those comments, study them, look up the problems, get the teacher’s or a tutor’s help? Learning to write well is the student’s responsibility, too. And writing well is not just about the paper you’ve turned in; it is also about the topic, the tone, the audience, and — yes — the style of what you’ve put down. Writing is communication: if you don’t learn how to do that well, then “what we have here is the failure to communicate” (the line is from the film, Cool Hand Luke), which is what your vigilant teachers have really been trying to tell you. If you never correct the flaws in that backhand I mentioned earlier, you’ll never return that stroke, will you? If you never correct the flaws pointed out in your writing, you won’t be able to reach the audience as well as you should be able to.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN READING and WRITING WELL

Good writers are almost always readers. Most students who were blessed with being born into a family that read to them when they were children and who enjoy books, newspapers, and magazines, develop a love of reading. Most children love to be read to from a very young age. Students who weren’t so blessed with family members reading to them, or who did not enjoy reading themselves, are often the ones who say they don’t have time to read and will give lots of reasons. Reading for pleasure and information hasn’t become a part of their lives, and that is a shame because there is so much to gain from reading. But students who have not had this experience can develop the reading habit. Even reading just 30 minutes a day — magazines, newspapers, novels for pleasure — has a way of helping students pick up language, sentence structure, tone, ideas, organizational ideas that help them develop their own styles. When they are trained  by writing teachers, students often start noticing the styles of other writers, which, again, helps them develop their own. Every teacher will tell you we can almost always tell when an essay is written by a student who reads and has developed an appreciation for language and style; conversely, we can almost always tell when an essay is written by a student who has not made reading a habit in his or her life. So the best advice I can give students who are trying to learn how to write well is to read.

A FINAL COMMENT ON STUDENT WRITING

Grading a piece of student writing is also about praising the attributes. A paper that is well organized, developed, thoughtful, and edited is a joy, and the writer deserves accolades. If you submit a wonderful piece of writing to me, I will simply enjoy it with a smile and appreciative comments. But if I see problems that need correcting, I won’t let you distract your audience with them. So please regard my comments on your papers not so much as criticism but as teaching. My goal for you is that your writing at the end of the semester will show marked differences in the maturity and skill of your writing, preparing you not only for other courses and continued improvement, but also for the ‘real world.’

Rescue 101: In Praise of the Older Dog


  Robin
Robin

“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.”
– Sydney Jeannne Seward

In 1999, the winner of Westminster Best in Show, beating out over 2500 other gorgeous champions, including a beautiful blue merle Sheltie, was a tiny, four-pound Papillion who captured everyone’s hearts, including the judges’.  Filled with energy and showmanship, little Kirby danced away with everything, riding around Madison Square Garden with grace and joy in the Best of Show Winner’s Cup. This top show dog in America was 8 years old. Kirby lived another 8 years, crossing over February 2007 at age 16.

In 2009, there was a particularly strong display of outstanding dogs in all the breeds.  When it was over, Stump, a terrific Sussex Spaniel, won Best in Show.  He had come out of retirement to take it all and accepted the honor with happiness and dignity: Stump is 10 years old, the oldest winner in the history of the Westminster.

Daisy and Shelby  
Daisy with her comical Shelby

Members of  our rescue program, who adopt as well as foster, have learned to love and even prefer senior dogs. Beth adopted Roscoe at age 12 after his family abandoned him on a foggy night to the local animal shelter because they “wanted to travel after the kids left home.”  He became one of our program’s ambassadors for rescue and lived to almost 16.  Linda adopted Robin also at age 12, and he, too, lived to 16.  Robin had also been abandoned and came into the program thin, flea infested, and coated in mud. He was one of the most gorgeous and beloved Shelties in our program’s 11-year history.  Applesauce found himself tossed into a shelter at age 10 as collateral damage after a divorce. We flew him to Chicago and his new mom, Ro, also a rescuer who had fallen in love with him on our web site.  He lived another 6 years and became famous in rescue circle nationwide. All of these seniors were sweet, adorable dogs who delighted us every day with their grace and good humor. 

Roscoe_Sassy_2001 
Roscoe lounging (with Sassy in foreground)

We have also adopted seniors who did not live as long as we wanted them to: Wayne and Sue lost their precious 12 year old Magic after only a year.  He had been found wandering the streets and was the tiniest Sheltie at 8 pounds we had in our program. His little feet rarely touched the ground as everyone wanted to cuddle him. I lost 10 year old Shelby also after only a year, but I smile every time I think about the joy she brought our family.  No rescuer in our program would trade even only a year with our adorable little guys for anything.

 Magic_Mom2  
Magic the Adorable with his Mom

We love puppies and younger adult dogs; however, raising and training puppies and young dogs is a lot of work, and not every owner has the time or energy for that job. Older rescued dogs bring with them maturity, intelligence, mannerly behavior, dignity, and, yes, great fun. Many of these seniors are just comical; and even when we lose them, the memories of their antics make us smile. All of our older Shelties were abandoned rescues; all but the terminally ill became healthy, happy, and absolutely gorgeous in our care, and all gave back far more than any of us could have imagined when we first rescued and adopted them.  

People ask us all the time why older dogs end up in shelters.  Sometimes Seniors find themselves in rescue because their humans can no longer take care of them or go to a nursing home or even die. But often these guys, and so many more like them, are abandoned, dumped, cast aside for only one reason: they got old. When this happens, it is a complete failure in responsibility and compassion and empathy on the part of the people these wonderful dogs trusted all their lives. These should be their golden years, enjoying long naps, good food, warm mornings sunning their tired bones on the patio or deck, evening walks and cuddles in the protective love of their grateful families.

Instead, too often their loyalty and companionship are repaid with a cage in an animal shelter, on the list to be euthanized as ‘unadoptable’–because they grew ‘too old.’ Or sometimes the dogs are abandoned because the kids those very dogs were originally purchased for as companions grew up and left  home. They leave their old sidekicks behind along with their childhoods, and to parents who now want to live their own lives and don’t see the dog as part of their plans any longer. And, even more reprehensible, sometimes these senior dogs are cast aside simply because the family wants another puppy, and the current dog is now expendable in their eyes. In a society that over-values youthfulness and neglects older citizens, it is not surprising that some owners take the same attitude toward older dogs and cats; but it is not right, nor is it fair. 

So, in rescue work, the preponderance of animals needing help are older. Like all living beings that survive babyhood and youthful indiscretions, they grew older.  Sometimes they get a touch of arthritis, suffer a bit of vision or hearing loss; they slow down as we all do. But their love doesn’t slow down; nor does their loyalty abate with age. Older dogs are endearing companions who have years left in them to give love and service to their attentive humans; in fact, adoption into a loving home often re-energizes these dogs who amaze their owners with how young at heart and active they really are. Like Kirby and Spunk, they, too, are top dogs.

HappyAppy3 
And Applesauce

The Greatest Generation on The Home Front


Mom_Nurse_Graduation4 

Having endured World War I, which my grandfather served in, and the Great Depression, the Hunt family was struggling to make ends meet and was now facing another world war.  In 1942, my mother, Mary Louise, then 18 years old, enrolled in training at St. Francis Hospital in Monroe, Louisiana.  My grandmother worked and saved to pay for my mother’s first year of tuition.  But Mary, knowing how strapped the family funds were, joined the Army Cadet Corps of Nurses.  The Army would pay for the rest of her training, in return for which, she would then be obligated to serve, very possibly overseas, which she knew. 

However, she developed epilepsy while in training. The nuns told her she would never make it through school and should drop out: but Mary told them, “you may eventually kick me out, but I will never quit.”  Her roommate and best friend, Scotty, coached her every night for clinicals and exams and helped her get through the seizures every morning before classes.  My mother indeed proved the nuns wrong and graduated, though she would never serve with the Cadet Corps because of her illness.  We heard about the beloved Scotty all our lives: this friendship lasted 63 years, and these two veteran nurses remained in regular contact even after they, too, needed nursing care.   

Through those decades, Mary faced additional trials, but still she would never quit.

After the War, she married my father, Robert, a career military officer who served in WWII and the Berlin Airlift.  She was the good wife, following her husband to Air Force bases around the country.  When he served in the Korean Conflict, she worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston and took care of her two young daughters, while also experiencing the quiet anguish of all stateside wives during war time.  After his safe return, she continued at his side as he advanced in rank and finished his career after twenty years of service to his country.

Following his retirement and second career with the Texas Employment Commission for another decade, helping returning Vietnam veterans find jobs, mother continued her medical career in northeast Houston: she was one of the founding nurses in the new hospital complex serving that area.  

However, in 1974, on a foggy morning freeway trip to work, she was hit from the rear by a loaded lumber truck and suffered a broken neck.  She was in traction for weeks and had resultant traumatic arthritis the rest of her life.  Still, she continued her nursing career, taking care of her patients for another decade. Since she was in pain herself, she had particular empathy with and compassion for her patients.  She was also a good-humored colleague to her fellow nurses, for Mary always had a healthy wryness born of experience, and she was always in her element with other nurses.  When she finally retired, it was because she had contracted TB from one of her patients: even with the medication, the damage resulted in weakened lungs that further taxed her strength. Tragically, though our father had also retired again, the dreams for their idyllic years together were shattered by our father’s untimely death from cancer. 

Though she missed him every day, Mary enjoyed seeing her friends and family, taking care of her pets, going to movies which she loved all her life, reading her mystery novels (we joked the local book store had a special “Mary Key” on the cash register), celebrating the births of her great-grandchildren, and remaining in her own home.  Eventually, though, a lifetime of illness took its inevitable toll: she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis of the spine, the debilitating effects of the medication for her epilepsy, and osteoporosis.  She had double hip replacements, knee replacement, and pins in her broken ankles.  She struggled valiantly through the years, eventually ending up on a walker, then a wheelchair, until, finally, she could no longer get out of bed or stand on her own. Mary spent the last three years of her life in a nursing home, needing 24-hour care—with daily breathing treatments for her lungs and painful physical therapy for the ravages of arthritis and blood clots. Yet through her pain, she participated in her own patient care, teaching other nurses and aides from her own 60 years of nursing experience.

Throughout her illness, she remained cheerful–bantering with the nurses, watching movies on her DVD player, delighting in the Friday visits from her little dog, Bree, enjoying other activities when she was strong enough.  She was still proving the nuns were wrong about her all along.  Congestive heart failure and a major stroke finally claimed Mary, and she died quietly in January 2008—having lived a rich and varied life for 83 years despite hardships and physical pain most of her life. 

Women like Mary Louise are also part of the magnificent story: she was the young nurse in training during war time who would not quit; the wife and mother who served her country by supporting her husband in harm’s way and taking care of their children alone; the veteran nurse who cared for thousands of patients for decades; the grandmother and great-grandmother who continued to guide her family; the woman who eventually needed assistance herself but who remained cheerful, involved in her own care, and happy to advise young nurses.  

Home Front heroes like Mary–who continued to serve, teach, and inspire for over six decades–remind us why The Greatest Generation survived the Depression and went on to save the world: they had grit, courage, humor, and grace.

And they never gave up.

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