Wolf Connection

Once again, by listening to NPR on my commute to work, I’ve learned something that has broadened my horizons. This time it’s about an organization with a unique way of helping at-risk youth. It’s called Wolf Connection. (You can hear the inspiring 4 1/2 minute story here.)

This organization serves a variety of amazing purposes. First, it is a wolfdog sanctuary. Many people think having a wolf/dog mix will make for an exotic pet, but soon learn that they can’t really handle the responsibilities thereof. Often these animals get abused or neglected or put to sleep, as most shelters will not put them up for adoption. Fortunately, in cases like this, Wolf Connection can sometimes step in and give them a forever home where they work with handlers who understand their unique qualities and special needs.

This group also does presentations for schools and organizations. Using wolves as a focal point is an exciting way to teach students about the environment, human history and evolution, teamwork and ethics. Wolves are, after all, the first creatures that we humans made a long-term connection with.

But for me, their most exciting mission is their Wolf Therapy program. This eight week program for troubled teens who have been abused, or have been in and out of foster care, or were in gangs, is a really impactful way to reach kids who have rendered themselves unreachable out of pure survival.

First of all, they can relate to these animals, because they, too have been abused. And wolves don’t judge. Wolves can teach us much about teamwork and cooperation. They show us the value of being okay with who we are, just as we are. They teach us how and when to trust. Working with these animals can increase confidence and self-esteem and teach valuable vocational and life skills. The program also teaches you to be more introspective.

I love it when I see so many positives coming out of an organization. You can sponsor one of their wolves, too. By doing so, you’re also investing in the future of our youths. Win/win.


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The Whales of the World Need a Blackfish II

Well, I just had a very emotional evening. I saw the documentary entitled Blackfish, and a part of my childhood shattered like a crystal glass being thrown against a concrete wall. This documentary came out in 2013, and while I was aware of some of the controversy sparked by it, and saw SeaWorld scramble to repair its tarnished image in its aftermath, I didn’t see the film until just this month, so I had absolutely no idea how horrified I should be by the state of captive Orcas.

I grew up near Orlando, Florida, and went to its many theme parks dozens of times. After a while, Disney began to seem rather dated and repetitive. I frankly could care less if I ever go there again. But SeaWorld… oh, how I loved SeaWorld!

I love animals, in general. I love watching them and learning more about them. I really do believe, even now, that certain types of captivity have value in the aggregate. Animals that have been rescued after injury, that can no longer survive in the wild, who are housed in locations that are spacious and as much like their natural habitats as possible, and are given proper stimulation and care and are able to maintain social structures, while not being required to perform for our viewing pleasure, can act as ambassadors for their species.

I genuinely believe that seeing animals close up makes humans appreciate them more. I think the more we learn about them, the more we tend to care about the state of the planet. But this movie made me realize that we’ve crossed a line.

Whales should not be kept in concrete pools, with only 1,100 square yards of space, when they require a minimum of 300 times more than that to thrive. Mothers should not be separated from babies, which would normally stay by them for life. No one should be isolated in a pool with no stimulation, only to be called out a few times a day to perform like a puppet on a string.

I did not let myself see that as a child. I got caught up in the whole spectacular show. The good-looking, enthusiastic trainers, who obviously loved the whales, but in truth, had absolutely no control as to how they were treated. I chose to see joy, rather than angst. Playfulness, rather than desperation. I wanted those whales to love their lives.

But they don’t.

As I grew older, I saw other captivity red flags. Orangutans all alone in darkened rooms, looking listless and profoundly depressed. A dolphin with a broken jaw, at a swim with the dolphins place in South Florida. (He had never experienced a wall before his capture, and had slammed right into it.) A walrus, in a pool way too small, swimming in a vertical circle, over and over and over again. (I watched him for 20 minutes, with tears in my eyes.) Tigers pacing in tiny cages. And any creature at all, in a circus. Circuses should be outlawed.

The sad thing is that SeaWorld still has its Orcas, and they still have their shows. They’ve repackaged them to make them seem much more humane, organic, and educational, but those whales are still floating in those wretched pools, their lifespans 1/3 as long as their wild brethren.

What we need is another documentary, Blackfish II, to show how SeaWorld has attempted to rebrand itself, while not significantly changing the quality of life of its whales. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they’re no longer breeding whales in captivity, or capturing whales at sea. I’m glad they contribute to conservation causes, and do make some efforts to educate people. But they are doing so while holding these animals prisoner and profiting from it. There is nothing, nothing at all, that justifies that. We need a second documentary to increase the pressure so that SeaWorld and similar companies will finally do the right thing.

While all these Orcas, who have been in captivity for so long, would probably be incapable of being released into the wild, there are those who think that a whale sanctuary is the most viable option. They would still be enclosed, but they’d have 300 times the space, and they’d be in the ocean, with its natural ebb and flood. They’d have room to move and socialize and feel the sun and the rain and the most natural habitat possible, while remaining safe and cared for.

It’s not ideal. We can’t repair all our damage. It’s way too late for that. But it’s a heck of a lot better than what they experience now. If you agree, please join me in supporting the mission of The Whale Sanctuary Project.

Orca in captivity

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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.


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What I Love about Seattle, Washington

I’ve been living in this delightful city for 2 ½ years now, and I have never been happier. It sort of feels like I went to bed in Florida and I woke up in the Land of Reasonable People. Not a day goes by when I don’t look around in awe. How did I get so lucky?

Now, more than ever, I’m grateful for the liberal bubble in which I reside. In the current political climate, I think it’s the only reason that what little sanity I still possess remains intact. I love that my senators and my representative are all Democratic females. I love that we have a member of the socialist party (also female) on our city council. I love that our mayor is gay. And granted, it was a federal judge who ruled against Trump’s travel ban, but that judge was located right here in Seattle. I couldn’t be more proud.

The City of Seattle also just divested itself from Wells Fargo Bank due to its involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Integrity in politics. How refreshing. (Not that we always get it right. For example, the homeless situation here is abysmal, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. But it’s a start.)

We’re also proud to be a sanctuary city. Immigrants are welcome here. Contrary to supposedly popular belief, that makes me feel safer. I don’t like the idea of people being snatched from their homes. That happens a lot more frequently in this country than any terrorist attack.

I love the fact that individuality is celebrated here. It means that creativity thrives. Because of that, you can experience a wide variety of art, music, culture, and food in this fair city.

Oddly enough, I’m glad that we have horrible weather in the winter. It makes me appreciate the rest of the year that much more. I spend a lot more time outdoors here than I ever did in Florida.

I love that no one here needs air conditioning (yet). I love the parks and the flowers and the diversity of the landscape. I want to explore this city and this state a lot more. I love that every neighborhood has its own personality.

I love that the environment is taken so seriously here. If you don’t recycle, you can practically cause a riot. And there are so many outlets for environmental activism.

I love that this is the most literate city in the country. I love that the library parking lots are always packed with cars. I love that people enjoy talking about books.

I don’t smoke pot, but I love that it’s legal here. I don’t drink coffee, but I love that it’s celebrated here, and I love hanging out in coffee shops. I am musically inept, but I love that you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a musician. This is the land of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, after all.

Now, if you want to talk about horrible traffic, out of control growth, and the outrageous cost of living… well, that’s a topic for another post.


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If You’re Critical, You’re not Critical to Me

I have a dear friend whose relatives have criticized her all her life. If it’s not her appearance they’re attacking, it’s her life choices. There is nothing, apparently, that she can do right. Even whom she chooses to love, and whom she chooses to leave, comes under their negative scrutiny. Because of this, even though she’s the most generous, decent and compassionate person I know, her self-esteem is at rock bottom. It breaks my heart.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, yes, there’s always a thing.) Life is cruel. We will all get pelted with our share of rotten tomatoes out in the wider world. Your home, your family, ought to be your sanctuary. It should be a safe place where you are built up, given the strength and confidence to face the outer hostilities that are bound to come your way. Your achievements in life should occur because of, not in spite of, the messages you receive from the people you should most be able to trust.

Family can so easily give you the tools to build a successful life, or it can be the toxic stew that rots your emotional flesh. If you have a toxic stew type of family, your next best hope is to surround yourself with really quality friends who will tell you the things you should have been made to know as you were growing up. You are an amazing person. You deserve to be treated decently. You are lovable.

There’s always a need for positive reinforcement in life. That’s why Mr. Rogers was so popular. But it’s sad that there is such a void that he was required to fill. It shouldn’t be that difficult to lift up the people you love, instead of weighing them down.

It’s hard to eject toxic relatives from one’s life, unfortunately. It’s much easier to get rid of other people who are blasting you with negative energy. But you can make an effort to reduce their influence. Draw positivity toward you. Reject those who reject you. Say to yourself, “If you’re critical, I will not make you critical to my well-being.”

Give that gift to yourself. And also ask yourself if you are being a positive force in the lives of the people you love. Give a sincere compliment to someone today. Be the change.


(image credit: thehealthyapron.com)

Views from my Windows—Part Three

To start from the beginning of this story, see Parts One and two.

As I was saying, and then my mother got cancer. She suffered for two years. Seriously, you wouldn’t have let your dog suffer the way that she was forced to. The doctors kept saying they didn’t know why she was still alive. And I really took that to heart. I knew that people often lingered simply because they were waiting on unfinished business. Anniversaries. Problems that needed solving. And so I asked myself, why would my mother be hanging on in such agony? And the only thing I could think of was that she was worried about me. My two sisters were settled and had nice stable lives. But I was still drifting, with no real goal or solid ground. So I decided to do something about that. I bought a house and videotaped it so my mother could see it in the hospital. Two weeks later she passed away.

Oh, how I loved that house! In the historic Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville, it had a lovely fenced yard with huge sycamore trees, and from the front porch swing you could watch people play softball in the beautiful park across the street. I was also one block away from the library, so I was in heaven. I lived there for 20 years, and until the last 2 years, it felt like home to me. It wasn’t a palace by any means, but it was a sanctuary. It was my castle. But it had been built in 1925, and it started falling apart at an accelerated rate that I couldn’t keep up with. It became sort of a financial nightmare. Trying to sell the place was horrific, and when I finally did, it was such a relief that I almost didn’t care that the housing bubble had already burst.

006 Home Sweet Home.

From there I relocated to Vero Beach, Florida while I went back to school. The house I rented was a nice little place in a quiet neighborhood. I used to walk to the intercoastal waterway all the time, and I loved to look out in the back yard and see a flock of ibis or sandhill cranes. I’d probably be there still were it not for having the landlady from hell, but that merits a blog entry of its own.

After graduating I moved back up to Jacksonville. I spent a few homeless months, mostly couch surfing at my sister’s place and that of a friend, before settling in the little guest house I’m in now. My view is my landlady’s vegetable garden on one side, which is a delight, and her junkyard on the other, which is much less of a delight. She’s a bit of a hoarder, and it can be kind of gross. But she’s a really wonderful person, and it will do for now. Soon I won’t be able to afford it, and then heaven only knows what my view will be after that.

But in terms of views over a lifetime, I think I’ve been quite lucky. It will be interesting to see what happens next.