Dogs In Art

Dogs are delightful subjects to paint. However, lately I have wanted to concentrate on birds.

As I look back on my dog paintings though, I realize how few of my own dogs have actually been my subjects over the years.

Because I owned a Papillon, I painted a lot of Papillons.

Because of Lewis, our Newfie, I did a lot of Newfies.

And of course, there are the German shepherds.

I love dogs but have tried to evolve from the “senior picture” (just the head) to something that illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the individual.

The older I get, the more I realize that I do not have an infinite number of dogs in my future.

My dogs are so cute. Maybe I should start painting them.

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Ron Perkins, Art Critic

Being an artist has not been an easy path to take. Case in point: I am sharing this story about Ron Perkins, Art Critic.

It’s a story about decency, and some law abidin’ folks, like Ron Perkins.

Being an art critic is way easier than producing actual art. You just look at something and decide it has value.

In some ways, each of us is an art critic.

Although not everyone goes to the lengths that Ron Perkins does.

Ron Perkins being an art critic didn’t surprise me too much. That’s not why we were together.

The thing that initially impressed me were his double negatives.

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Ron Perkins, Art Critic

He has a true command of the English language. “Ain’t” reaches a whole new level with him.

His favorite insult is, “f-kkn Democrat.”

He lays commercial flooring as a profession. But he does construction on the side. I once saw him fling an entire jar of nails, sans lid, to someone on top of the roof of our horse barn. He was hoping that the jar would stay upright, in flight, and land gratefully in the hand of the recipient.

When he threw it, I yelled, “No!”

Naturally, the nails rained down all over the horse’s barnyard.

He said that if I hadn’t yelled, he would have thrown it better, and they wouldn’t have spilled.

That’s Ron Perkins, ever vigilant. Laying blame, laying floors, laying… Whatever.

You know the type.

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Ron Perkins fondling his favorite thing. And holding a kitten.

I never did stop taking road trips, despite coming back from the Upper Peninsula and finding him in a compromising position with Debbie.

She probably wasn’t a Democrat.

Or an artist.

Ron Perkins has a habit of letting his family members clean up after him. My first experience with this was following the Debbie incident, when he sent his sister Karen Hixson to our house to explain why I shouldn’t dump Ron.

She sat in the kitchen and drank coffee and convinced me not to go.

That was in 2015.

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Kingfisher, acrylic 9×12″

On another trip, in fall of 2019 I traveled to Ohio to work with a horse.

While there, I got a call from the humane society saying they had a call from Ron Perkins asking them to remove my horse from the premises.

I had to make arrangements for friends to go and pick up the Junior horse, who perhaps fortunately, at that time was the only horse I had left. Clifford and Trudy had died earlier that year.

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Junior, perhaps praying not to go to Mexico.

I started getting messages from Karen Hixson. “Get out! Get out! Or you will never see Amanda again!”

Karen is Ron’s Relationship Manager. She gets to decide how Ron lives. She will keep you, or she will evict you. AND, she will make threats to your disabled sister.

Just what did she plan to do to Amanda, I wonder? It would be pretty difficult. Karen Hixson lives in Lansing and Amanda currently resides in Arizona. They had never met.

At first glance, such a threat would seem awful, but it didn’t scare me. Karen Hixson may be toxic and mean-spirited, but when it comes to my own family members, she is a rank amateur. Amanda and I have run the gauntlet of abuse for years. Amanda handles it with dignity and class. I choose to write about it. Karen (yes, she is a real “Karen”) is a retired nurse, but on top of her belligerent and intrusive habits, she seems to have a drinking problem. She is no match for Amanda, either emotionally or intellectually.

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Amanda and her Coke, illustration for the book, “Clifford of Drummond Island”

When I got back from Ohio, Ron Perkins, presumably with the help of his family members, had thrown all my worldly possessions out into in our driveway.

I was pretty sure this meant Debbie was back. Or, there was some other Debbie who wanted my spot in the house.

Ron Perkins at least had the courtesy of covering my stuff with a tarp, so that the rain water would run down into the boxes in rivers and puddle up, instead of just spraying everything with a fine mist.

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Cardinal On Ice, 9×12″ acrylic

Sure, he had said he was going to evict me, but he was so passive-aggressive I never took it seriously. We had been together for years. He had handed me an eviction notice a scant six days after Clifford and Trudy died. (Ron is empathetic that way.) I was still reeling from the effects of loss. After that, Ron Perkins said he was canceling the eviction, then going ahead with it, and changed his mind depending on the wind’s direction.

Ron Perkins is notoriously unreliable. However, I thought he still had something resembling a heart. He knew I had no savings, no family, and that I was racked with grief. I thought he would do the right thing. He could sink pretty low, but he was no bottom feeder.

Boy, was I wrong.

I knew I had to leave. I had been looking for some time. It was just taking me a really long time to do it. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to find a place to live when you have six dogs, a horse, two cats and a geriatric dove.

There was nowhere for the Junior horse to go. It was September. People had already gotten their winter stores of hay in.

Luckily I had friends. They went and hitched up my trailer, ol’ Wheelzebub, and got Junior out of there.

I was really thankful to the Humane Society. They didn’t have to notify me at all. Ron Perkins would have just sent this horse into the slaughter pipeline.

This horse, who had given pony rides to his kid’s stepdaughters. This horse who had visited the oncology kids at Sparrow Hospital. This horse who was the only horse I had left.

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Bluebird on Slate

I didn’t have a place to go. I didn’t have a truck, a trailer, no place to haul anything and no place to store it. I had a few friends who could help take this or that. But the bulk of my life had to stay in our driveway.

I had gone before a judge asking her for more time. Ron had told me he was changing his mind, I explained. I had six dogs.

She was not impressed. “Go to a women’s shelter.”

With six dogs?!

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This is how people become homeless. Intelligent people. I’m not a drunk. I’m not a junkie.

I’m an artist. And an animal trainer.

Friends and I poked through the boxes and the mess he had left. I picked out what I could fit in my van. My saddles. My winter coat. My sweaters.

Nowhere in that pile did I see one scrap of original art.

The art would be pretty hard not to notice. There were big works, some of them in expensive oak frames, and custom matted. Some were over 30 years old. Some were life sketches I had done in my childhood.

These pieces were my favorites, everything I had saved over years of work.

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Drummond Island Ferry, Watercolor, 12×16″

I heard nothing from Ron. I got a big long explanation via text message from his grown son, Nick, about why Ron had done these things. And that everything left had gone to the dump.

I didn’t even read it all.

I did note that Nick described a court battle that sounded like it took years, and said his dad had, “Come out on top.”

This is the story that malignant narcissists will tell each other. Ron is the winner! I guess he showed me. Ron Perkins On Top.

No thought of our shared history, no thought of the consequences to me or my poor animals. It was all about Being On Top.

…On top of what? ….Debbie?

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Chickadees on Ice, acrylic on pastel board

So I created this Facebook page for my art: Ron Perkins, Art Critic, #RonPerkinsOnTop

Be sure to follow it! I will update it as I find or remember images of the art he has taken.

This is a post for the artists.

What makes art valuable? How do you quantify hours spent during the creative process?

The law is on the side of Ron Perkins. He has rights. Because he owned the house, it gave him the right to go through everything I had, many years of work, my family photos, and make decisions in my absence.

However, what Ron Perkins did to me is the definition of domestic abuse. According to the United Nations site: Domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. 

In fact, Ron’s sister Karen Hixson also is a perpetrator of domestic abuse, violating the (perhaps unspoken) creed of her former profession. Some would maintain that Karen is a fraud. Psychology Today states: “Some perpetrators may use children, pets, or other family members as emotional leverage to get their victim to do what they want.”

I’m not holding this against men. Most guys, I know, would not do this. Ron Perkins has plenty of room. He owns two big pole barns. One of them has a new roof (now it’s even nailed down). He could have stored my stuff, all of it, with little impact on his own busy, busy, woman-chasing life.

But when you are dealing with people like the Perkins family, there are no standards of decency.

It doesn’t matter how nice or generous you have been to all of them.

Here’s the thing, though, about artists. You can’t really erase us. The creative urge just doesn’t die. It is as natural as breathing.

So I made this page as a memorial to my originals, which I may never see again.

Oh, and I talked to Amanda yesterday. She says to tell everyone Happy New Year! And she put in an order for a painting.

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Better Than a Poke In the Eye

We call horses green when they haven’t been ridden very much. A nine year old horse is still young, and a green one is a virtual baby when compared to others. Once I got over my concussion, I was pretty determined to get back in the saddle as soon as possible and get some miles logged on the Junior horse, hopefully without further incidents with landing on my head.

He had a habit of freezing in position when first hitting the trail. When he turned his head, he could get a good look at me sitting up on his back. He would stop, and turn his head to the left and then the right, looking at me out of one eye and then the other.

It was a funny habit, but what he was really hoping for was that I might slip him a treat. I had begun his saddle training that way, praising him for standing still when I got on, fixed my stirrups, adjusted the girth, whatever. If he stood there quietly, he got a treat. This, of course, quickly escalated out of control. He would stop every few feet and stand there, expecting to be rewarded for it.

This was all early stuff, as he was new to trail riding and I understood that this begging would eventually go away. But in the meantime, I carried along my Smackety Smacker. The Smackety was a whip about the length of a yardstick, with a paddle on the end. It wasn’t too scary. In fact I even taught him to pick it up for me if I dropped it.

But it delivered a firm whack at appropriate times. After a few such incidents, the mere sight of the Smackety would cause the Junior horse to keep moving.

My friend Stacey was making time to take little rides with me, while the days were still long and the weather cooled, and the horse fly population in the woods was finally thinning. We were treated to some beautiful weather, the aging summer sun poking shards of light through the still-green, hushed branches while the birds whistled of the bounty of an Indian summer. The horses’ feet thumped quietly on the trail of dirt. But even though Stacey’s mount Otis kept on ambling his way along the dappled path, the Junior horse decided it must be time for a treat. He came to a sharp halt and turned his head, rolling his brown eye up at me expectantly.

I had forgotten the Smacker. And he knew it.

“Confound it!” I growled. “Hang on a second, Stace.”

Since we were surrounded by trees, of course, there was no shortage of substitute Smackers. I was able to snap off a dead branch, crooked and with a fork at the end. I held it up and showed it to Junior. “Get moving.”

His head swung back around and he marched forward.

We enjoyed our ride, moving through the stillness, the soft sound of the woods, the sudden burst of creatures in the grass. Otis and Junior walked quietly for an hour and as we circled back down to the sandy path that led toward the stable, I flung the stick into the brush.

The downside of riding in a state recreation area is that the DNR can be picky about loose dogs. Even though my dogs were reliable off-leash, I always tried to comply with the rules during the busy hours of the season. But I would let them out to run if there were no other humans around. I opted to take the dogs out later, as the day waned long, and the goldenrod was blooming along the side of the dirt road. We wandered through the horseman’s campground, seeing no one, and the dogs sniffed deeply in the grass. I unhooked them and let them scurry along ahead of me as I headed into the canopy that covered the equine path. Walking along the trail that curved back toward the stable, my border collie Til stepped in front of me, hopefully flinging a stick at my feet.

He backed up and looked at me. I did a double take.

I knew the stick’s crooked shape, its forked end.

It was my replacement Smacker.

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In Other News, Peter Falk’s Daughter is Still Chipping Away at Guardianship

I thank my lucky stars for Catherine Falk, every day of my life. Daughter of TV’s famous, rumpled, delightful Lt. Columbo, she has been working hard to assure nobody else has to go through what she did. When her father was stricken with Alzheimer’s, Catherine was prevented from visiting him by his legal guardian. With the cooperation of the courts, she was not notified when he died. She was not notified of his funeral arrangements.

HIS OWN DAUGHTER.

New York’s Governor Cuomo has recently approved an end-of-life provision for loved ones of the ward (aka prisoner of a guardian).

For those who don’t know, a guardianship is anarchy. The guardian doesn’t have to abide by laws common in child custody. The guardian can do whatever he/she wants. These laws are regulated on a state-by-state basis. The courts are notorious for rubber-stamping them.

I’ve gotten the rubber stamp twice, after filing two petitions in two separate years and under two different judges, to get a visit with my sister Amanda.

Amanda has Down syndrome and in 2013 (following the death of our dad, of whom I was primary caretaker along with Amanda), she was swooped out to Arizona from our home state of Michigan. This was following a dispute between another sibling, our oldest sister Robin, and the current guardian, brother Ted.

Amanda and I stayed together during those very painful months and we wrote a book, “The North Side of Down.” Immediately after we published it, our story won the Honorary Medallion from the Book Reader’s Appreciation Group. This made Amanda one of the few co-authors in the world with Down syndrome… And Perhaps the only award-winning co-author.

h-1

It was my first glimpse into what a horror show guardianship is. I was so relieved when Ted won that case. Amanda was terrified that Robin was going to win. But we both thought things would be just fine now.

WRONG.

Anyone who has followed this blog has seen the struggle I have been though, just trying to get quality time with my sister.

Who knew it was going to be so hard to get permission to take your sister out for movies and pizza?

Evil is rampant, and it isn’t just toward the elderly.

Amanda is a cash cow. Her disability check is “worth a lot more than people thought,” Ted’s wife Ruthie said, back when she was still talking to me.

I couldn’t have cared less about the money. But I am becoming very aware of how much others do.

Back during the days of more open communication, Ted told me he was afraid if Amanda spent too much time with me in Michigan, “she won’t want to come back.”

He transferred her case to Arizona in an attempt to thwart me from filing further petitions.

It’s not going to work.

The only thing that has prevented me this year is the influx of Covid-19.

Now, per this text message, he claims he has removed me from notices about Amanda’s legal status through the court. He said I refused delivery (not true) and I will not be getting any more updates. Ted has lied to me in the past, so it may not be true that he has requested me to be removed and the court agreed, but if it is, it wouldn’t surprise me.

When I posted this latest update on Facebook, a friend asked, “How low can Ted go?”

I guess we are finding that out, eh?

I thought his real low point was when Amanda wept in the restaurant and begged him to let her have time with me.

This friend is not alone. There are a number of friends and relatives, including people who have known Amanda her whole life, who are aghast at the way Ted is treating her. They don’t speak out. Many of them have even withdrawn from Amanda because they are so disgusted by the situation.

I wish people had more courage. Granted, my sisters can be vicious. They are bullies. They will gang up on you.

So what?

Do the right thing.

We need to shed a light on this unethical behavior of guardians. Thank you, Catherine Falk, for pegging away at it.

On September 24th, Amanda turns 50 years old. Hang in there, little sis. I’m not giving up.

Stop Guardian Abuse

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Foreshadowing, and a Thank You

On the evening of September 10th in 2001, I was riding my horse Clifford up the road heading back to my farm in Gregory. We were going at a steady trot and as we turned up the last mile, a runner fell in next to us. He was a wiry Mexican, likely a son of one of the migrant workers. He said I had a beautiful horse, and asked what kind he was. I told him Clifford is a Morgan, an American breed. He replied that this is a great country, and he had finished boot camp and was shipping out for his first assignment in Iraq in a couple of days. We continued our conversation until I reached my driveway and turned off.

He kept on running. He never ran out of breath, managing to have the entire discussion all the while he was keeping up with my trotting horse!

Thank you for your service, Mexican American Running Man.

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Top Notch

The sun was dipping toward the west, casting long shadows over the picnic table where Moriah and I sat together. It had been a long day at the riding stable. We were talking about the way Smokey had plunged into his role as lead guide horse, and how he was still a force at 25 years old. We talked about the summer and the way it was marching away from us, turning its face toward the next season. In the shield of woods not far from where we sat, right by the trail head, we heard a sharp cry.

“It sounds like a kitten,” I said.

“It’s a bird, Nancy.“

“I really think it is a kitten. And I heard it earlier today.”

“That’s a bird, for sure.”

We listened. The yowling cry continued. “Kitty!” I yelled. The cry stopped and then wailed louder.

“It is a kitten!” Moriah jumped up and I followed her through the gate, down the path that led to where the equestrian trail strarted. She crouched down in the pathway. “What are you doing in here?”

She was peering into the bushes. I leaned over and saw the white furry form, no longer than my palm, flattened and now silent, staring back at her through the grasses and twigs. I reached down and plucked him up, swinging him by the nape of his neck hair. He folded, hanging from my grasp, tucking his hind legs way up into his belly. I hoisted him up and looked into his big, black eyes, glazed over in that blank stare that happens when you hold a baby cat as its mother would.

“Where in the heck did you come from?”

I had an embarrassing number of years’ worth of cat experience. I had sworn off cats, and yet they insisted on continuing to find me. I quickly assessed his gender and health and estimated age. A male, dehydrated but free of fleas and ear mites and no sign of upper respiratory infection. He was a mere three weeks old, far too young to be away from his mother. He looked white, but was actually a flame point Siamese type, with the beginnings of an orange tail and ears, and cream-colored paws. I nestled him close to comfort him. As he snuggled up under my chin, I immediately gave him a name. Notch. Notch Yer Kitten, I told myself.

“I want!” Moriah cooed. I handed him over. Good. Notch already had a home.

We brought him inside and I sent a message to the stable manager Jennifer, who was out on errands, to bring us back a bottle and a can of kitten milk replacer. In the meantime Moriah kept him warm.

“I want to call him Ghost!” she said.

“You can call him that.”

“Well did you think of a name?”

“Ghost is fine.”

She knew me better. “What is the name?”

I explained it. Notch. Notch Yer Kitten.

“How about Notcher Ghost?” she suggested.


He was a ghost. He was a waif, shrunken, with enormous eyes that were blue in color, but dark with his enlarged pupils. He was too young to be terrified. He had just fallen into a type of shock that was designed to immobilize and protect infant creatures of his age.

The first picture of Notch.

The KMR arrived and he suckled voraciously. “Do you want me to keep him here until he’s ready to wean?” I asked Moriah. “He is going to need a lot of care.”

“I can’t take him,” Moriah said. “My dad is allergic.”

That settled it. Notch was going to be my charge, at least for a while.

Notch didn’t even know how to go to the bathroom by himself. It took a couple of days before he fully inflated and his coat smoothed into the fuzzy kitten hair. He crept along the floor, looking at everything in wonder. He began to chew solid food. He learned to use the litterbox, and within a week he was galloping after the dogs and rolling and batting at balls of rumpled paper, like kittens do.

Now, every night, he crawls into bed demanding snuggles, patting my face with his paws, claiming ownership of my soul.

On a whim, I entered him in the America’s Favorite Pets contest online, and he shot to first place. It will end during the first week of October.

Notcher Ghost belongs to everyone.

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Amanda’s New Year’s Revenge

One of my mother’s favorite holiday traditions was to play a practical joke on someone. It usually was Dad. One year she knitted him a cap that she decorated with tinsel and ornaments in the form of plastic animals; a pink walrus, a sheep, and others, that swung around his face. Mom was multi-talented and she could knit beautifully. I always wanted her to make me a granny square afghan, but she delighted in making things she could use to torment Dad.

Dad was the favored target, but no one was ever sure who the next victim would be; or, in fact, who would instigate the joke.

Around 1997, I selected Amanda.

The youngest of our eight siblings, Amanda spent summers with me downstate where every year I would buy her a new wardrobe to wear to school. We loved shopping together, although she didn’t always appreciate having to try things on. I picked out cute tops and flattering pants for her. But she liked wild colors, leopard prints and flashy materials, and dramatic styles with lots of pockets. Her interest was piqued every time we went to the mall and passed the leather store. Amanda wanted a black leather jacket in the worst way. She had aspirations of looking like a biker babe. Unfortunately, like most people with Down syndrome, she is short and her body is soft and pudgy. Her figure was not one to handle the narrow-waisted style of biker jacket that she yearned for.

One summer, she stayed with me for about six weeks and after a vigorous diet and exercise program, she had dropped a significant amount of weight. When shopping, she spotted a leather jacket she liked and tried it on, and it did fit her. But although I was seriously tempted, I opted not to buy it for her, as I knew she was going to gain the weight back when she got back home and fell “off the wagon” of daily walking and careful eating habits.

As Christmas rolled around, I was in a convenience store and I happened to notice a keychain that had a perfect miniaturized version of a black leather jacket, complete with zippers and snap buttons and pockets.

I got the key ring and wrapped it in a large box. On the tag, I wrote: “To Amanda. Here’s something you’ve wanted for a really long time.”

The box sat under the tree for a solid week, with its sparkling ribbon and tempting gift tag. Anyone who lifted it up and shook it would have easily deducted that it wasn’t heavy enough to contain a real black leather jacket. But Amanda’s hopes were soaring.

“What’s in that box?” Dad roared.

I leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Say, ‘A black leather jacket’ really loud!”

“A black leather jack-“ his yelp was smothered when I clapped my hand over his mouth.

Amanda’s dark blue almond-shaped eyes crackled. She rubbed her hands together. That sealed it. She knew she was finally getting the jacket of her dreams.

When Christmas morning dawned, she made a beeline for the tree, and with trembling hands she tore open the gift and ripped through the tissue paper. She pulled out the keyring, the mini jacket too small to even fit a Barbie doll.

“WHAT IS THIS?!” she screamed.

The family howled!

“Some sister, eh?” Dad yelled.

“Yeah!” she snapped. “Some sister I got!”

She whipped her hand back and flung that keyring. It flew across the room and struck me squarely on the temple. The room was in an uproar.

“You thought you were getting a black leather jacket?” Mom said.

“Yes!” Amanda shouted.

“Oh, Manda, you’ve gotta be out of your orb,” Mom said.

Amanda couldn’t help laughing. But she said, “Gol darn you, Nancy, I’m gonna get you for this!”

Christmas passed, and Amanda finally got her jacket, although it was a swing coat more suited to her figure than the biker babe jacket she had picked out. I didn’t think too much about it. But several weeks later, in January, I received a package, with a note that said, “Dear Nancy, here’s something you’ve wanted for a really long time.”

I tore open the package. Inside, I found my granny square afghan, carefully hand knitted.

It was attached to a key ring, and it was only one square.

Amanda Makes A Wish by Nancy, watercolor and colored pencil.
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Decking the Halls

One of the best things about the Christmas season is tradition, and every year the Novi Pet Expo kicks it off for us. Even though the pet show happens in mid November (always falling on my birthday weekend), for years Clifford the horse has ushered in the season at the big event, posing with Santa, sporting his elf hat, and painting ornaments.

I was pretty sure Christmas just wasn’t going to be the same without Clifford. But his understudy, Kerry 7th Gen, known fondly as the Junior Horse, had spent the summer polishing up his tricks in order to step into the big hoofprints. He has learned to do a lot of Clifford’s tricks including nodding “yes” and “no”, showing his teeth, counting, and bowing and he had even added the Spanish walk to his repertoire.

One thing that JR couldn’t do was paint. I hadn’t attempted to teach him to push the sponge around. We were slated to go to the Expo under Clifford’s contract, and what the contract promised was a painting horse! In the middle of the Expo offerings, birds and reptiles, llamas and goats, agility dogs and rescued kitties, was a horse who could paint with a sponge and non-toxic pigments.

Thanks to my friends, Lyn and Harry Alban, JR got a ride to Novi from their home near Grand Rapids. They even brought a folding table for him to work on. I had packed all the necessary gear: sponges and neon colors, a thick pad of multi-purpose paper, and the essential star-shaped wooden Christmas ornaments.

JR’s great-uncle Clifford had spent over twenty years promoting literacy and empathy, as well as promoting the Morgan horse, a breed I now learned had become an endangered species. It was, I thought, due not so much a lack of interest in the Morgan, as a growing lack of space. People no longer had acres to live on, and the cost of hay was skyrocketing. Horse ownership was becoming a thing of the past. It was becoming more important to promote horse ownership, the equestrian sports, riding lessons for kids, and the Morgan breed in particular as the horse who could do it all: He is the perfect equine athlete, proficient in eventing, reining, dressage, and virtually anything the larger, more high-maintenance breeds could do. Plus, he was smart and personable. He was a terrific therapy animal and could excel at meet-and-greet events such as the Novi Pet Expo.

With this in mind, it became more important than ever to show that JR could handle the job of painting; that these odd behaviors were not quirks exclusive to one silly gelding, but instead trained tricks to prove the affable nature and intelligence typical of the Morgan breed.

When we first approached the table, I had the sponges already soaked in paint and the paper laid out. I simply said those words I had uttered to Clifford so many times over the years, “Touch it.”

Being a typical curious Morgan, JR took a swipe with his nose and was rewarded with a piece of red licorice.

It didn’t take long for him to catch on. It turned out that he loves to paint. He swirled those sponges so hard he was sending them flying. Little kids crowded around to laugh and stare and pick them up again.

After the first session, every time he came out of the stall, he made a beeline for the painting table. He was more than happy to be involved.

I could not help being a little verklempt. After all, JR had stood by and watched Clifford work at the painting table, over five years’ time. Was he simply waiting for his turn? Did he understand that it was up to him now, to carry on this odd Christmas tradition that made everyone laugh and caused such a stir among the visitors? For sure there was a glimmer of Clifford’s ancestry in his pedigree; might he have captured a bit of that whimsical spirit, as well?

I wasn’t sure. But as the Expo drew to a close after a long and hard-working three-day weekend, when he was still fresh and eager to greet people, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a grateful hug, I swear he winked at me.

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Precedent, Not President

Things have not improved. Amanda continues to flail along under the hyperreligious, desperately misguided sacks of greed. I have not forgotten you.

Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog

The election of Donald Trump has shaken a large (perhaps the majority – since more people actually voted for Hillary Clinton) part of the population.

One faction affects me personally — Hillary had promised to be a champion for people with disabilities. (Trump makes fun of them.)

I watched the voting numbers, while my hopes of talking to my sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome and is basically being held hostage by her guardian, sank into the sea of despair.

(Full Definition of hostage. 1 a : a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement b : a person taken by force to secure the taker’s demands. 2 : one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence.)

I admit I joined a legion of folks who spent part of Wednesday in tears.

I recently watched an interview…

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Be the Change – Freya the German Shepherd

Loki, the dog with ears like the Flying Nun, has a new sister. Freya is a German shepherd that was picked up on a road somewhere. She was thin but obviously a well-bred shepherd, rich red and black in color, with the conformation of a working show true German line. After a month’s time and a hard search, the rescuer didn’t find the owner and Freya became available for adoption. My friends went to see her and decided to bring her home, to learn that besides the looks, Freya had the pushy German shepherd attitude, too. Even though the dogs weigh about the same, Loki had to fall back when the treats came out. She would shove her way between him and the new owners to snarf up the cookies. The same thing happened with his toys: Freya would just grab whatever he was playing with and carry it away. If Loki chased her or tried to get it back, Freya would run into her crate with the toy, guard it, and growl.

When I showed up that day to visit and see the new addition, the adoptive dog parent Lyn said, “I’m not sure we are going to keep her. Loki just isn’t himself when she’s around.”

I looked at Loki, his ridiculous ears at half-mast but still standing flared out from his head like a character from a Gremlins film. His eyes showed resignation. I held up a treat. He looked at it sadly. I offered it to him, and in came Freya like a furry missile: CHOMP! And it was gone.

“No!” Lyn shouted, “That’s for Loki!” But Freya just smiled with her happy pointed teeth as she crunched down the cookie. Crunch, crunch.

“Loki just seems so sad. I don’t think he is happy with this addition at all,” Lyn sighed.

It wasn’t too much later; perhaps an hour, that I heard a bunch of thumping and growling in the living room. I looked around the corner and Loki was rassling with Freya in a waggy-tail tongue-lolling happy-dog-match.

Evidently, things weren’t as bad as they seemed.

Lyn handed me a box of treats and the dogs came running and sliding to plunk themselves in front of me. Loki hung back a little.  I held up a treat. “Freya, wait. This is for Loki.”

Freya lunged for it. But the treat disappeared into my closed fist. “You have to wait,” I told her again. She sat back a moment in confusion, and I said, “Good!” and gave it to her.

Loki stood by watching while Freya had a lesson in patience. Again and again, I asked Freya to wait, and when she sat still and just watched, I awarded her the treat. Finally, it was Loki’s turn. I called his name. He was reluctant, creeping forward as Freya restrained herself. But he earned one. “Good, Freya!” I said, immediately giving her one of her own.

The name recognition game went back and forth for awhile. Pretty soon Freya was so tuned in to her own identity, and Loki’s, that when she dropped her treat and Loki grabbed it, she looked at me, aghast! That was HER treat. She earned it! She received two as a bonus.

Just through this gentle reward system, Freya learned better manners in only one session. She learned to sit quietly and wait her turn. She was even waiting at the door.

It happened just from waiting for the good behaviors, and focusing only on those. When putting energy into positive results, the negative ones fell away.

It occurred to me that maybe I could apply this theory to all things in life.

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