Guns, Balls, and Batman

nerfgunI think I feel like writing this blog about as much as I did the blog about the fiscal cliff or about Chik-Fil-A. I don’t anticipate changing anyone’s mind although I am completely unable to not sound off.

Months ago, after the shooting near my home in Colorado, I questioned on social media why we so desperately need semi-automatic assault rifles available to the public with little or no background checks or screening. My other specific area of concern was the previously illegal magazines that carry hundreds of rounds of ammunition and allow a shooter to continue shooting without reloading. I realize that a lot of people might not know, but for a decade there was a ban on the exact ammunition used to kill masses of people both in the theater in Colorado, and again more recently in the elementary school in Connecticut. The ban was overturned. Another in a long list of disastrous moves by the recent Bush administration.

Even though I never even suggested banning any gun, I guess I was not surprised in the least that the overwhelming response from my “friends” on social media was to blast me for my statement about gun control laws.  Although I was not surprised that people disagree, I was entirely surprised about the reasons that came out so freely and honestly. I expected semi-rational statements about the 2nd amendment and the rights of hunters, sportsmen and people generally concerned about preserving individual civil liberties or constitutional rights. That is the argument I have heard in the past and what I expected. No, in 2012, what I got from those that were staunchly and dramatically opposed to any sort of gun law reform felt that way because they were genuinely fearful for their lives and safety.  They feel that they honestly need quick and easy access to all of these weapons and extreme ammunition because they believe that there is a very good chance that they will need to use them to protect themselves from a mass murderer or even more possibly, our own government or police. This was news to me. I guess I knew of paranoid people like Timothy McVeigh and others that insanely believe that they are in danger from the government and I have long suspected that this was the sentiment behind quite a few of the “sportsman” in the NRA although no one really admitted it. Somewhere along the line, as a society, I guess we stopped having to pretend that we were not scared out of our minds and crazy like McVeigh. That is what surprised me the most.

Although I do realize that it is not productive, whenever I hear or read the rants of gun nuts, my initial gut reaction is to just marvel about how truly child-like a great number of the minds in our society are. There is absolutely no logic between that belief system and reality. None. Your chances of being killed by a gunman, terrorist, or the government in this country are still very, very close to zero although it does go up slightly if you are carrying a weapon yourself. That is reality. Then again the people of our country will spend 5 billion dollars this year for individual 1 in 175,223,510 chances to win money in Powerball, so I really shouldn’t be all that surprised.

Just one question for all of those that are preparing for the government that is going to try to disarm you.  If the government does decide to go rogue and disarm the citizens, are they going to send someone to your door with small arms, or are you going to simply find yourself an unrecognizable pile of rubble that is spread out about 1000 feet in all directions before you even realize that you are no longer watching the gun and knife home shopping show?

I think it is also very interesting to read the recent stories about Israel and the “Iron dome” that protects them from missiles and what a giant success it has been based on the number of missiles it has shot down. Maybe we should all just move to Israel and hide with them under that protective dome. On second thought, maybe I will pass on that idea. If you look at the number of missiles and bombs that have been launched at them and that are reaching their target during the same time you really have to scratch your head and wonder how someone comes to the conclusion they do looking at the exact same set of stats as someone else.

Through my wife who is a former elementary school principal, I also know first hand about school safety programs, and the mandatory intruder and security lock-down drills they all now practice as a result of Columbine and others school shootings. My wife has actually been “the gunman” and she has had to comb the hallways of the school she worked looking for weaknesses in a lock-down scenario drill. When I hear her tell about this and how stressful this can be, it sure is hard for me to not think now about just how many times the real “gunman” in Connecticut sat hiding under his school desk during a gunman intruder drill over the last few years. Maybe it is time that Israel and our upper level school administrators do a little critical thinking around this issue before coming up with any additional knee jerk efforts to “protect” people.

Your chances of dying in a car wreck or being killed by your wife, husband, or your own child are far better than dying from a random act of violence. It is just the truth plain and simple. Heck, your chances of dying on a ski trip to Colorado, or being struck by lightning are actually significantly higher. I am not even going to get into the danger to your life that arises from the Marlboro you are sucking on, or the can of Diet Coke you are sucking down, while you rock back and forth clutching that AR-15 in fear. Stress and anxiety have been known to shorten a few lives too. The statistics behind that are not exactly insignificant either.

After I am done scratching my head and done contemplating how small a mind would have to get before it ceases to exist, I am usually then struck by a bit of pity. Yes, I feel for those that have lost their lives or loved ones in tragedy, but even more, I feel pity for the unbelievable number of citizens in our country that live with never ending fear and anxiety. Like most, I have had times in my life where I have battled worry, and anxiety. I know it is not fun at all! But when I replace that work or school deadline that has generated so much anxiety for me, with the thought of a mad gunman breaking into my home and mutilating my entire family in front of my eyes, I begin to have, at least somewhat of, a better understanding of the fears we are facing and why they are so powerful.

I understand the emotion associated with tragedies like these and why they generate such personal feelings and irrational fear. So many parents send their kids off to school with the deep belief that they are safe. Whether or not that actually changes in reality is sort of irrelevant.  When we see tragedy we put ourselves in the place of the victim, we embody what they are going through, their thoughts, their feelings, grief, and fear. We see our children among the faces of the dead and the rush of emotion overwhelms us. The 24/7 media circus also disproportionately and strategically highlights specific tragedies that will be emotional to us in an intentional and unintentional plot to increase ratings and public hysteria.

I am also, always so confused as to how a person can put themselves so completely and fully into the lives and reality of an unknown child or parent in Connecticut but the same person can still be so 100% completely immune and disconnected to a news story of a baby that’s head was blown off by a predator drone launched from our own military. How about our soldier that snapped and killed 17 innocent civilians including children just a while ago in Afghanistan? How many of these innocent victims were memorialized nightly on our evening news? Are those babies somehow less human to us than the ones in Connecticut? Are the same tears streaming from Barack Obama’s eye’s when he reads of the innocent people killed by an attack he ordered? I am aware of the casualties inherent in war, but I also am aware of the dangers of living in an open and free society. How are some so completely personally ambivalent to one scenario, while completely emotionally invested in the other? Our minds sure are amazing, complicated, and dangerous.

I use to love to go to the movies. I loved the superhero movies and I could sit all day and watch Han Solo, Superman, or Batman save humanity from Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, or the Joker. As a child I could literally place myself myself in the hero position and I could follow up a good film with about a 1000 hours of play with toy guns, imaginary hostages, as well as make believe gunfire and explosions that I could create very well with my own voice and mouth. The thrill of re-enacting these scenes in my mind was absolutely exhilarating. I would wear costumes and even become the characters, heroes or villains I saw on TV and in the movies. My parents allowed me to indulge my fantasy play, but at the end of the day, it was time to put away the toys, take off the costumes, and return to reality. They were not overly impressed or threatened by my love of make believe and the line between fantasy and reality was fortunately made very clear to me early on. As I got older, I noticed that in school, it seemed that some kids never put away their toys at the end of the day. They really sort of lived their lives as GI Joe, even at school, and even relatively late into middle school, high school…and for many, it appears even later. I sure do see quite a few young GI Joes, Batmen and Princesses all over the place today, and what I see with at least some, is that the line between fantasy and reality sure seems paper thin.

I don’t really go to the movies anymore or watch television dramas. Occasionally a flick will peak my interest and my wife and I still do rent a movie or two now and then. However, the current set of blockbuster films and popular network television shows just do not resonate with us in the least. The “Dark Night”, and other films I have seen parts of do not even resemble the types of movies I watched years ago. They are long, dark, complicated, violent, realistic, and the story lines closely mirror the types of real life situations we see glorified in the news everyday. As I watch these films and see their audience, I realize that these are not kids movies in the least. They are written to draw in the same kids that were enamored with the same types of movies that were made for them as children years ago. For many adults these movies are merely a two to three hour exciting break from the reality of life just like they were for them as a kid years ago. However, for a few of the GI Joe’s or Jokers in our society, it seems the line between fantasy and reality is no clearer now for them as parents as it was when they were kids themselves. Throw into the mix, a decade of real warfare and terror, realistic virtual reality video games, and a handful of pharmaceuticals and we really don’t need six different versions of CSI. We can just watch CNN.

So what do we do about this from a societal standpoint? Yes, I support gun law reform such as ending gun show loopholes and limiting the type of mass murder ammunition that is manufactured and sold to the public, but no, I do not ultimately believe that this is the answer to our problems. Just like drug laws, if you deal strictly with the access to the substance and not the chemical imbalance behind the need for it, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot; or in the head 100 times in only a few seconds, depending on how you look at it. Just the mere anticipation of gun laws and reform causes gun sales and societal paranoia to go through the roof.  We have to make sure that the ideology that we have and the gun laws we do pass do not have the exact opposite effect on the intended outcome they way we do with our current drug laws.

Guns and gun ownership is such a macho thing in today’s society. Isn’t it interesting that the ones that need the most are also, quite obviously, the biggest fearful cowards. I also find it funny that it seems a lot of the extremely paranoid gun owners live out in the middle of nowhere where they stockpile “protection” from a madman that they invent with their own fear. Others like myself have Crips and Bloods competing nightly for painting space on our trashcan but we really can’t even envision needing a can of pepper spray.

Yes, ultimately, we do have to get a hold of our own societal fear and collective paranoia but it has to start from the top. Just as some individuals in our society think they are Batman, so do quite a few in our Federal government. If Obama, or others in government want to truly help the people of this country then they need to do exactly what all the parents of this country need to do. Grow a set of BALLS! Realize that your fear and paranoia is putting a bulls-eye on our countries back, and our kids’ heads.

Instead of looking to imaginary superheros and weapons of mass destruction, we need to look to the true men and women of bravery and courage in our society and in history. Look at Rosa Parks, Gandhi, the Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, MLK, or that student that stood fearlessly in front of that tank in China. These men and women are examples of true courage and true bravery, and these are the people that actually make a difference in the world and that are worthy of hero worship! Not fearful cowards like Tim McVeigh, George W. Bush, or anyone that believes they need an assault rifle with a 100 round magazine in order to protect children.

As frustrating as this issue can be, I do firmly believe we are finally hitting societal “rock bottom” when it comes to fear. I believe the shift is coming and I can literally feel the warm blanket of love and bravery hovering above us, although just out of reach! Can you feel it too?

Yes, make no mistake, it is just exactly the same for a vicious killer pitbull, an Islamic terrorist, or a mad gunman. It is our collective fear and paranoia that creates them and gives them power, not what stops them. The sooner we realize this and actually start reading and understanding our scriptures instead of demanding that others do, the sooner the killing and fear will end, and love will reign over all.

Want to Rescue a Dog? First Rescue Yourself From Guilt and Pity.

My last blog focused on misconception, ideology and fear as it relates to dogs, dog rescue, and specifically pitbulls. In accordance with the theme of the blog, I am going to stick with misconception and ideology, but instead of human fear, I am going to take on its nearly as powerful antithesis – human pity and guilt.

While one spectrum of the country stands blinded with fear, guns drawn; another segment kneels, also blinded by an often lethal dose of human pity and guilt. Both are partly responsible for the millions of dogs euthanized or completely tortured inside of a perpetual revolving door shelter system. I wrote in my last blog that for a dog rescue to be successful, the rescuer needs to think about what they can do for that dog, not what the dog can do for them. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, including myself, this can also be an ideological challenge.

Far more than fear, pity is the emotion that I have had to overcome as I work to help dogs. I fully admit that I have myself been blinded by the stories, the faces, and cries of the endless masses of dogs in our shelter system. Some of the rescue work I have engaged in has been more to satisfy my human feelings of guilt instead of meaningful work towards a reasonable solution.
Puppy Hank
When we rescued our black lab cattle dog mix Hank, he had been a stray and although he had been at the shelter a couple of weeks you could still plainly see his ribs when he laid on his side. That is a pretty powerful and pitiful look for a 6 month old dog. My wife and I were going to take that dog out of that situation give him everything he ever wanted in life! Food, warm comfy beds, and ENDLESS amounts of love and affection. We did, and he showed us his appreciation by chewing up and destroying everything we own!

We lived in Aspen, Colorado at the time and we really wanted Hank to be that picturesque dog that hikes off leash and enjoys a cool swim in a mountain stream. However, most of our early attempts with Hank off-leash resulted in embarrassment, apologies, the use of our car, and a stiff drink for us once we got him safely back home.

The problem was that our own desires to fulfill Hank’s needs had nothing to do with Hank’s actual needs. No matter how strong my belief system or desire for Hank was, it did not change his behavior. At least that is what I thought. Our belief and pity actually was affecting Hank’s behavior very much, as was our lack of expectation, focused exercise, and training. We tried crating him, but his cries were just too much! We couldn’t take it. The more times we tried it, the more pitiful he became. In hindsight, this makes me chuckle. I had no idea how smart my black lab/border collie puppy really was. He was way smarter than he was pitiful that’s for sure. As I listened to his cries, all I could think about was the miserable life of starvation he had as a stray, him being captured and caged and how lonely he must now be locked up again alone in a crate.

In reality Hank couldn’t even remember those days as a stray and even if he could he certainly would not have seen the point of thinking about them again now. No, he had way too much work to do in the present moment of today. He was more than ready to learn, but since we were not really teaching him anything, he took it upon himself to learn on his own…about me and my wife, our strengths and weaknesses and the meaning behind our most subtle emotions. That is what dogs do and do well.

I had watched the “Dog Whisperer” but I also had read that he was cruel for using dominance theory to tame a wild dog. Hank had been through enough, I didn’t want to have to “dominate” him or put him on his back to show my superiority over him.  I liked the things I read about Positive Reinforcement training as an alternative to dominance theory. We went with that and it worked. We found that Hank will do just about anything for a Pupperoni or a tennis ball. The key phrase here is “just about anything”. When he had to choose between a Pupperoni and chasing a squirrel, or the garbage truck, unfortunately, that choice too often left me standing like an idiot with a handful of meat sticks while he was biting the tires of a moving truck and disappearing over the horizon.

We pretty much decided that Hank would be an “on-leash” dog the rest of his life. I guess not so bad. We knew plenty of others that had dogs that stayed on leash and in fences. After all, we had a pretty decent sized yard, although, at the time, we couldn’t figure out why Hank never really used it for anything except digging holes to hide his most cherished possessions. We had rescued him from that shelter and given him everything.  Why was he still so nervous and seemingly unhappy? As I write and reflect on the past eight or nine years with Hank and the miles we have logged hiking, mountain climbing, camping and exploring, I really can’t imagine how different Hank’s life would have been if we had stopped here. I can’t imagine mine either.

Around the peak of our frustration with Hank’s behavior, I observed some friends training their new dog who was to be a hunting dog. I couldn’t believe how strict the training was and the types of things they were trying to make her do. They used an electric collar and they made her sit motionless while they threw balls and fake ducks all until they released her by voice command. They were not overly successful and the dog seemed a bit stressed by the whole process. It was interesting for me to watch but we couldn’t stay long because Hank didn’t really do well around other dogs. My wife and I talked later about how lucky Hank was that he got adopted by us and not someone that would make him work and train like that.

We saw our friends a couple of weeks later and the epiphany hit me like  a ton of bricks. They showed us how far they had gotten in the dog training but I was not impressed at all by the tricks that dog performed almost perfectly. What impressed me, was that this dog was the calmest, most confident and genuinely happy puppy I had ever seen; pretty much the opposite of Hank. Almost immediately, I could see the fault in my thinking. He was craving a calm and confident leader to show him the way, and instead we had been feeding him a steady diet of guilt, pity, and self-serving ideology.

I didn’t want to crate him, I didn’t want to dominate him, I didn’t want to discipline him, and I didn’t want to educate him. These things had nothing to do with what Hank wanted or needed. They had to do with what I thought I would have wanted if I were a him. If what I truly wanted was to rescue Hank and give him the life he deserved, I had to once again let go of “me” and use my critical thinking brain instead of my own pre-determined fixed ideology and guilt.

DSCF0464 (800x600)It took time, reading, and a lot of patience and help from a good sensible trainer, but Hank did become the perfect dog! He hikes off leash, “heels” perfectly, “comes” flawlessly, pauses and sits patiently for children that want to pet him and he even looks the other way when he sees one of those ever so tempting and twitchy squirrel. Unless that is, he looks at me first and I say, “Go get him Hank”.  Then he has the time of his life chasing and treeing that squirrel!  He understands full sentence English and even communicates with me in ways that surprise and amaze me everyday.  He is just as comfortable and confident attending a crowded parade in downtown Denver as he is leading the way up a 14 thousand foot mountain peak. He helps me with training of our younger dog and he has helped immensely with strays and fosters over the years. He also still thinks he can, and should, kill a trash truck although he now can resist the urge to chase it down the street! He is that dog I always dreamed about although the path here was no-where near as easy as I thought. I guess I had always assumed that dog ownership was more of a passive endeavor. I thought that if I walk the dog and take care of the dog, the dog would pretty much just grow up perfectly smart. We know that is not true of people, I wonder why so many like myself years ago don’t get this with respect to dogs.

Although he doesn’t do it using pity and whining (as much), he is still smart enough to get me to do what he wants.  He is just more direct with his communication. We have a mountain cabin in the woods and Hank generally prefers to stay outside when we are up there even when my wife and I are inside or when the weather is a little cold. He knows our property, and he has earned our trust and this freedom.

When I hear him woof once or twice at the door I know that means he wants something. I open the door and say “do you want to come inside?”. He then usually puts his tail straight down and takes his eye contact down and away for a moment. Then he looks back at me and wags his tail slightly. I then say “do you want your dinner?”. Sometimes this is the end of the conversation but sometimes he again looks down and away momentarily. Then I say, “do you want to go for a hike?”, and then he starts jumping up and down wagging his tail furiously and I am usually then strapping on my boots as he heads down to find his ball and wait for me by the trail! Sometimes I say, “Sorry Hank, we can’t go for a hike right now.  We will go after dinner”. To that he slinks over to the end of the deck and plops down extra hard usually laying his head all the way down flat to let me know just how disappointed he is. I roll my eyes as I have to consciously let go of pity and replace it with pride about how smart my boy is.  We then usually hurry dinner so that Hank can get his hike in before dark. Don’t think for a minute Hank does not still have my wife and me figured out. I laugh about how we use to have to spell out words like W-A-L-K or H-I-K-E. We don’t anymore. He understands the full sentence and knows if we are talking about the present or future by how we say the words and the energy we use. If we are talking about the past, he is generally confused.September 2011 Cabin 033 (640x539)

You hear all the time that “you shouldn’t treat a dog like a person”. My experience and philosophy is pretty much the exact opposite. Sure they speak a different language (at first) and the lessons and methods that you use with them are quite different, but our expectation certainly shouldn’t be. You are not going to crate train your child but you are not going to tolerate a child that destroys things and that is disrespectful to others. I see households all the time where kids are relatively well behaved. Parents make sure they say please and thank you and make sure they respect adults and sit down calmly before eating. They don’t run or throw things inappropriately or scream at their parents. If they do the parents are all over them instantly! Then the family dog rips through the living room barking his head off and the owners don’t bat an eyelash or even seem to notice the ridiculous childish behavior. Or they say something like “awe what’s the matter boy, you want a treat?” I believe that if more dog owners had expectations of behavior and ongoing education closer to what they have for their own children, those dog shelter and euthanasia statistics would likely go down very quickly as would the number of chewed up shoes and dog bites.

Just because you use “timeout” or a crate to train your young ones, doesn’t mean that they can not learn and grow as their maturity results in additional freedom. Hank is an adult dog now. He does not have boot-camp anymore and he does not use or need a crate unless he wants to. He does still love any sort of formal training exercise he can do along side his younger brother. Hank has earned and gained freedoms as he has proven that he is capable of handling them, just like he would if he were my human son.

In addition to my own struggle with dog adoption and guilt, I have also seen first hand, the amazingly crippling effect that pity can have on animals living inside of an animal shelter. I worked as a volunteer at a “no-kill” animal shelter near my home. During my time there I saw plainly and sometimes painfully how good hearted people full of pity and guilt can be just as detrimental to the life of a difficult stray dog as a fearful cop with a gun.

KaneThe dog in the picture is named Kane. My wife and I fostered Kane and helped to find him a home although it was a very tough job. Kane lived in the shelter for several years where he developed (or experienced) severe depression, fear, and paranoia. He developed a weight problem and had to have surgery on both of his back legs due to his weight combined with a lack of physical activity leading to muscular atrophy and deteriorating joints, all at the ripe old age of 6.

Although during all his years at the shelter he never received any of the real physical or psychological rehabilitation that he desperately needed, about any regular shelter volunteer could quickly tell you that his favorite treat was peanut butter. They were also quick to point out how his picture is painted on the side of the shelter’s prized mobile adoption truck. He had become the shelter mascot of sorts. Meanwhile Kane sat day after day in that cage, body and mind breaking down right in front of his somewhat oblivious “saviors” and with really no one doing anything productive to help Kane find a home. For at least a few, I think Kane already was “home”.

We took him to our house as a foster and after several months and after he got a few pounds off and after he recovered from his second ligament replacement surgery, we began to see progress. Once again, my instinct and human brain told me to pamper this guy as much as possible. Of course it didn’t work. We soon found that after years of shelter life (and because he is a dog) he needed and desperately wanted “boot-camp” too. We found he actually could only sleep in a crate where he liked to lay his head against the side of the cage so that his face skin pushed through. It comforted him. He did well with regular structured exercise and VERY formal training and VERY limited overall freedom of choice. Generally speaking he wanted, and desperately needed for us to tell him what to do and how to do it. Showering him with affection, kisses, choices, and peanut butter made him retreat quickly into the less confident state I became very familiar with from the shelter.

My one goal in addition to finding him a home was to get him to play. Any sign of a toy or even me and Hank playing with a ball usually caused him to retreat to his crate and slump down. One day he trotted out and picked up a tennis ball in his mouth and wagged his tail. We proceeded to play a short and awkward round of fetch! Sounds weird I know but this was the very first truly “happy” thing I had seen him do in all the months I knew him. Shortly after, on his own, he also started occasionally engaging Hank in some play dog wrestling! Slowly but surely, he was on his way out! Small steps but I almost cried as I wrote emails to the shelter volunteers that I knew cared so much about him. They were strangely not impressed as they reminded me that he is “not playful” but that he does always “smile” when he gets his daily peanut butter. The also wanted to know if he still missed his “wife”. Kane initially came to the shelter with another dog and the correct but controversial decision was made to separate them in order to increase their chance for adoption. Kane did not remember his wife, but he could definitely feel the present pity of the shelter workers and this is the exact type of issue we were trying to help Kane overcome. Those that cared the most for Kane were also the ones sealing his fate inside that shelter. It was my goal to help Kane break from that into a world of confidence, and into a forever home.

Shortly after, I found a couple that met him, liked him, and also fit his narrow adoption profile. Kane was playful and energetic during the meeting and the couple decided that they wanted to adopt him! I was so proud of him, but to my surprise the shelter was less than thrilled and they quickly and flatly rejected the family’s application because they put a check-mark next to “watchdog” on the application as one of the reasons they wanted him. This for a dog that had lived in unthinkable conditions at that shelter for years! I could see that the shackles holding the beloved Kane were stronger than I had thought. The shelter believed that they were adequately caring for him and giving him love and peanut butter and making him happy, saving him from certain euthanasia or another bad dog owner like the one that abandoned him years ago. They were actually just satisfying their own needs, not his in the least.

After some negotiations, the shelter reluctantly agreed to let this couple “trial” adopt Kane and I was filled with Joy! My joy was soon replaced though as I got calls and emails in the ensuing days from his adopters telling me that Kane was, “Not at all like he was when they met him with me, and since it was only a trial they were not sure it would work out”. I frantically pounded out emails telling them all about the crate and about “boot-camp” and how well he had done when I just told him what to do! Their response was something along the line of, “After all he has been through, we could never crate him”, and “all we tried to do was give him a kiss and he growled and snapped at us”. My heart sank as I shot out another desperate email or two to what felt like an ideological brick wall. They were good people and they needed Kane just as much as he needed them if they could only realize it. I still am not sure if they worked it out although I think about him all the time and I hope the best. I just wish I could take them all myself or somehow figure out how to crack the thick skull of a human being. So much tougher and thicker than a dogs!

I don’t believe in dominance theory and I don’t believe in positive reinforcement theory either. With that said, I can tell you that I use tools that I have learned about from both theories every day. I believe in using my own brain and critical thinking skills to come up with the best solution to a given problem independent of the “me” portion of my brain or any ideology or theory that might be my or someone else’s natural inclination. I would be very skeptical of any dog trainer that says they only believe in this theory or that theory for every situation and every dog.

Sure, if I take a ride out to the golden retriever puppy farm and get the pick of the litter, I may choose a very different initial training style than I would choose for an adult rottweiler mix that has been living on his own for a while and developed a propensity to kill small animals on sight. Regardless of many people’s deep ideological beliefs, there are methods to humanely deal with severely ingrained behavior issues like this in a canine. There are ways to get difficult dogs into reasonable homes without supper human effort and only using methods that are very reasonable to a dog even if they would not be to a human.

The problem is that too often the types of people that open and run “no-kill” shelters, are also of the personality type that would never allow what they consider “cruel” training methods such as dominance or electric collars. In other words, for some, pity and guilt win out over logic and reason exactly the same way fear does for others. So instead, dogs are “rescued” from certain death so that they can rot for years in a torturous cage behind concrete walls. At least no one will be cruel to them.? Meanwhile on the other side of town, just how many easily adoptable dogs with zero issues get euthanized down at the municipal shelter while the private “no-kill” shelter is full of difficult to adopt dogs that are becoming behaviorally more psychotic and medically more expensive every day? Either way, our human brain is going to attempt to trick us with guilt and pity. The judgement and peer pressure of other ideologically based humans is also taking a significant toll on the overall problem.

Although early on we made a lot of bad and even dangerous mistakes, my wife and I have taught Hank a lot and he has taken well to our training regarding appropriate behavioral response in a human world. Hank and numerous other dogs like Kane, in turn, have taught us about living life in the present moment and about the power of belief, expectation, pity, guilt, fear and ideology.

If as a nation, we choose the calm, present mind that the dogs teach us about over the guilty, fearful mind that other humans teach us about, we are far better off, both in helping dogs and in every other aspect of living our lives. As long as we stay focused on the present moment and the actual needs of dogs, things will work out. As a nation, things are not working out very well for dogs right now..or people. We need to change that. Dogs mean too much to our present day society, the history of our nation, and to me personally, to let this be the legacy of my generation. We can do better and if we do, the dogs will in turn help us humans, just like they have for centuries.

Yes, it is true that dogs are not human beings and treating them like one or seeing them like one is not helpful. On the other hand, a dog is not exactly a hamster either. If people truly want to meet the needs of a dog, they need to be conscious of and have expectations of the dogs true potential, capabilities and natural instincts.

Writing this has been a good reminder of how special Hank is to me and how I should not take him for granted or waste what time we have left together. Saying or writing that “I rescued” Hank” is about as far from the truth as anything I can think of. I hope other people in this world have the opportunity, privilege and joy in life of having and knowing a dog like Hank.

There are literally millions of Hanks waiting for their chance to rescue someone too. Give them that chance.IMG_0034 (800x533).