The Growler


I have a special fondness for the meanest dog in my apartment building. She’s a little gray thing and looks like a shaved Shih Tzu. However, she growls if I get near her. If I find myself on the elevator with this dog and her owners, I make a point to stand far away from them. At first her owners seemed embarrassed by her behavior. They assured me they were trying to socialize her. I’ve learned over time that this dog was found wandering alone in a canyon, starving. I’ve told her owners how much I admire them for adopting her. Dogs that snarl and growl are often euthanized in shelters because they’re considered unadoptable. I feel sad about the Growler’s previous life, but happy that two loving people took her in. It’s not her fault she was neglected and learned to fear people. I know, despite her growling, that she’s still a good dog. pet-2530265__480

 

Do the Right Thing—Scoop the Poop

I woke up one morning during the 2018 holidays and went about my morning chores. This includes scooping my litter boxes and carrying the waste in a plastic bag to the garbage shoot in my condo’s building. On my way there, I saw that a neighbor’s dog had had an accident on the walkway. I stepped carefully around the mess and returned to my apartment ticked off.

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I thought about what had just occurred as I continued my morning chores. I realized I was being a jerk and went outside to remove the mess, so none of my other neighbors would have to navigate around it. Once outside I saw that the poop was gone. I felt ashamed of myself for having been angry and judgmental toward my neighbors, who probably just needed a few minutes before cleaning up. But I also was proud of my willingness to do the right thing and take care of the mess myself. This incident reminded me of two important things. First, to always try to do what I believe is right, and second, to be more gracious toward others.

ONE THING TOO MANY: MY CAT IS NOW A DOG

My animals are a constant source of comfort and amusement to me. But sometimes they are annoying. My favorite cat, Simon, underwent a couple of noticeable changes at the age of twelve, after he’d lived with me for four years.

First he became much more affectionate. Previously he liked to be picked up and have his neck scratched for a couple of minutes once a day. That was his routine. For the last several months, he’s begun to sit next to me on the couch and meow loudly until I pet him. He also allows me to pull all twenty pounds of him onto my lap so I can rub his head and chest. This is a delightful surprise.

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Not so delightful is his new habit of drinking out of the toilet. The cats drink filtered water that I change daily. But Simon now wants to drink disgusting toilet water and then walk on my hardwood floors, leaving little wet paw prints as he goes. I try to remember to put the toilet seats down, but I often forget.

Everything changes. Simon has two new habits, one that I love and one that’s revolting. Sometimes one more thing seems like too much for me. Between taking care of my myriad health needs and the three cats’ daily requirements I feel I’m at my limit. But I committed to taking care of my animals, so I’m trying to adjust to Simon’s new preference for toilet water.

A BEATLES STORY

This article was published on the HuffPost Blog on  September 26, 2016

Earlier this month the documentary movie The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years, directed by Ron Howard, aired on Hulu. I hope it enlightens viewers too young to remember Beatlemania, the 1960s phenomenon. Almost all Americans of a certain age have a seminal Beatles memory—the first time they heard one of their catchy songs, or when they saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show or watched one of their movies.

My memory goes back to the assassination of JFK shortly after my fourth birthday. Three months later, in February 1964, the Beatles had their first hit in the United States. From that time on, until I was ten and they broke up, I heard them everywhere, playing over sound systems throughout New York City where I lived. Even at four, I loved their music. Then, in 1968, when I was eight years old, my father, my ten-year-old brother, and I were walking around the Upper East Side of New York City at the end of a weekend together. My parents were divorced, and my brother and I spent every other weekend with Dad. While strolling through our neighborhood, I spotted an intricately painted Rolls Royce parked on the street. The car was bright yellow with a psychedelic design covering its entire surface. Dad explained that the Beatles were in New York, and that the Rolls, which had been painted by Peter Max, an artist who embodied the ethos of the mid to late 1960s, belonged to them. There were no guards, not even a chauffeur in view. Today, a luxury automobile owned by the most famous band in the world would have security twenty-four-seven. Almost five decades later, I remain amazed that we saw the Beatles’ Rolls Royce on the Manhattan streets.

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After sighting the Rolls, Dad informed us that Paul McCartney and John Lennon were staying in the apartment building on the corner of 73rd St. and 3rd Avenue, around the block from the home we shared with our mother. Dad’s first cousin, Robby, lived in that building. Now in my fifties, I’ve learned through Internet research that John and Paul were in New York that spring to introduce their recording label, Apple, on the Johnny Carson Show. They’d hoped that by staying in a private apartment they could avoid screaming, intrusive fans.

The day after my dad’s revelation, several other girls from my building hung out with me after school. One of my friends reported she’d heard that Beatles’ fans had snuck into Cousin Robby’s building through the basement of the A&P, which was on 3rd Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets. We were thrilled to have Beatles so close to us.

The Beatles visit to New York in 1968 coincided with the brief time my mother owned a miniature Schnauzer named Eddy. The night after encountering the Rolls, Mom asked me to walk him. She explained that my brother was immersed in homework, and unknown activities preoccupied her. The sun had already set, and this was the first time I ever ventured outdoors alone after dark.

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No fool, I headed toward Cousin Robby’s building with Eddy in tow. At the canopied entrance of the building, a group of roughly thirty people had gathered. I asked someone what was happening, and an excited fan gushed that the Beatles were expected to come out any minute. No other children were present, and the other fans didn’t notice me. The research I read years later stated that Beatle fans had learned of the band’s location, and all sorts of predictable mayhem ensued. But that night, the small assemblage of fans waited quietly on either side of the building’s canopy, and I stood with them along with my small dog. After fifteen minutes or so, John and Paul hadn’t emerged, and I thought Mom might worry if I stayed out any longer. Reluctantly, I walked home.

My mother didn’t notice when I returned to our apartment. I like to believe that if I had waited just a little longer, I could have been a yard or two away from John and Paul, and my story would have a different ending. But a close-up view of their psychedelic Rolls Royce and a near sighting of the Beatles themselves is still a treasured memory for any child of the 1960s.

When I was ten, the Beatles broke up the same spring I left New York City, where I had lived until then. I began the next stage of my life with my mother and brother in California. Although I experienced some serious issues in the first part of my childhood, much of that decade had been positive. The second half of my childhood on the West Coast was radically different.

The Beatles represent everything that was good about the early years of my childhood, but also everything I lost when that part of it ended. Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear Beatles’ music in public, and I’m often overcome with sadness. Although a small memory, this one is mine alone, which makes it deeply meaningful and especially dear.

AN EDUCATION IN SERVICE DOGS

Here is my my recent HuffPost Blog.

If I want to start a heated conversation at work, all I need to do is mention the plethora of dogs wearing service vests on base. I’m employed at a military hospital, and my colleagues, both civilian and military, will immediately rail against these dogs. Their use is viewed as an overt plea for undeserved attention and as a means of malingering. Many of my co-workers served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they’ve often experienced the horrors of war. Sometimes I don’t learn about their war experiences for years. They’re literally soldiering on, managing their post-war emotional issues with grace. Some of them receive mental health services. None, however, have service or emotional-support dogs. I was always sympathetic to their views, but I’ve been slow to fully appreciate their perspective.

When I started working at the hospital in 2007, I rarely saw service or emotional-support dogs. Now they’re everywhere on the seventy-five-acre base. Classifying your dog as a service or emotional-support animal is as easy as several clicks on a computer, along with paying a small fee for the vest the dogs must wear. Because the American with Disabilities Act prohibits questions regarding the nature of someone’s disability, the legitimacy of the dogs is rarely challenged.

I’ve been slow to understand my peers’ opinions about these dogs. I thought if someone was willing to seek comfort from an animal that required multiple daily walks, feedings, and poop scooping, maybe a real need existed. Whether for a veteran with a war wound or one with another serious ailment, the dogs lent comfort. Using a canine to meet needs represented healthier coping than using drugs or alcohol or engaging in other destructive behavior. If patients wanted others to assume something was wrong with them, maybe there was, manifested by the need to identify as disabled when they weren’t. So as long as the animals were well behaved, I didn’t see the harm in them. In addition, the benefits of a service dog didn’t include cash stipends, housing, or parking access. The owners only wanted Fido with them 24/7. Classifying a pet as a service / emotional-support dog seemed like an adaptive way to ease through a difficult world.

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But because the dogs were a hot topic, I thought I should educate myself about them. I was alarmed to learn that my laissez-faire attitude was both naïve and misguided. I discovered that without documentation from a medical or mental health provider, placing a dog in a service vest is considered fraud. In addition, it’s a violation of federal law to misrepresent a pet as a service or emotional-support animal. People who do so are at risk of incurring criminal penalties. As a mental health provider, I will now advocate for educating patients on these laws and the concurrent legal risks.

I fully support the use of legitimate service and emotional-support animals. Puppies Behind Bars is an organization that trains services dogs. Tito, whom I spoke to recently, works at PBB’s Manhattan headquarters. He informed me that their dogs can follow “ninety-plus commands,” including assisting with laundry. In the past, when I’ve mentioned this particular skill to people outside the medical or mental health fields, they invariably joke that they wish their dogs could perform this chore. They don’t understand that if someone needs a service dog to do their laundry, they’re either missing limbs or their limbs don’t function properly because of illness or injury. However, everyone agrees that the dogs’ skills are impressive.

Several years ago, I worked with a patient who had severe post traumatic stress disorder caused by a horrific combat incident. In addition, during his hospitalization on the psychiatric ward he experienced a personal tragedy devastating enough to unglue anyone. I helped him obtain a service dog from Puppies Behind Bars, and I’m certain the commitment and responsibilities required to care for his animal, as well as the unconditional love of the dog, helped to keep him alive.

As a mental health provider, it’s important that I always check my biases and ensure I’m not acting out of personal experiences and feelings. My convictions must be grounded in facts, and I need to strive to be open to new perspectives. My belief that the multitude of dogs on base was harmless was incorrect. My colleagues were right—often dogs that appear to be service or emotional-support animals obtained certification through accessible but illegal means, and they didn’t deserve the rights and benefits allowed to legitimate service animals. In the future, I’ll continue to love all the dogs I encounter at work, but I’ll no longer assume the ones sporting vests deserve to wear them.