Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook Comfort Dogs

I know first-hand about comfort dogs, or therapy dogs as they are more commonly known. As the author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog,a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, I’ve seen the comfort and joy they bring to hospital patients, nursing home and assisted living residents, and school children struggling with reading problems. McDuff provided his special brand of therapy to me during the most stressful times of my life and to many others as well. Traumatized children at Newtown smiled at the sight of the therapy dogs and ran to them to give hugs and pats. Grief-stricken parents’ countenance changed and softened seeing the children able to forget the nightmare at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, if only for a short while. The effect of therapy dogs is nothing short of a miraculous. After 911 and Hurricane Katrina, therapy dogs spread comfort and relief from stress and tension to rescuers and families under unimaginable pressure. You don’t have to be a certified volunteer with a registered therapy dog to offer comfort. Retired special educational teacher Michael Cragin knows that. He and his English bulldog, Truman, offered comfort at Newtown the only way they knew how. Michael and a sign that said, “My Bulldog Gives Hugs,” sat at the back of his SUV. People gathered around to pet Truman and ask his name. Teenage girls began to stop crying and started smiling while they petted him. He provided a brief respite from the heartbreak and sorrow. There’s an outcry for stricter gun control laws after this latest incident of mass killing. The controls in effect now didn’t work on Adam Lanza. He wasn’t patient enough to endure the waiting period when he attempted to purchase a gun. It’s moot anyway because Lanza already had access to plenty of guns in his own home. Guns are found not only in his home. There are hundreds of millions of firearms in the homes of Americans across the country. Even the ATV and Department of Justice hands them out. Anyone familiar with “Fast & Furious?” Instead of treating the symptom, why not treat one of the problems? That is the lack of insurance coverage and public aid for the mentally ill in America. You only have to look at the photos of the perpetrators of recent mass murders to see that they are not of sound mind. Unfortunately, basic health care is not affordable for many in this country. That includes treatment for the mentally ill. Good can come out of evil. Perhaps something will be done about the accessibility of weapons, especially semi-automatic guns, and providing treatment for mentally ill people to prevent tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If not, we can only expect more heartache and horror.

Monday, May 14, 2012


The nation is divided over the fate of a baby killer. Onion, a 120 lbs mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix, killed a baby on the baby’s first birthday celebration. He had been a much loved gentle giant until that tragic day. Something in Onion snapped. As a mother, my heart breaks just trying to imagine the grief and pain endured by this family. The baby’s grandmother credits having Onion constantly by her side as she battled cancer as a major reason for her recovery. She never dreamed of the heartbreak she would experience caused by the animal that played such a positive role in her life. I know the importance of animal assisted therapy first hand. I wrote a book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, about the miraculous effect of a Scottish terrier therapy dog on my life and the lives of the sick, elderly, and disabled. Until the baby came along, Onion was the pride and joy of the family. He was especially loved and cherished by the grandmother. The baby’s father said Onion had never shown any signs of aggression toward the baby or anyone in the six years he owned him. I believe Onion felt puzzled and confused after the baby arrived. He was no longer the center of attention. We can only imagine how the grandmother doted on her grandson. I believe Onion reacted out of resentment and jealousy of the baby. I don’t believe it was out of viciousness. Should Onion be euthanized? That is the subject of divisive and bitter debate. Personally, I don’t think Onion should be killed. He’s not a vicious animal and with proper supervision unlikely to be in the same circumstances. If one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls was rehabilitated and turned into a therapy dog, there is hope for Onion. Many people disagree. A move to save his life has been taken to court. The nation will have to wait and see the outcome.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Have You Ever Wondered?

Have you ever wondered what plants the desire in someone to want to write a book? I have, and I believe I know the answer. For me it was my background and love of animals, especially dogs.

I’m a coal miner’s daughter raised in a wooden, weather-beaten company house in southwest Pennsylvania. We were all poor in Beeson Works, but everyone helped and supported each other in that tight-knit coal mining community. Diverse nationalities blended together in harmony: Italians, Russians, Greeks, Poles, Swiss, Czechoslovakians, and a few African-American families.

During a coal mine strike, or other bouts of unemployment, neighbors shared food, clothing and words of encouragement. If a mother became seriously ill or disabled, my mother and her neighbors cleaned house, cooked meals and washed clothes for the family without being asked or expecting anything in return. I grew up watching neighbor helping neighbor.

Ever since I can remember I have loved all kinds of animals. I roamed the hills around Beeson Works with an every present dog; assisted my cats when they gave birth; rescued and returned baby birds to their nests; splashed water on the fish my dad caught to keep them alive; and tamed and rode a half wild mine horse bareback. When I became an adult, I found a unique way to combine a desire to help others and my love of animals. I became a Therapy Dogs International volunteer.

I wrote a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog and the valuable life lessons he taught me on his mission to bring comfort and joy to the disabled, elderly, sick, and school children struggling with reading difficulties. The life lesson he taught that impacted my life the most was being of service to others.

So you see, my background as a coal miner’s daughter and love of animals led me to write a book about my life, experiences as a TDI volunteer, and McDuff. What about you? You have something interesting to share with the world. Pick up your pen or sit down at your computer and let the creative juices flow. You have a story to tell!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

McDuff & The Kids

The book I wrote about McDuff did not contain all the stories about him. I could probably write another book because he was so unique. The kids in the neighborhood loved McDuff. I’d hear the doorbell ring in the summer. “Can McDuff come out and play?” one of them would ask when I came to the door. Several others waited in the yard.

I’d let McDuff outside. Someone would retrieve the stick from its designated place, give it to McDuff, and the game would begin. The kids would try to catch him and take the stick away. It never happened. When they became tired, he would slow down, let them almost touch him, and then take off again. They fell on the ground laughing. Big kids, little kids; they all had fun.

Another thing had them ringing my doorbell. I told one of them that McDuff had photo ID. “No way. Dogs can’t get an ID.” I showed him McDuff’s Therapy Dogs International badge with his photo on it. Evidently he told his buddies who didn’t believe him. One by one they came to find out for themselves.

A chapter in Life with McDuff entitled “McDuff Loved Them All” sums it up. He loved everyone and everything. Well, everything except monkeys, birds, and the UPS truck. Cats and ducks were favorites. He loved going to his veterinarians and didn’t want to come home after boarding with them.

I will always miss him and be thankful for the time he was in my life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

My book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, was nominated for a Special Award by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) in 2010. I attended the Awards Banquet in New York City. DWAA is closely associated with the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) and the annual awards banquet is held on the eve of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. A lady sitting at my table was showing her dog at Madison Square Garden the next day and invited me to sit ringside. What an experience!

Like most dog lovers, I’ve never missed watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television down through the years. But, attending in person, sitting ringside no less, was the thrill of a lifetime. I’ve owned pure bred and mixed breeds and loved them the same. But, I must admit that watching the crème de la crème of every registered breed of dog was exhilarating.

Who knew that the huge Mastiffs have a mound of towels stacked up beside them that wiped off their dripping drool before being judged? For the rare “accident” in the show ring, there are employees who reminded me of the ball girl and boys you see at a professional tennis match. Only they aren’t picking up balls. You don’t see that on TV! If at all possible, dog lovers should put the WKC Dog Show on their bucket list.

This year a fluffy, eleven pounds, four-year old Pekingese named Malachy won Best in Show. Sadie, a Scottish terrier like my McDuff, won it in 2010. I once heard a WKC dog show announcer comment as the Scotties pranced into the ring, “The Scottish terrier is the only breed of dog that knows it is smarter than its master.” At the time I didn’t have a clue. After living nine years with a Scottie that combined off-the-chart intelligence with you-won’t-believe stubbornness to outsmart and frustrate me to tears — I get it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why Can't People Get Along?

Why can’t the human race get along?
Gregory Pike

Gregory Pike is not a famous celebrity, philosopher, politician, or religious leader. In fact, he is a homeless man living on the streets of Santa Barbara, California. In my opinion, he has done more to demonstrate the true meaning of love and acceptance than anyone famous. I hope the world takes notice and the instances of bullying and intolerance of others is dealt a serious blow in the United States and around the world. Click on the link to see what Gregory, his dog, cat, and rat have to say to the world.

Gregory says that he makes everyone happy and in return it makes him happy. That he didn’t do it for money, but to prove a point. What a philosophy! And from a man with so much less than others. We can all learn from him. A human being, dog, cat, and rat coexisting in brotherhood, love, and peace. He says that perhaps they should be sent to Iraq to change things. Gregory asked a question for all of us to consider. “Why can’t people get along?”

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tuskegee Airmen

Never was so much owed by so many to so few.
Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill spoke of the brave English RAF pilots in his wartime speech on August 20, 1940. The same can be said about the Tuskegee Airmen, the courageous Black fighter pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, 99th Pursuit Squadron, who protected the B-17 bombers on missions over Germany. But, they fought more battles than faced by the RAF fighter pilots. They fought discrimination and bigotry on the home front before, during, and after the World War II. When finally permitted to fly combat in a segregated Air Force in 1944, they epitomized bravery and courage in aerial combat with the Luftwaffe over Germany.

According to Wikipedia, the Tuskegee Airmen are credited with destroying at least 112 airborne enemy aircraft, 150 planes on the ground, over 600 trains, and over 40 barges/boats. Their destruction of a navy destroyer was the first such accomplishment of its time.

Charles Brantley, Earl Lane, and Roscoe Brown in their P-51 Mustangs shot down the first jet planes used in combat on March 2, 1944, over Berlin. On March 24, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen flew the longest bomber escort mission of WW II. Of the hundreds of mission flown, the Tuskegee Airmen only lost 25 bombers. One hundred fifty Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat and 32 taken as prisoners of war.

The Tuskegee Airmen received the following awards and decorations: Three Distinguished Unit Citations, one Silver Star, estimated 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals and 8 Purple Hearts. The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to the approximately 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen or their widows at U.S. Capitol rotunda by President George W. Bush on March 29, 2007.

I recently saw the entertaining and realistic George Lucas movie, Red Tails. The name derives from the painted red tail sections of the planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Lucas states that Hollywood refused to support his efforts to make the movie. Just imagine. George Lucas of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame told by all of the Hollywood studios that a movie made by him about Black pilots wouldn’t find an audience.

After trying for twenty-three years to obtain backing for the movie, Lucas put up millions of his own money. He got the last laugh. Red Tails opened 2nd at the box office and made $19 million the first week. Every American who wants to see a good movie about highly-skilled and courageous fighter pilots should help George Lucas laugh all the way to the bank.

The rallying cry of the Red Tails: "From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man, we fight!"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bureau of Land Management: The Good Guys?

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Mahatma Gandhi

Although I love dogs and even wrote a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. As a coal miner’s daughter growing up in Pennsylvania, I learned to ride by taming a half-wild mine horse and riding him bareback. To this day the desire to own a horse has never wavered.

I live in Nevada now where the wild mustangs roam free. Large herds of horses have inhabited the range in northern Nevada for years. That’s why it struck me as strange that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would suddenly take such a huge and all consuming interest in rounding them up. And, not in the most humane way. Helicopters herd them in the extreme heat over rough terrain until the hooves fall off of some, and mares abort their foals. Many horses drop dead from sheer exhaustion.

I realize that the ranchers want to get rid of the horses because they want the land cleared. They have big bucks and lobbyist to help them get their way. Madeleine Pickens, wife of oilman T. Boone Pickens, offered to develop and fund a one-million acre sanctuary for the 31,000 horses rounded up by the BLM. No deal. For some reason, the BLM seemed hell bent to hang on to them.

Now I know the reason! Under the radar while traveling in Asia on November 18th, President Obama signed a bill by autopen containing a provision that paves the way for the slaughtering of horses in the United States. Now I get it. The BLM, politicians, and the rest of the fat cats will make a fortune in the horse slaughterhouse business due to their knowledge through insider trading. If you don’t believe that they all knew what the president was up to, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.

The Occupy Movement speaks for the 99%. Who speaks for the thousands of horses waiting for butchering at American slaughterhouses now that the ban has been lifted?