Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fear is Faith That it Won't Work Out. (Lindsay)

Of all the things we heard before, during and at the completion of our roadtrip, none was more repeated than, "I could never do what you did".  Sometimes I'd ask "why?" and get the normal responses (job, responsibilities at home, kids, bills, etc.) but most times I would smile and move on to the next thing.  This isn't the first time I've heard this statement.  When I went to an out of state college, I heard it from friends in highschool who felt they couldn't leave their hometown.  When I spent a semester abroad in Australia, I heard it from fellow students in my dorm.  When I left for Africa, I heard it from everybody. (That's when you know you're onto something by the by.)  And when I decided to train for a 31 mile trail race, I heard it alongside the ever predictable, "but you could die!!!".  I've also heard it from myself many times. 

No, this isn't a blog about how amazing I am.  (Well, technically it is but aren't all blogs about that?)  This is a post about fear.  If we let it, it will decide everything around us.  Fear is what keeps us in an unhealthy relationship or prevents one from starting.  It keeps us in communities where we feel unattached.  It keeps us in jobs we could care less about and it keeps us from testing the waters of our life over and over again. To be sure, if your decision to stay in your hometown, not travel or to be a Zumba master instead of a trail runner came with reflection and great courage, you need not continue reading.

I'm not sure why I feel like I need to change things up occasionally.  (Actually it's every four years, like clockwork.)  When I was in my early 20's, I remembered it coming from a place of "I need to know I can count on myself" which was really just a way of saying "I'm afraid I can't be alone".  But over the last ten years or so, I find it is coming from a place of reward.  Because the funny thing about fear is that when you try it out and it goes well (or relatively well) suddenly you have a bit more confidence to try it again.

The night before I left for Australia, I predictably couldn't sleep.  What if I don't make friends? (I did.)  What if I hate it?  (I cried the first ten days.)  What if I have to drop out and come home?  (I didn't.)  As I was working myself into a tizzy, a good friend called who had just weeks prior returned from the same program.  Without knowing it, she talked me off a ledge and a few hours later, I was on that plane.  When I met some of the best friends of my life and created memories that still make me laugh out loud, my first thought when I got home was, "what's next?".

Fast forward a few years and the night before I left for Africa, I predictably couldn't sleep.  What if I can't actually speak French?  (I couldn't.)  What if I'm a burden on the other volunteers because I can't understand them?  (I was for about three weeks.)  What if I die?  (I didn't but the close calls make for great party lines.  "The veterinarian can treat you for malaria."  True story.)  But there was a little voice inside saying, "You've done this before and you'll be fine.  In fact, you'll be more than fine."

I may not have understood all of their words but I was fluent in "birthday cake".
The road trip was a cake walk compared to those experiences so I was surprised when so many people didn't just think it was a cool idea but actually thought we were crazy.  Leave your jobs?  In this economy???  Sell your house?  Rehome your 17 year old cat?  But I knew it would be fine.  And if it wasn't fine, it would still be fine.  I would survive if the cat died.  I would survive if it took us two years to find a new job. 

The most interesting thing I've learned about taking risks is over time they don't feel risky anymore.  They feel like life.  In the end, I want to take risks on my terms so I can be better prepared for the things I have absolutely no control over.  Hypocritically this is out of fear.  Good thing the risks I take are a pretty good time.

People probably get sick of my answer to all of their logistical questions which are as follows:
  1. It'll be fine
  2. I haven't died yet.
  3. If things don't go well, it'll make a good story.
  4. Did I mention it will be fine?
And if you're scared to do something, plan for it.  Save extra money so you can feel more comfortable unemployed.  Create an emergency plan if you fall off a cliff and break your leg three days into the trip.  Figure out a communication plan if you can't be off the grid for a week. (It's bliss btw. Remember it took our ancestors months to find out important news...) At a time when opportunity is limitless for most of us, we still won't grab on.
After "I couldn't do what you did", the next thing I've heard a lot is "things just seem to work out for you".  Which is true.  I even annoy myself at how smooth things seem to happen for me.  I can quit my job, travel for seven months, enjoy the holidays without any responsibilities and then start working at my dream job.  I can walk away from a beautiful home and move into the perfect rental with chickens as part of the lease.  But before you throw eggs at me, my point isn't to incite envy.  When you take a risk you inherently have to assume things will be fine.  If you didn't think that, you wouldn't be able to do it.  And the funny thing about believing things will be fine (and not defining what that looks like) is that things actually are fine.  In fact, sometimes things are awesome.

Assume things will be fine until told otherwise.

And while it all might look like a Nicholas Spark's movie from the outside, I've had my share of rollercoaster emotions.  What you don't know is I flipped a coin to decide where to go to college.  Heads UMass.  Tails UConn.  You don't know that I experienced 9/11 at midnight with too many drinks in me while at a party in Australia.  (not the way you want to absorb that news)  You don't know that when I got the call about Africa, I was two weeks out from moving to Boston for a new job. ("Uhh, thanks for the offer but I must go to Africa now.")  You don't know that when I got my first job offer in New Hampshire I had a simultaneous one from Washington state.  Life, if you're lucky, has all kinds of choices.  At some point, you just have to believe it will work out.  And if it doesn't work out the way you thought it would, you have to believe it'll still work out. 

And if you don't have a hundred choices before you, well, you just have to wait it out.  It was July when I started reflecting on what I wanted in a career when I returned.  Not in a stressed "what the heck will I do when I get back" way; more in a "if I had my choice what would I want" way.  The list was created pretty quickly (as lists typically are when high on mountaintops).  They included:
  • Return to animal welfare
  • Return to New Hampshire
  • Minimal if no travel
  • Work for a national organization
  • Try something new
  • Be paid what I'm worth, with benefits and plenty of vacation time
  • Find a culture where boundaries are attempted
  • Maybe, just maybe, work from home
I knew it didn't exist but I put feelers out anyway.  Even proposed a new position while a bit starry-eyed in Newfoundland.  And then I let it go.  In September, I started to rework the list, preparing for inevitable compromises which must be made if I am to return to this field and stay in NH.  Then I let it go again.  In November, Jim and I stopped at a McDonald's in Mojave, California for our usual pumpkin latte (Me), sad burgers (Jim) and internet catch-up time. 

And there it was.  The job.  The job that didn't exist before.  The job my colleague decided to create to shed some of her responsibilities and work on other goals.  And with it were three emails from other colleagues - "Did you see this post?"  "This is what you have to do."  So I applied and after many months of processes and uncertainty (hello national agency), I was offered the job.

A return to animal welfare and NH, minimal travel, national level work, something new, good pay, benefits and vacation time, a culture that supports boundaries and oh, how I love to say the following words...my office is my home.  Accepting my introvertedness at it's core, I will have energy at the end of my work weeks to be...me.  I will be at home to take care of our growing homestead and to pursue new things.

So in the end, my advice is to let the fear go.  I am not lazy in my own fate.  I conspire, I plan, I imagine.  But sometimes, it just happens.  That's what creates the "things just seem to work out for you" syndrome.  It's not magic; it's just optimism. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Road Trip Annual Report (Lindsay)

Well, the time has arrived.  We are currently at the faux in-laws house (think larger than 60 square feet), warm as can be next to the woodstove.  We will be crashing with them for a bit until we land in a new apartment.  (thanks faux parents!)  Keira has done zoomies around the living room ecstatic in her new surroundings and Jazz is expectedly nonplussed at our arrival which means she hasn't changed a bit in the past seven months. 

Of course, people will ask the expected questions at the end of a voyage.  What areas did you love the most?  Where else would you live?  Which states continue to leave you unimpressed?  Will you gain 20 pounds by going back to New Hampshire during the holidays, eating your weight in rich food and not hiking at the rate your body is used to?

So to help, this is my analysis.  (Don't worry, the boy will be supplementing this report with details on how we spent the final two months.)

We visited 42 state and national parks on this trip and hiked or ran a total of 647.37 miles!  Just an incredible amount of beauty that most will never get to see.  So to make the selection for your next vacation a bit easier, I have, of course, implemented a decision matrix to determine the top parks.  (see below for a portion)  For those who don't know how such a matrix works, you determine what's most important to you (ex. scenery) and rate it a ten followed by factors that mean a bit less to you.  Then you score each item (in this case, parks) on the different categories and it tallies a final score for you.  The non-numbers people are asking, "but why can't you just say which ones you liked the best?".  Well, because that's not analytical enough and serious analysis such as this must be backed by data!

This is how my brain works.  You're welcome.
The categories are as follows (in order of most to least importance).  Note: these are according to me.  Keira has a very different set of priorities.
  • Scenery/Landscape = Was it pretty?
  • Hiking Experience = Well, how was the hiking?  Good trails? Amazing views?
  • Dog Friendly = Did they allow dogs on any of the trails?  If not, did they have a decent place to take your dog in the park?
  • Wildlife = Was there wildlife?  Was it super cool?  Did it kill me?
  • Solitude = Was it a cluster to get around or on the trails?  Did you see another human being?
  • Hospitality = How were the services?  Were you treated well?
  • Cost = Was it covered by the annual pass?  Were campsites insanely expensive?
  • Diversity = Did you have to stare at the same beautiful scenery for days on end or did it have surprises around every corner?

Anyway, the top five are as follows:
  1. Cape Breton National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada (I know, right?)
  2. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada. 
  3. Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
  4. Sierra National Forest, California
  5. Olympic National Forest, Washington
So, Canada takes the sweep, eh?  And it was so deserving.  Where else can you climb to the top of a mountain and look down on miles of coastline and whales frolicking in the seas?  Where can you run into the back of a moose, join him for cocktails and live to tell about it?  To boot, Cape Breton National Park is also breathtaking by car if you are a drivey and not a walkie. (although I recommend at least one hike)  Did I mention you can hike to amazing vistas right from the park campgrounds?  No traffic.  Just get up, drink your coffee and start hiking.  Oh, and bring your dog along.  Canadians could care less!

The Acadian Trail in Cape Breton National Park

This was what we found on the way down.  Awesome!  (well, not if you asked the baby moose)

Gros Morne was a stunning surprise.  I'm not sure I even knew Newfoundland existed before this trip OR that it had a national park.  Go there.  Immediately.  Look at waterfalls from the top of Gros Morne Mountain, bring your pup on ten mile hikes through geological wonders.  Stay in primitive campsites with the most stunning sunsets you've ever seen.  I dare ya.

Sunset from our primitive campsite

Ah, the Black Hills.  Again, a huge surprise.  And this one didn't just take third because you can hike to Mount Rushmore without seeing another human but because truly its network of trails are outstanding.  In fact, it puts South Dakota on the map of places I would consider living should New Hampshire not be the gem it is.

Keira at the top of Harney Peak in the Black Hills.  She slept for six days after this hike...

Sierra and Olympic National Forests were absolutely stunning.  And I'd like to take a moment to advise you dog owners on a nifty trick in this country.  National Forests are different from National Parks in that they are still seen as a sustainable resource.  They were created, in part, to provide sustainable logging.  Before you groan at the thought of thousands of trees falling down, let me shed some perspective on this.  First, they do a damn good job.  I've never been in a National Forest and felt it was over logged.  Second, logging equipment = awesome trails.  They cut these amazing dirt and rock roads through the forest which are perfect for trail running with your pup.  So while I don't advise bringing your dog on a short vacation to a national park (he can't do anything there), if you plan to see one that sits next to a National Forest, it changes everything.

National Forests are considered "multi-use" meaning people can ski, snowmobile, hunt and otherwise frolic in them without too much stress and dogs are more than welcome.  And while I love National Forests, I would advise knowing the seasons of other sports.  For example, and even though I have no moral issues with most hunting, hunters are selfish and take some of the best months of the forest away from me.  In NH, Oct 15-Dec 15 = you might get shot.  Having said that, put on some orange, give your dog a bell and in my experience, you won't die.  I actually find snowmobilers more annoying because of their excessive noise and the times that I've been careening down a hill on xc skis only to meet a snowmobile around a corner.  I tend to avoid the forests during winter weekends for this reason. 

Orange vest + bell collar = no dying

Sierra National Forest made the short list because it sits between King's Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park.  That meant Keira got wonderful off-leash time on alternate days of our hikes in those parks.  Olympic National Forest also fits that bill as does Dixie National Forest just outside of Bryce Canyon.  And since no one seems to care much about National Forests, they are almost always empty.  Just miles and miles of empty and well maintained trails for you to wander.

Do you see all the national forests around these two parks?  Go to them all!

One last note about National Forests.  Dispersed camping is almost always allowed anywhere off a road.  That means for zero dollars you can park your camper or put up your tent at the beginning of a trailhead or the side of the road.  Anywhere.  Two of our most magical nights on the trip were parked at a trailhead in Sierra National Forest, inches from Kings Canyon, alone with the bears and not a car in sight.  *sigh*

Now, I know some of you are saying, "Lindsay, I don't have a dog nor do I care where I can take one" so I've controlled for that variable in my scoring to provide the National Park top five.  They are as follows:
  1. Acadia National Park, Maine
  2. Pictured Rocks National Seashore, Michigan
  3. Glacier National Park, Montana
  4. Kings Canyon National Park, California
  5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
And this is why you analyze.  Notice a few not on my list?  A few surprises?  No Yellowstone???  (too many people)  No Yosemite???  And it's not because every park doesn't have something to offer but if you're looking for a great experience, skip the most popular and try out some of the gems I've listed.  Acadia, while very small, is stunning.  It just is.  Pictured Rocks is a hidden treasure along the glass blue waters of Lake Superior.  Glacier is well, one of the most breathtaking but you'll want to move this one up on the list of priorities; its glaciers will all be gone in seven years.  Kings Canyon was a surprise winner, another example of going to a park with zero expectations and being blown away.  And of course, no list is complete without Grand Teton.  Skip Yellowstone (or drive through it if you must on your way to the real gift, the Tetons). 


Oh Pictured Rocks.  No one knows you exist which made for quieter trails.

Glacier National Park.  Where beauty defies logic.
I will now delight you with Keira's top five which were ranked according to:
  1. Am I allowed?
  2. Can I run off-leash?
  3. Can I chase things?
  4. Are there other dogs?
  5. Can I swim?
  6. Is it too hot?
  7. Do mom and dad seem stressed?
  8. Will I die? (ex. careening off a cliff while chasing a squirrel)
Drum roll please...
  1. Olympic National Forest, WA
  2. Sequoia National Forest, CA
  3. Mt. Hood National Forest, OR
  4. Dixie National Forest, UT
  5. Black Hills National Forest, SD

Happy dog in Mt. Hood National Forest

And of course, I would never leave you without some of our other relevant (to whom?) statistics.

In total, we spent 197 nights on the road.  Of those, 77 were spent at campsites.  We actually increased this in the last month as the weather started to turn and we were less comfortable freezing in a parking lot.  Sixty seven nights were at the mercy of friends and family.  Thank you for letting us shower, for filling us with food and most importantly, for disrupting your Tuesday evening after a long day at work to laugh the night away with us.  We boondocked a total of 19 nights and both agree we could have done this more if we knew then what we know now (mainly to find residential neighborhoods and apartment buildings which are much quieter than Walmarts).  Eleven nights were spent in the beauty of a Walmart parking lot.  I advise you to splurge on the $2 fee for a redbox movie on these nights to drown out the sound of the parking lot parties.  We stayed at eight farms and wineries including a lavender farm and spent a full week in the driveways of strangers through Couchsurfing. 

Sunset from our campsite on the Olympic Peninsula

While it started out a bit disconcerting that we never knew where we were staying each day, it quickly became one of the best parts of the trip.  I will never again plan every minute or day of a vacation.  I will, instead, arrive at the destination, ask some questions, see how I feel and go from there.  Yes, it's true.  Jim's fear of making any kind of decision has leaked through my overly planning brain and I now find myself a bit anxious to tie myself to plans.  What if the weather sucks?  What if all the hoopla about this place doesn't pan out? 

When visiting National Parks, my recommendation is the following:  Arrive in the morning, get the park map, go to the visitor center (if it happens to be close to the entrance which most are), ask the ranger questions (any trail closures, how's the weather the next few days, any dispersed camping allowed, any dog friendly areas, favorite trails, etc.).  Have lunch and then do a short hike that afternoon.  After the hike, get to a campsite in the park and relax.  Get up early the next day and do a longer hike and follow that routine until you feel you've experienced the park.  For some, it took just 1.5 days for others, it took many more.  (I could easily have spent two weeks in Glacier if it wasn't about to snow).  Having said that, we noticed an interesting trend that four days in our favorite parks felt right.  So don't feel like you need a two week vacation to enjoy them.  In four days you can feel like you've scratched the surface. 

Of course, no annual report would be complete without tallying how often we took showers.  The results are in and October was our smelliest month.  (sorry to those of you who hosted us)  We only took 11 showers over the course of 31 days.  To our credit, we spent the month hiking through the Pacific Northwest and California where showers don't seem to exist.  Our longest stretch without bathing?  Six days.  Good times.

This picture in Yosemite is amazing because you can't smell me.

Lastly, in terms of statewide beauty, there are only three that I would consider living in compared to the beauty of New Hampshire.  Oregon, Utah and South Dakota.  Everywhere else was either relatively okay or just plain ewww.  If I can give NH a bit of a shout out here, it truly has everything.  Lakes, ocean, mountains, forest, rednecks.  And the real beauty is no one seems to realize these facts so it remains blissfully uninhabited.  The White Mountain National Forest is one of the most stunning spots in the country but because people assume they are short mountains, they stay in their overcrowded trails in the Rockies and Cascades forgetting that while the mountains may only reach 6,000 feet, they start at 2,000 feet thereby creating amazing vistas even at their short height.  But don't take my word for it.  In fact, don't come here.  I like my quiet trails. :)

Keira agrees.  The White Mountains kick $@%

We have spent seven months getting to know the ins and outs of this country.  So the next time you roll your eyes at the state of our nation, remember there is still real beauty out there if you can block out the CAFO's, political signs and monoculture farms on the highway.  Now get out there and enjoy!
    “When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the
    squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall
    shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know
    ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”
    ~D. H. Lawrence

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In this time of giving thanks, here are mine. (Lindsay)

Well, we all knew this day would come.  The time has come to wind down this amazing journey and start mapping our return to "the real world".  But before such day passes, I find myself juggling the need to hold on to some of my favorite things about this trip while becoming increasingly excited for the next phase.  And what a place to be.  Grateful for this experience while simultaneously excited for it to end is an incredible feeling. 

So let's begin:
Things I am most grateful for:

1. Time.  Time spent with Jim to be specific.  When we set out on this thing, we spent most of our time pondering whether we could stand to be in the same 60 square foot home 24/7 for more than half a year.  And in fact, not only could I stand it.  I enjoyed it.  Save for a few breakdowns including one where I yelled, "THERE IS NO LAUGHING IN KNITTING!"...and meant it...complete with big fat tears streaming down my face...we have thoroughly enjoyed this time together.  (That one just might be our funniest argument yet although I continue to feel strongly that there truly is no laughing in knitting.)  I mean how many people get this chance?  Not just to stop working and travel but to spend real and quality time with the person they love? 

In our previous life we were like most couples; spending most of our time together on the weekends, desperately trying to find time to sit at the dinner table together but out here, we not only eat dinner together every night, we eat breakfast and lunch too.  (And second breakfast...)  And to be able to share this journey with another human is such a gift.  In most of my other travels, I went alone and while I made incredible friends, it was only during reunions where I felt I was in the company of someone who truly understood the experience.  Now I get to reminisce, joke and transition with someone who remembers all the amazing memories and is feeling equally off-kilter readjusting to life.
Together.  Always together.  Literally every second.
2. Time with Keira.  I struggled with whether to put this one first but that would have been poor form.  But really, I know all too well the limited time we get with our pets.  I've watched (and experienced myself) as pet owners try to cope with the loss of a young pet, too aggressive for this world and those coping with the end of a beloved senior pet.  Keira is only six and I expect another ten out of her but as the owner of a purebred Golden Retriever, I know the day may come when a lump is diagnosed as cancer or, more likely for her, she decides to take on a black bear in the woods. And when that time comes, I will look back on these seven months with happiness knowing I sucked all the love out of this relationship that I could.  I've heard it said that having a pet is "like going to see a movie whose ending you already know but buy the tickets anyway."  And what a damn good movie it's been. 
3. Books, books and more books.  I'm proud to say that I have read more this year than in any year past.  (58 and counting...)  There were rainy afternoons when I plowed through two books, late nights when I couldn't put a book down no matter how tired I was and all-day discussions with the boy about books we were currently reading.  It has reaffirmed my disdain for television and while I may not be able to keep up with this pace, I can't wait to keep up the habit when we return.
4. The outdoors.  I consider myself a lover of nature.  I truly find solace in a day outside but in our overly comfortable and modern lives, it still felt like work to try to fit in a long day in the woods among the other responsibilities of life.   In the past seven months, I've spent a portion of almost everyday outside exploring trails and it is such a gift.  In fact, I'm now such a pro at day-hiking that it's become too easy and I'm ready for the elusive backcountry when we return. 

5. Perspective.  When you remove all the normal from your life, you create an immense space for reflection and perspective.  My life wasn't horrible before this trip and I was happy but that's exactly the reason we left.  I have given myself the time and space to think about what truly makes me happy and while many of the things that existed before will exist again to meet that goal, some new ones have sprung up as well that I wouldn't have made time to contemplate when I was a workie.

6. Time with Family & Friends.  Never before have I been able to reconnect with so many people.  Loved ones, close friends, acquaintances I haven't seen in years, new babies I'm meeting for the first time, colleagues, etc.  And to arrive with a plethora of energy and stories to share to boot.  I come from a small family and am the only one to reside in New England.  To see my family makes me infinitely happy.  Friends I've reconnected with but know I likely won't see again for many years.  And that's okay.  At least I had the chance now.  In fact, with Thanksgiving around the corner, we have timed a serendipitous reunion with our very best friends and their new baby.  It is the first time I've made Thanksgiving plans seven days before the actual day and it is fabulous.  Thank you all for opening your homes and driveways for us along the way.

 And then there are the things I can't wait to have again. 

1. Jazz.  She did as requested and lived through the last seven months.  In fact, not only do I miss her.  I miss cats.  During the trip, whenever one of us would see a cat, we'd scream, "KITTY, KITTY, KITTY" and then turn into those incredibly annoying people who try to lure a trailer park cat over for a head scratch.  But back to Jazz as she is, of course, irreplaceable no matter how many kitty kitties I see on this trip.  She is one of my favorite animals on this planet and I don't say that lightly.  Her humor, affection and scowling fill me with joy.   I yearn for the day that I'm sitting on the couch, legs crossed, knitting while she purrs in my lap.  (You didn't know it but you're actually subscribing to a blog written by a 75 year old woman...)

I know she's just as excited to see us as we are to see her.
2. To be able to poop in a toilet with water again.  Well, there it is.  And all the other amenities we tossed aside.  While I'm not someone who needs an overly comfortable life, I appreciate the little things.  The ability to chop vegetables on a counter more than eight inches wide, to shower without walking a quarter mile with my shower caddy or bring quarters to the laundry room (am I in college again?) or to sit on a porch in the summer reading.

3. Community.  Community has become increasingly important to us in our old age but elusive to track down.  They say the quarter life crisis exists because college kids who are so used to a community find it hard to assimilate when they enter the real world.  Jim and I lived in Concord, NH for four years and were just starting to create a network with the help of a few organized groups in the area (track club and yoga) when we left.  Even then it was incredibly rare for us to have people over for dinner or to organize a trail run (this is partly because of our introverted nature).  We will be returning to a community in which we're both very comfortable, where old friends still live and family abounds.  We already know where we'll buy groceries and when the farmer's market is held and since we're planning to rent for 6-12 months before buying again, we won't have the responsibility of home ownership tying up our time giving us freedom to create new bonds.

4. Work!  I know, I know.  I seem to be one of those elusive people who is fortunate to love my work (most of the time).  I miss the animal welfare world.  I miss having one-pound kittens hiss and spit at me.  I even miss the feel of a dog's mouth on my arm as he flails in front of me trying to learn new manners.  I miss being around the professionals of this field debating our policies and myths.  I miss the relief on a pet owner's face when we accept their pet without judgement.  I miss being a part of something bigger, something meaningful.

Jim misses kittens in the house too.  But will deny it if asked.

So I will relish in this time of change.  A period when my brain jumps from a hilarious memory to an image of things to come so sure of my happiness I could bathe in it all day.
"Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now."
~Maya Angelou


Friday, November 15, 2013

But where did the blog go? (Keira)

Huh.  They used to write a lot but I haven't seen them doing this so-called "blogging" in over a month.  What the heck is that about?  Well, they don't know it but I can actually understand words other than "no" or "who's the cutest dog in the world" so since they've been lazy, I'll try to explain.

Mom is saying "leave it" in this picture.  All I hear is "take it".

Ya see, when you humans finally take a minute and leave the things you "should" do for the things you actually want to do, a transformation seems to take place.  First, there was a lot of squealing.  And I mean, a lot.  Even more than when mom used to bring home a litter of kittens.  Next came the tears.  Out of nowhere.  The house was empty, there were bags of garbage in the new camper because the dump wasn't open the day you closed and suddenly everyone was a leaky faucet.  Then I watched as they tried to relax.  It was a bit odd at first, always checking their phones, scared to leave email but after a few weeks, everything seemed to fall into a rhythm and the real fun began.

Me not checking my email.

"Real fun" defined as that ecstatic period when everything is novel, disasters are hilarious and life is amazing.  This lasts about two months before routine falls into place.  Now, routine gets a bad rap but let me tell you, I love a good routine as much as the next dog.  Morning run, breakfast, nap, bark at squirrels, chew on shark toy, dinner, cuddling and sleep.  So around August and September, mom and dad fell into the routine.  Now pros at the whole roadtrip thing, this was just life and oh, was it good.  Mom calls it the "sweet spot".  Far enough away from the responsibilities they left behind and far enough away from the ones coming.  Each day just blending into the next. 

Me in my sweet spot.  Taking what life gives me.

But then October rolled around and discussions were had about when the trip might end and the closer they look, the more it seems we might be home for Christmas (which is great for me because it means I'll get more presents).  They say they're not quite ready to end the trip but are getting there.  They miss "home" and fantasize about walking to a kitchen instead of sleeping in one.  But they also know this will end too soon even if it feels right and they are soaking in the freedom that this voyage has bestowed.  To be sure, I'd like a home again someday too although I hear rumors the cat will be returning. 

"The Cat"
So while they sort out this new transition between the excitement of returning home with the excitement of the everyday, the trip has been hard to put into words.  Dad says he'll write up his TPS report soon so people actually know where we went and mom has big plans to do a lot of data gathering and issue summaries at the end but in the meantime, just assume they're having a blast in some amazing place too tired from long hikes and too far away from waves of internet to update this blog. 
The 'rents ya know, in Zion National Park

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It's time we sat down and talked about drugs, mmmkay? (Lindsay)

For those who want to take a journey with me down another one of “Lindsay’s musings” please climb aboard.  It seems that when you spend 40% of your time in the woods and 30% reading, your musings take on a life of their own.  We recently visited San Francisco (despite our general frustration with visiting cities, we had a connection and it was “on the way”) a city embracing the law that made medical marijuana legal.  With a simple doctor’s note, you can now buy marijuana at various stores or even have it delivered to your home.  About a week later, I borrowed a book from the NH library titled, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and in the way that random thoughts collected over many years finally become solidified when a great book happens in a particular location, I found myself taking in 300 pages of our criminal justice system.

I have always been sensitive to this system as referenced in my previous blog but it has only been in this last year that my “gut” has been validated by statistics and research that make me cringe.  While I could go on for days about the failings of this system for everyone (and sometimes do; Jim is a patient man) this post will focus exclusively on non-violent drug offenses and the punishments launched by “The War on Drugs”.
Let’s start with some facts:

  1. In the past 25 years, the number of people in prison has increased from 300,000 to more than two million.  Another five million are on parole or on probation.
  2. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 imposed minimum mandatory sentencing for drug use, the most significant being a five year sentence for possession of cocaine without intent to sell.  Prior to this, the maximum sentence was one year for any drug.
  3. There are more people in jail today for drug offenses than for ALL reasons in 1980.
  4. 80-90% of all drug offenders in prison are African American.
  5. Until 2010, crack cocaine (typically seen as a “black” drug) was punished at a rate of 100:1 to powder cocaine (seen as a “white” drug).  It is now punished at a rate of about 18:1.
  6. At the time of the launch of the War on Drugs in the early 1980’s, the American public did not count “drug abuse” as a high priority.  The Reagan administration disagreed and with a swarm of media stories, was successful in convincing the general public that our cities were full of “crack whores”, “drug kingpins” and “Welfare Queens”.
And now some myth debunking:
  1. Myth #1: African Americans and other minorities are more likely to use and deal drugs.  Let’s play a game.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever smoked pot.  Right.  I thought so.  And keep it raised if you have been in the presence of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, meth, etc.  Right again.  In fact, white teens are MORE likely to engage with illegal drugs than blacks and other minorities.  I’ll speak from my own experience.  Plenty of my own high school classmates smoked weed and, in fact, most days, I could pass someone behind the school dealing if I so choosed (don’t worry Mom, I did not apparently choose).  This was in a relatively upstanding white community.  Fast forward to college and I regularly witnessed white students snorting coke and attending raves in Northampton, MA where ecstasy made them lick each other.  (what a weird drug btw…)  So it doesn’t surprise me that white high school students use cocaine and heroin seven times the rate of African American students and crack cocaine eight times the rate.  In fact, white kids 12-17 years old are more likely to sell illegal drugs than their black counterparts.

    So why are so many African Americans ending up in our prisons?  I don't believe that the majority of police officers are racist; not even a little, but I do believe they are working within a racist system.  When the Anti-Drug Act was passed in the 80's, it came with some serious federal funding.  Police departments that were "cracking down on drugs" received millions in money, equipment and training and some budgets were almost entirely dependent on the number of drug arrests each year.  That funding still exists today under the Byrne grant.  In fact, it received additional funding under Obama during the economic stimulus era.  And where can you round up the highest number of offenders?  In our nation's ghettos.
  2. Myth #2: Cocaine and/or crack cocaine are more dangerous than drunk driving.  Nope.  Wrong again.  In fact, drunk drivers are much more likely to cause harm but because 78% of those pulled over are white men, the minimum mandatory sentence is two days for the first offense and two-ten days for the 2nd. 
  3.  Myth #3: The majority of felons are violent offenders.  This is my biggest beef with our system.  We want to believe that the system is just; that we are protecting our communities, our children from these big, bad men and it’s just not true.  The vast majority of people in our prison systems are in for nonviolent drug offenses fueled by the War on Drugs and society’s passivity around the issue.  And they aren’t the “kingpins” either.  Two/thirds of the people in jail report earnings under $12,000 per year.  No, it is not white middle and upper class landing in prison.  Furthermore, their lower socioeconomic status contributes to their imprisonment as they choose plea deals more often than whites who may be able to afford representation.   Plea deals, regardless of innocence, are the choice of many when faced with the harsh penalties of drug use. 
  4. Myth #4: We are safer today than we were 25 years ago.  While crime rates have decreased in most of the country, many would argue that communities have been ripped apart by minimum mandatory sentencing.  Our cities young black men have been the target for decades perpetuating a culture where black men are not around to raise their children, sit on juries or vote.   We want to be protected from violent criminals and we should have a justice system that encourages that protection but you can’t tell me that locking up low-income minorities who are doing the exact same thing as many others has made me more safe in New Hampshire.  Furthermore, the financial incentive to put drug offenders behind bars is pulling our police departments away from violent crimes. 
Well thanks Lindsay, that’s all super depressing but what do we do about it?  First, we need to acknowledge that this is a racist system.  At a time when almost everyone hates the word and tries to push us toward a “colorblind” society, we’ve completely ignored this phenomenon that locks up black men for the same drug use that the white students are exhibiting across town.
Next, we need to fight minimum mandatory sentencing and give judges back their ability to determine sentencing or rehabilitation on a case by case basis.  While I’ve never felt very strongly about the fight to make marijuana legal, I will support it 100% if it stops the racist and unjust vehicle that overcrowds our prisons. 

Third, we need to conduct a serious review of our government spending.  We should not be spending billions of tax payer dollars to house inmates while cutting welfare support, job creation and drug rehabilitation programs which can heal communities and give people an alternative to drug dealing. 

Fourth, and where my passion comes in to play, we need to allow felons reentry into society.  Prison is the punishment.  It should not extend past that period of time or prevent mostly young, black men the ability to vote, sit on a jury, obtain affordable and subsidized housing, get a job or receive welfare benefits.  Of course the typical response is, “but why should a felon have a chance at the same job as me when I haven’t broken the law”?  My answer:  Because you have.  In fact, statistically if you are a white reader of this blog, you are more likely to have committed the same felony.  We aren’t above the majority of felons.  We just have a clean record.

We have to stop the myth that those in jail made poor choices as if those choices are so different from our own.  If anything, the drugs I see flowing through college dorms are even less justified than the young father trying to make some extra money because there are no jobs left in his community.

Of course it won’t be easy.  Standing up for felons isn’t something anyone wants to touch, especially the politicians.  This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.  Obama and Clinton have chosen to be “tough on crime” as well.  And it’s because we don’t push back.  When I say to people that I believe felons deserve a job I get a nervous giggle and defensive postures.  Adding to the stigmas, there is a powerhouse ready to fight any legislation that decreases prison sentences and that is the private corporations now managing the majority of our prisons.  Fewer inmates = fewer dollars.

In my own little state in New Hampshire, the whitest state in the country, two new prisons have been built in the past seven years.  In 2012, a new federal prison opened in tiny Berlin, NH a community which was previously falling apart from the closing of all the mills.  Unemployment was rampant and as with many small rural towns, adding a prison was a way to add jobs.  In an ironic twist of fate, the community built this million dollar facility without approval from Congress for funding so it sat empty for two years before its official open.  This community has now benefited from the War on Drugs adding over 300 jobs; jobs that I believe belong in the urban ghettos where we seem to be finding all these people to imprison.

And those rural towns housing all the inmates receive an added benefit when the prisoners are counted in their census and not in their original homes even though they cannot vote.  A few states have started to pass laws banning this practice but NH has no intention to do so even though 17% of its census come from prisoners.  

In the end, we have to drop the ego, stop acting like we’re better than most in prison and understand that drug abuse is NOT a criminal issue, it is a public health issue and the sooner we treat it as such, the sooner our communities will be the safe, healthy places we wish them to be.

I've been down this week.  I was thinking maybe I'm a little homesick.  Home. 
To me, I think it's more of an ideal than a place.  Around the people you love, that's home,
that's what excites me the most.  The possibility of enjoying some of my life with the people I love. 
Cause it goes quick, don't it?  Life.  Don't it go?  I mean, I'm only thirty.  I'm not old.
But, you know, I've been in here since I was a kid.  It just goes so fast.  Man! 
It just goes so fast.  And everybody overlooks enjoying it. 

They just put themselves into so many prisons. 

~Larry Newton (currently serving life in prison)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

No, we will NOT be visiting your stupid city (Jim)

Frequently when talking to people, both strangers and friends alike about our road trip, we are treated with some form of the expression "Oh, while you are in [state or region] you must be going to [city in aforementioned geographical area]".  Well, no actually.  So far on this trip we have been to only two places I would call cities, both of which seemed exotic enough to us to justify the trip: Halifax, Nova Scotia and Portland, Oregon.  I recognize that your definition of 'exotic' may differ from ours.  Oh, and we went to Spokane, Washington and Rapid City, SD for the sole purposes of exploiting shower and laundry resources of friendly Couch Surfing hosts.  So they don't really count.

Rapid City, you don't count.  Because you are terrible.

We kept a wide berth of Boston, New York City, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and the Twin Cities.   We even took a ferry across the Puget Sound to avoid getting too close to Seattle.  We do have plans to see such places as San Francisco, Nashville and Washington DC eventually but it is the presence of friends that will bring us there and not the cities themselves.

What do we have against cities?  Technically, nothing.  We also have nothing in them (ourselves, get it? Ba-dum ching?  Sigh).  Some people might consider it a waste to drive within spitting distance of our nation's major cultural centers but it really comes down to a matter of practicality and tastes. 

Practically speaking, we are driving a 20' truck.  Not a behemoth, but certainly not fun to drive on crowded freeways or hectic downtowns, particularly considering the angry nature of city drivers (OMIGOD I HAVE TO GET TO THAT RED LIGHT FASTER WHILE TEXTING ON MY SEVENTH IPHONE AND SIPPING THIS STARBUCKS LATTE!!!)  Plus, our rear view mirror is rendered useless by the presence of the camper.  Parking is possible in most spaces but difficult enough to be a deterrent.  We don't fit in parking garages, relegating us to lots on the outskirts of most downtowns.  Our F250 draws judgmental glares from hybrid and scooter drivers. 

You're also a dipshit
Oh, and we also have a dog who is a pain in the ass to walk around on the cities as she alternates being terrified of walking over grates and trying to scarf down every single damn discarded fast food wrapper, cigarette butt, and chipmunk.  Leave her in the camper?  Oh perish the thought.  My only consolation during these excruciating walks is watching Lindsay on the verge of apoplexy as all the passers by dote on Keira, grabbing her face and kissing her nose because she is such a precious Golden and would never, EVER bite a human.  Personally, I would not begrudge her the occasional nibble of yuppie face to remind them that one shouldn't assume a dog won't bite you just because it has yellow fur.

This dog belongs here.....
...and not here, except when she is flipping off morons in an Apple store.  Did you know Apple has its own stores, with nothing but Apple products?  Did you know there were that many idiots in the world?
But really, the slight inconveniences of driving a truck and having a dog would not keep us out of cities if we really wanted to get in.  But we don't, because of our personal preference.  We don't really understand why you would want to go out of your way to see most American cities, frankly.

I will go so far as to say I do not understand what it is people do when they visit a city.  As far as I can tell, you can walk around and look at buildings and go out to eat and/or drink  That's basically it.

Some cities have reputations for amazing cuisines, and I do not doubt that every city has great restaurants...which is exactly why I don't care.  It's just not special enough to be worth the hassle.  For example:  I have been led to purchase dinner for two in Boston's North End (famed for its 'authentic' Italian cuisine) on two separate occasions (Significant Other Note: Neither of these were for Lindsay, she only gets rice and beans cooked in a camper).  What did I get for my trouble?  $100+ bills for the same pasta I could make at home, an hour wait, and crammed like a sardine into a floor so tight that my elbows knock with people from the tables on either side of me.  "Oh but the streets outside are narrow and this building is old and the cook is Italian and loud.  Oh and the cannolis!"  You know what?  Fuck your cannoli.  The stupid filling is nothing but ricotta cheese and powdered sugar and the outside is a fried dough tube.  Delicious?  Sure, but so is every other possible combination of sugar and fat on the planet.  Don't be fooled into thinking there is anything special about a North End Cannoli.

You really piss me off, Cannoli
In New York City?  Oh, well surely you must pay $15 a drink for a martini made from the same vodka as a martini in New Jersey or Alaska or Nicaragua.  Or better yet go read the New York Times in a coffee shop in Soho with a $14 latte with steamed soy milk art on top from a douchebag hipster barista.

Great.  A coffee with a milk froth drawing of a vagina.  Just what I was missing in my small town life.
Think about it.  We have all at one point or another visited a friend in a city.  What do they do with you?  Bring you out eating or drinking.  Is that really a good reason in itself to go to one?  Sure, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston have lots of great restaurants.  But so does your own town, and going there probably means you get to interact with fewer Texans, who are assholes.  We may have missed many good restaurants in Seattle, but guess what, we caught a couple great ones in Olympia at a half the cost and a fraction of the hassle.  Even when I used to enjoy expense account dinners in such cities as Minneapolis, Boston, Detroit and Denver, I would not say the food was noticeably better than at restaurants in small cities and towns.  Just more expensive.  And the beverages?

Could have spent $15 for a drink here....

...but I prefer this view...
...and Lindsay prefers this one: me in front of just half of the delicious free beers from touring Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon.
So, we have established that we are not interested in driving in and around cities with our truck camper, and that we can enjoy high quality cuisine in the areas around cities.  If a city is interesting (good people watching?), it is worth a walk around and maybe a night boondocking on the road near a park.

And for the record, I do understand some of the cultural attractions.  I could spend days at the MET and probably weeks at the Smithsonian.  Some day I would like to re-visit Washington DC to see the monuments again.  I'll pass on your aquariums and zoos for condescending hippy ethical reasons.  I'm not interested in theater, and I'll take an intimate blues concert in Concord NH over a rock event at a night club in Boston any day.  Smaller towns can be just as rich in music, theater, and other such cultural events if one is so inclined.  As for architecture, sorry America, but you're just too young for me to be interested.  I would love to spend future vacations touring old world cities with actual ancient history, but that just doesn't happen here in North America:

I would go to Istanbul to see you...
...but not to Atlanta to see you.
Personally, I do not have anything against city life.  Sometimes I fantasize about the simplicity of living in a small apartment or condo, completely free of the worry of house and property maintenance one gets by choosing to live in a rural area.  The idea of not having to own a car is especially appealing.  Cities are designed well for the folks that live there, just not for traveling folks like us.

Also, remember that time I talked about all the good reasons to have a truck camper?  Well, the truck camper is great for visiting parks, forests, beaches, etc.  But it is completely unnecessary to visit cities.  If for some reason I ever become a moron and want to visit, say, Orlando, all I need to do is buy a plane ticket, rent an efficient car and get a room.  Cities are easy to visit.  Glacier National Park is not easy to visit without having driven your home completely across the country.

Getting here was hard...
...but this made it so much easier!
And finally, the significant other (S.O.) did a great job explaining the finances of the trip here.  Notice what isn't in the budget?  $300 for a Manhattan hotel room a night, $50 parking in Boston, or $100 dinners at any major city.  Our budget for an entire six months (minimum) of living, for two people, is $30K.  A single weekend in a major city could easily cost us $1000 or 3% of our entire road trip budget.  It's just not a good value for our money.  For a fraction of that cost, we could camp in a gorgeous natural setting for a full week, enjoying actual peace, beauty and quiet.

The luffa at Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills may not have been quite as luxurious as one at the Manhattan Hilton, but the cost and views were quite a bit better.  Sorry, Keira.
So please, let us be very clear, that NO, we do not want to visit Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver St.LousAtlantaNewOrleansMiamiBaltimorePhiladelphia.  We just don't care.  If you are friends that live in a major metropolitan area and we visit you, let that be a clear indication that we actually like you (or want to use your washing machine). 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Is there still room for compassion? (Lindsay)

This post will take a bit of a jump from the road trip and focus on one of my regular musings. (Per usual.  You don't really want to hear about where we drove this week anyway).  It's a hot button topic so I welcome comments from my colleagues and the general public.

Working in the animal welfare field, I am no stranger to the anger, shock and frustration at what some people can do.  While the overwhelming majority of people who look to their local shelter for help are kind pet owners, this country continues to see animal cruelty on a large scale.  The field is fraught with good intentioned people (both volunteers and staff) hoping to help better the lives of animals.  A few decades ago, I might have argued that many were not necessarily in the field to better the lives of humans but this has thankfully changed.  Shelters are reaching out more and more to their local communities trying to find a way to assist pet owners and many are striving to be judgement-free during this process.

A man and his girl at a Bad Rap community support event
And yet I still hear so much negativity.  While Facebook has helped us connect it has also bombarded me with the amount of anger in this country.  When a hoarder is investigated, comments like, "she'll get what's coming to her" or "lock her up in a crate for ten years and see how she likes it" are rampant on the internet.  And it hurts my soul.  So much so that I typically stop following a case online just to avoid the comments.  I sometimes wonder if anyone ever stops to think that the hoarder is someone's mother, someone's lonely grandmother, desperately in need of help and who has just lost all of the animals she loves, likely her only company.  And yes, I would argue that many who commit acts of neglect and cruelty believe they love their pets.  Certainly not in the way the rest of us relatively well-adjusted pet owners but they do.

While I think I can maybe help the industry and public understand the mental illness behind a hoarder and incite even a small amount of compassion, I have yet to voice the next statement:  That I believe the majority, if not all, people who commit acts of cruelty and neglect deserve our compassion as well, even the dog fighters.  I'll give you a minute to decide whether to write a negative comment below or close the screen. 

Okay, now that you're back, let me explain my perspective on this.  Dog fighting is awful and incorporates a perfect blend of all the horrible characteristics we loathe to see in our fellow humankind.  Greed, animal cruelty, secrecy, corruption and pain.  I've worked a few cases and talked to many who have much more experience than I investigating dog fighters.  I hear time and time again from those in the field who met or knew the dog fighters that they loved their dogs.    I've held those dogs and cried for what they've seen and felt, but that's where I try to end my enormous frustration.

When the Michael Vick case broke, it reached such a high profile that it literally changed the way we look at animal cruelty and dog fighting.  Prior to this case, the majority, if not all fight-bust dogs were euthanized out of fear.  Fear of liability, fear of a misunderstanding of behavior, fear that the public wouldn't want them - all lumped together as one breed rather than looking at the individual.  But thankfully, groups stepped forward, including the incredible Bad Rap, and asked to help the dogs.  With professionalism and enviable courage on the part of the humans, almost all of the dogs went on to live happy lives in the homes of adopters.  For more on the case from the animal welfare perspective, pick up The Lost Dogs.  Society is starting to embrace these dogs, setting aside false stereotypes and media hype so they can be educated by something more than the 6:00 news, all the while falling in love with these goofy clowns.  I'm going to take a minute and bask in the reality that pit bull type dogs are living normal lives with wonderful families everyday...

Charles Dickens on a normal day not licking electrical outlets for apparently no reason.
Credit: Tegan Schmidt - dog picture taker extraordinaire

Ahhhh, thanks for waiting.

But Michael Vick received no compassion.  We all laughed (myself included) when people mailed in their football jerseys to their local shelter for dogs to sleep on.  We laughed when Vick dolls came out and pit bull type dogs were photographed chewing on the head.  But did we stop.  And think.  Why did this happen?  How could this happen?  Money clearly wasn't an issue.  I believe society overlooked him and he fell through the cracks of our civilization.  Did he stand by watching his peers and elders fight dogs leading to his desensitization which escalated to his own version of cruelty?  Probably.  Is he a sociopath?  I don't think so.  I think he was a low-income kid with few resources and a network of role models showing him how to "love" dogs and we missed it.  All of us.


A few days after I started this draft, another high profile case hit the industry's websites and FB pages.  I looked on a map as we are currently in Washington state and realized we'd be driving directly through this small town.  After speaking it over with the boy, he agreed we could stop at the sanctuary.  To be clear, I did not think I would be allowed in; more experienced professionals than me have been barred from entering.  But I couldn't ethically drive past a sanctuary currently under investigation and not stop.  Walking in and yelling at the staff/volunteers was out of the question as it would have gotten a door slammed in my face and frankly, that's not a comfortable M.O. for me.  So we pulled over across the street and I got out of the truck.  Two men were working outside, cleaning off some bowls.  They took one look at me and assumed the defensive position.  I could just see a bubble forming above their heads, "great, another one."  So I put on my squeakiest voice and told them we were hoping to adopt a new dog.  The owner, Steve, (presumably) softened while the other man walked away.

Over the next twenty minutes, I asked him questions about his operations - where does he get the dogs, why can't the shelters place them themselves, always in the squeaky voice.  He answered everything with patience and knowledge of the field (albeit, I did not push him and acted completely ignorant of the current crisis).  "Shelters can't handle them, there aren't adopters out there for dogs like this", etc.  While he spoke, I noticed the organization's tagline on the pickup truck: "Saving dogs you'd rather see dead."  He ended the conversation by giving me contact information for the next closest shelter, including their open hours and a recommendation to meet with a pit bull/hound mix with whom he knew personally.

I could hear them the entire time - countless dogs barking - and I could smell the inside of the facility from the outside (quite the feat for someone whose nose was desensitized to that environment years ago).  And while it's been a particularly morose day thinking of those dogs, I also find myself thinking about Steve.  Based on our small conversation, I found him similar to others I've met in this field.  Dedicated people who are in over their heads.  If what he says is true, the majority of the dogs in his facility are unadoptable.  Of course, this is where we diverge as I would choose to end their lives and he believes life at the sanctuary is humane.  As I will likely never convince someone who believes that all animals should live, no one will ever convince me that life inside a warehouse without natural light or a home is humane.  But I don't think he's an awful person.  I don't think he should "suffer".  I wish he would get past his ego and ask for help from the organizations willing to step in but I also know this isn't just about ego.

If others step in, there is a chance that many of the dogs would be euthanized (a chance, we won't know until we meet them)  According to Steve, they all have severe behavioral issues - feral behavior, wolf hybrids, multiple bite histories.  And I can see how someone who has been caring for these dogs for some time would have a hard time asking for help when he knows what the outcome may be.  Setting aside the "I'm the only one who can help these dogs" mentality, he would be devastated to lose them.  (yes, I am making assumptions about him - we only spoke for 20 minutes but that's the point of this post).  For me, I would be relieved to see those dogs out of that environment, even if it ended in euthanasia.  For him, that is unthinkable. 

So what do we do?  Unfortunately, I feel like our general coping mechanism in this society is to create distance and ensure we are truly different from the people who do horrible things by "our" standards.  "How could someone do that?"  When I read Jim the original story about the sanctuary, he responded with sadness as anyone would.  When we left the sanctuary today he said, "it's good to put a face to it".  And this is why I love him.  When this case ends and hopefully these dogs are confiscated and cared for, I will be relieved.  But a piece of me (admittedly, a large piece) will worry about Steve.  His sadness, his punishment, his rehabilitation (if any is offered) so the cycle is not repeated in a neighboring state as normally happens in these cases.

I think about them (them being those doing horrible things) because I believe when we create distance between "them" and "us", that ethical line is the root of all anger and hatred in this country.  If you know people who have spent time in prison, you feel differently about inmates.   If you have been wronged (as we all have) and have actually embraced forgiveness, you know the weight it lifts.  If you know people who are homeless, you probably give money on the street.  If you grew up on food stamps, you reject the idea of the Welfare Queen and accept the idea of the birth lottery.  If you can put a face to it, human nature changes.  It may still manifest as anger and frustration but it's no longer targeted rage. 

I choose to believe that the majority of people are good.  Even those who leave horrifying comments on a FB page about some woman who should be "tortured so she knows what it feels like".  I believe the majority of people are a symptom of where they come from.  I believe in the birth lottery and I believe that given the same upbringing, the same neighborhood, the same lack of resources and role models that I too, could have been a hoarder or a dog fighter.  I believe I'm incredibly fortunate to have grown up with amazing role models, an understanding of what's right and wrong (although I always question these lines), enough resources to do something with my passion and an empathy that I refuse to give up on despite the anger around me.

If even a small part of you agrees, consider reading this article and then his book.  If no part of you agrees with this concept, leave this blog and read them immediately.

I am not asking that we let dog fighters roam the streets or stand aside as defunct sanctuaries house hundreds of dogs in crates for the rest of their lives.  I am asking that we take a breath, find a way to cope with the incredible sadness we have to endure in order to help these animals and work just as hard to rehabilitate and hold up those in our criminal justice system as we do for the animals in our care.  I'm asking us to think about this logically when we're so overcome with emotions we can barely see straight.  I'm asking us to think.  Really think about the sanity of a criminal justice system that puts poor role model next to poor role model and then spits them out into a society that hates them, refuses to employ them, refuses to rent to them so the cycle can continue.  I'm asking us to hold up our social service industry such that those at risk can receive help - the same as we're beginning to do in the animal welfare field.  And I'll even go into the politics because well, why not.  I'm asking us to devote financial resources to these fields and (gasp!) move our priorities from big business protections, even raise taxes to help the poor and underserved. 

I'm asking that Steve be given a small amount of sympathy for stepping in when our country is trying to figure out the ethics of animal euthanasia - at a time when shelters ship unadoptable dogs to sanctuaries they've never visited because the decision is just too hard to make.  I'm asking for sympathy from the public and accountability that this insane road to "no-kill no matter what" is at the root of the barking I heard today in a parking lot.  I'm asking for accountability that until kids of all socio-economic levels are modeled humane and moral ways to garner money and treat those around them that the cycle will continue.

It is only then.  When we move ego and fear aside, will we live in a safe world.  I haven't touched on the awful mass shootings or other high profile crimes in this day and age but the ideas are the same.  How many times have we heard that the shooter was lonely and suicidal?  How many shootings have been prevented because someone finally noticed them, said "hi" and made a connection?  Antoinette Tuff is my new hero.  And not because she was able to talk the shooter down (although that's incredible) but because she really connected with him.  She wasn't pulling things out of her ass; she really felt bad for the man.  Not pity but empathy.  And that's what he picked up on.  That's what changed the course of that day.  Her words still bring tears to my eyes.  "I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me."

So can we stop labeling them “evil” and instead start calling them "human"?  Can we treat people as individuals as we've learned to do with dogs of the same breed?  I believe we can.  No matter how unpopular the notion may be today, it is by holding up those whom we wish to avoid that the cycles will end.

For further reference:

Justice Reform Organizations

The Innocence Project

The Other Wes Moore

Picking Cotton

Anatomy of Injustice

The Campaign For the Fair Sentencing of Youth