Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Visiting the Land of Bicycles

If asked to describe the Netherlands in one word, many people would say “tulips” or “windmills.” Until recently, I would have been one of them. But no longer. Following a recent trip to the birthplace of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Vermeer, the word that epitomizes the Netherlands for me is “bicycles.”
They are, literally, everywhere. You can’t walk out a door in any Dutch town or city—at least not those I visited—without seeing a bicycle…or two…or twenty. Seriously. In Amsterdam, alone, there are some 850,000 bicycles of all shapes, colors, and condition. And despite the fact that 10,000 to 15,000 bicycles are dredged from the city’s many canals every year, that means there are still some 100,000 more bikes than there are people.
Bicycles aren’t just a form of entertainment and exercise in the Netherlands; they are a—in some areas, the—major mode of transportation. From youngsters to suit-clad commuters to retired senior citizens, the Dutch pedal to school, offices, shops, restaurants, and pretty much everywhere else. Toddlers ride in front of or in back of parents, or in special cargo bikes called bakfiets. Bicycles are used to transport people, pets, and purchases of all kinds…even large ones like Christmas trees. And unlike the racing bikes familiar to U.S residents, these are old-style bicycles with comfortable seats and handlebars that allow riders to sit upright rather than hunched over and contorted.

The sheer number of bicycles can be overwhelming—and even intimidating—to tourists. Just ask my sister, who experienced her own “close encounter” with a cyclist. Serious accidents, however, are relatively rare, thanks to clearly designated lanes for motorized vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, and traffic safety education that begins in elementary schools. Perhaps that’s why almost no one wears a helmet.

And while designated parking places are obviously inadequate, th
e plethora of bikes parked in front of buildings and along canals makes for attractive—and quintessentially Dutch—photographs.

I have a bracelet featuring charms from memorable trips I’ve taken, and I had planned to purchase a little gold windmill to commemorate my Netherlands visit. Upon reflection, however, I think I’ll get a bike.
#bike #bikes #bicycle #bicycles #Netherlands #Amsterdam #dutch

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

One of My Dogs

One of my dogs died yesterday. It wasn’t Fletcher, Folly, or even almost-16-year-old Ceiligh. And he hadn’t lived with us since early 2006. But he was still one of my dogs.

His name was Cooper and he was the first puppy that my husband, Mark, and I fostered for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County (pgspca.org) in Maryland. He was just 2 months old when he came to us from the county animal shelter, and he immediately became a part of our family. He was sweet, playful, and eager to please…everything one looks for in a prospective canine companion.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that this precious retriever mix spent just a few short weeks in our care. He was adopted by a wonderful young couple who were thrilled to add him to their small family. Like many first children, their cat was less enthralled at the prospect of a four-legged sibling, but he eventually came around.

When you foster homeless animals, you become something of a way station on their road to a happily ever after. You know your part in their story will be a temporary one, but it’s impossible not to form an emotional bond. So their departure invariably leaves something of a void in your life, and you can’t help wondering about them and if their life is as good as you’d hoped it would be.

I was thrilled, therefore, when a year or so after adopting him, Cooper’s mom brought him to see me at a community dog event where I was working as a volunteer. Not only did I get some good quality doggy loving from—a much larger—Cooper, but I was given a small album chronicling life in his forever home. I felt like a proud grandmother.

Although I didn’t see Cooper again after that, I followed the course of his life through his mom’s posts on Facebook. I celebrated the arrival of two human siblings and felt pride in how Cooper took to his role as big brother. I smiled every time I saw a photo of the three of them enjoying special moments—like Cooper’s 12th birthday—together. He was a dog well loved.

But every love story comes to an end, sooner or later. Last Wednesday, Cooper began having trouble breathing and was taken to a veterinary hospital, where he was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia (the same affliction that led to my father’s death last year). The veterinarians tried four different antibiotics but Cooper’s health continued to decline. His mom spent Sunday night in the veterinary hospital by his side, willing him to rally. But on Monday it was obvious that the miracle his family was hoping for was not to be, and they gave him the ultimate gift of a peaceful passing, showing him love throughout.

When I heard the news, I cried as if Cooper were my own. Which, in a way, he was. No, he didn’t live with me, and in the eyes of the law he wasn’t mine. But in my “foster mom” heart, where perhaps it matters most, Cooper—like all the fosters who have passed through our door—was and always will be at least a little bit mine.

Posted with eternal gratitude to Cooper's adoptive family.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ageism at HSUS: My Story

Like just about everyone in the animal welfare world, I’ve followed the news coverage involving the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against—and subsequent resignation by—Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). On one hand, I'm stunned and disappointed; on the other hand, maybe I’m not surprised.
Recent media coverage of HSUS suggests that the organization, as led by Pacelle, supports a “sexualized culture” that values women more for their looks than their intellect or their abilities. That’s not hard to believe based on my own HSUS experience—one that suggests a corresponding culture of ageism.
About 12 years ago, I was in a university communications job that paid well and was close to home. I had a private office and was allowed to bring a parade of foster puppies to work with me. However, my heart was no longer in the work I did; I was in my forties and was becoming bored.
So when I learned of a communications position at HSUS (an organization to which I’d donated), I jumped at the opportunity to apply. It seemed a natural, logical step. I loved animals, especially dogs. I’d been volunteering with the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County (PGSPCA) for a number of years and was at that time serving as vice president and writer/editor of the organization’s newsletter.
My application was well received; I must have made a good impression on paper. HSUS asked me to take two writing tests and to interview with several people, including the head of communications, who had been hired by and reported directly to Pacelle. The process went well. I was impressed with the HSUS employees I met and excited about the prospect of doing work I really cared about, although there were a couple of downsides. I’d have to take a significant salary cut and give up my private office. I wouldn’t be able to bring foster dogs to work, and—worst of all—I’d have a long, miserable commute. I asked about telecommuting two days a week and the communications director told me that wouldn’t be a problem.
So when I received a call from an HR staffer with a job offer, I said I was thrilled—and asked if I could have that agreement in writing. She said the communications director hadn’t mentioned that and she would have to consult with him. She called back later to tell me that he said that wasn't possible because he wanted me onsite to "mentor" younger writers. (Oddly, the topic of mentoring had never come up in my conversation with him. I was very confused.)

After much soul searching, I decided that the negatives of the HSUS job offer—lower salary, increased transportation costs, significantly longer commute, and, most importantly, less time at home with my husband, our dogs, and any foster dogs—were too significant. I declined the offer.

And that was that…until about a year later. I was volunteering at a PGSPCA adoption event when the HR staffer from HSUS (the one who extended the job offer) walked up to greet me and said, “I have a story to tell you and it’s not a pretty one.”  My curiosity piqued,I took a break and we chatted.

The staffer told me that the communications director hadn’t wanted to hire me (despite my outperforming other applicants on the writing tests and being the first choice of other staffers) because I was "too old" and he wanted a "young" staff. (I wasn’t yet 50!) She said he'd even expressed this in email correspondence and that he became annoyed when she told him that he couldn't make a hiring decision based on age. Her conclusion was that he reneged on the telecommuting issue in the hope that I wouldn’t accept the job offer. Looking back, it all made sense.

The woman had since left HSUS but assured me that if I decided to pursue legal action, the HSUS staffers familiar with the situation—and the communication director’s comments—were good people who would not lie under oath.

After serious thought, I decided not to take legal action. I was shocked and felt wronged, but a year had passed and I’d moved on. I didn’t want to weigh down my life with the negativity such legal action would bring. More importantly, I worried that a legal battle with HSUS would hinder my chances of finding other jobs in animal welfare.

They say things happen for the best, and in my case that’s been true. I eventually took a job at the Washington Animal Rescue League (which in 2016 merged with the Washington Humane Society to form the Humane Rescue Alliance). It was closer to home than HSUS and offered flexible hours. Best of all, that job afforded me daily interaction with the homeless animals I helped through my writing and photography. I even got to share my office with shelter residents as part of their socialization process. And I still had plenty of time at home so it was a near-perfect job, one I gave up somewhat reluctantly last December when I decided it was time to focus on freelance work.

So…all’s well that ends well. But when I read that Wayne Pacelle’s HSUS promotes a sexist workplace unfriendly to women, I’m inclined to believe.


Just a few pics of me having fun with some of the dogsand other animals—I've encountered in the past several years. Obviously "past it." ;-)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Reflections on Windows

"A room with a view," "what light through yonder window breaks," "eyes are the windows to the soul."

Phrases such as these reflect the importance windows play in our lives. And my recent trip to Cornwall, England, provided many lovely and diverse examples of these portals through which we gaze out or peer in.

Some windows, like those in our bedroom and the breakfast conservatory at Trenderway Farm B&B near Polperro and even the bathroom window at the Mill End Hotel near Chagford, served as frames to nature's pastoral beauty.

Some windows, like one in many of the food preparation rooms at stately country home Lanhydrock and one in the pub at the Gurnards Head Hotel, not only illuminated indoor environments but also added to their special charm.

Some windows provided insights into the lives of the residents within...their interests, tastes, attitudes, and opinions.

And still others--including windows at the Ship Inn at Fowey, Saint Materiana's Church near Tintagel, and the cafe at Lanhydrock--were themselves things of beauty in which light, itself, played the starring role.

All were special in their own way. And now that my visit to Cornwall--with its wonderful memories and varied window views--is over, it's time to consider my next expedition. For as Turkish novelist and playwright Mehmet Murat ildan said, "Your every new journey is your new window opening to new ideas!"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Right Name

Dog of the Week: Ghillie

Six years ago this month, my husband and I welcomed an adorable, six-month-old, brindled Plott hound mix pup into our home. Although we knew--given her sweet, playful, happy personality--that she wouldn't be with us long, finding the "right" name was, as always, important to me.

At the time, we had two dogs with dance-related names: Tango, named for one of our favorite ballroom dances, and Ceiligh (pronounced Kaylee), named for an exuberant Celtic dance party. With her four distinctive white paws, our foster pup seemed to call for some sort of footwear-based moniker. But Boots, Slippers, and Socks seemed too ordinary for her exotic good looks. So she remained nameless for several days while I pondered and researched.

Finally, I hit upon the word ghillies, soft shoes worn by women in Irish dance. So Ghillie she became.

Less than a month after her arrival, Ghillie found her forever home, complete with a male golden retriever playmate, who she kept entertained (and in shape) with her fancy footwork.

I don't know if Ghillie kept her name...but I have no doubt that she's still dancing her way joyously through life!


Friday, April 29, 2016

An Angel in Our Midst

Dog of the week: Angel (fka Shirley)
In 2006, my husband and I welcomed a darling fluffy, brindled puppy into our home as a foster for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. As with all our fosters, I agonized over what to call her. In her case, the choice was made for us.

Within hours of her arrival, the intrepid little explorer ventured onto an 8-inch-wide, 4-foot tall brick wall bordering our patio, and before I could retrieve her, toppled off...just like my mother-in-law, Shirley, had from her own brick wall while pruning shrubs. Fortunately, unlike my mother-in-law, who broke her wrist, our little pup suffered no harm. Still, given the similarity in their experiences, the name Shirley seemed meant to be. So Shirley it was for the duration of her stay with us.

Which wasn't long. In just two short weeks, Shirley was adopted by a wonderful family with a 12-year-old son who had been longing for a dog. In fact, it was the son who had been checking Petfinder.com for a potential canine companion. And it was he who gave Shirley her new name: Angel (because of the white cross-shaped blaze on her chest).

Angel quickly became a much-loved member of her new family, who shared her story for my book A is for Angel: A Dog Lover's Guide to the Alphabet. (To order your copy, just click on "Buy now" below the thumbnail of the cover.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Short of Stature, Large of Heart

Dog of the week: Oscar

Oscar is not what one would call a "dignified" dog. In fact, he's quite the opposite. With a head and coloring reminiscent of a Rhodesian ridgeback and the the build of a Basset hound, he looks a bit like a sculpting assignment gone wrong. But when he scurries excitedly up to you, stubby legs and big paws scrambling, and peers adoringly at you with his mismatched eyes, all you can think is what a wonderful, charming dog he is!

Oscar lives with my friend Sandy, who saw him in the county animal shelter seven years ago and decided to foster him for the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. Given her love of Basset hounds (her first dog as an adult was a Basset), it came as no surprise to her friends when she decided to make him a permanent part of her family's pack.

It's a decision she's never regretted...despite a couple of orthopedic incidents: surgery to straighten a foot (his) and a broken finger (hers). The first was caused by inherited conformation issues; the second was the direct result of Oscar chasing a squirrel while attached to a leash held by Sandy.

And then there's Oscar's penchant for stealing--and eating--panties and socks. Fortunately, surgical intervention has never been required...although it's been a near thing a couple of times.

But with his big heart and exuberant, happy-go-lucky personality, it's easy to forgive Oscar his few foibles. He has a way of making every day--and every evening--a little brighter.