Mid-Month Marvels: Bionic Pets

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least onc e a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Recently I came across this amazing video about a company called Bionic Pets. Derrick Campana, the founder of this company, used to make prosthetics for humans, but then a vet approached him and asked if he might help a black Labrador that was missing a leg. He did so, and never turned back. Since then he’s helped thousands of animals, including birds, goats, cows, elephants, dogs, sheep… you name it.

What fascinates me most about his business is the variety of prosthetics he must get to fabricate. Each animal’s anatomy differs greatly, so he has to use his expertise to solve unique problems every time. That has got to be very satisfying. I would love a job like that.

He says the large animals are actually easier to work with because he has more surface area to deal with and there’s a greater margin of error. That makes a lot of sense. Can you imagine trying to make a leg for a duck that isn’t going to constantly fall off? Talk about a challenge. And this guy has done it.

I really admire people who are not only in helping professions but also fill a niche that has very few experts. And in this case, Campana is giving animals a quality of life that they wouldn’t experience otherwise. Amazing.


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Clicking Your Way to a Better World

I must admit that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. You do, too. Don’t believe me? What are you doing right now? Tiptoeing through the tulips? I think not.

(Not that I’m not happy to see you. I’d miss you if you weren’t here. I really would.)

Sometimes I think I really should make a permanent, all-encompassing change in my life and reduce my screen time to, say, an hour a day. But gimme a break. I’m as likely to do that as I am to give up pizza, and I have the thighs to prove it.

I do try to do the next best thing, though. There are quite a few sites out there that allow you to have a positive impact on the world simply by clicking a button. That’s amazing. I can save the world while staying comfortably potatoed on my couch. (Yup. Potato is now a verb. Because I say so.)

What follows are some of my favorite “positive click” sites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Ecosia. This is a search engine, similar to Google, with an important difference. For every 45 searches you do on Ecosia, they will plant a tree. They’ve planted more than 20 million trees so far. That makes me incredibly happy. So Ecosia is now my default search engine.

  • Free Rice. This is a fun site. You can feed the world while learning things. Basically, you choose a topic, such as English Vocabulary, or World Landmarks, or Language Learning, or SAT Test Preparation, or Human Anatomy, and you’ll then be asked a series of questions. For every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program. 10 grains of rice doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly. So learn stuff and feed people. It’s the ultimate win/win situation!

  • The GreaterGood. I cannot say enough about this site. Everything you do there will have a positive impact. They have various categories, such as Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, and Veterans, and if you go to those sections of the site once a day and click, you will be helping these causes, and it won’t cost you a penny. But beware. They also have a store, and it has the coolest clothes and shoes and jewelry that you have ever seen in your life. And when you buy an item, more donations kick in. For example, I bought an awesome jacket, and because of that, they donated 50 bowls of dogfood to an animal shelter. I think about that every time I wear that jacket, and it makes me feel even warmer.

There are all kinds of websites out there that have positive side effects. You just have to look. If you can suggest any other sites of this type, by all means, include them in the comments section, below! And keep on clicking!

make a difference

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The Hoarder Next Door

I have a friend who lives next to a very nice man. Unfortunately, he also happens to be a hoarder. His yard is full of junk cars, and his backyard looks exactly like that compound in Sacramento where the kidnapped Jaycee Dugard was held for 18 years.

My friend says she’s never heard any signs of life back there, fortunately. And he doesn’t seem to be the type of person who hoards animals or urine, because the place doesn’t seem to smell. Who knows what it’s like inside, though.

I firmly believe that people have a right to live exactly as they please, as long as it’s not harming anyone else. My friend isn’t detecting any kind of health hazard, and this man isn’t hurting anyone or anything but himself. In the Seattle area, nothing short of a nuclear waste dumping ground seems to negatively impact property values. He’s also the neighborhood’s go-to guy when someone needs to borrow a tool.

But I can’t help but feel sorry for the man. Clearly he has an anxiety disorder, and the accumulation of crap is his way of soothing himself. But it doesn’t seem to be working for him. Even though he’s pleasant enough, I detect this underlying tension and unhappiness. I hope someday he gets help. And I pity whomever has to deal with that house and its contents once he’s gone.

The compound where Jaycee Dugard and her children were held for 18 years.

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Score One for the Good Guys

Hi, I’m Devo, Barb’s dog. I asked to write this one because I wanted to tell you about an exciting new development. Besides, she needs a break now and then. So here goes…

Animal abusers, we are watching you. 70 percent of violent criminals started off by hurting animals. Finally, the feds are taking this statistic seriously. Starting this month, they are considering such abuse a class A felony, and are tracking it.

Up to this point, such acts as torture, neglect and even sexual abuse of animals were only considered a felony in about a quarter of the states in America. So this FBI announcement is rather a big deal, and a long time in coming.

Not only should these sick and twisted individuals be brought to justice, but this will give law enforcement a chance to prevent future crimes against humans. A win/win situation, unless you’re the kind of person who likes to pull the wings off flies.

Rather than treat you to a horrifying image of an abused creature (you can find plenty of those on line) I thought I’d use a picture of my brother Blue for this entry. Blue is more apt to write a blog entry than I am, but this is something he doesn’t like to talk about. He was rescued from a puppy mill where he had been starved, beaten with a belt, and left in a cage up to his chest in feces, and had never seen the light of day for the first 6 months of his life.

For my brother Blue, and all the animals like him, I would like to salute the FBI. Excellent work.

Blue and mom in their prime.

Saving the Animals of Fukushima

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake struck off the coast of Japan near Honshu Island. This quake set off a tsunami of 45 foot high waves crashing into the Japanese coast, at the very site of a very badly built and poorly situated nuclear power plant in Fukushima. As you can well imagine, things went rapidly downhill from there.

You can read about the nuclear meltdown in great detail on its Wikipedia page, but the final result was that approximately 500,000 people had to be evacuated from the 12.5 mile exclusion zone, never to return. Well… except for one man.

Naoto Matsumura could not bear the thought that in his rush to evacuate, he had to leave his pets behind, so he went back. And upon arriving he quickly discovered that all his neighbors had left their pets and farm animals behind as well. Thousands of dogs, cats, pigs, cows, even at least two ostriches had been left to fend for themselves, and many of them were locked up or chained, and would likely have died horrible deaths if not for this man’s intervention.

He freed them all, and has been living in the exclusion zone and caring for these animals ever since. The government has ordered him to leave, but he remains, despite the risk to his health. Here is a man who truly gives his life to do what he feels is right. While the world has moved happily onward, he struggles to feed these animals every day. He needs our help.

If you want to read an inspiring and yet heartbreaking blog about this man’s noble sacrifice, you can find it here. Naturally it isn’t in English, but I know that if you pull it up on Google Chrome, you can click the translate option. He also says this:

We’ll be very happy if you all support us. [Donations] ① The Toho Bank, Azumi branch, 644 994 (Futsu), Ganbaru Fukushima ② Japan Post Bank Company, Kigo-10270 , Bango-10419771, Ganbaru Fukushima ③ My Friends made ​​A Donation page for me.Http://Kizunafornaoto.Com/ Please push the yellow button on the left side of the top page. It IS in French. Thank you and look forward to Hearing from you!

-Naoto Matsumura

I donated, but it wasn’t easy. First of all, the pages aren’t in English and have to be translated. Next, you have to donate in euros instead of dollars, which is a pain. (Make sure your credit card doesn’t sock you with a harsh foreign currency fee.)

So yeah, helping this great man isn’t as simple as it ought to be, but think of all the effort he has to put forth on a daily basis, and you’ll realize that jumping through a few extra hoops for this cause is really not that big of a sacrifice. Please help all these animals that the world seems to have conveniently forgotten.

What follows are a couple inspiring photos from the boredpanda article about this fine man. Check it out to see more!

fukushima-radioactive-disaster-abandoned-animal-guardian-naoto-matsumura-2 fukushima-radioactive-disaster-abandoned-animal-guardian-naoto-matsumura-14


As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, I recently visited the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum. There was some absolutely gorgeous work on display, but this one, in particular, made me come to a full halt and really think. It’s called GONE, and it was made by Barbara Nepons.


In the description it says, “Hundreds of species are no longer with us. It’s important to reveal these mostly forgotten or unknown animals to those of us living today, so we can remember and learn.”

As you look closer, you see names of all the animals that are gone, and the sheer number hit me in the gut. This is the tragic animal equivalent of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, which also brings tears to my eyes. Gone, as in lost forever. Gone as in never ever to be seen again. Gone.





So I decided to Google some of these creatures to see if I could find pictures. Look at them and think about the fact that you’re never going to see them alive again. Ever. If that doesn’t deserve a moment of silence, nothing does.

Pink-Headed Duck

Pink-Headed Duck

Sardinian Pika

Sardinian Pika

Caucasian Wisent

Caucasian Wisent

Toolache Wallaby

Toolache Wallaby

Big Eared Hopping Mouse

Big-Eared Hopping Mouse


Cuban Red Macaw

sea mink

Sea Mink

Lerma Chub

Lerma Chub

Coua de Delalande Coua delalandei Snail-eating Coua

Snail-Eating Coua

Growly Dreams

I enjoy watching my dogs dream. Their little paws run and they sometimes twitch and yip. I imagine they’re chasing squirrels. But tonight Devo was growling in his sleep. I called his name from across the room. I didn’t want to touch him in case he thought I was the adversary. (I’d like to keep intact the illusion that I’m in charge.) When he woke up he looked a little confused for a second.

Was he the aggressor in the dream, or was he being attacked? I hope it was the former. I hope he doesn’t have dog-shaped nightmares. I hope that he isn’t experiencing anxiety or stress that is expressing itself in his subconscious. God knows I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, and I’m sure he senses it. But I want him to have sweet dreams. As shitty as my life sometimes is, I pride myself in giving my pets a happy existence. They didn’t ask to be here.

What are animal dreams like? Scientists are discovering that a wide variety of animals play, so they must get bored. But they seem to cope with boredom much better than we do. That implies that they have rich inner lives. If that’s the case, they have imaginations, so are their dreams as surreal as ours can sometimes be? And what would be surreal to an animal?

I know when I lived in Mexico, my dreams got very simplistic because I couldn’t express myself as fully in Spanish as I can in English. How do you express yourself without language? How do you see things when your color spectrum is different? If you’re capable of hearing a lot more, are your dreams more aural?

The one image that I can’t get out of my head is that of a sleeping whale. Some types slumber in the darkest depths, head downward. That must feel like being in a sensory deprivation tank. That has got to be the ultimate zen-like state.

Which begs the question: Do whales have wet dreams?

sleeping whales

Natural Encounters

There is something special about making a connection with another species. For a brief moment, you feel a deeper link to the wider world, and all the magic therein. Whether it’s a butterfly that lingers on your knee, a squirrel that sits on your windowsill and stares at you, or a lizard that gazes out at you from your favorite potted plant, it’s always a wondrous experience. I think it’s one of the reasons pets are so popular.

I’ve had too many animal encounters to list here, but perhaps the most profound one was the time I swam with the manatee on the west coast of Florida. There I was, floating in my wet suit, checking out the tarpon that would be there one second and then, blink! gone the next, when something the size of your average living room couch floats up to me and just hovers, as if to say, “You may interact with me now.” I reached out and scratched the algae off her elephant-like skin, and she rolled over in ecstasy. “A little to the right, please.” It was profound. It was delightful. I didn’t want the moment to end.

There I was, floating all alone, and all of a sudden I wasn’t alone anymore. And the best thing about it was that it was the manatee’s choice. She didn’t have to approach me. She most definitely did not have to let me touch her. She gave me that gift. She acknowledged me. She trusted me. And I’ll never be quite the same.

Nature is awesome.


Blue Explains Why You Should Support Rescue Orgs


Hello, my name is Blue. This is me with my best friend Devo. I’m going to tell you my story and then ask you to do a few simple things. I hope you will listen.

I’m 9 years old, but it’s a miracle that I’m alive. You see, I was born into a puppy mill. For the first 6 months of my life, I lived in a cage, up to my chest in feces and urine. There were 33 of us in that horrible place. The crying and howling never ended. We were starved and abused and we never saw daylight, never experienced even the slightest amount of affection or caring. On the rare occasion when our captor chose to feed us, she would simply pour the food into a big pile and let us fight over it. Only the strongest and the least sick would survive.

One day our captor decided that she deserved a vacation, and the person she hired to take care of us had enough of a conscience to let us out of the cage. For the first time, we left that room and had the run of the house. But she didn’t have the courage to do more than that. Finally, weeks later, a neighbor, hearing the howls, smelling the smells, and noting that no one had been there for weeks on end, was kind enough to complain to the authorities, and this is what they found.



 As you can see, that brown carpet used to be blue.


 It was so soaked with our urine that our rescuers had to wear gas masks to enter the house because the amount of ammonia made the air unsafe to breathe. And yet that’s what we had been breathing our whole lives.

As you may have noticed, we were pretty thin and had a lot of health issues when we were found. Thanks to their excellent care though, we were soon healthy again, and were adopted by loving families.

I can’t speak for the others, but I can say that the emotional scars still remain for me. When my mom, the person who usually writes this blog, first got me, I was so unused to the great outdoors that I wouldn’t go into the yard to do my business without her being right beside me the whole time. And even then, if I heard the slightest sound, like a car backfiring several blocks away, I would bolt screaming back into the house and shake in a corner for hours. It took me 6 months before I could enjoy the sunshine and even think about playing. Now I love to play with my friend Devo. We race all around the yard and have a lot of fun.

To this day, though, I’m scared of strangers, especially men with belts. Belts terrify me. I don’t even like them if they are lying around untouched. The story behind that is something I choose to keep to myself, but I bet you can guess.

I also still have a lot of issues with food. At feeding time, even though I have my very own bowl now, and Devo is the only other dog in the house and he is very kind to me, I’ll take a mouthful of food, run into another room, eat it there, then come back for more. I learned my lesson well. Where the food is, there is usually the danger of being attacked by other starving dogs. So it’s best to grab your share and run away.

My mom will sometimes tell me, with tears in her eyes, that I don’t have to be afraid anymore, but I’ve seen too much to believe her. But she lets me do what I need to do, which is really nice.

She also gives good cuddles, by the way, so I tend to stick to her like glue.


 So that’s my story. I hope you will help me so that no other dog has to go through what I did.

  • Never buy a pet from a pet store. Ever. The vast majority of pet shop animals come from mills. If you support them, you encourage them.
  • Whenever possible, get your pets from rescue organizations such as your city’s Animal Care and Control department, or the Humane Society, or a rescue organization for a specific breed. There are so many of us out there who need your love.
  • Please also support these organizations through donations or volunteering your time. They need all the help they can get.
  • Please spay or neuter your pets. They will live longer, healthier lives, and they will not bring more animals into a world that already has too many.
  • If you absolutely insist on buying your pet from a breeder, make sure it is licensed, and take the time to actually inspect the facility. The WHOLE facility. Yes, there are responsible breeders out there, but many are not. Make sure you aren’t supporting a puppy mill. It may even be that my captor started out as a responsible breeder, and then got overwhelmed or mentally ill. We’ll never know. But it’s important that you monitor your breeder carefully, and if he or she is a responsible one, that shouldn’t be a problem.

If you have given a pet a loving home, thank you. If you’ve lost a pet that you loved a lot, I’m sorry. But I hope you will adopt again. We need you.

Chaos: The New Normal?

A coworker of mine was describing a situation in which he and his brother were watching TV and they got into an argument which then escalated into a fist fight, and the police had to be called. Just a regular Tuesday night at Chez Coworker, apparently. I remember thinking, “Huh. My whole life, the police have never been called to my house. Am I normal, or is he?”

Someone else I know regularly shouts and makes intimidating gestures, causing tension, fear and anxiety in his household. He says that he’s of Mediterranean descent, so he can’t help it. That made me wonder about all the Italians and Greeks and Turks that I’ve passed on the street who have managed to behave themselves and act with courtesy and respect. Who’s the stereotype?

And then there’s the girl whose husband tried to choke her. But she’s still with him, because she loves him. I tried to imagine sleeping under the same roof with someone, even for one night, who had tried to kill me. I’m not getting any pictures.

Another story: this guy left his car keys on the counter and went to sleep. One of his relatives took the car without permission and got into an accident. The guy wakes up, sees the damage to the car, asks who was responsible, and no one admits to it. And they all (every one of them is an adult) still live with him. Oh no. Not me. Not even for a second. I’d have gathered them all in one room and said, “Either someone confesses and makes arrangements to pay for damages, or every single one of you is out on the street.”

Another woman racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills by calling her boyfriend who was in the military overseas. She was the only one in the house who even knew someone overseas, so there was no doubt who was responsible. Not only did she not pay the bills, but since the phone was in her parent’s name, their service got cut off, and they haven’t been able to have a house phone for years because of it. Not to mention the fact that their credit is ruined. It’s the great unspoken thing in the family, but apparently she has no remorse whatsoever. That same girl’s sister stole her own 10 year old child’s birthday money.

All of these things have me wondering, who is living a life outside the norm? Me, for being shocked by all of the above, or them? Are most of the people on the planet just animals with no moral compass whatsoever? Should the Jerry Springer Show be considered a documentary? And to think there are people out there who still refuse to believe we’re related to primates. Sheesh.