Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pitch Black - Weston, MA

I am sitting at the kitchen counter listening to my new dog Coal rip up a pumpkin chew toy. He is doing it with great gusto and joy. I have programmed a Petco run this morning to buy a bucket full of toys for him before his attentions turn to my couch or shoes.

As some of you may know from my last blog called Brazil in My Eyes, I lost my forever dog Caju in June of this year. He was fourteen years old and suffering a steep decline. I had gotten Caju as a puppy--he was 40 days old when he came home with me. While he was not from a breeder, he was from a family with a registered lab and he was a purebred dog.

In 2012, Haifa, a purebred labrador 9 years of age, came in to our house from the largest labrador breeding kennel in Brazil. She had been a puppy mill of her very own and came to us with a stretched-out tummy, was hard of hearing and not house-trained. It took her months to get on an even keel. She is now 11 and recently arrived from Brazil--another old blog tells of that escapade.

Haifa is getting older and slower and fatter. Aren't we all? I wanted to find a dog that would play with the kids (age 7) and grow up with them. I did not want a puppy but rather a 3-5 year old rescue dog. I did look at many labrador rescue organizations, a number of local ones, one in Houston (!!) but I kept coming back to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.

BFDR makes me laugh. Just about every day. Their irreverent humor on their facebook page makes me laugh out loud at my computer. Yes, we all know that most of the facts behind rescue animals are not going to be laughable. Many are abandoned in terrible conditions, many elderly animals are simply tossed aside just when they get to the good age (my feeling anyway)  and of course there are thousands of dogs who simply procreate every day and therefore many wind up in high-kill shelters. But BFDR makes you want to help by their use of humor.

I hate the term "high-kill shelter" but I use it just because it makes me uncomfortable. It should make all of us uncomfortable. So much so that you run out and spay and neuter your animal. That you support rescue financially or "bodily" as a volunteer. Because there are a whole lot of animals getting killed every day because they can't find a home. And before anyone jumps on my back about how there are kids going hungry and getting killed in various parts of the world, I know. And I do believe that humans are more important than canines, but let's not make this an either/or. Let's call it priority one and priority two. And yeah, I am not a vegetarian so I have to reconcile my ability to eat a cow or a chicken with getting nuts about dogs, but I never said I wasn't a hypocrite. We all are in some way.

In any case, BFDR (wow, I digressed) rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in the south and trucks them up north. They are not the only ones by the way. I am also a big fan of Rescue Road Trips which makes trips twice a month in a big 18-wheeler, grabs dogs from Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas etc and brings them to rescues and adopters up north. It is an incredible network that gives me chills. And this brings me to Pitch Black. And Coal Black.

As I followed BFDR, I read about a horrible shelter hoarding situation in Magnolia, Arkansas in August. BFDR had been called to pick up three Pyrenees (their original mission--hence the name) and came into the most sickening display of gross animal abuse most people will ever encounter. They rescued 59 dogs from abject starvation, overcrowding, mange, you name it. If you have a strong stomach, you can read about it here. If you don't, just think about the character Pitch Black from Rise of the Guardians--the bogeyman in the closet. The bogeyman is alive and well and lives in the deep south. He is every dog's nightmare.

And this is where I get amazed by the US and its legions of animal advocates. They found foster houses for these 59 dogs near their headquarters in Tennessee. Numerous people took in emotionally-disturbed and physically damaged dogs and made them well. For free. Nothing in it for them. Someone took a dog that looked like this:

And made him well. These volunteers do it again and again. And that brings me to Coal Black, the lab-husky mix. Coal came to us a week ago as a foster dog named Colton and fewer than five days later we decided to adopt him. He was supposed to be 2-3 years old. I think more like a year old. He is tick disease-positive. He ate one toy whole and ripped another to tiny white shreds.  He is a love. He doesn't bark. He rolls around on the ground with my son.  He runs like a comet to the back of the yard to do his stuff and races back to wait at the door.

Coal doesn't yet know how to play. He probably has never played. I am now taking him out for walks with a friend's playful labrador and yesterday he jumped into a stream for the first time: a splash to his butt made him leap with fear and then joy. He raced around, and brought tears to my eyes. He will have the best life I can provide for him.

Coal does not yet know his name. He doesn't come when called. He is totally untrained. His trainer comes for the first time tomorrow. We are already in love with him.The dog, not the trainer.

And this is how he looks this morning. Like a family dog. One who does not like to wait patiently for a photo: 

And I have to thank here the people who brought him to us: Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, his foster in Tennessee, the woman who picked him up in Connecticut and brought him to the neighborhood. You are the Guardians. And this one Pitch Black did not get.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day of Low Attendance - Weston, MA

Okay, so I have lost control of my life. Totally. What with the move arriving, school starting, test classes in everything from ballet to kung fu for the kids, volunteer opportunities (I have an addiction to volunteering for everything--it comes from having few opportunities to volunteer in Brazil) and getting a foster dog (true story), I am in pieces. Good healthy pieces but wow, I need to get things under control.

So anyway, I still have back posts about my Red Sox game experience and Kung Fu Fit fun as well as all the Cub Scout fun, but I have no time today. The reason I have no time today is that I dropped my iphone while pulling it out to check schedules with one of my neighbors. It looks like it has been bee-bee'd (is that a word, mom?) in the left bottom corner. So I must bear the humiliation of Apple's Genius Bar and have some 12 year old ask me things and tell me things that I don't understand. At least I have BH with me today. 

Therefore I am posting a quickie. Here's what it is. Rosh Hashanah. Okay, so that is what it was yesterday, I realize I am a day late. My kids had the day off. Not because we celebrate the holiday (though we are known for celebrating all possible holidays: Brazilian, American, Italian, saints days, Jewish holidays--though nothing that involves fasting). On Tuesday, we had a new parent coffee at the school that was attended by four parents, two of whom were me and BH. I asked 90% of the questions. One was: what is the policy about religious holidays off? As in, do we get Apollo and Ares Day? No? 

And the answer was: we get Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off (the latter falls on a Saturday this year). But it was not answered like that by the principal. No, there was a pause and a "we don't call it Rosh Hashanah or Good Friday (good for only a half day off here in Weston--apparently the Catholics are only half-day celebrators--my comment, not the principal's). It is a 'Day of Low Attendance.'" Errrr, what? Yes, instead of calling an apple an apple--in this case, Rosh Hashanah--we call it a day of low attendance as none of our Jewish kids would attend. What is the percentage of the school which is Jewish? I don't know. 

In my opinion, I would call that apple an apple. I would use the name of the holiday to teach the kids about different religions. My kids, who follow no religion besides the Greeks--who doesn't love Zeus and his foibles and Apollo and Artemis?-- but I digress--could learn something. Maybe they would decide to check out the Jewish faith. Or the Catholic. Or any other one that we could teach in school. Ah yes, the separation of church and state in public schools...there's that. Yet, the kids still say the pledge of allegiance with the nation "under God".

Here's an "I wish." I wish religion were not so tainted with extremism on all sides. I wish we could teach religion as history.  Instead we ignore it. We don't talk about it because of the emotions involved. So we have a Day of Low Attendance and school is canceled for the day. And my kids learn nothing from it.  No, that's not true. We all went to the Aquarium and watched large turtles swim around (photo above explained). We learned about starfish, penguins, sharks and rays. So there's that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Run out and Vote! - Weston, MA

So today is the state primary election. Until last week, I thought I had not registered in Massachusetts in time to vote here, but then I went online and discovered that I was in fact eligible to vote. Yay! 

One of my little quirks is that I love to vote. I always vote. I don't think I have missed a single election that I am eligible to vote in. Primaries, special elections, the big elections, I'm there. I am also a pain in the butt to Americans who don't vote. I don't understand why people don't vote--if you don't vote, you are willingly giving up the right that probably some of your ancestors fought pretty hard to get. Especially women. In six years, we will celebrate a century of women being allowed to vote. That's reason to celebrate. So, my dears, go vote.

Okay, enough preachiness. Once I figured out I could vote, I had to do a little research on the candidates. I am a registered Democrat so I am voting only in the Democrat primary. It turns out that independents can vote either Democrat or Republican primary candidates (either, not both) which is a new one for me. But anyway, I researched attorney general, governor, state rep, etc etc. And wrote down a little cheat sheet which I promptly left at home this morning. But remembered the names, no worries.

Where I voted.

My polling place is exactly one kilometer (less than a mile, my little American non-metric friends) from my house. I got to run there as BH had taken the car and left it at his co-worker's house for me to pick up. So I took a little warm-up jog alongside the commuter cars that were stopped in a wiggly worm down to Route 128. And arrived huffing and puffing at the Methodist Church. Out came the pastor on his way to his car and he greeted me and said "you'd better get in there; we need you. You're the only one here this morning." The polling place had opened at 7 am. I was the fifth voter at 8 am.

One thing I love about polling places: the volunteers. In this case, there were five senior ladies who all looked up expectantly as I came in the door. I pulled out my ID and one said "oh, you don't need that. Just tell us your address." What? You don't need an ID to vote in Massachusetts. True story. BH could have voted as one of my neighbors. He could have voted as the mayor of Weston. Well, okay maybe not. He might be Republican.

So the lady checks me off and then the other lady hands me the big ballot with fill in circles. I couldn't help it; I said "A paper ballot??? That's so cute!" And the other lady smiled and said "you haven't voted in Massachusetts before, have you?"  And I said no, but I thought we had given up paper ballots in the US since the chad affair in Florida. Then we proceeded to chat about Brazil where her daughter had lived in Salvador, Bahia for a semester and married a Brazilian, and...oh wait, time to vote.

And then I went into a little cubicle/high table area and filled in my circles with a black pen. I love filling in circles with a black pen. Makes me think of the SAT 25 years later. So I filled in ALL the circles. Just kidding. I filled in just the appropriate ones. 

So within four minutes, I headed over to another table which was called the "Out Table".  And then I gave my address again, and that I had filled in the Democrat ballot and I got waived over to the shredder. No, I guess it wasn't really a shredder. It was a machine that sucked the ballot from my hand and hopefully tabulated it. Not exactly rocket science computer voting a la Brazil, but there you have it. PS. I have never voted in Brazil. I can't.

And roughly seven minutes after heading in to vote, I was heading out. Again, tell me why people cannot take seven minutes out of their days to vote? I'm confused. Americans, go vote. Now. Well, okay, only if you have an election today. Otherwise, the church or other polling place might be surprised (though possibly delighted) to have you show up.

I predict right now that only 7% of eligible voters in Massachusetts will vote today.  Anyone want to bet with me?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dog Days - São Paulo and Newark

The kennel where my dog spent XX million hours

One of the biggest stresses I faced during the repatriation planning was what to do with my two elderly labradors (ages 14 and 11). The 10 hour flight plus extra hours in waiting for planes or connections or customs are pretty overwhelming for any dog, especially large old ones who have to travel cargo (not under the seat in front of you). 

Sadly, a little of the stress was "relieved" when one of my dogs, Caju, had to be put to sleep at the fine age of 14 about one month before our departure. So that left Haifa, an 11-year old half-deaf labrador, who we had adopted from the largest labrador kennel in Brazil when she was nine. We at first considered letting her live out her retirement with friends in Brazil, but then we decided that the stress of changing families outweighed the stress of the trip.

So the research began. It turns out that everyone has a different opinion on which airline company is best, which treats dogs terribly and which are the best. There were no options for a direct flight between São Paulo and Boston which was another big stress. I talked to several pet relocation companies who would do everything for you, but the price for that hovered around US$6,000. That's a lot of money. So I decided to go it alone. Which still cost upwards of US$2000 by the way.

Fortunately for us (and Haifa), we have a wonderful vet named Dra. Audrey. She and her husband said that they would care for Haifa until the end of American summer. Even though Haifa was allowed to travel during the summer months (hard to believe), I thought it better to keep her in Brazil until late August. Haifa left our house is São Paulo on July 22, one day before we left for the US. She would spend the next month at Dra. Audrey's house which is outside the city, with nine other retired labs and German shepherds. 

In the end, I decided on Petsafe which is a United Airlines "product". Their freight forwarder was MM Cargo. I am going to name them because I would suggest avoiding them (MM not Petsafe). But that comes later.  There are a number of requirements to send your dog: a vet approval within 24 hours of flight (everyone postdates, why they bother with the 24 hour thing, I will never understand), rabies vaccinations and updated other vaccinations. I also asked Dra. Audrey to make sure Haifa had a microchip (she didn't; she does now). If any of you São Paulo folks need a vet to help with the travel stuff, let me know and I will send on her info; she is wonderful. There is no quarantine between the US and Brazil.

I also committed to picking up Haifa at Newark, her port of entry, which is three hours from Boston. Why? Because the flight from Brazil gets in at 6 am, and she would have to spend six hours waiting for the ongoing flight to Boston -- they leave a good chunk of time for customs and then a mandatory "rest period" after flights of more than eight hours. I was not going to make Haifa wait around for a 12 pm flight.  I decided to leave Boston at 3 pm on Thursday, stay with a friend in Scarsdale, and then go early Friday August 29 to get Haifa at Newark.

So everything is going along well until the day before the flight. I get an email from MM Cargo saying "make sure you drop off Haifa at the airport by 2:30 pm". What? I paid extra to have her picked up from the vet office. I go crazy for several hours on the morning of the flight making sure the cargo guys will pick her up (they did at 12:30 pm)--and dragging poor BH out of big-time meetings to arrange payment and confirm the flight. So, Haifa is in her kennel to fly at 12:30 pm Brazil time, 11:30 am US time on Thursday.

MM Cargo tells me that I will have to pick her up in the US from the Cargo Terminal at 7 am. But I am suspecty and call United Cargo in New Jersey and the wonderful lady there (I should have gotten her name as she saved me a mess) told me that no, Haifa was coming in on a passenger plane and that meant I picked her up at Terminal C, Arrivals, at 7 am. Until the next morning, I am still unsure where she will be.

MM Cargo claimed that they let her out to play at their facility until time to board the flight at 7 pm Brazil time (6 pm EDT) but I have my doubts, and I'll tell you why later. She does not eat while waiting for the flight. She last ate at 8 am Brazil/7 am EDT.  I am sending emails and calling MM Cargo every hour to make sure things are okay. She is handed over to United at 7 pm for the 9 pm flight, according to MM.  There is no other way to confirm she makes the plane flight.

At this point, I am on the road to New York. I have to take a moment to call out my wonderful friend Susan who let me barge into her house on Thursday evening (okay, so I had a key but couldn't unlock the door until she let me in about 10 minutes later) after taking her son to college and even brought us pizza and entertained the 7 year olds. Oh yes, did I mention I had to take the twins with me? Yes. So much fun. And Susan even volunteers to come to Newark with me at 6 am to help out!! Who ever volunteers to go to Newark at any time of day? She's either an angel or else extremely sick in her head :)

I see that the flight has taken off ten minutes early. During the night I turn on my phone numerous times to check progress. I sleep not at all. At 5:33 am, UA 30 lands. At 6:30 am, we leave the house for the 45 minute car ride. The kids woke up well at 6 am, I must say and they're more than a little feisty on the way there.

We park in short term parking and walk across to the terminal. There I ask the Baggage Claim people about where to pick up a dog arriving on that flight. And they point me to "QuickPak" on the third level. This cracks my friend Susan up as she pictures poor Haifa covered with cellophane in one of the suitcase machines. Later I also crack up but only after I get Haifa.

As we take the escalator up, I see an office with huge stickers of dogs on the darkened windows. It is PetSafe. We stop there and learn that they do indeed have Haifa ("Brown Lab" is written on the white board in the back) though we are not allowed to see her until she gets out of customs. No QuickPak. It is then 7:30 am. Apparently customs opens only at 8 am (when was I told of this? Right then and there. The misinformation is incredible). We are told (by the very friendly helpers at PetSafe) to come back at 8:05 am to get Haifa. 

Petsafe at Newark Airport
 So we go for coffee and donuts at Dunkin Donuts on the arrivals level. The kids are starting to escalate into complete lunacy as they want their dog. We go back at 8:05. No dog. 9 am. No dog but they give us the kennel and even break it down for us so it will fit in the car. They claim she has been let out in the back room so I imagine she has "done her business". We chat with various people and watch as other dogs get loaded up. If you ever go through PetSafe in Newark, make sure you find a Jean-Louis there (J-L for short) as he was extremely careful and courteous with humans and pets alike. Check plus.

9:25 am. Susan has gone to get the car and bring it around front. The kids are outside the terminal running up and down trying to burn energy off. Finally, I find out that the delay was caused because MM did not send the paperwork through to Petsafe the night before as they were supposed to do, so Haifa was at the back of a long line of customs approvals.

9:30 am, Haifa comes out. She looks great and smells great too--Dra Audrey had given her a bath the day before and she had not had a single accident in her kennel in spite of being locked up for more than 16 hours. She wags and wags.  The kids see her from outside and race to hug her. All good. We take a photo, thank everyone and head out...sort of.

Haifa can't hold it any longer and when she hits the carpet between the automatic doors to leave the terminal, she lets loose a tidal wave of pee. I can't even pull her outside. She is desperate. Then she proceeds to walk and poo all the way down the corridor of cars. I head back with a plastic bag I had in the car and clean it up. The poo. The pee is informed to Petsafe so they get someone to clean it up (I hope). This is Haifa's commentary on the experience.

We drive Haifa back to Susan's house where she poops and pees again. She is exhausted. She has pretty much slept for five days straight now. She has bloody diarrhea too--I will take her to the vet on Friday to see if it is the change in food or if there is a bigger problem.

Would I do this all again to an 11-year old labrador? Selfishly, yes, I would. I love having her here. But she suffered to get here. If anyone wants to hear more about the experience (like this novel isn't long enough) and my recommendations, leave me a comment and I'll get back to you. Right now, I'm gonna go hug this sweet girl.

Haifa this Labor Day!