Jan 29, 2011

Kimo in Crisis

Our dog Kimo. Photo taken December, 2010

I’ve been putting this blog off for some time now. Sure, I’ve been busy but I’ve made time to write about teaching and politics, among other subjects, while this entry--not unlike its subject--has been neglected. My Friday night blogging is supposed to be fairly relaxing, but I’ve known this entry is going to hurt. But I feel I can no longer procrastinate; to fail to address this any longer would only compound the wrong already done.

When I was a kid we had a dog named Rex. He was a beautiful animal, a German shepherd/golden retriever mix with a shiny coat and a friendly demeanor. He was an adorable puppy and so much fun to play with. But as the years passed, our childish interest in Rex waned. We were distracted by new adolescent diversions—girls and such--and eventually Rex was relegated to a lonely, all-but-forgotten existence in our backyard. I suppose we figured his basic physical needs were met. Someone usually remembered to scoop out some dry dog food from the roach-infested bag in the shed behind our house and dump it in his bowl; presumably he managed to pick through the bugs to get at his food. But the sad fact is Rex got very little in the way of companionship. Unfortunately, I know little of Rex’s later years because I paid him so little mind.

Rex (Thanks to Dawn for sending me this photo)

I was at college when Mom called with the news Rex had gotten sick and rather than pour untold funds into treating him, she’d elected to have him put to sleep. I was stunned, racked with guilt and grief that Rex should come to such a forlorn end. I vowed then and there I would never again own a dog unless I was 100% willing and able to properly care for it.

For years, Babs talked about getting a dog for and years I was adamant. No. Never again. Not unless we could be sure, really sure we had the means and the will to care for it. And yet, despite that solemn commitment it grieves me to find myself in the very place I swore I’d never be—with a dog that is abandoned and neglected. Only, this time this dog is not forgotten. This time I won’t let myself forget.

How could this have happened? I ask myself. And what can I do to fix it?

We adopted Kimo in the early summer of 2004. We estimate she was just about year old. Our pastor who also lived next door to us had brought her back from a ministry trip to the nearby island of Tinian. We first knew her as a cute, charismatic little puppy who, with a big friendly grin on her face, gamboled over for a little love and attention whenever we came and went from our house. After a time, Kimo seemed to disappear and we weren’t sure what happened to her. Then she reappeared again, as our pastor was preparing to move to a new assignment in Guam. Apparently she’d spent the intervening months tied up behind the pastor’s house. He explained that he’d wanted to keep her out of view of passerby until she grew a little older, as it’s not uncommon in the islands for young dogs in decent shape to be stolen and eaten. Unfortunately, Kimo emerged from her sojourn behind the house worse for the wear. The care-free puppy was long gone and in its place was a true “boonie dog”, as the stray dogs in Saipan are known. She was thin, her coat was marred by bald patches of discolored skin and occasional open sores from the ubiquitous coral dust allergies that afflict all dogs that stay outdoors in Saipan. But she still had a sweet disposition and despite her mangy appearance she won our hearts. With the pastor gone, and Kimo officially homeless, Babs determined to have her. And finally-after she’d spend several hundred dollars in initial veterinary care--I relented. Kimo became part of the family.

Babs with Kimo, Spring 2006

For the next five years, Kimo lived the charmed life of a much beloved pet . In the manner of many couples before they have children, Kimo became our surrogate child, our “baby.” We showered Kimo with love and attention. She got treats, went for car rides and walks, and enjoyed her share of Christmas presents every year. We had her spayed, put her on a regimen to get rid of the heartworms she’d picked up, and kept her on heartworm meds to keep them from coming back. We willingly submitted to the pricey care of the island veterinarian, Dr. Tudor, to make sure that she had everything she needed to be happy and healthy. We loved her, not just in sentiment, but in deed.

Kimo snuggling with her "Mommy."

And loving her was easy. She’s unquestionably the best dog I’ve ever had. She was good-natured and easy to care for; she was an outstanding indoor pet. No house training for Kimo—miraculously she came to us perfectly house trained. Not once in all the years we had her did Kimo ever have an accident indoors. Without us having to lift a finger, she knew to always go outside to take care of her business. She was not a chewer, so our furniture remained undamaged. She didn’t even seem to have that strong “doggie smell” that seems to infest some dog owners’ homes. The only damage she ever did was to the front door, through years of scratching to be let in and out. She was the best kind of guard dog too. She could be very intimidating when barking furiously from behind the compound fence or from inside our house. Kimo had a thing about letting people in the house, and as a result while all the other buildings on the teacher’s housing compound were burglarized at one point or another, we never had a single break-in. We always kept Kimo inside while we were away and I’m certain would-be burglars were terrified by the fearsome barking and snarling emanating from our house. What they didn’t know was that if they’d been able to get inside, she’d have been as harmless as a puppy. Kimo was all bark and no bite. Indeed, when we had guests over, we’d always take her upstairs and put her in one of the bedrooms. Once all the guests were in the house, we’d let her out again, and she’d peacefully accept whoever we’d deemed safe for entry.

So Kimo lived the good life, and it might have continued that way for the rest of her life. But things changed. It began with the arrival of our son. With a real baby in the house, Kimo was rudely returned to the status of dog rather than child. She still received plenty of love and care, but she was no longer the center of the household. And that was as it should be. Kimo seemed to recognize and accept her new status, and regarded the interloper with polite disinterest.

Then, Elijah’s arrival led to our departure from Saipan. The plan had always been to take Kimo with us. But the summer embargo on shipping animals as baggage prevented her from flying out with us. Furthermore, we had a month or more of pretty steady travel, and no home of our own yet, so even if we could have shipped her we wouldn’t have known what to do with her. We would wait until we got settled, we decided. Our dear friend Virle, who lived on the compound, agreed to feed her, give her the monthly heartworm meds, and take her to the vet as needed. We sent money to cover whatever expenses arose. This was to be a short term thing, an interim solution until we got our new life in the States in order. But the month or two interlude soon stretched to nine months.

Kimo's last day with her family. July, 2009

When we returned to Saipan to visit last April, Kimo greeted us excitedly. We heard how sad she’d seemed to be after we moved away, moping around our old front door and leaping up excitedly whenever our car would pull into the compound. But new people emerged from the car that used to be ours and went in to the house that used to be hers. They liked Kimo well enough. But she wasn’t theirs. So it was nice to be reunited last spring. We hung out with her, cautiously let Elijah pet her—he pestered us constantly during that week to go out and see the dogs—and even gave her a much needed bath. Still, we left again without taking her with us. We couldn’t, even if we’d wanted to, as we were flying Continental Airlines this time and their small planes couldn’t take a dog Kimo’s size. But the truth was, we weren’t sure we wanted to. Or I wasn’t sure anyway. Babs has always been more amenable to just bringing her over and letting the chips fall where they may. I wasn’t as comfortable with that.

Reunited: Us with Kimo during our visit to Saipan, April, 2010

You see, for all her wonderful qualities, Kimo is not a “kid dog.” You know how some dogs will let kids hang all over them, yank on their ears, poke their eyes and so on? Kimo is not that dog. She’s decidedly of the live and let live variety. She leaves the kids alone, and the kids are expected to do likewise. Even while we were in Saipan, as Elijah was just beginning to become mobile, there were a few scary incidences were Kimo bared her teeth or snapped in his direction when he, in his innocent curiosity, got too familiar. Now that our baby had grown into a very active, inquisitive toddler we began having serious reservations about the two of them sharing a small apartment. I worry also over how the traumatizing flight from Saipan to Ohio would affect her temperament. In the past few months Babs has spoken with several veterinarians about the impact of shipping Kimo over. They have warned that a long-haul flight would be extremely hard on her. While it's possible she could make it with no lasting effects, it's also possible that she could literally not survive the trip or arrive with a serious disruption to her personality.

And, I’ve noted too, that as much as he likes dogs, the Feller also finds them a source of stress and anxiety. I watch his interactions with my sister-in-law’s dogs Bailey and Shiloh when we visit Dayton, and I find he’s always a little bit on edge around the dogs. They excite him, but they also scare him. (Ironically, the safer of the two dogs, Bailey, is the one he’s more scared of. He tends to what go after Shiloh, perhaps because he’s smaller. But Shiloh is older and crankier, and like Kimo, just wishes to be left alone. He also has snapped at Elijah when our boy has disregarded those wishes). In short, I’m not comfortable having my toddler and my dog in such close quarters at this stage in their lives. I love Kimo, but I love my son more. And if it must come to choice in whose welfare must take priority, there is nothing to discuss.

My sister-in-law Jenny with her "babies" Bailey and Shiloh. Elijah enjoys them but also seems a bit freaked out by them, especially when they hover under the table while he's eating hoping he'll drop some food.

And so, since we’ve left Saipan, we’ve dithered, argued, and agonized over what to do with our dog. And while we have deliberated, her situation has grown steadily worse. Even while we were in Saipan, unbeknownst to us, Kimo had been taken off her heartworm medications. We found out a month or two after we got back to Ohio that one of the other teachers who had taken Kimo to the vet for Virle had used the money we’d sent to pay for her biannual heartworm medicine supply to treat an infected injury to her ear. Without telling us, she’d decided to stop purchasing the heartworm medication. In addition Kimo has begun fighting with other dogs on a regular basis; most likely they are drawn to the compound by the growing pack of un-spayed dogs left behind by other teachers. Her once perky ears have drooped as a result of cuts that got infected and never healed properly. Her coat is dusty, but mostly still intact though the coral allergies and erlichia disease are making inroads. In Virle’s latest update, just last weekend, she reports that Kimo is beginning to develop mysterious boils on her hindquarters. Virle thinks the other dogs have contagious infections they are passing on to Kimo. Undoubtedly, she has reacquired heartworms in the absence of regular medication for more than a year now. I would ask Virle to do more, but she has her hands full just trying to keep the motley crew of canines in the compound fed. Most folks have just left their dogs without making any arrangements and I feel it’s wrong to push for more from our already overstretched friend.

Kimo with her partner in crime for many years, Jesco. While the compound has a number of left-behind dogs now, for many years it was just the two of them running the place. This photo was taken during a short-lived attempt to turn Jesco into a house dog as well, after his owner moved away and left him behind. Suffice it to say indoor life didn't take--he ran away every chance he had-- and he soon moved back outside. Jesco died just a few months ago.

What saddens me the most is that Kimo is entering her senior years. We estimate that she should be eight or older this year. Our friends Russ and Kanae Quinn had a golden retriever who died last year at the age of eleven, so I figure Kimo will probably live around the same length of time—if she’s healthy. This should be a time of comfort and peace for Kimo, a time of long naps and quiet stability. She’s getting too old to have to scrap with the rest of the pack to survive. As she ages, her body will have less resilience and be less equipped to handle the hard life of a boonie dog.

Kimo posing gracefully. Despite all she's been through of late she still carries herself with such dignity. This photo as welll as the picture at the start of this entry and the one below were taken by Virle at my request last month.

I feel the burden of her care heavily. I feel guilt and shame of once again being responsible for a dog consigned to the same lonely, neglected fate as poor old Rex. What should we do? Leaving her to live out her days on the teacher’s compound in Saipan is unacceptable. Bringing her here to live with us seems unfeasible.

This blog is an appeal—a heartfelt cry for someone to help us find the home for Kimo she deserves. But this is also an admonition, a warning to those who would own a dog in Saipan. My judgment cannot be too harsh in light of my own culpability, but I feel compelled to warn others: Don’t let this happen to your dog. Have a plan. Know what you’re going to do if you plan to leave Saipan in a year or two, or five—any time within your dog’s lifespan. And plan for multiple contingencies; after all we thought we had prepared well for our dog’s care, and yet here we are. Plan to spend the money, sacrifice the time, and exert the considerable effort required to provide for your dog. If you can’t commit to that, then you shouldn’t be getting a dog in the first place. Saipan is afflicted with a serious stray dog problem. In adopting that cute little puppy, don’t contribute to the problem by being merely a temporary solution. Please, learn from our mistakes. A dog needs a home for life, not for a season.

At this point we don’t know what we’re going to do. We are putting the word out—through this blog and on Facebook. We’ll contact PAWS, Saipan’s nod to the Humane Society. At this point, we feel it’s preferable to have Kimo stay in Saipan, but we’d probably pay to have her shipped Stateside if that was the only way we could get her a good home. We’re staying in touch with Virle. And we’re praying. After all the God who knows when a sparrow falls must surely know and care for a beautiful, friendly dog, alone on a little island called Saipan.

I wish this blog had a happy ending. If you, or someone you know, can provide one for Kimo’s story, contact me at maycocksean@hotmail.com or Virleshay Gayatin at the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School (670) 234-7326. Just the writing of this blog has sparked a new round of discussion in our home and we may yet just fly her over and figure the rest out from here. If you have any wisdom to share on this, please feel free to comment on this blog or e-mail me.

I know getting someone to adopt an older dog is like getting someone to adopt a teenager. Everyone wants babies. But this Washington Post article makes a beautiful argument for why old dogs are best.

Jan 22, 2011

Making Politics Polite

I never talk about politics on Facebook. I made that mistake once—found myself unable to resist posting a comment on a former classmate’s status update. I returned to Facebook two days later and was mortified to find my comment had set off a firestorm on her profile as she and friends of various political persuasions argued back and forth. I posted an apology for stirring things up, and slunk away shamefaced, resolving never to broach political topics again on Facebook.

The truth is—the social rule about never discussing sex, religion, or politics in polite company notwithstanding—I enjoy discussing and even debating politics. But I rarely do it. I realize many people are either uninterested or discomfited by such discussions. Further, many of my good friends hold political views quite different from mine. More than once I’ve sat quietly, biting my tongue, while friends rail against political viewpoints or political figures I support. Sometimes, I’ll gamely try to find common ground, points on which we can agree. I guess I just don’t want to create an awkward social situation, so I usually restrict my political discussions to those I feel are likely to share my views. In truth, I think most of us prefer to preach to the choir. It’s much more comfortable to have our opinions validated then challenged.

And yet recent events have gotten me reconsidering my approach to talking politics. First, our school was invited to attend the swearing-in of Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, a Republican. The ceremony took place on Monday, January 10, 2011 and we were there, with prime seats on the floor of the majestic Ohio State Theatre—fifty mostly black kids and their teachers, surrounded by mostly white, richly-dressed, clean-cut Republican types, all looking like the overflow crowd at an Amway convention. We were gathered to watch democracy in action. I had arrived skeptical. I voted for Kasich but the vote was cast grudgingly; I was hardly a fan. I’d seen him and his opponent slinging mud at each other all this past fall, and I was pretty sure he was just another politician. Well, I left the Ohio State Theatre feeling differently. Oh, I was still convinced he’s just another politician, but I meant something different by that conviction now. “Just another politician” simply means he is “just another human being.” What I saw was a human being—a man of fervently held beliefs, a man of ambition who wants to do good. Sure, he may fall sway to the temptations of power, but then who among us can honestly be certain we would not be swayed if we were in his shoes.

This is a photo from the official swearing-in of Governor Kasich, which took place privately on the morning of January 10. We attended the ceremonial swearing-in later that same day, but unfortuantely none of the photos of that event are as good as this one. Will I agree with everything Kasich sets out to accomplish in Ohio? Probably not, but I'll always remember that he, like me, wants the best for Ohio and for America.

This insight from Kasich’s inauguration coupled with the my ruminations on the recent tragedy in Tucson, the media firestorm and finger-pointing following it, and our president’s beautiful speech at the memorial service for those who died. Like virtually every other reasonable person out there I know that the “tone” of debate in our country did not cause the shooting in Arizona. Still out of all this I have drawn a lesson: I think politics is worth discussing. More than that, it needs discussing.

That is what Congresswoman Giffords and those who gathered with her that day were there to do—to talk and to listen. If we would honor those who suffered and those who died we should strive to do the same. There’s much talk on the blogosphere, the radio airwaves, and cable news channels, but very little real discussion. We can carp about how negative and vitriolic the media is---but let’s face it they’re only giving us what we ask for. These are businesses, and no matter what they claim, their bottom line is. . .well, the bottom line, not any particular political point of view. If mudslinging and snappy sound-bites draw more listeners, readers, or viewers than reasoned, in-depth discussion they’ll keep bringing the former rather than the latter.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

The fact is that we, the American people—not the politicians, not the lobbyists, not the special interests, not the media, not Big Government, not Sarah Palin or Barak Obama—are the problem. We have been lazy, content to accept spoon-fed sound-bites rather than to dig deep for the real meat of the subject at hand. We like complex issues boiled down to easily understood “us versus them” black and white. We prefer our news delivered in an entertaining way which appeals to our gut rather than our intellect. We have forgone real discussion with our neighbors who hold different views for self-congratulatory backslapping among like-minded friends. We have begged off with the excuse “But I’m not interested in politics.” But how can we afford the luxury of disinterest where issues that affect our lives so directly are concerned? We may not be interested in politics, but when the bill from the health insurance comes in the mail, when tax time rolls around we are certainly interested then. If only the special interests are interested in politics, then we will have politicians who cater only to their needs not ours. If we let the media do the heavy lifting of thinking about the political issues of the day, then we will only hear what is designed to keep us tuned in rather than what is designed to really make us think.

But here’s the thing. If we are the problem, then we are also the solution. I’d like to suggest that we start a conversation and bring politics out of the smoke filled-back room, the money-fueled radio or television studio and into polite conversation. Impossible, you say? I believe it is possible, because I’ve experienced it. There is one person who immediately comes to mind who I could truly discuss politics with, even though we were on opposite sides of the aisle on virtually every issue. His name is Grant Graves, and for the year he and I worked together, our discussions were truly eye-opening and enriching for both of us. I humbly offer from our experience four keys to how a real, productive, and polite conversation about politics might take place:

Grant Graves, one of my favorite conservatives. Check out this 2007 blog entry that touches on how Grant and I tackled the impolite subjects: politics, religion, and if not sex, at least women.

1. I believed in Grant’s good intentions and he believed in mine. Though he was a conservative and I was a liberal, we both presumed the other loved his country and desired the best for it. Now there’s not much money in this kind of approach, which is why you don’t hear it very much on talk radio. “He’s a good guy but I disagree with his ideas” isn’t nearly as exciting as “He is an evil man bent on destroying America.” But you and I aren’t making money from our political opinions, so there’s no need for us to ape the demagoguery and demonizing we hear in the media. We can acknowledge that, though we may differ in our ideas of how to get there, we share the same goals.

2. Grant always tried to see things from my perspective, and I tried to see things from his point of view. Grant did more than just try to intellectually understand my arguments; he tried to understand how it felt to be me—to see things the way I did, to walk in my shoes. And I did the same thing. Discussion isn’t just about talking—listening is equally important, if not more so. And in listening and seeking to understand, we often found we had more in common than we’d first thought.

3. We were willing to acknowledge the validity of opposing points of view when we saw them. I never felt I lost anything by conceding a point to Grant. Instead, I felt as if I’d gained something. Likewise, I knew that Grant never closed the door to having his mind changed. I knew that what I said mattered, that it was possible that Grant might be convinced by some aspect of my argument. A lot of people will tell you its “pointless” to talk about politics, and this is usually because they assume people have “already made up their minds.” Perhaps that is true of most people, but it wasn’t true of Grant. Don’t get me wrong—he had strong convictions, and he wouldn’t sway easily. But Grant was always humble enough to hold out the possibility he might be wrong. I strove to honor my friend by holding that same open-minded spirit. This willingness to concede a point is the key to compromise, and compromise far from being a dirty word, is the key to progress in our democracy.

4. Finally both Grant and I shared a faith that gave us perspective. Both of us believe in a God who is bigger than any politician or political point of view. His love and grace, and our relationship to Him supersede the economy and taxes, healthcare and warfare, and even hot button social issues like race, gay marriage, and abortion. In short we believe that there is more to this life and more than this life. So while our political beliefs are important they aren’t the most important thing. Incidentally, this is why the temptation to mix faith with politics is so dangerous. Whether the politics-dependent “social gospel” of the left or the “Let’s take back America for Jesus” evangelizing of the right, claiming Jesus for our side serves only to diminish Him.

There’s actually a fifth key that my friend J Carlos—another person I can freely and civilly discuss politics with—use as well. We begin our discussions with a question. Instead of barreling into a debate with a declaration: “Man, what is up with this Obamacare? It’s socialism!” or “Aren’t these Tea Partiers a bunch of racists?” which pushes the other person into the role of ally or enemy, J and I always begin with a question. “So what do you think of the new health care reform law?” or “What’s your opinion on the Tea Party?” We ask the question and then we listen to the answer. It helps us know from the beginning of the conversation where the other person stands, and helps us frame our own responses in a way that keeps the conversation warm rather than heated.

I think if more of us employed these five keys that worked so well for Grant, J, and me in our discussions of politics; if we demanded them from our media figures and refused to fuel with our dollars those who don’t follow these rules, then I think there really could be a change in the “tone of discourse” here in America.

I may never talk about politics on Facebook. Maybe the stream of status updates and comments isn’t the right format for discussion anyway. I’m not even sure this entry marks a shift towards more political opining here in this blog. But I do know that I would like to bring politics into polite conversation. And so, to my friends and readers-especially those who tend to lean more to the right, on the more conservative end of the spectrum--who are interested in a new way of discussing politics, I extend this invitation: Let’s talk.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Jan 15, 2011

Parents & Children, Brothers & Sisters: More Family Photos from Christmas 2010

Christmas morning at church, December 25, 2010.

Thanks to Jim and Dawn for sending this wonderful collection of family photos from the holiday. These are some of my favorite photos of the parents and children and brothers and sisters in our family.

Mom and her brother, Roland.

Me and my brother, Vince

I find I have very few pictures of my mom and me so I'm glad to have this really nice one.

Mom and Vince

Mother/Daughter 1: Mom and Dawn.

Mother/Daughter 2: Mom with her mom.

Grandma and her remaining children (Her eldest daughter awaits the resurrection).

Mom and her children.

I love this picture of my mom!