Ten Years Vegan

4 Comments

Hi, how ya been? It’s been a year-and-a-half since my last post, but I’m not willing to let the blog die altogether, so here I am posting on my ten-year veganversary.

On October 13, 2004–the day before I turned 29–I came home from work, sat down for dinner and fired up “Meet Your Meat.” Afterward, I said, “Screw it. I’m vegan now.”

Backing up a bit…

Just over four years earlier, I’d given up meat after a brief transitional period and had been enjoying life as a vegetarian. Initially, veganism never seemed like an option or goal to me, but as the years ticked by, I started swapping out eggs in baking and soy milk for cow’s milk in my breakfast cereal. I learned more about the truth behind eggs and dairy and realized that veganism wasn’t only an option, it was a moral imperative, as they say. Thus, it became a goal. Not a goal clearly defined with a date, but a goal nonetheless.

Why did I choose to watch that video on that night? And why was that the video that pushed me over the edge? I don’t think it was the content, specifically, since I’d seen similar videos and was aware of what happened in the egg and dairy industries. Rather, I think it was finally getting to that point where I realized, “I just can’t justify this [egg & dairy consumption] anymore.”

A decade of change

So here I am, the day before my 39th birthday, thinking back over the last decade, nearly a quarter of my life spent as a vegan. I’ve gone through a number of stages. I started with the “It’s a personal choice, I won’t push it on others” phase before moving into the “Everyone needs to know about this!” phase. Eventually I turned angry abolitionist before settling on “firm & committed vegan that tries not to be an ass to other people.” I should note that every single one of these stages is valid. I think every vegan will find a different stage to settle in once they figure out what is most appropriate for their personality and for dealing with the people they see in their day-to-day lives.

I started off my veganism married, with no kids and no pets. Ten years in, I’m still married (and my wife’s now vegan) but also have two vegan kids and have lived with two great dogs. I’ve continued to volunteer at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, which was key in gently pushing me the rest of the way toward veganism.

People tend to indicate that they think going vegan is difficult. And you know, at first, it is a little tricky. It’s a pretty drastic change in diet and thinking for most people. But after a few weeks (or months), it gets a lot easier. Eventually I found myself at the point where certain things just weren’t food anymore. And when something isn’t food–that is, you would sooner eat a shoe than a fried egg–it starts getting a lot easier. You search out and find what you can eat rather than focusing so much on what you don’t (not “can’t”) eat.

When I first gave up meat, I really didn’t have a very wide variety of foods that I liked. Now, I’ll try pretty much anything. This is a common side effect, based on my discussions with other vegans: tastes change and actually expand significantly considering potential food choices are a subset of what they originally were.

Social acceptance of veganism has also increased in the last ten years. Yes, I still need to explain the concept frequently and some people just don’t get it, but in general, many more people are at least aware of what it means and curious enough to ask good questions.

Aaaaand, in summary…

At ten years in, here’s what my current beliefs are, in boldfaced list format:

  • I do not need animal products to live and there isn’t a fully non-exploitative way to consume them. Since my circumstances allow for it, I have no justifiable reason not to be vegan.
  • I won’t promote vegetarianism or (shudder) “humane meat” as a stepping stone to veganism (or any specific method, really), but instead present veganism as a goal and let folks decide for themselves how to get there.
  • I generally think welfare-focused legislation and outreach isn’t all that helpful. But I allow that I could be wrong and thus don’t actively campaign against such change.
  • I am vegan for ethical reasons first. However, I also try to be a healthy vegan, because my health matters to people other than just me.
  • There is nothing wrong with meat analogs and in no way do they reinforce that meat is OK to eat.
  • There is absolutely no reason for dog breeding to be a thing and absolutely no reason to buy from a breeder.
  • There is quite a bit of intersectionality that becomes clear after being vegan for a bit. Open your heart in one way and it will naturally open in many others.
  • I’m not sure there is a clear line about what diet is right or acceptable for your pet. Bring on more research! (It should be noted, anecdotally, our dog has been vegan for four years and is doing great.)
  • Someone can go vegan for any reason, be it ethical, health, or environmental, but unless a strong ethical component eventually becomes part of one’s veganism, it becomes far easier to justify “cheating.”
  • Vocal ex-vegans are way more annoying than the most overzealous of new vegans.
  • For veganism to really break through to the mainstream, we need to disengage from the often non-science-based rhetoric used to promote it. Stick with the ethical argument first, then show people how to do it in a healthy fashion with well supported nutrition research.
  • People need to come to veganism their own way, in their own time. Otherwise, it won’t stick.

These views may change over the next ten years. In fact, I expect them to.

I’m trying to become conscious of when something I say comes off as judgmental, because I know that’s the quickest way to turn someone off from ever considering veganism (or any shift in lifestyle), so if any of my lessons learned come off as preachy, I apologize. I’m here to help and answer questions. I remember what it was like for veganism to seem unrealistic and something only other people did, so if you’re starting to ask questions about it, you’re ahead of where I was 14 years ago.

And, of course

Super big up respect massive high five pound shouts to my vegan wonder twin Lindsay who went vegan on the exact same day I did, ten years ago. One of the reasons I keep this blog going is so that I can continue to wish her a happy veganversary each year!

More on ex-vegans

After the “I”m not vegan anymore” post by Alexandra Jamieson a few weeks ago, there were all the expected reactions: anger, disappointment, insults, and, yes, support. I avoided responding right away because I wanted to make sure my reaction was appropriate and thought out. I like Alexandra. I interviewed her a few years ago for Herbivore and have liked her positive approach to promoting veganism and healthy eating from her appearance in Super Size Me to her subsequent books and consulting services. She’s never been confrontational or insulting, so I want to avoid being the same way.

But, I do feel there is something to be said about her post as well as celebrity ex-vegans and the whole “I’m not a vegan anymore” thing (see also).

I’ve written about my frustration with vocal “ex-vegans” before:

Who I find really difficult to deal with are militant ex-vegans. They are far worse than any so called “militant vegans” I’ve ever met. These are the people who feel they have the experience and, therefore, the right to disparage veganism or vegetarianism because they “used to be one of those.” I don’t know about you, but I can never imagine giving up veganism and I can’t imagine any truly committed vegan ever going back to animal products and disparaging their former lifestyle at the same time. These militant ex-vegans with a chip on their shoulder may not be worth engaging in an argument. Let them blow off their steam and, in turn, look like blowhards to everyone else.

Alexandra doesn’t fall into the militant ex-vegan category. Militant ex-vegans will start web sites telling you why you shouldn’t be vegan and start quoting the Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Mercola. Alexandra’s still promoting plant-based diets and feels they can work for many people. However, I read her announcement with more disappointment than I did with someone like Ellen who eats eggs from backyard chickens or Megan Fox who “lost too much weight”. With celebrity ex-vegans, I groan and say, “Not surprised.” We shouldn’t look to celebrities for inspiration any more than we should any random person on the street. But when someone declares “Not vegan!” when their livelihood and own celebrity has come from promoting veganism for many years, I feel like there’s potential for damage to be done to ethical veganism’s acceptance. When a vegan chef, Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and vegan cookbook author denounces her veganism, it has the effect of making veganism seem too difficult for the average person. Or worse, it makes it look like the wrong choice (“If some promoting veganism for that long decided it was wrong for her, it must be for me, too!”)

What I think disappoints me most about Alexandra’s reasoning for making the change are some of her justifications. First, the cravings:

My body started craving the “bad” stuff. Namely, meat.

It used to be that, when a friend ordered a burger out at dinner, I was slightly (though quietly) disgusted.

But I started noticing a different reaction.

Instead of disgust, I started to salivate.

The impulse to order salmon instead of salad with tofu at my favorite restaurant was overwhelming.

And, for me as a vegan, it was confusing, too.

At first, I thought: “I must be mineral deficient. Or maybe I need more concentrated protein. I’ll eat more sea vegetables. I’ll just add more nuts and hemp seeds and drink more green juice. Then the cravings will stop.”

I denied these cravings and tried to “talk my body out of them”.

I hid my cravings from myself, and my community.

I ate more sea vegetables in order to add more minerals to my diet as I had told so many of my vegan-curious friends to do. I chose more protein-heavy plant foods on a regular basis. I avoided sugar and drank green juices by the pint, all in an effort to give my body the nutrition that I thought my body was asking for.

I tried for over a year.

I felt ashamed. If I was “doing it right” I wouldn’t have these cravings, would I?

And still, the cravings persisted.

I’ve never given much value to “cravings.” To me, food cravings aren’t indicators of anything terribly substantive. I don’t think they’re indicators of “something your body lacks” like iron, protein, or some other random vitamin or mineral. Research backs me up on this. That’s not to say that cravings aren’t real feelings. They are. But rather than your body “telling you” that you’re not getting enough protein so you should eat a steak, I think it’s simply that you miss the taste, texture, or memories associated with the food you crave. Most vegans will tell you that they didn’t stop eating meat because they hated the taste. If that was the case, meat analogues wouldn’t be so popular. Vegans stopped eating meat for ethical reasons, health reasons, or some combination, and a craving for a food they used to eat simply means they want something like that again. Every so often I think, “I miss Philly Cheesesteaks.” But does that mean I’m going to go out and order a dead cow with cheese slathered all over it? No – I’ll grab some sliced seitan, fry it up all Pat’s (or Geno’s)-like, and pour some nootch-filled cheese sauce all over it. It does the trick. I think food cravings as a reason for returning to eating meat, dairy, or eggs is simply an excuse, a justification for something that feels wrong at its core.

The other part that really bothered me about Alexandra’s piece is the set of conclusions she comes to at the end. The ones that struck me as particularly bothersome:

I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.

I believe humans are animals. And some animals need to eat other animals to be healthy. Some do not.

I mean. For real, though?

But, I do give Alexandra credit for being honest. Certainly, it wasn’t easy for her. And I sincerely hope that as she continues her journey, she looks more deeply at the reasons she’s no longer vegan and reconsiders her stance down the road.

So, rather than continuing picking the post apart (because, really, I don’t want this to come across as a personal attack), let me instead share a few other pieces that I think get it right:

First, I urge every single person reading this to read “Facing Failing Health as a Vegan” by Sayward Rebhal. This may be one of the most important pieces about veganism ever written. (I’m boldfacing that because I feel that strongly about it.) Sayward discusses her own health issues, the internal struggle it caused, and the ultimate, happy resolution where she was able to overcome her difficulties while remaining a vegan. She is proof that if the animals and veganism are really important to you, you can make it work.

Secondly, Jack Norris, RD has a couple of responses well worth reading. Jack can always be counted on for good, even-handed analysis.

Thea Tribute – elroy Goes Veg

9 Comments

Hey folks… long time no talk, eh? I fully plan on being more active here again and have a handful of posts I’ve been meaning to finish, and I will. Eventually. Now, though, I wanted to share a guest post by a friend of mine that I’ve known since elementary school. We reconnected a couple of years ago on Facebook and I was surprised and happy to find out that he and his sister are vegan. Jason (aka elroy) recently celebrated his five year veganversary and I wanted to let him share his vegan story, where he discusses how his beloved dog and a glimpse of a documentary trailer changed his life. It’s pretty amazing.

image06

(A couple of playlists to accompany you as you read…)

So, the first bit of this is something I wrote in a conversation a with close friend making the transition a few weeks ago. She asked what my story was, what flipped my switch, how many years was I vegetarian prior and all the year one stuff. I was going to edit it, break it up, make it more reader friendly after another close friend who is also making the transition and who’s a brilliant writer said after reading it, “paragraphs are your friend”… but I decided I liked the raw flow so I just fixed the grammar and added a bunch of other stuff after the original message. Thank you for reading.

My Peaceable Journey Begins

… 5 years vegan in January, probably the first week. I didn’t write down the day and I didn’t want to call myself one because I was so uncertain I could do it, and stick with it. I guess I didn’t want to cheapen it too, for the current veg activists, sanctuary peeps, undercover filmers, rescuers, law changers, grass root leaf letters, volunteers, proud loudmouths and quiet lead-by-example types… mad respect, I wouldn’t know a thing without their devotion, and there was no way would I put myself on their level till I felt I deserved to even touch the first rung. Not to mention I was seeing all the unavoidable stuff and was so overwhelmed, you know, the stuff veg haters think they’re busting us on, with their “yeah buts.” …Thanks but no shit dude, this ain’t a fad diet for us, it IS us. We’re the ones who make it our business to know EVERY SINGLE UNAVOIDABLE ANIMAL BYPRODUCT AND IT BOTHERS US DEEPLY. At the same time, I was compelled to try, and I really didn’t have a choice once I opened up to all the info. I was learning so much at such a fast rate, the good and the bad. Like a roller coaster, the slow climb was the awful imagery and the rapid drops and rush of happy being the people saving and rescuing and caring. The loops and wicked turns being the unavoidables, strained and gained relationships.

So around now, just after Thanksgiving 2007 I saw that Ingrid Newkirk doc, I Am Animal, randomly on HBO. It was late, I shoulda been sleeping, normally would’ve been. Flipped to HBO and it was just starting. Like I hit the play button. It rocked my world. A week or two earlier I saw Fast Food Nation (again, HBO) and I was put off to say it best. I had totally avoided it since it came out, heard a ton about it, didn’t care or think it had any validity. Mostly because immediately after watching Super Size Me a few years earlier I went to McDonalds. I was a total lifer, 0-31 yrs of Big Macs daily n breakfast when I was lucky. Cheesesteaks, pizza, gastropub burgers and meats… I was soda Oreos PBnJ meat and cheese all day, fool. I was once told I had the palate of a garbage disposal by a chef at a restaurant I worked at when I was 17. So I saw Fast Food Nation and was initially informed, or nudged. I always new fast food was garbage, but the ugliness I never saw. They didn’t get into the animal stuff that much and it was all Hollywoody. But the Newkirk doc was loud and clear (yea, i’m not a huge PETA person, but I appreciate them and people may say they are crazy and I will agree… like a fox who gnawed off its own leg in a trap and their family is now a coat.)

Anyway, first images of all the ugliness… all of the animals, it shook me and I dug in. I looked up so much online and I bombarded myself. I was livid, almost uncontrollably. How could this be happening, how is it legal, and how we just accept it and how the hell did I not know and why didn’t someone tell me! I say uncontrollably because I wanted to tell people and was filling up with all this info and had no choice to let it out. Everywhere I was, I’d be erupting with animal horrors. truths I had just seen before I was wherever I was, at friends house or online. I was a real peach. looking back tho, I loved that time and going through it is a good memory. It’s something I wouldn’t change. The new passion and awareness and fire. It was rough, but awesome nonetheless. I was a bit much, no doubt, but I think its not only a given that people will react in similar loud ways that I did, but it’s also needed, for them and certainly for the animals. All I could think was billions every year in the most brutal ways? Billions?! And more billions. I gave a fuck about feelings, ’cause really, on one hand someone is offended and the other someone is in a gestation crate for years. Boohoo, I told someone and they are annoyed. Bummer. I was mad that I was so ignorant, that someone who knew this nightmare I was participating in didn’t tell me, and this person I’m telling is mad cause I told them? Wack.

I’ve since refined that, but I still don’t pull any punches. Maybe I won’t get all aggro like then, but adding the ethical before vegan, for them to think about what that means. To be clear that my vegan lifestyle is only a healthy diet by default I think is very important. How loosely people call themselves vegan makes me not want to use the word. I’d eat poorly if the other way was healthier (how everyone eats now, unhealthy.)

So I watched the Newkirk doc around Thanksgiving 2007, went bonkers absorbing all the info I could, quit factory farmed food early December and found a farm in central Jersey to buy meat from. Talked to the owner over e-mail, an ex-factory farmer, felt like a good thing. I’d get all choked up going there and seeing the animals in the fields. Thought it was happy feeling but didn’t feel completely right, was off a bit. I kept bombarding myself with info… Then early January 2008 I remember sitting on my couch with my laptop and Thea.

Since watching, reading and learning so much about animal sentience I had began looking at the eyes of all the animals in all the videos and pictures and seeing something I had never seen or noticed before, something familiar.

I always saw it in people and in Thea and other dogs, now I was seeing it in every animal I looked at.

Emotions and knowing and wanting and everything. I was thinking a lot about how the farmer who I was going to buy meat from talked about caring for and loving his animals, and respected them and the articles that spoke about how wonderful what he was doing was. It didn’t add up when I’d think about how he kills them. I couldn’t translate that into love I knew. I struggled with this a lot leading up to this night and was on their site trying to find some kind of clarity to how he could love them and put them on a truck and then kill them and sell and eat a loved one. The eyes were all there in the pics of the animals he was selling as food. I was so upset, frustrated and confused.

Then moments later, same time more or less, I started watching a preview for a documentary that may be the most important video I will ever see (Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home). It was then, it is now and I can’t imagine seeing anything that will change my life for the better more that it has. About halfway through, tears flowing, I found my answer. An eye appeared on my screen. It belonged to a nameless factory pig. Eye raised slowly through a hole in the metal wall of a transport truck pulling into a slaughterhouse. That single pigs eye was filled with such raw emotion of fear and pain and sadness and a hopeless knowing that things were only going to get much much worse for him or her. That eye screamed to me with perfect clarity- PLEASE HELP! I then looked at the eyes next to me, rewound, back at screen and then back to Thea. I did this a few times… then with buckets coming out of my eyes, I said into hers… what’s the difference? ….and that was that.


Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home
The point in my life where one moment I was the person I was for thirty years.. then 1 minute 17 seconds later I was me… (This is just the preview as I saw it. At the end of tribute will be links to the full documentary with many others).

I always had a five year marker in my mind. I never told anyone of my doubts, but I always strived for it and thought thats the day. Five years, I’ll fully believe in myself then. It’s next month (January 2013). I’m dumbfounded. Crying and laughing as I type cause I’m like “Yea, I’m so vegan for life now, I’ma get a neck tattoo that says “Vegan, Fuck Yea!”” But in reality, that tattoo is already inside me. It’s all the images, stories, new friends, and heroes. It’s those three eyes that are forever connected and forever inked into my soul that January night… and I LOVE that. In the true definition of that word, not in the way it’s so carelessly used, but the way it’s carefully placed where it belongs. People see me and they think animal rights. If they’ve known me for a while they know what a massive change I made, what a garbage disposal of a gullet I had and whether they want to admit it or not they see how much I enjoy it, how I’m thriving on this lifestyle and how easy it is to change. They often crack mindless unoriginal jokes that I hear and I actually enjoy that too (anytime someone says vegan it means they’re thinking about animals and if others hear it too… yes please, double win!) If they just met me they see he cares and models his actions to match his principles. Principles they undoubtedly have, and it makes them think or say something. I’m grateful for all of that and everyone who played even the smallest part, knowingly or unknowingly, in my five-year journey. I may have lost some people. Whatever, it happens. My door and mind is always open for repair, but as you can see I have gained so much that missing out is a funny thing I hear from people who are obviously projecting their own inner struggles with change and making the connection, doing away with the disconnect we’ve all been conditioned with since children. I hear it thrown at me and other vegans often and I always smile cause I know now how special it feels to look into all the eyes of life and hear my eyes, my soul speaking to them saying – I will never harm you or pay someone to, I will always speak for you and I will do my very best to protect your valuable life.

“…and I saw the life go out of that individual a little bit at a time… And I never again in my life
wanted to be involved in something that took the life out of anything. ” -Howard Lyman

Your Beautiful Eyes

As cliché as it may sound, it really is simple as saying it was all in the eyes for me. They were the translators of the soul for me and the connection was made by just forgetting everything, or not thinking, and staying open to love and looking in for a moment. The emotions and awareness and life behind them changed my life and added or uncovered, so many new layers of emotions. When I think of how I was before, how I thought about animals and what I saw when I looked ‘at’ them it’s like thinking about something unknown. A language I never knew, or an invention never invented. It doesn’t go very well, the thoughts are blank and confusing. Maybe that’s a defense mechanism protecting this new way of thought and feeling, maybe it’s just me? I’ve had many talks the last five years about this, and most recently this Christmas with a person I admire, and who has been saving animals and meeting and making vegans for a long time. It seems as if there is no good answer and it vexes everyone once they become aware. It makes me think maybe it’s not important even though we all want to know so badly how to better reach people. People who we are certain would thank the person who showed them the light. Maybe the only thing that’s important is continuing with what works, keeping the eye openers out in the open and it will happen eventually, and maybe it already is. I’ve only been at this for a short time and I think a lot about how much change has occurred during it. One word can sum it up best: Daiya.

Then I hear Terry talk about to celebrating her 20-year veganniversary and what it was like in ‘93 and how much change has occurred since then, and how much faster it’s occurring every year and I drive home with thoughts of hope and inspiration and a desire for more more more, and I can’t wait to share with people on the fence and all the pics I took and stay up all night making a video slideshow and reflect, and see Roy and man I miss my Homegirl, and the people who might not be on the fence but they rescue dogs and how I can get into their heart cause man, that person as a vegan, watch out world! The phone rings and she’s off to Ohio to do a transport with a quick stop in upstate NY on the way back to bring a few more to South Jersey. And that other friend, she’s the biggest anti dog-fighting girl I have ever met. All I see is from her is endless hope and doesn’t shy from the brutality and everyone loves her and has the power to change minds the moment her mouth opens, not mention when she walks in a room, how do we get her! And my tough guy buddy on Facebook who just rescued his first pit, he can’t seem to get enough info in and out of him lately and never passes up an opportunity to be the voice for them and he’s fresh and has that new fire that we all felt right before and while we were year one’rs. Its so powerful, and if he just takes it a touch further. I mean, I can see these people want this because of what they do, and how in the blink of an eye what they clean their toilet with or what they eat at a bbq or what the wear in the winter will matter so little and so much that when they think of using an animal they will get angry, sad and confused like a reflex… and I drive and I think and there’s usually no music till Delaware and it goes so quickly. /happyrant

People at Poplar often ask me “You drove from Jersey?!” I get such a good feeling from that. I wish I could answer like above and tell them that they themselves are a big reason, but I usually just smile and give the short answer, “It goes quick- Delaware, Baltimore, Poplar, easy.” “This place is awesome” is said a lot, too.

Poplar Spring’s Driveway

Poplar Spring’s driveway. It’s such a special part of all of this for me. I’m convinced there’s some sort of time warp / wormhole thing going on. It always takes ten times as long driving down it when I get there, and then when leaving, I’m on the street in the blink of an eye regardless of how many times stopping to take pics and the slow crawl I drive at.

image04

So many wonderful emotions have occurred on it. A true testament to how the simple things in life can be so special, and how you can never predict them, they just happen and they tell you… this is special, and is automatically taken from the always-remembered-and-thought-of often file, and moved into the never-forgotten-and-thought-of daily vault.

The first time I went to Poplar I was so giddy, and nervous. I had been looking forward to going there for a couple of years and to any sanctuary for almost five. I had never seen a farm animal up close besides a farm fair when very young, and I always thought I would get emotional when I saw my first rescued factory pig since that was a huge part of what led me to who I am, and to Poplar. What happened when I pulled up that driveway was nothing I had ever imagined, not once. If you’ve seen my pics, videos or have been to Poplar you know how beautifully long and winding it is. That’s not it, though. As I start getting closer, driving through the towns, I started noticing the main road was becoming a back road and when going over a hill or a bend I would get a glimpse at the road ahead and see what looked like a caravan. We were all going to the same place! It started, the excited emotions kicked up a notch, but still didn’t think I would see and feel what I was about to…. So I turn into poplar, “Oh my this is so pretty” camera on the ready, sprawling fields, century old trees, cars ahead of me driving as fast as we could without being dangerous, showing the first sign of calm eagerness to just get there… Then, the final bend approaching, camera in hand, slow to a crawl and I see it. Oh my goodness. I drop my camera and nearly ran over the volunteer directing cars. Not really, but I lost it. ALL THE CARS ALL THE PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE THE PEOPLE MY PEOPLE. I’M FINALLY HERE! It was beautiful. I couldn’t believe it!

I parked, the event had started already and the people getting there when I did were all parking and hustling with the happiest calm purpose I have ever seen. If I said I got out of my car within ten minutes of parking I’d be lying. No way I was in any condition to meet people. I sat and composed myself, got my sappy ass together and started walking up the final stretch of driveway. Now I’m seeing all the people again, and oh boy! The people! The calm hustle, the glow. I had to stop, and get myself together again. “Ok, Jason… walk.” So I start up again and take some pics, and approach the first check in table/tent, aaannnd now would be a good time to pretend to use my phone for a minute… This continued until I was knee deep in the event (still on the driveway) and just as I am about to lose it again, Ryan, my homeboy from 1st grade rings my phone with much needed distraction “Where ya at?!” We locate each other and check me in at the volunteer table. We walk up and as soon as I say my name the girl responds, “Hi, Jason! You made it! Do you want a green or red travel coffee cup, all the volunteers get one,” like she knew me, like I was part of the family. Yep, here it comes again! I did a pretty good job keeping my composure (on the outside) and eventually some form of the word green came out.

The rest of the day I was completely awestruck. The people, the animals, the happy bustling calm. You could tell just by looking at everyone and seeing how they carried themselves that they were at their favorite place and a new face with wide eyes made them even happier. Not in any weird over friendly or pompous way, but in the most welcoming, laid back, confident, cool way I could dream up. I think it was rainy but only from remembering not being able to use sunglasses as a security blanket and looking at the pics after. Everything was glowing like it was July but it was early October.

Proper first day at Poplar, no doubt.

Thank you Terry and Dave for surrounding yourselves with rescued animals, so I can be part of something so good and right and to be welcomed into the group of awesome people who flock there because WE love it so much!

Perfect Day

I never imagined I would be spreading Thea’s ashes. When she passed I gave it brief thought, and couldn’t think of a better place than close to me. I considered all the places we lived and made memories. Nothing came to me. So keeping them close by my side was clearly the only option for me. I was happy to keep them and didn’t think twice about it till Thanksgiving when it came to me. I wanted my Thea’s memory to forever be a part of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. It entered my head and just like that, it was what I wanted. It made perfect sense and not once did I second guess the choice leading up to the 20th of January, and thereafter.

Thea may have never set paw on Poplar’s ground, but she lead me there, and she’s been right there with me ever since the first visit – the day everything Poplar entered my heart and she was there, waiting with a welcoming wiggle of her nub.

After Thanksgiving I waited till Christmas to ask in person. A personal request such as this isn’t something you do without a personal touch. A heartfelt yes was returned with a comforting smile accompanying it. Perfect. Then, on my my fourth visit, celebrating my five year veganniversary and Thea’s birthday I took her remains, her memory, to Poplar.

The day was a special one for many reasons. Some can’t be put into words and some are for me… so I will keep those and share three that were special that I won’t soon forget.

The first special thing to happen was the compliment / thank you that I read a moment or two after I woke up that morning. It was in regards to a rough draft of this tribute. It warmed my heart, put a smile on my face and the first tear of the day ran down my cheek. I’m not sure if I needed it yet because I was still waking up, but if any sadness, anxiety or ill feelings were about to come in- this message was there standing guard. Waiting to turn them away and to welcome me to the safe haven for animals she and her husband created. A place that My Thea’s ashes would be spread later that day. It kicked off a perfect day in a fittingly perfect way.

The second was just a few moments before spreading Thea’s ashes. We were all hanging at the big chicken barn, finishing up chores and again, before I could even think “It’s going to happen in a few minutes,” a beautiful blind goat named Josie decided to make sure I was filled with love just in case I needed it. I first saw Josie in a video just about a year ago and she was jumping and doing twirls and I don’t remember why or what was going on with me that day, but my comment when seeing the video posted last January was “Oh man. That jump… I needed that” Same comment applies now, and the jump this day wasn’t a twirl, it was into my heart.

The third was my buddy Ryan, who introduced me to Terry and Dave and everything Poplar a few months before and twisted my arm for much longer to come for a visit. Saying that now sounds like crazy talk, twisting my arm!? He came up big with his persistence then, and this perfect day, being there up until I was alone with Thea’s ashes… and had I chosen to not be alone – he was there for that too.

Thea’s memory is now forever at Poplar Spring. Greeting all with a hello and a see ya soon.

image00

image09 image03 image01

The driveway thing happened again on Thanksgiving and most likely on Christmas had I not done 360’s on I-95 in front of a stupid bacon truck. :) I smile now because if you had the same steady stream of bizarre occurrences and coincidences I’ve been having the last month you would, too. Its not possible not to recognize, think about, and enjoy. Not doing so would be a total boring snooze fest.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” -Kerouac

Hardwired

I talk a lot about how I truly believe we are all hard wired with empathy and compassion being a guiding force and from the time we are born, and from the time our parents and their parents were born, we’ve all been told to break the connection. Greed, something else I think we are hardwired with, is the cause, but only because it took a wrong turn a very long time ago. Greed for truth and love I think is the way to reattach the connection and to spread it, and to right the wrong.

I know that might sound hokey, but think about it. You fall in love; you hear about something that you never knew about, a truth that rocks you. Your interest is piqued, you can’t get enough, you want more, you want to share it, you want more people to know and so on. I mean, I helped two people recently go vegan. I want to help 50 tomorrow and 50 the next day if I can. Greedy, yep. Selfish, WHY NOT? It makes me feel great. I want lots of love everyday, thats why I rescued a dog on death row. My love saves a life. Call me a selfish greedy SOB all you want, I’ll be over here loving someone that wants to play the “Who can love more game,” and reinforcing my already ironclad connection to all life.

I’m also going to seek as much truth as possible and tell as many people as possible. It makes me feel good to make myself smarter and more tuned in and the people around me more tuned in. The animals told me they want me to keep telling the truth and keep finding out more, they need it and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Basically you can call it whatever, wanting more good is good when it doesn’t exploit or harm anything. Greed for life, love, awareness, emotions. Keep the moderation, that’s a nonsense vice people hang onto so they don’t cause too much harm at once. I don’t want to moderate knowledge and awareness and happiness and emotions. Ok, time and place. Fine. I can’t laugh too much or cry or show anger when working. But that doesn’t mean I’m not wanting it and getting and releasing it as soon as possible and wanting more. So long as it doesn’t take the wrong turn and head down the road where something is exploited – Do it.

I know once I made the initial connection I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know it all and I dove in headfirst, and that’s been a constant. And there is nothing in me that I don’t see in pretty much everyone I know – in one way or another. Sure I was raised to get a glass and take the spider outside instead of a tissue and flush, and the six-year-old badass me was getting in the face of babysitter’s boyfriend not allowing salt to be put on that slug. But I think that was hardwired into my mom and then continued into me. Most people wouldn’t kill a damn thing unless it was going to kill them. Thats why I say we are all the same, we all have it in us to be kind first. Sure, some have a bigger wall up, or their wiring is a bit more jacked up, but simple beauty and heartbreaking ugliness and the greed for truth and love placed correctly can sort that out like a master electrician and a wrecking ball.

Simple beauty by witnessing individual unique personalities. It can be sharing peaceful moments in a barn snuggling into the clouds that line heaven with an 800 pound gentle giant or standing with hundreds of people and witnessing the meticulous annihilation of a dump truck load of pumpkins. Or relaxing on a couch with your biggirl or playing fetch in the backyard or watching the scarfing down of special birthday banana peanut butter dish or napping in the rays coming through the barn window or bay window and watching them wake up only to move back into the rays that moved or watching a group of friends being silly romping and running in a field without seats made from other animals on their sleek backs.

Experiencing that beauty, and really taking it in, and having seen the flip side, and what we do to them. The intense horrific moments that happen every second. It’s so important to me to not look away from the dark. To kick down the door of complacency and see the wrong and see the right and to let it all soak in, and looking again and again cause it hasn’t stopped yet. Accepting and refusing, and keeping it fresh. That doesn’t mean I’m afraid I’ll cheat and eat something or use something if I don’t watch the latest undercover video that pops up in my feed. No chance in hell. I have plenty inside to keep me and vegan for 100 lifetimes. Edit. A bagillion lifetimes. I keep it fresh to keep fresh what I project, how I carry myself, how I represent a cause that I feel is so important and have so much respect for. How I respond, react and what I act on, and when it’s needed. How I’m seen by every non-vegan and veg curious person in the world who crosses my path and needs the inspiration like I did, like we all did. Like we all do. Or how Terry, Dave, Jenny, James, Ryan, Leah, Gary, Jo, Jnet, Nat, Deb, Kristin, Lea, Mom or any of the people on the admire and inspired list see me. I think of all the used animals I’ve met, or seen in videos or pictures and I hear them ask me why am I going stale? I see the nameless factory pig whose eye partnered up with my Thea’s to turn my love light on blast. I hear him asking why I looked away, why I haven’t been to Poplar recently and reminding me that it took me almost five years to meet his brethren. I stay fresh to never let a vapid reason keep me from speaking for the voiceless and standing up for the used. I don’t look away from the horror and I celebrate the shine for all of those reasons individually and as one and for the most important of them all… how I see myself with the eyes in my heart. Not staying true to myself, not shining in my Thea’s eyes makes my stomach turn more than anything I could possibly see.

So I stay fresh by driving six hours to spend four hours at a sanctuary on Christmas. I eagerly pick up poop with a mixed group of like minded “greedy for love” people ranging from young kids staying connected to adults refreshing and celebrating their awareness and reconnection to life. Getting chased by a bunch of happy pigs with Deb cause we ran out of apples. It’s all a fun way to stay aware, tuned it and to balance out the constant reminders of what side of the fence we are on, and why. Reminders of how greed can go wrong and what side of the fence those who bred them to be so painfully gigantic are on, and maybe next time throwing the apples over the fence might be a better idea then walking deep into their turf, hand feeding them and inevitably running out because they always want more apples! Reminders that we aren’t alone, we aren’t a specific type and new people like me pop up in Maryland on Christmas and its both no big deal and very special at the same time.

I know people who do both, they spend very little time with animals and they always look away from the nasty. I’m not judging, it’s difficult, but I know they would rather be stronger and their conviction in refusing all exploitation is far less than the people I know who spend time with, who watch without looking away, who bare witness, who stay true, who are obviously happy. All I am saying to those who say it’s too hard is this: we know how hard it is, we are not stronger than you, our schedules aren’t easier. If you stay true to your principles, you will be happy, maybe even happier, but you will NEVER regret any of it. I promise.

No matter how painful it is to see and mother not be able to move while her infant child is castrated and thrown on the metal ground beside her; or how sad it seeing a child yanked out of a mother’s womb and drug away by its “whatever is handy” screaming and dripping with afterbirth and watching the mother’s eyes and hear her cries, or to see one defenseless life not be able to do anything about the other who won’t stop hurting her because she too has gone crazy and stabbing her open sore is what life is now. I loathe every second of it and I will never look away and I will never accept any of it with willful ignorance or some ridiculous rationalization. Thats not me. I’m too greedy. Not looking away and burning all those images and experiences into my mind IS me, and they are all so important to me.

“It’s like you innately know that this is not right
Otherwise I wouldn’t feel so bad about it
I wouldn’t feel so sad” – Harold Brown

Just as important as following up all that horror with its antidote, it’s “David.” Be it a short video starring a blind goat named Josie doing twirls in the air playing with her caretakers and trying to figure out who is enjoying it more- them, Josie or me? A random girl’s slideshow documenting her internship at Farm Sanctuary and finally sending in that application. A few minutes of Peaceable Kingdom and my hope meter is back to explode. Making that final turn at Poplar Spring and feeling the happy ripping through my veins.

Theres nothing dark that can go toe to toe with that power. NOTHING.


“A Thing Called Poplar Love” – Picture Slideshow with music after first to Poplar for the Fifteenth Annual Fundraiser Open House 10.7.2012

April 23, 2010

The night Thea died was a Friday. The whole thing lasted under an hour and she died next to my bed. These minutes that make up the worst hour of my life were packed with fear, uncertainty, panic and a heavy, hopeless feeling. The regrets I have are not acting sooner and acting at all and letting someone that’s dying, to die in peace. Although for the most part I kept my cool, there were a couple scattered minutes that I didn’t. Wasting any of those panicking instead of comforting or giving privacy and in turn scaring her even more than her dying body was already. That makes me angry. I know it was a normal reaction at the start, the “What the hell is going on,” and at the end when I knew she was already gone but I didn’t want to hear it, I was giving her CPR and wasn’t going to just do nothing! How could I? Still, I beat myself up for trying and those last three gasps I brought out of her haunt me.

The whole desperate scene didn’t need to happen and be such a stain on the beautiful memory that was us. The chest compressions and mouth to snout. Easily the most desperate and tragic moments I have lived. She didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve me making taking her outside because I thought she was going to be sick when I first heard her heavy rapid incessant pants from the other room. She deserved to be left alone and not have me scaring her more.

After the three gasps, I picked up the heaviest thing I have ever picked up, all 95 pounds of her body like it was a bag of feathers. In the car, on the way to hospital there was no more doubt when it filled with the worst smell I have ever smelled. I thought it was a mess, but it was only the gas. Get to the hospital, they come out with stretcher, ask about doing a procedure and the cost, yes if it’s doable, if she can live hell yes! But I knew.

In the waiting room, tech comes in a minute later with the obvious info…

My Thea was gone.

I knew it at the beginning of the end when I looked into her eyes. Her beautiful brown sparkling
eyes that guided me into happiness every time she looked into mine.
I knew it when we were outside and they returned the darkest look of fear I’ll ever see.
I knew it when she was trying to get behind the dresser. To be alone. To die.
I knew it when I was trying to start her heart and breath for her and shouted her name THEA!.
I knew it when I saw those last three gasps.
I knew it when I carried her lifeless body to the car for one last ride.
I knew My Thea died at home that night, and the 23rd of April would always stand out on the calendar for the worst reason.

A few somber minutes pass, then he brings her in so I can say goodbye. She was gone but I still kissed her where kisses go (between the eyes, bridge of the nose, that little dip… that’s where kisses go.) I whispered to her that she was always such a good girl I loved her so much and and even though sometimes I was mad or she thought she was bad that she still was such a good girl and daddy loved her so much and I’m sorry if she ever doubted any of that and thanked her for making me a better man and how she was such a good girl. I gave her a few scratches behind the ear and under where her collar normally is, the collar that was jingling in my hand. I buried my nose in her and took a few final deep smells and ran my fingers through her coat and gave them one last time to feel the thing they loved touching more than anything ever.

I hoped she heard me, I hoped for the first time in my life for an afterlife, and that she was watching and is now waiting for me. I shook the vet tech’s hand, with the only tears I have shown to anyone outside my house about her and left.

Eight yrs and three months. One fourth of my life, yet I think back to any day before her and it’s like she’s there… but she’s not. Just like now. Just like that ride home.

I leave and get to the parking lot and kept saying over and over “Now what am I supposed to do?” and I meant it. I had no clue how to live without her. She was my compass. She was there for everything, good and bad, to pick me up or to celebrate. She taught me so much and I learned even more through her. I felt like I was just borrowing the knowledge, or that the knowledge wouldn’t work without the two of us activating it.

Going for the car door, the back door, was the first in what was a seemingly never ending series of reminders of the void she left. She went everywhere with me and even before this moment, I would always go to grab that handle first and laugh, because the times she wasn’t with me were far outweighed by the times she was. I didn’t laugh this time, I opened it and slammed it shut. I wouldn’t be saying up, or good girl or fastening her custom homemade big girl no tangle comfy safe seat belt (two harness fashioned in a way I could never duplicate if I tried, a couple short leads, heavy duty lead, rock climbing carabiners, MacGyver tv show as a kid and a strong paranoia of protecting the only thing that mattered from flying out the window.) That worry was no more and that scared the shit out of me.

Back at the house, no Thea to get out of her backseat. No Thea inside waiting to dance at my feet. No TV on. No asking her what shes watching. No Thea couchface looking over the couch as I walk through the door. None of it. I call my friend(s) and leave her a voicemail to call me. I never leave her voicemails and if I didn’t she would have waited till the next day. She calls back pretty quickly as a result, knows something is up and now came the job of hurting her, badly. I had to tell her… Thea died tonight. She instantly exploded. I still hear her voice in my head. The desperate questioning of what, how, oh my god, are you OK, why?! Hysterical, and worried about me and feeling everything she’s ever felt. All her losses surfaced at once. Hard. All the deaths… the tragic ones, the slow, arduous ones. I heard her husband in the background, he knows. That kind of reaction is easy to identify. I told her the basic details and we cried, I did my best to calm her down and that I was OK (“OK” meaning “not going to headbutt the wall till I was unconscious”) and that I would see them tomorrow and we hang up.

Spent, in a daze and feeling sad I sit down, turn the TV up and just stared. The question in my head since the hospital parking lot was the only thing left… “Now what am I supposed to do?” It was a broken record skipping to a beat perfectly out of time by my freshly broken heart.

The next morning I woke up early with purpose and got the hell out of that house. I had to help my buddy move and easily could have bailed but staying home sounded like straight torture. I met up with him and we got started, then an hour or so into it, sitting at a red light in the moving truck I told him. Thea died last night. He was shocked. He was shocked because I was still standing, still breathing, there helping him move and not a steady flow of tears. He was great about it, too. Showed solid concern and quickly recognized I needed to help him move that morning and didn’t dwell asking a ton of questions.

Everyone knew how close we were, and the looks and feelings I saw when telling people in those the weeks after I’ll never forget. Shock, sympathy, pain. For me and some for themselves. I saw how everyone, like a reflex thinks about their own “Thea” and they get a rush of “Now what I am I supposed to do” or some form of it. Many already had experienced such loss and their pain jumps out from the darkness and kicks them right in the gut.

For the longest time going home was awful, and even being out the natural alarm would go off in my head and I would think I didn’t have to be home now. That sucked so hard, it all sucked. That night after she died I went out and stayed out all night till the sun was coming up. On the ride home I was a mess, thinking about walking through that door and her not being there. This would be the third time since. The the song “So Lonely” by The Police came on and I lost it. I walked in and immediately downloaded the song and just put all the pics together with the song. Didn’t really edit it, I could barely figure out how to work the program, just put a bunch of pics in at once and the song file and play. It was painful but it helped. I deleted it off Facebook a while ago and didn’t save the file. Few weeks ago I was making the Poplar Love High video and thought how I never hear “So Lonely,” not since making that pic vid. It never comes on the radio or is suggested in my Youtube, and I listen to that kind of music and radio stations that would play it plenty. Kind of odd, but what isn’t these days!

image08

Make It Rain, James

I thrive on the belief that some things are meant to be shared openly since they make us so much of who we are, and others are meant to be kept very close and private. Whether it’s an object or a random few seconds of time that got stuck, or placed in the front for whatever reason. They are memories that are not to be let out cause if they are they might lose their luster, their Shine. I can’t imagine bringing them up in a casual conversation, taking nothing away from whomever I’m talking to. Be it a love, a kind stranger, a family member or a good friend, old or new. They are mine to hold on to, and without them I’m the person I was before Thea, before my life changed. So I guard them with my life… because they are my life.

Other than the choice few memories or the objects and pictures that will only be seen by a handful of eyes, Thea’s life and passing is something I talk about openly. I even find myself wanting to more when I see a person in pain from a loss. I offer myself for listening and sharing with them, being aware and sensitive to their feelings and feeling out their desire for privacy. I have yet to have someone respond with anything but appreciation and understanding of why I would reach out to them in their time of loss. They might keep it short or be long winded like me, but they are always thankful it’s noticed, and while my specific feelings of love and loss may be unique to me and my close ones, just as to your and yours. Make no mistake about it, they are something we share with ALL life. Happiness, love, pain, loss, are the strongest and most basic emotions that know no species. They are always noticed in others, always felt… it is the connection. Acknowledging them is a mere choice.

We all have our own ways of dealing and paying tribute to love lost. I am sure I’m not the only person who when they hear James Taylor or “Pictures of You” it goes directly to their “Thea” and it affects them deeply. They might only want to listen in private or welcome them at anytime. They might sit and reflect or dance on the bar! It’s all special and their way of celebrating the unique bond. For me, when those songs or any off a short list of “Thea Songs” come on in the company of others. No.. Thats private time on purpose. I stand and walk till the sound is out of my ears. If it’s not possible, I try to change it or I do my best, but even when completely unavoidable I still haven’t really cried about her in front of or to anyone. My sister walked in on me listening last 17th and saw it. I saw the pain it instantly caused her, it reminded her of her own and she saw her brother’s deepest hurt in all it’s gut wrenching splendor. Besides that, the hard uncontrollable feelings don’t hit me the same when I’m not alone. Maybe thats me controlling them? I don’t really understand it. Maybe it’s because I do cry about her often, but always alone; that I don’t hide from it when the subject comes up and I bring her up on the regular. I’ll entertain any conversation someone wants to have about their loss and I talk about Thea and mine. On her special days I embrace the feelings in private. I celebrate my love, our love, our time, My Thea. I crank up the stereo and remember dancing with her. I let her love shine. I make it rain. Maybe all that helps? The controlled release. Maybe I keep the tears as a private thing on purpose? Maybe I’m guarding them so they stay special? I don’t know the answers and Thea was my first love who passed so all these feelings are new to me. Two years and nine months new.

One thing’s for sure, I don’t like to think about feeling this again, a new loss. Like the worry of being able to love again before I met Roy, our capacity. When applying that to loss I think of Roy and the others in my life that would set off similar intense lasting feelings of loss. It’s so hard to think about this rationally while writing this. Focusing on the heartache, and then saying that the pain is needed to love, or that you can’t have the one without the other and that it’s all worth it… but it’s true, and it really is all worth it.

Writing this part of her tribute, her death and my personal feelings of her loss absolutely wrecked me for a couple days and I unconsciously left it to be done last. It wasn’t till I was finished and thinking what I may have missed and needed to add that the pain raised its hand and gave a snarky smile. So I dove in headfirst, and it didn’t stop. I’ve tried to write about her death before and dipped my toe in to test the waters. But I knew what the water felt like, I didn’t need to test it. I did it because I was afraid and it worked, I backed off. That same fear presented itself in the week before her birthday. I was afraid of not being able to write a worthy tribute, to stare at a blank screen unable to truly convey what Thea meant to my life. How she presents herself in everything I do. What saying “My Thea” represents. The doubt and fear ruled me for days. I tried, would write a few sentences for hours, and the panic got worse by the minute. I couldn’t even paint an empty bathroom. Something that always takes my mind to a robot-like place. Then, the night before her birthday came. I walked in the door and looked at Roy… and it was Party Time!. Music, toys, noms, wrestling, spirits, ball in the house, backyard stick action, we did it up for Thea… and then I sat down. It was around 1am, her birthday, and I typed and read and listened and more ball in the house and looked at her pics and talked to Roy… and I wrote about the things that My Thea made till the sun was shining. Then at 10:01am I sent a text message I’ll never forget to “Miss Paragraphs-Are-Your-Friend”: “I got something special I want you to read.”

Then I put my phone away, and looked up and there was my buddy waiting patiently, like he always does, for me to take the stick out of his mouth and throw it… and we played in the same backyard that me and Thea played in so many times… and it was her birthday.

I was so worried about finishing this tribute and getting to Poplar and spreading her ashes on her birthday. Then the afternoon before her birthday, talking with a friend who said he had a similar stress last year and to not worry about the date so much, it’s what you write that’s important. It will come. He was right, it came and thinking about how I celebrated her, writing through the night till morning on her birthday, with Roy, and then the final minutes of 1/17 being woken up on the couch by Thea’s memory and the memory of that eye through the hole in the transport truck five years ago so I could read an email before days end that still has my head shaking when thinking about it… then the perfect day at Poplar spreading her ashes. Yes, I do believe in magic… and you should, too!


Poplar Love High

Handsome Boy Roy

If Thea lead me to my first connections and taught me my first lessons about about the depth of love that can be shared with an animal, and the loss. It was Roy and adopting him that taught me about the endless capacity we have inside for both love and loss. I had so many doubts and worries about forgetting or replacing that love and having room for any new love. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to love him enough or I would end up resenting him if I did and Thea’s got pushed out a bit. No thanks, that was her place inside me and it was there for a reason. I even worried when I noticed the pain was fading, I wanted it back. The thought of going numb, no pain with no love scared me tremendously. I missed her so much and at first, the pain was so harsh everyday. Then as the days and months dragged on and the house stayed quiet and dark, the fear of the pain fading and not having any life or love to share got heavier and heavier. I finally told myself that there are millions getting killed and you need to do something. I couldn’t let myself go numb, I have seen it happen and its like quicksand. I needed the unconditional love again, no matter my fear of replacing hers, I had to do it. I told myself it will make me feel better saving a life. And hell yea it did! What I was surprised to find was not only her love wasn’t fading, it was only settling down so her memory could shine brighter, and my new love for Roy had no I’ll effect on my first love… It enhanced it!

I would see things in Roy and remember Thea. I’d admire things about him that she frustrated me with at an early age, and I would joke with him about how she would do something better or put him in his goofy puppy place. I would notice things that Roy did because he was dumped at a shelter that Thea didn’t. Things like never sleeping a wink without having most of his head on my foot or arm or leg for at least a month. The fear of rejection and doubt, the endless desire and hope to be loved in his eyes. A look I still see and makes me think of Thea’s and how she looked and loved and knew only me being there, and how he shows me that more and more everyday. The training techniques, the playing, the ‘Go potty’ said by a grown ass man to a 100+ pound American Bulldog, the basic how to deal with a new unique personality, the baby talk. It was all stuff I did with Thea and kept her memory and love present throughout my early time with Roy and to this day. Celebrating them both as if they were together.

Oooh ooh That Smell

I never thought after Thea passed that the crossing of the memories would bring me so much joy. Sometimes they are a hard cross, a complete night and day opposite. Others would be nearly identical. Either way, they were so special for their own reasons, and I learned very quickly after bringing Roy home that not recognizing it would mean missing out on celebrating her memory and not feeling that rush of love again. That rush that comes over us like a flashback, a deja vu. They hit like a ton of bricks and always out of nowhere. It’s like being away from the house for longer than usual and coming home and smelling that familiar smell. That smell all of us animal people struggle trying to remove on the regular, especially when guests are coming over. The stank. But not being near it for a touch longer than your nose is used to… you walk through the door, or get in the car or unfurl a blanket, and woosh! That smell that sparks the remembrance of love. And you pause. Maybe a smile, a tear, a laugh, or gaze into the sky.

Those moments mean so very much to me and going to Poplar the second time I had one that was very unexpected because it was so soon. “How could this be a familiar smell already, this was only my second time here?” I thought as I walked up the driveway on Thanksgiving. I had just arrived and my first whiff of the day hit my memory, and the feelings from the first time were back!

The remembering of a touching moment. Yea, dog stank is dog stank and farm stank is, well, yea. But have a touching moment with a strong smell and that smell, whether its perfume or poo, is burned into your memory over on the awesome side… and I got no problem with that.

A Love Statement, No Matter

When people bring a new friend that just needs a home and someone to adore into their lives and share a incredibly brief piece of time with them they are making a statement. They are saying I understand the inevitable and I am choosing love, no matter what.

No matter the obvious fact that their time is always a nasty little fraction of our lives, and at times it seems like eternity when thinking of how fast it all went, and and how long it feels since they were looking up at us as we walked through the door, or how sometimes we walk through that door and it feels like yesterday.

No matter that the gut wrenching moments seem to come mostly when happy or least expecting or whenever they want.

No matter, this love shared with a companion includes never hearing the words I love you, yet the love can be so unrivaled.

No matter the final moments, or days, or weeks, will be spent wondering and wishing for just an idea of what’s going on, how they feel, can we do anything, “YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU RIGHT??!”

No matter all the evil soul taxing regrets will always find a way to sneak in- “Did I, should I have, I wish, what if, maybe this, maybe that’…. NO. you did, I did, we did and he or she loved loving with you and you were awesome, and they relished every second spent with you like it was Christmas morning… and when they were waiting for us to come home it was Christmas Eve for a child, and when we got there… man oh man, when we got there…

Coming home to a dog, I know nothing better in this world. It’s the best part of any day I have had, good or bad. Its always the same magic “OH MY GOD YOU’RE HERE OH MY GOD YOU’RE HERE I LOVE YOU HOLY MOLY DADDY YOU’RE HERE I LOVE YOU YOU’RE HERE YAY YOU’RE HERE TOUCH ME TOUCH ME YOU’RE THE BEST!” x100

image02 image10 image07 image05

The statement we make is all the pain that comes with it is no secret and signing on means absolutely, no fucking doubt – IT’S ALL WORTH IT and how could anyone not want something that loves to love you so much. Seriously, How!?

FOR

It’s not till recently I could say with such conviction that I will be a vegan for life… That’s not a problem anymore… I am a vegan FOR life. It’s who I am as much as my fingers typing these words are. As much as my eyes and my heart that guide me are… as much as Mr. Handsome is and certainly as much as my Thea who started it all is. She would be 11 today, and it feels like yesterday she was wiping her breakfast slobberface on my leg thanking me. Yea, thanking me for putting food in a bowl when she put all this in my heart, the place where she now greets all new love with her big girl boxer peanut dance.

Happy Birthday,
Thea

Thank You for everything above, for the unwritten… and for what’s to come.

Miss you every moment of every day.

-Daddy

image11

Christiano

When Amina passed away, I was in Las Vegas for a conference. It was quite difficult to be away from the family and by the end of my trip, I was very much ready to get back home. Three days after Amina died (and on my last full day in town), I got up early, hopped into my rental car, and headed to the edge of town to go for a slightly crazy run in the desert. It was a hot day — it got up to 99 and was already 80, just a few hours after the sun had come up. I headed east on Tropicana Ave, a heavily traveled road with three lanes in each direction. On a section of the road with no shoulder between the street and the sidewalk, I spotted a white dog walking off-leash with no people near him.

At the next street, I turned around and found a parking lot nearby to stop my car. Fortunately, a woman on a bike was riding by and had stopped to pet the dog, which kept him from stepping out into the street. I approached them slowly and asked, “Is that your dog?” She said he wasn’t and she didn’t seem particularly interested in helping find out who he belonged to. I knelt down and pet the sweet dog, patting his head, scratching his neck, and then slowly grabbing hold of his collar. He had no tags. I told the woman I’d take care of him and she biked away. I held onto his collar and brought him along with me to the next street which had a row of townhouses. I found one man in his garage and asked if he’d ever seen the dog before and he said he hadn’t. I then asked if he had a leash I might be able to use. He disappeared inside his house and brought out a small strap. It wasn’t a leash, but it was better than nothing, so I tied it onto his collar and led the dog back to where I was parked.

I knelt down to pet him and talk to him some more. His fur draped over his eyes and was slightly matted in various places, but otherwise he was healthy and happy. He loved the attention, nuzzling my chest and rolling over on his back for a tummy rub.

Christiano - pet my belly!

I weighed my options. I definitely didn’t want to take him to a shelter where he might be killed. I started thinking, “How can I sneak him into my hotel room for the night?” I didn’t have a smartphone at that time, so I called home to Huyen and had her search for a no-kill shelter nearby. Thankfully, she found the Nevada SPCA, which was no-kill and since it was Monday, it was open. I said, “Come on, boy. We’re going for a ride.” I figured Advantage might not appreciate a dog in the back seat of their rental car, but I would deal with that when the time came.

The dog hopped right in the back of the car and sat down without much prompting. I snapped a picture before taking him to the shelter.

Christiano

I talked with him all the way until I pulled up to the Nevada SPCA’s building. I brought my new friend inside and the woman behind the counter looked at me a little funny for the goofy short strap leash I was holding. When she asked why I was giving him up, I said, “I found him.” She wrote, “Surrendering animal.”

She told me a little more about the Nevada SPCA. It’s a no-kill shelter in the area of the country with the highest per-capital kill rate of dogs and cats. This made me even happier that I’d found them. She also said the area where I found him was a common place pets are let go because the apartment complexes there don’t allow animals. She confirmed that Tropicana Ave is a very dangerous road and that it was a good thing he didn’t wander off the sidewalk into traffic.

I said a quick goodbye and an employee took him behind the counter to prep him for his stay at the shelter.

Photo-0010.jpeg

I headed back out to the car. Before I turned the key, I felt a wash of emotion come over me that hadn’t hit me in the excitement of getting the dog to safety. I’m not one to give much stock to “fate,” “luck,” or the universe giving me some sort of message, but I won’t deny that I got choked up in that moment thinking about Amina and the amazing timing of finding this dog less than 24 hours before I was going to head home, all because I decided to take a run in the desert.

I kept an eye on the Nevada SPCA’s site for a week or two after getting home because they told me he’d probably be up for adoption within a couple of days. It took a while, but he eventually showed up and I recognized him immediately when I saw his eyes. He cleaned up nicely!

Christiano - cleaned up!

They named this Labradoodle “Christiano” and had just a short description on the web site about him:

“Christiano” – “Comical, fun-loving young Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever & Poodle), male, 1 yr.”

When I dropped him off, they assured me he’d have no trouble finding a home, as Labradoodles are extremely popular with families. Sure enough, within two days, he was adopted to “a very nice couple.” I’m pretty sure I would have adopted him on the spot had I not been across the country, but I’m glad he wound up in a good home.

I’ve passed along my contact information to the SPCA to share with the couple. I’d love to share his story with them and hear how he’s doing now. I only spent an hour or so with him, but because of the timing and his personality, I felt a quick connection to him.

I hope he’s doing well.

Amina

5 Comments

It’s been two years since Amina passed away and it’s taken me this long to write an entry about her. And even with all that time, writing a little bit here and there as it felt right, the post was still a tough one to put together.

History

In the fall of 2004, Amina was found wandering on a highway near Lynchburg, VA and brought to a nearby shelter. No owners claimed her. Her time was almost up when, on November 4th, a woman who did dog rescue in the area saved Amina from being euthanized. At that point, she was named Wanderer and spent time bouncing between boarding and foster homes. At some point she may have been given the name Traveller. That Christmas, she had her picture taken with Santa.

Amina with Santa

March 26th of the following year, Friends of Homeless Animals, a local no-kill shelter, brought her in, renaming her Treasure. In late April, my wife and I visited FOHA to meet some dogs. We didn’t click with any of them, so we came back on May 1st to meet some more. That was when we took Amina for a walk on the FOHA grounds.

Meeting Amina

She was stubborn on the leash, but walked at a leisurely pace, sniffing everything with her long hound nose. We took her into the play area to toss a ball for her and let her run off-leash a bit. We laughed as she showed absolutely no interest in any toys and simply kept sniffing around.

As we brought her back from her walk, she tried stealing an entire pan of brownies off of a table (why anyone would have chocolate brownies where there are dozens of dogs around, I’m not quite sure). My wife and I talked it over a bit and decided we loved Amina’s demeanor and wanted to bring her into the family. We wouldn’t be able to bring her home for another week because we had a trip planned, but we decided to start the process.

Before we left for the day, we went into the kennel area and knelt down in front of her cage. Other dogs were barking and going berserk, but she just sat there, looking at us expectantly. “Do you want to come home with us?” I asked her and, in response, she put her paw up on the cage door. We knew she was the one.

We traveled to New York that week, but upon return, we picked her up and brought her home on May 7, 2005, renaming her Amina, an Arabic name meaning “peaceful” or “secure.”

The first few weeks with Amina were a bit rougher than we expected. She was recovering from a mild case of heartworm and still had some treatment left. Unfortunately, she reacted badly to the treatment and went several days without eating or drinking. My grandmother passed away the week after we brought Amina home and because Amina was sick, we made the tough decision that my wife would stay home with her while I drove to my grandmother’s funeral.

Thankfully, Amina started feeling better while I was away and with those first couple of weeks behind us, we were able to relax and get to know one another a little better.

All About Amina

Amina was probably a hunting dog (she had a small buckshot under the skin on one of her hind legs) and was likely bred, as she’d had a litter of puppies. We always hypothesized that she was a bad hunting dog because she got along so well with other animals and never showed any prey drive. Plus, contrary to Blueticks’ tendency for loud and frequent barking, Amina barked less than ten times in the five years she was with us. Many hunting dogs that aren’t “useful” will be shot. Fortunately, Amina either ran off or was let go to fend for herself.

Amina was a calm spirit, but when she first came home with us, she clearly had some anxieties. On walks, she would jump anytime a car drove by, surely a result of wandering on her own along a highway. The first time she met my dad, she growled at him (something she’d never do again with him or anyone else). With time, she learned to trust people and not be anxious around cars.

And though Amina was calm, she also had a sneaky streak in her. Not long after we’d brought her home, Huyen and I were upstairs when we heard a crashing sound downstairs. I ran down and found Amina standing there with an entire baguette in her mouth, bumping it into the table as she turned her head trying to get past.

As sweet as Amina was, she was also notoriously stubborn. There would be times when I’d try to get her to stand up so we could go out for a short walk before bed, and she was absolutely not interested. It would take lots of convincing some nights, prompting her with treats and embarrassing voices. On walks, Amina would have a very set plan in mind about where she wanted to go. More accurately, she had it set in her head where she didn’t want to go. More than once she stood there, feet planted firmly on the ground, unwilling to move in the direction I wanted to move. So, I’d try going another direction, figuring she had a specific route in mind. She didn’t budge. I tried all four directions and she wasn’t interested in going in any of them. She just wanted to stand there until she was good and ready to move. I’m pretty sure she would have made Cesar Milan throw his hands up in frustration.

My favorite “stubborn Amina” story comes from a time we dropped Amina off at my parents’ house when we took a trip to New York. My mom took Amina out for a walk, but by the time they got to the end of the driveway, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain. It was at this point Amina decided to plant it and not move. My mom stood there, getting completely drenched, urging Amina back to the house, without success. My dad still laughs when he describes my mom coming back in the house soaking wet and scowling at Amina for choosing that moment to display her stubborn nature.

Though Amina was likely a hunting dog, clearly we never had her out hunting. She really didn’t have much of a hunting instinct, anyway. We used to petsit a friend’s rabbit for a month each year and Amina showed little more than mild curiosity about the houseguest. However, Amina did like to use her hound nose, so we would challenge her by hiding treats in between sofa cushions, perched on shelves, and behind table legs. We’d come in from our last walk of the night and say, “Where is it?” and she would tear around the room looking for her treats, sometimes burying her face nose-deep into couch cushions or other common hiding places she remembered.

Another personality trait of Amina’s that I’ll never forget was her passive-aggressiveness. If you think a dog is incapable of this type of behavior, allow me to share a common occurrence:

Most nights, Amina slept in bed with us. Usually she’d curl up at the bottom of the bed before I even got under the covers. Sometimes, she’d spread out and I’d have to contort myself in order to find a place to sleep. But every so often, I’d get into bed first and she’d lay on the floor. A few hours later, I’d wake up, open my eyes, and find myself face-to-face with Amina. She would sit there quietly—and kind of creepily—staring at me, waiting for me to move so she could get into bed. Huyen told me that sometimes she’d hear Amina very subtlely whine, just loudly enough to wake me up, but not loudly enough that I’d take notice of it upon waking.

So, I’d groan a bit and say, “OK, girl, hop up,” and pat the bed, making room for her at the bottom. But Amina wouldn’t hop up. She’d just keep staring at me. Eventually, I learned, she was waiting for me to get up and go to the bathroom so she could hop into bed and steal my spot. I guess she figured if she started the night on the floor, I was supposed to finish it there.

I also can’t go without mentioning that she was super patient and very tolerant when our daughter was born. There were no issues with introducting a new member to “the pack” at all.

Hugs to the Best Doggy

The Illness

After Amina had been with us for about 3 1/2 years, she started throwing up some mornings. At first, it was about once a month, but then gradually increased to once every few weeks. Initially we thought it was because she was hungry, so we fed her a small snack first thing in the morning, but that didn’t have much effect. We took her to the vet because this was unusual for Amina. They were dismissive about it, telling us, “Oh, she probably snuck some food and was just throwing it back up.”

But the throwing up progressed and became much more frequent. It started happening every two weeks. Then every week. Then every few days. We tried diet changes. We tried various short-term medicines. We went to a holistic vet and had accupuncture done. No one could give us any real, definitive answers. For months, we were making vet appointments, begging them to help us find what was really wrong with Amina. It got to the point where she was throwing up multiple times a day. Several times we had to take her to the emergency vet for dehydration, once after having thrown up eight times in a single day. Amina stopped eating almost everything.

It wasn’t until a year after the first time we brought her in because of her vomiting that a different vet in the practice suggested we get an ultrasound and endoscopy done to help get a more accurate picture of what was going on inside.
So, we did. Amina was losing weight and though we hated to put her through an invasive procedure that would keep her at the emergency vet overnight, we did it. The doctor that did the procedure told us that the lining of Amina’s stomach, which was supposed to appear smooth, looked “cobblestone-like.” It was completely bumpy and that was why she couldn’t keep any food down.

They took a biopsy to test for cancer. We were relieved when the test came back negative and the doctor diagnosed Amina with the somewhat catch-all diagnosis of “inflammatory bowel disease” (which, it should be noted, is different from “irritable bowel syndrome”). She presented IBD as a harsh and lifelong disease, but that the symptoms would ultimately be treatable. Initially the medications would be somewhat heavy. But that was necessary, she told us, in order to treat the damage that had already been done. After a month or so, she assured us, Amina’s meds could be cut back to a more theraputic dose, once she started eating better, gaining weight, and showing overall improvement.

Amina was put on metocloprimide, Pepcid, a limited ingredient food, metronidizole, and prednisone. Over the next couple of months, the cocktail was adjusted slightly, but those were the typical meds she took. And she didn’t like them. While we were initially able to give her meds in peanut butter, she eventually took a dislike to peanut butter and we had to try every other nut butter in existence just to get her to take her pills.

While we were relieved at the diagnosis and very pleased that the mediciations were keeping her from vomiting (in fact, she didn’t vomit again once she went on her meds), about a month later we started seeing some problematic things. For one, Amina’s appetite was still not great, even with an occasional appetite stimulant. Secondly, and more disturbingly, we noticed she was starting to lose strength in her legs. She was keeping our walks short, stepping tentatively up the stairs onto the porch, and tripping wjem trying to go up to the second floor. We talked to the doctor about this, and she said this was a normal side effect of the prednisone (something she’d never told us to expect). She gave us some recommendations on how to keep Amina’s muscles from atrophying.

Unfortunately, over the next several weeks, it got so bad that we had to help Amina stand and that her legs would completely give out on her. Sure, she wasn’t vomiting anymore, but she was miserable and couldn’t even stand up on her own. It took a lot of pressure, but the doctor finally reduced the dose of prednisone and was going to start transitioning Amina to a replacement.

For our part, we continued the exercises, got her to a physical therapy appointment, and even took her for some water therapy (the first time we ever saw her swim!). In early June, she was still not doing very well, but we had a little bit of hope that we’d be able to turn the corner, get her muscle strength built back up, and get things a little closer to normal again. I had a conference in Las Vegas and it crushed me to leave the family with things in such a precarious state with Amina, but I did. Before heading out the door, I gave Amina a hug and told her, “Start feeling better, OK, girl?”

Two days later, June 11, 2010, after the first session of the conference, I got a call from Huyen. Amina was gone.

Huyen had gone out for the morning with Rasine and was going to go from their first appointment to a playdate at a friend’s house. But Huyen realized she’d left something at home, so stopped by the house to pick it up and decided to take Amina out for a quick pee before she left (the medicine had Amina peeing 10-12 times a day). As they walked through the front yard, Amina collapsed. She couldn’t get up. Huyen knew this was beyond the stumbles Amina had taken before, so she picked Amina up, put her in the back seat of the car, and called the emergency vet to let them know she was on the way. During the five minute trip to the hospital, Amina died.

To say we were crushed and heartbroken would be an understatement. We’d try so hard to help Amina, did our best to get her through her illness and make her comfortable during the treatment… and it was all over, just like that. We were sad, of course, but also angry. We were angry at the vets who blew off our initial concerns. We were angry at the emergency vet who often made us feel like we were doing something wrong with Amina’s treatment or that we were wasting her time. We were angry that we never really found out why Amina was sick.

Even two years after the fact, it’s something that’s hard to talk about. I suspect the wounds will always be there. But, fortunately, we were able to spend five great years with Amina. We have thousands of pictures and even more memories. And I know that as difficult as the last few months were for her, Amina loved us and knew we were doing our best to help her.

We miss you, girl.

Amina's Relaxation Pose

Chistmas Eve Family Portrait

Family Portrait Xmas Eve

Daddy with his Daughters

The furry daughter with her dad

Amina

The last photo I took of Amina, a low quality cell phone shot a few days before she died.

Amina on Flickr | Amina on Dogster