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What I Did on My Summer Vacation or Don’t Sit on the Sting Ray September 12, 2011

Posted by Bill in Animals, humor, Personal.
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A former boss once introduced me at a staff meeting saying, “Dindy has a love/hate relationship with animals. She LOVES them, and they HATE her.” I can see why he might think that as within the previous six months I had been bitten by a brown recluse spider and had also missed several days of work after my cat gave me a severe concussion by dropping a book on my head. I also have a scar on my stomach from when a different cat tried to eviscerate me when I tried to give him a flea bath. In addition, my current dog has on various occasions broken my glasses, given me a black eye, busted my lip, broken my toe (more than once actually) and broken my collar bone. And after tripping over a previous dog, said dog then proceeded to joyously ride my body down a tall, steep hill as though it were a sled, resulting in several cracked ribs on my part  as well as my losing copious amounts of skin on my knees, hands, face and other exposed portions of my anatomy.

So I can see where some people might get the idea that animals don’t exactly consider me to be their best friend. I maintain, however, that despite my various mishaps at the paws or mouths of various animals, their actions against me are not personal. Take, for instance, my experience with a sting ray in Jamaica. Yes, my husband and I finally celebrated our 25th anniversary with a week’s vacation in Costa Rica– almost. We were only six years late and 734 miles off, somehow managing to end up in Montego Bay, Jamaica instead. However, they say good things are worth waiting for, and this trip certainly was as it will probably be  25 years before we get another one.

From the moment we deplaned in Montego Bay, we were impressed by the beauty of Jamaica. Well, actually, we weren’t really impressed until we got out of the airport because it wasn’t particularly pretty inside the terminal. In fact, it was rather hot, muggy and uncomfortable. However, once we got onto the shuttle to our hotel, we realized we were in paradise. We realized it because our driver told us so. “Jamaica is a paradise,” he said. “Our beaches are better than those in the US because we don’t have anything here that can hurt you. No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

During the course of our week, he was not the only one who would tell us that. Several tour guides said the same thing– “No sharks, no jellyfish, no sting rays.”

And they were right about Jamaica being paradise. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: a lush, tropical garden of fruit trees, ferns and palms, set in the midst of a sapphire sea. Our hotel was on the beach, and on our first day I waded out for a quick swim. The still water felt nice, peaceful and quiet. In fact, it was rather boring because there was no surf. I realized that this was due to a coral island about 40 yards from the beach that served as a barrier to the ocean waves. We could hear the surf but not experience it.

Well, that was okay. There were plenty of other things to do. We went tubing down one of the rivers and took a jeep safari and walked up to a nearby shopping center to stimulate the Jamaica economy. We swam in the pool, splashed in a mountain spring and sat under a waterfall. At night we sat out on the beach and looked at the night sky and listened to the distant surf while we chatted idly about nothing in particular. We noticed that there were Jamaicans on the little coral island, fishing in the surf, and as the days passed, I decided that I really wanted to go out to this little island.

Before I booked our hotel rooms, I read an online review from some travelers who said they had swam out to the little island one day. If they could do it, I decided, we could too, so on our last day my husband and I pulled on our swimsuits and water shoes, pointed ourselves at the island and took the plunge. It was a lovely day for a swim; the water was nice and warm and the pelicans circled idly over our heads and occasionally plunged into the water nearby to grab a snack. Bill and I alternated between the side stroke and a modified breast stroke, not in any real hurry, but just enjoying the water and the experience.

Then we felt something at our feet. It wasn’t fish, we realized quickly, but kelp. The water grew decidedly more and more shallow until we were no longer able to swim but were forced to wade through the kelp. Ewwwwwww! It felt pretty gross, actually, but we figured it was only about 20 more yards to the island so we squunched forward.

Then we hit something worse than kelp– silt. The last 10-15 yards to the island consisted of a thick layer of silt. Deep, oozy, sucky, squunchy, slimy, quicksand-y silt.We’d take a step and our foot would go down, down, down into the mud, mud, mud until we were sunk almost to our knees. We’d pull our foot out- pop! — and then have to bend down and find our water shoe, pull it out of the silt and put it back on our foot. Behind us were 5, 10, 15 yards of silt and then kelp. In front of us was more silt and then island. We discussed turning back but bravely decided we had come so far, we might as well go all the way, so on we went. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Put shoe on foot. Over and over and over again.

“This is great!” we said to each other repeatedly.

“An adventure!”

“And we’re really getting our aerobic exercise too!”

Finally we made it to the island. I admit, by that time I wanted nothing more than to fling myself down on the beach and sleep for about ten years, exhausted by my trudge through the silt. However, the surface of the island was not conducive to such activities as it consisted of rocks- large rocks. We couldn’t even sit on the rocks as they all had sharp, spiky, pointed surfaces that promised severe pain to anyone who attempted to perch on one of them. So instead we explored the island. We took 5 steps and were on the other side. There right in front of us, the waves crashed into the rocks, rolling in from the ocean deep. I watched happily for several minutes. Ahhh! This is what I had come to Jamaica for! Now my vacation was complete– crashing waves, the mist from the ocean spattering against my face, the fresh smell of the ocean breeze.

Finally Bill convinced me that it was time to go back. We stepped back to the other side and looked out at the deceptively tranquil surface that lay between the island and the shore. We were about to take the plunge again– 20 yards of hard slogging before we could get out of the silt and kelp and swim unimpeded to the hotel beach.

Bill set out first– seeing as how he is almost a foot taller than me, he didn’t sink quite as deep as I did. While the silt pulled him in up to his ankles, it would grab me and suck me in up to my knees. Consequently he was able to keep his shoes on most of the time and was able to move faster than me. We were both focused only on one thing- getting out of the silt and kelp, so he moved rapidly ahead. He claims that he was unaware of how far behind I was, but it really wouldn’t have made any difference if he had. There was no way he could have prevented what happened.

So there we were again. Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Put shoe on foot. Except it was becoming more and more difficult for me to put my shoe back on because I had to lift one leg out of the water while the other leg was busily sinking into the silt, and because I was tired, I was having a harder time keeping my balance. So I added a new element to the routine. I started falling on my butt.

So the new gait went like this: Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Put shoe on foot. Slow? Yes. Cumbersome? Yes. Effective? Actually, yes. Until the sting ray took offense.

I swear, I didn’t know it was there. How could I when all the guides had assured me that Jamaica was a paradise with no dangerous animals? No sharks. No jellyfish. No sting rays. And technically speaking, I guess the sting ray was not actually on Jamaica, it was in the silt surrounding an island off the shore of Jamaica. But whatever,  technically or non-technically, there it was, buried in the silt. The same silt through which I was slowly and tediously slogging with my version of the Jamaican two step. And since I didn’t know it was there, I wasn’t able to avoid it, and consequently I added a new step to my little routine.

Step forward. Sink in mud. Pull foot up. Pop out of mud. Feel for shoe. Pull shoe out of mud. Fall on butt. Sit on sting ray. Feel excruciating, taser-like pain shoot through my entire leg.

Mercifully, my entire leg and the right side of my butt quickly went numb, so I was unable to feel the venom surging through my veins. I decided that wearing my swim shoes for the protection of my feet was kind of a moot point by then so I took them off, and carried them as I rather more quickly slogged out beyond the kelp and silt to where I could swim to shore– albeit rather awkwardly since my right leg was completely useless. I kept telling Bill that I needed him to look at my butt because something had stung me, and while Bill is normally more than happy to look at my butt, for some reason he was reluctant to do so this time. I’m sure that this had nothing to do with the fact that we were about 20 yards off shore in water that was over both of our heads.

Once in our room, a hotel manager came up to render first aid, but when he realized where on my body I had been stung, he refused to look at my sting and started directing all his questions about the injury to Bill instead of to me. He called a taxi to take us to a local urgent care clinic where we received a fascinating tour of the Jamaican medical system. I’ll spare you the gory details of the ammonium bath to which I was subjected, as well as the absolutely delightful experience of getting on an airplane the next day and spending 8 hours trying to avoid sitting on the right side of my butt during the long flight home.

And yes, I am well aware that Steve Irwin died from  being stung by a sting ray. If I hadn’t known before, I certainly would now because every single person who has heard about what happened to me has mentioned it. I’ve also heard every variation of, “It will turn out right in the end,” that you can think of.

But back to the point of my story– the sting ray didn’t sting me because it hated me. It didn’t even know me. It stung me because there it was, minding its own business, taking a snooze in the ooze when I came along and sat on it. And I’m sure if I look back at all my previous mishaps with animals, the animals will all have perfectly reasonable explanations for why they have tried to kill me in various ways.

All except the concussion. That cat was just plain mean, and he hated everybody. Including me.


If You Can Teach An Old Dog, Why Not Humans? September 6, 2010

Posted by Bill in Animals, Books, Uncategorized.
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Parade Magazine had an article on 8/15/10 about the rehabilitation of the Vick dogs. I had already read a little about this in the book Dogtown, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. What struck me as I read Dogtown and again as I read the article in Parade is how the animal workers did what was thought to be impossible– they took dogs of a bully breed- pit bulls- who had been raised and contained in horrible circumstances as fighting dogs or as bait dogs, and rehabilitated them into companion animals or service animals. Of the 51 dogs seized from the Vick farm, all but 2 have been rehabilitated.

It was not cheap to do this. U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ordered that almost $1 million of the Vick money be set aside for the rescue and rehabilitation of the dogs. The ASPCA assembled a team of animal behavior experts to evaluate the dogs, and the animals were individually assessed and treated.

I am in awe that there are people who cared enough not to let these dogs be destroyed, cared enough to turn these dogs into loving companions, service animals and family pets. It would have been very easy to say that these animals could not be rehabilitated, to order their destruction and not give it a second thought, however the judge and the animal workers involved chose not to take the easy road, and their rewards were infinitely greater.

Which leads me to wonder why we cannot do the same with humans. In 2008, there were 2,304,115 people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States at a total cost of approximately $36 billion per year, a cost of about $15,624 per prisoner per year. To rehab the Vick dogs cost about $20,408 per dog. What if we were to apply the same sort of rehab philosophy toward human prisoners as was applied to the Vick dogs? What if instead of merely incarcerating prisoners, we took a real stab at rehabilitation? Not the joke that passes for rehabilitation today but a real effort that treats each prisoner as an individual person with individual needs and not a number. With almost 7 out of 10 male prisoners returning to prison within 3 years of their release, what we are doing is obviously not working.

Obviously it’s much easier just to lock the criminals away and throw away the key, but in so doing, we are also locking away potential. Individual assessments and rehabilitation plans, addressing the issues that made these people turn to crime in the first place might go a long way toward turning them around and making them into productive members of society. We’ve shown it can be done with dogs that most people thought could not be saved. Why can’t we do it for people as well?

Can’t Save Them All January 3, 2010

Posted by Bill in Animals.
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Today while taking Wrinkles for his walk, I saw a stray dog by the elementary school. He walked up to a pile of leaves and borrowed into it, presumably to get warm. After I  had dropped Wrinks off at the house, I drove the car back up to see if I could get to the dog. He must have been exhausted because he stayed sound asleep until I finally made a noise– I didn’t want to startle him. When he heard me he jumped up and ran. I tried to get him but couldn’t so, sadly, I had to leave him to run loose in the cold.

Over the years we have taken in many stray animals. We currently house one dog and seven cats, all rescue animals. I have my eye on another dog that I’d dearly love to rescue, but my current dog, Wrinkles, absolutely will not tolerate my paying attention to another canine. Much as I’d like to adopt the other dog, I love Wrinkles and I had him first. And sadly, I have to realize that I can’t save all the animals out there who are in need of homes.

If I could have asked Santa for anything this past Christmas, it would be that every pet have a safe and loving home. If Santa would grant me the following wishes, there would be few animals left to save.

I wish everyone would neuter their pets. There’s really no excuse not to with all the low cost spay and neuter clinics around.

I wish that puppy mills would be outlawed. There are plenty of animals available. You don’t need to buy one from a petstore, just go to your local Animal Shelter and pick out your new best friend. If you absolutely HAVE to have a purebred, you probably are wanting a pet for the wrong reasons so do us all a favor and just don’t bother, okay?

I wish that people who adopt animals would realize that it’s not enough to adopt an animal. Animals require love, time, attention and care. There is a dog down the street who spends all his time alone in the back yard. He’s never allowed in the house and no one ever goes out and spends any time with him. When he first came to live there, he was friendly, bounding up to the fence to say hi, tail wagging. Now, because he is bored, frustrated and lonely, he’s become aggressive, barking and growling when anyone walks by. I’d love to take him and bring him into our home where he would be loved and treated as a member of the family, but I run into that problem with Wrinkles again.

I just finished reading Dogtown by Stefan Bechtel. Because I am not a big TV watcher, I managed to be unaware of the TV show on National Geographic about this animal sanctuary in Utah, but the book made a tremendous impact on me. The people at Dogtown take in the stray, the abused, the injured. Through love, affection and acceptance, they turn hopeless dogs that other shelters have given up on into beloved family members.

If I had my wishes come true, there would be no need for Dogtown, but since there is, than my final wish is that the people of Dogtown will  be able to help the animals under their care for as long as there is a need.