Saturday, April 25, 2009

So, it's been about 24 hours since I had Marley's head in my hands, locked eyes with him and felt the spirit of that beautiful animal leave. 

Thursday we witnessed the dizzying descent. 
He seemed to plummet. 
Unable to put any weight on his back legs, his spirit still pushing him to play. 
He was would fall and then pull himself up and then collapse again. 
We made him as comfortable as possible, giving him three aspirins and some "pet ease" which knocked him out until the following day. 
The next day, he seemed a bit better. I carried him to the car, went by Burger King and got him two bacon cheese burgers and went to the park. 
He was so happy. 
He walked and sniffed and had that lovely smile on his face...even as his body betrayed him. 
He wanted to go further but he simply couldn't. 
So we sat on a blanket and he ate his treats with his head on my lap. We sat together absorbed in the beauty of the day, the joy of just being together. 
All in all we were in the park about an hour. 
But it was the best hour I could have had with him. 
He knew, I know that he did. He never complained or gave up but he knew. 
His nervousness at the vet was different. 
Of course, he never enjoyed going to the vet. 
But there was a difference this time, a resignation but a hesitancy. 
We went in together, we sat on the blanket on the floor with him and held him. 
When the vet came in, we put him on the table.
He shook a bit but he never took his eyes off of me, never flinched. 
He looked into my eyes and I told him I loved him and he left. 
As we left, I turned back. He looked so peaceful, as if asleep on our living room floor. There was nothing traumatic or horrifying about the process. 
Last night the dogs were completely thrown off. The storm was raging and Baxter, Spencer, Maya and Twee didn't understand. They ran back and forth to the back door, to the front gate looking at the front door waiting for the their leader, their alpha to return. 
Dinner time was a jumble. 
Early evening there was complete unease. 
There is a hole. 
A gaping abyss that had been filled for 16 years. 
It was the right thing to do. 
He was ready.
It was time. 
And we did everything we could do to make his life a good one and God knows he returned the favor tenfold. 
Our Marley is gone. The big goofy wonderful dog, scarred by the cruelty of others, but finding sanctuary with our family, with two wonderful, empathetic energetic boys, and a gentle and kind man that drew him out of his fear and past and helped him to become a brilliant example of companion animal. 
We will miss you and thank you for all that you brought to our family. 
We love you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Marley

It’s hard to put the words to the memories I have of Marley.
My beloved dog of almost 16 years, he was a co-parent to my toddler boys when I was alone.
He guarded my house, my yard, me and the boys from all that would harm us.
He played games with the boys that made them squeal with laughter.
He would allow them to tug relentlessly on his ears and lips and tongue.
He would follow them and herd them away from danger.
If they ventured out too far in the surf for Marley’s liking, he would be out there, swimming if he had to, to guide them gently back to the shore.
He ran with them, he lay with them, he played and frolicked with them.
As they grew older, and their interests inevitably strayed from home into the outside world, he waited for them.
Any scrap of attention was enough, any scratch on the head or pat on the back was adequate.
He smiled to the point a wide gleeful grin that inevitably made all that saw him, smile back.
He was a tolerant, yet firm guide to the uneducated children around him.
He nipped at those that were cruel, warning them that the loving dog that they antagonized with sticks and stones was only tolerating them out of love for his family.
He was an only dog for so long but stoically gave up his territory to five other dogs and a variety of cats over the years.
But he was always the “Best Dog”. The dog that helped the other dogs learn the rules. The dog that sat and lay down and lifted his paw.
The dog that always came when called.
The dog that frolicked in the water and stood still for a bath.
The dog that loved a good towel dry.
The playful, frisky fun loving dog that played tug-o-war and soccer.
Even when his age caught up to him.
Even when his hind legs would collapse under him.
Even when it was so obvious that he was in pain.
He would still play.
He would still run.
He would still find the joy in our presence however infrequent it had become.
Marley was the dog.
The dog that no one wanted.
Returned for fighting or aggressive behavior, I would walk past his kennel and he would watch me. His name was Merlot at the time. I would find a reason to go the back of my brother’s vet clinic just so I could see him.
Finally, I decided that I couldn’t stand to see him in that kennel – this vivacious shepherd collie mix with the beautiful coat and energy that emanated from him. I thought he must be going mad in there. I decided to take him to the beach on a weekend visit to my mom. I put him in the front seat and picked the boys up from day care. They couldn’t believe it. They hugged him and he licked them.
I was nervous.
I knew he had been terribly abused (later I would find out that it was way beyond what I thought) and that he had a history of erratic behavior.
But he took to the boys.
By the time we got to the beach house it was dark. My mom heard us pull up and opened the door. On that drive, during which the boys were asleep for ¾ of the trip, Marley had adopted them. He started growling at this shadowy figure approaching the car.
I knew right then and there that I would never let this dog go.
I knew right then and there that this dog would lay down his life for me and for my boys. I knew that he was devoted and I in turn became devoted.
His loyalty gave my mom a sense of relief knowing that her daughter and grandkids would be protected in that little white house in rural Conroe.
And she was right.
No one dared approach me and the boys.
Especially men, when Marley was around.
Marley had been terribly abused – I knew the moment I picked up a broom and he shook so violently, cowering, flinching and peeing all over the floor.
He hated men. He had been horribly scarred.
But he found us. And he found a man, Lance, that he grew to love and trust and, in turn, trusted other men that we allowed into our home as he trusted us more and more.
The number of people that would stop and tell me how beautiful he was.
His coat was so shiny, his coloring so gorgeous.
He had such a pride.
I remember the first time I shaved him. I told the boys to be sensitive when they saw him as Marley seemed a little embarrassed. When the boys came in and hugged on him and told him how beautiful he was, his whole disposition changed. He lived for the attention of those boys!
As the years have worn on, Marley has never complained.
As arthritis and hip dysplasia ravaged his hindquarters, he never whined or complained. When he tore his ACL, his back leg dragging behind him, he soldiered on. That’s an overused term.
That dog could barely use his back legs and then he tears a vital ligament and still pushes himself. We couldn’t risk surgery at his age, so we medicated him to ease his pain. His front legs became massive, with his “elbows” turning outward under the continuous strain that they were now under. His back end was nothing – the muscle withered and the skin just hung there. But he always was up for a frolic in the yard or a quick jaunt around the block.
It was Saturday April 18th, 2009, the day of torrential rain, when the backyard started to flood as did the street. I watched Marley all day, knowing that he hated thunderstorms but seeing him lying on our wood floor, shifting fairly often but not getting up. I realized, it was too difficult. Every time he tried, he would slip and collapse back down. I would bound over to lift him up and he looked at me with his usual unconditional love and grace.
I realize now that we had been self-indulgent.
We knew he was struggling but we were all gone most of the day and didn’t see his struggles.
God knows, he wouldn’t make a fuss.
So we allowed him to stagnate, reflecting his joy at our return home by an excited tail and his delighted expression but little else.
We could easily dismiss it, easily wave it aside because none of us wanted to be the one to say, that’s it.
I realized that I had chosen him.
I had decided all those years ago at my brother’s vet clinic that I would take a chance on this crazy aggressive dog as a single parent with two toddlers. It was up to me to be brave enough to put him first, as he had always put us first.
And then it hit me again.
There was more to it than even that.
Marley was my last connection to my brother.
My older brother, Paul, who died three years ago after struggling with ALS for six years.
Marley was a living reminder of the gift Paul had with animals.
And the love he and I shared for the dependent beings of this world.
Letting Marley go was also letting Paul go.
Something I thought I had done a long time ago.
But I hadn’t.
So I selfishly held on to Marley all the while professing my ease with releasing my brother to a “better place”.
I didn’t put it together, the refusal to acknowledge something that was bashing my conscience on a daily basis, that Marley was suffering, because I couldn’t let go of that last living memento of my brave and wonderful brother.
On April 24th, I will take Marley to the park.
Just him and me as we used to do.
I’ll give him 3 aspirin and let him frolic and sniff and lay and relish a glorious day in the park with me.
I will let him have a bacon cheeseburger and I will hug him and be with him on his terms until he’s had enough.
And then he, Josh, Cody and I will go to the vet and we, his family, will hold him as he eases out of this world surrounded by those that he loves the most, as we remember the unequivocal joy that animal gave to us daily and unselfishly.
We will mourn the loss of our beloved, Marley, our first family dog.
We will always love him and look forward to the day of reunion.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Health Reform Without a Public Plan: The German Model
By Uwe E. Reinhardt
Uwe E. Reinhardt is an economics professor at Princeton.
In the previous two posts, I sought to explain why the public health insurance plan that Barack Obama had firmly promised during the presidential campaign appears to have become a deal-breaker in President Obama’s quest to sign a genuinely bipartisan health reform bill later this year.
What if that plan were sacrificed on the altar of bipartisanship? Would it be the end of meaningful health reform?
Not necessarily, if the health systems of the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland are any guide.
None of these countries uses a government-run, Medicare-like health insurance plan. They all rely on purely private, nonprofit or for-profit insurers that are goaded by tight regulation to work toward socially desired ends. And they do so at average per-capita health-care costs far below those of the United States — costs in Germany and the Netherlands are less than half of those here.
To see how this can work, think of the basic functions that any health system must perform. To wit:
1. the financing of health care, that is, the extraction of the required funds from individuals and households who ultimately pay for 100 percent of all health care
2. the pooling of individual risks with the aim of protecting individuals and households from the high costs of medical care in case of illness
3. the purchasing of health care from its providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, etc.)
4. the production of health care goods and services
5. the regulation of the entire system so that it operates towards socially desired ends.
Who should perform these functions is powerfully driven by the distributive social ethic that nations wish to impose upon their health systems.
In Europe, as in Canada, that social ethic is based on the principle of social solidarity. It means that health care should be financed by individuals on the basis of their ability to pay, but should be available to all who need it on roughly equal terms. The regulations imposed on health care in these countries are rooted in this overarching principle.
First, these countries all mandate the individual to be insured for a basic package of health care benefits.
Many Americans oppose such a mandate as an infringement of their personal rights, all the while believing that they have a perfect right to highly expensive, critically needed health care, even when they cannot pay for it. This immature, asocial mentality is rare in the rest of the world. An insurance sector that must insure all comers at premiums that are not contingent on the insured’s health status — a feature President Obama has promised — cannot function for long if people can go without insurance when they are healthy, but are entitled to premiums unrelated to their health status when they fall ill.
Second, these nations try to tailor the individual’s contribution to the financing of health care closely to the individual’s ability to pay — almost perfectly so in Germany, albeit less perfectly in the other two countries.
In Germany, statutory health insurance, which covers 90 percent of the population, is financed by a payroll tax. The individual’s premium is not a per-capita levy, as it is in the United States. It is purely income-based. Ostensibly, about 45 percent of the premium is contributed by employers, although economists are persuaded that ultimately all of it comes out of the employee’s take-home pay (See this and this).
An employee’s non-working spouse is automatically covered by the employee’s premium.
Unemployment insurance pays the premiums for unemployed individuals, and pension funds share with the elderly in financing their premiums, which are set below actuarial costs for the elderly.
Finally, premiums for children are covered by government out of general revenues, on the theory that children are not the human analogue of pets whose health care should be their owners’ (parents’) fiscal responsibility. Instead, children are viewed as national treasures whose health care should be the entire nation’s fiscal responsibility.
The health insurance premiums paid by Germans are collected in a national, government-run central fund that effectively performs the risk-pooling function for the entire system. This fund redistributes the collected premiums to some 200 independent, nongovernmental, competing, nonprofit “sickness funds” among which Germans can choose.
For example, if individual A chooses sickness fund X, then the central fund will give to fund X a capitation payment that uses over 80 variables to identify individual A’s actuarial risk. The same payment would be made for this individual to any other fund.
Thus, the sickness funds in Germany only perform the third function mentioned above — acting as purchasing agents on behalf of the central fund and patients.
Space does not permit a detailed description of the Dutch and Swiss systems. But these countries, too, have married the financing and risk-pooling systems, which try to own up to the principle of social solidarity, with a delegation of the purchasing function to competing, private insurance carriers. In the Netherlands, the latter may be for profit or not for profit. In Switzerland, they are basically nonprofit, except for supplementary coverage for items not in the basic package.
All three countries offer their citizens reliable, portable health insurance based on the principle of social solidarity, but without a government-run health insurance plan like Medicare. The $64,000 question is whether America’s private health insurers would be willing to countenance the tight regulation required for that approach.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This just makes me so proud to be a Texas resident.

Lawmaker defends comment on Asians
Call for voters to simplify their names not racially motivated, Terrell Republican says

AUSTIN — A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”
The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes.
The exchange occurred late Tuesday as the House Elections Committee heard testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.
Easier for voting?
Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible.
“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.
Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”
Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said Republicans are trying to suppress votes with a partisan identification bill and said Brown “is adding insult to injury with her disrespectful comments.”
Brown spokesman Jordan Berry said Brown was not making a racially motivated comment but was trying to resolve an identification problem.
Berry said Democrats are trying to blow Brown’s comments out of proportion because polls show most voters support requiring identification for voting. Berry said the Democrats are using racial rhetoric to inflame partisan feelings against the bill.
“They want this to just be about race,” Berry said.

Friday, April 03, 2009

This from Kathy Freston:

I've written extensively on the consequences of eating meat - on our health, our sense of "right living", and on the environment. It is one of those daily practices that has such a broad and deep effect that I think it merits looking at over and over again, from all the different perspectives. Sometimes, solutions to the world's biggest problems are right in front of us.

The following statistics are eye-opening, to say the least.

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:

● 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;
● 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;
● 70 million gallons of gas--enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
● 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
● 33 tons of antibiotics.

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:
● Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;
● 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;
● 4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
● Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.

My favorite statistic is this: According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.
See how easy it is to make an impact?

Other points:
Globally, we feed 756 million tons of grain to farmed animals. As Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer notes in his new book, if we fed that grain to the 1.4 billion people who are living in abject poverty, each of them would be provided more than half a ton of grain, or about 3 pounds of grain/day--that's twice the grain they would need to survive. And that doesn't even include the 225 million tons of soy that are produced every year, almost all of which is fed to farmed animals. He writes, "The world is not running out of food. The problem is that we--the relatively affluent--have found a way to consume four or five times as much food as would be possible, if we were to eat the crops we grow directly."

A recent United Nations report titled Livestock's Long Shadow concluded that the meat industry causes almost 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world's transportation systems--that's all the cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships in the world combined. The report also concluded that factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every level--local and global.

Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against global warming than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid.
In its report, the U.N. found that the meat industry causes local and global environmental problems even beyond global warming. It said that the meat industry should be a main focus in every discussion of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortages and pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

Unattributed statistics were calculated from scientific reports by Noam Mohr, a physicist with the New York University Polytechnic Institute