Archive for September, 2014

Book Review: Trust the Dog, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, with Gerri Hirshey

September 26, 2014

When I was in grade school, I read a small book, published by Scholastic Book Service, called “Follow My Leader.”  It was about a kid who was blinded in an accident, and who had to adjust to his blindness.  He ultimately got a Guide Dog, which gave him freedom.

Going to dog training  seminars, I sometimes meet  blind people training dogs.  I am always amazed at their confidence in walking around without tripping (something I, a sighted person, can not do!)

I actually found this book at the dollar store, and bought it to send to a humane group overseas.  I thought I should read it first. I believe it got to the dollar store because it was published as a ‘vanity’.  That is, it was published by the authors, in this case  to give to prospective donors to the Fidelco Foundation.  Check out their web site, and their Charity Navigator rating.

While this  books initially comes off as a puff piece for the founders of Fidelco (who happen to be wealthy business people with an interest in service dogs and breeding good dogs), it is actually very informative  about the dynamics of facing blindness.  It is several chapters, five of which are about individuals, how they became blind, how they coped with it, and how their lives were improved by using a guide dog.

I am sure most people in the USA have heard of seeing eye and guide dogs for the blind.  Most do not know that there are various schools which train service dogs.  They also don’t know how  dogs are chosen, trained, and how  recipients get the dogs.

More and more, I am finding pet owners who want to train  their personal dogs to be service dogs.  There are now groups (non profits) all over the country  which train people and evaluate dogs, and help dog owners find places to volunteer.  In Chicago, we have a group called “Sit Stay Read,” where children just read to dogs.  This requires very little training—but it does require a dog who wants to sit or lay around and be attentive to a child.  You can’t train  all dogs to do this (especially not the toy breeds or terriers).    Lots of people are disappointed because they chose a dog who is not suitable to be a service dog.

This book is short (Just over 200 pages)m well and simply written, and would be a good  gift for anyone interested in working with service dogs.

Where did she go?

September 19, 2014

I am getting to the age where more of my friends are dying…and it is not a huge shock.  Some have had chronic illnesses for years, some are just old….and some have had pets.

If you live with someone, or have kids, this won’t be a huge issue to you.  However, if you are a groomer, or live in a community with a lot of either senior citizens or disabled people  who get subsidized housing or are otherwise renters—and  you yourself are an animal lover, I want you to think about what I am saying.

My neighbor, Phyllis, was one of many seniors who live in her building. The building was  developed with tax credits over 25 years ago, and it was specifically so seniors  would have an affordable place to live.
The tax credits expired and the building, which had been in receivership (due to the developer, a nonprofit, going bankrupt), got sold to a business. The business owns many buildings.  Believe me, the profit per unit is not much, but because  there are at least 30 units in the building, the building  can break even and be somewhat profitable, and combined with hundreds of buildings, they do ok. Still, I imagine this is a challenge for the business owner.

I am not going to address renters as hoarders, drug dealers, or drug addicts….the issue is pets.

I met Phyllis on the street, walking Pumpkin, her Shih Tzu.  What struck me was that the dog was in ‘Specials coat’.  That is—a coat you could show her in.  Also, when I actually groomed her, I found her to be a show quality dog.  Yes, some  hobby breeders are just thisside of being puppy mills. Phyllis found the breeder on the internet, & I know she paid well over $1000 (possibly $2000) for this dog.  Pumpkin has a great front and rear, and great patellas. She is very sound.  Phyllis lives on Social Security and food stamps.  She skrimped and saved to buy Pumpkin.  Spare no expense for Pumpkin, she had the best of care.

I offered to groom  Pumpkin once a month for a reduced fee.  Then, Phyllis told me she had to have both knees replaced.  Phyllis was going into the hospital and rehab for several months, and she was frantic about Pumpkin.  I  was lucky that my sister  agreed to take her.  I have 2 Whippets, and I was afraid they would hurt her, even by accident.  My sister took Pumpkin for Phyllis and ended up having her for  over 4 months.  We also took Pumpkin to visit Phyllis several times when she was in the nursing home doing rehab.

This was about a year ago, and I continued to groom Pumpkin once a month….then, a few weeks ago, while I was out, my  roommate said that a neighbor stopped over and she had Pumpkin, and to call.

The gist is….Phyllis was taken ill.  Somehow, the police were called.  As I am not next of kin, it is actually not a legal requirement that anyone tell me what happened to Phyllis, but the police told a neighbor that if she didn’t take Pumpkin, they were going to take her to Chicago Animal Care & Control—the dog pound.  Since the neighbor knew I groomed Pumpkin, she asked me if I would take  her.

Of course, and my sister has her now….and we have to presume that Phyllis died.

This is a lesson to us all.  I have a roommate.  Most people I know live with someone or have someone (like a job) who expects to see them every day….and would investigate if we didn’t show up.

I have a friend who went on vacation with her husband, and left an elderly friend in charge of her dogs.  My friend called her friend every day—and when she couldn’t get in touch with her, called the police….who had to break into her house and  found the friend  on the floor. She had been there for over 12 hours—she had fallen and broken her hip!  That my friends had to quickly return from vacation wasn’t the half of it. They now also have that friend’s dogs—as SHE is now in a nursing home.

Please, put something in your wallet about your pets—-especially if you travel.  If you live alone—put something on your refrigerator door.

We are going to work on  an ordinance that asks  landlords who rent to single people with pets to address this:  if you   don’t have someone to contact in case of emergency….if something happens to you, what do you want done with your pets?


Totally legal…screwing you around…

September 12, 2014

America—-we like to think we have the market cornered on efficiency.

A while back, I needed  postcards.  In theory, you can go to the post office & get  postcards that are already stamped. I send them to clients to remind them to call me.  Since nobody sends postcards anymore, they really stand out.

Long line at the Post Office.  I stood in line for over 1/2 hour, got to the clerk, and she tells me, “We ran out.”

Huh?  I looked around, and said, sarcastically, “This IS the post office, right?”

She got snarky & said, “We run out of things, too!”  So I said, “I’d like to talk to the postmaster.”  She tells me–get this, “She’s on vacation.”

I said, “You mean she went on vacation & knew you were  running out of postcards & didn’t reorder more before she left?  Why don’t you guys put up  a sign?”

I told this story to a friend, & he told me he had a similar experience when he  went to get an application for a vehicle sticker at a currency exchange.  He stood in line for over 1/2 hour, got to the window, & the clerk told them they had run out of applications.

Do you think these people care if they inconvenience you?

My main reason for  addressing this now is because of what my last health insurance company, Assurant Health, did to me .

I was self-employed, and made the big mistake of checking  You post anything there & you are immediately inundated with offers to buy insurance—& the sellers don’t even  look at your parameters.  They  just email you with offers that don’t make any sense, or start calling.  Very obnoxious.

So, I finally settled on Assurant Health, as they were offering  the best I could afford:  a $10,000 deductible for $174.50 a month (this ended up at $235 a month…).  It included nothing.  I had to pay for everything up to  $10,000.

In August, they sent me both a letter & a postcard telling me they’d pay up to $100 for a “Wellness Visit,” to my physician.  Well, they were  not paying ME.  How it would work is that I’d make an appointment with my doctor, email the card back to them with the doctor’s name & date, and they would send ME a check made out to my doctor to give to her.  That’s easy to understand, right?

I made an appointment .  Not so easy, because when I told the practice manager  that the insurance company was sending me this check, what did a wellness visit actually cost, he said, “$300.”

When I asked what that included–the $300, He stammered, “Well, you have to work that out with your doctor.”  So it’s not so straightforward.

I wanted a cholesterol test, but I also wanted to discuss my supplements & a few other issues, so I made the appointment, sent the info on the card back to Assurant, and….the  date was approaching in 2 days, & I hadn’t received the check.

I called customer service at Assurant Health, & they told me that actually, the check would be sent directly to my doctor.


“Then why did you send me 2 pieces of mail telling me that you would send the check directly to me?  What a waste of time and money!”

—And the customer rep says—I am not joking—“Well, you’re not paying for it!”  So who is?

OK–whatever.  I got to the doctor, who  sees me & we have our discussion, & she also sends me to LabCorp for blood work…because they are cheaper than her practice, and I go home. The end.

On Friday, Nov.13, I get a call from Assurant Health  telling me they would not pay for the visit as the practice coded the request wrong.

Huh?  What codes?  I didn’t need codes to submit the request that my doctor be paid. Why are they needed now?  So…I called the billing department for my doctor & requested that they resubmit with the appropriate codes..& I wrote  a letter to the chairman of the board of Assurant Health , and the CEO & cc’d the Illinois Department of Insurance and several of my elected officials. This was 11/18/09.  On 11/24/09, I got a response from the Illinois Dept. of Insurance, telling me they were  looking into the complaint.  In early December, I got an UNSIGNED letter from Assurant Health telling me that  “I have been assigned to look into your complaint.”  Then, Dec.12/29/09 (delivered shortly after the first of Jan.2010, Lenore Burger of Assurant Health  wrote me that she was looking into my complaint but needed access to my medical records!  For what? What does how they market have to do with my medical records?  & they have still not addressed their  ‘bait & switch’ marketing…but to  add icing on the cake, they sent me  a letter, with another marketing piece, that tells me  I have  “an opportunity to save up to 10% ” by filling out a healthy discount questionnaire.”

Who hoo!  My rates will  drop—from $174.43 a month to $167 & change.  Uh…not so fast—-I read the whole letter—& they are actually raising my rate to $209.49 a month—& the logic  is that  if I qualify, my rate will only be $188.94 a month.  That’s the discount. I am not making this up.  So they are raising my rates 20%, but it will only go up 10% if I fill out the form & they approve it—making it a 10% DISCOUNT. Now do you understand why children in the U.S. have so many problems learning math?

The Armchair Activist, Revisited.

September 5, 2014

In the early 1980s, I met a very interesting woman named Margaret Asproyerakas.   We had been recruited —as volunteer organizers, to recruit other activist to  protest at several Regional  Primate Centers.  We were protesting cruel treatment of animals,and, in our case, the experiments of Harry Harlow (& in fact, they keep replicating these horrible ‘experiments’) but the movement  brought together a disparate group of people with  varying concerns:  treatment of animals in zoos, circuses, rodeos,  factory farms, animals being bred for fur,  people concerned about the environment and habitat loss, animals being captured (and bred) for the pet trade,  the steel jaw leg-hold trap used by hunters, and  product (and medical drug) testing on animals.  In the end, we got about 5000 people to each of the regional primate  centers to protest.  Hardly successful at all, but  it at least got us in contact with each other, so we could help each other.

Remember, this was the early 1980s.  Before the internet.  Successes?  It  became gauche to wear fur, many companies stopped testing products on animals and started promoting themselves as ‘cruelty free’.  Zoos started  addressing  the stress of their  inmates, and finally, in 2014, many zoos are no longer keeping elephants if they can’t keep a social  group.

No, we haven’t affected Sea World or the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and puppies  are still being bred like livestock.  People in developed countries are more aware, however, and we  don’t seem to be as radical as we once appeared to be.  I remember in the early 1990s, I was on public transportation, and I had a button that said  “Dolphin Safe Tuna” on my bag that Starkist was handing out.  Someone asked me, “Do you think it’s really Dolphin safe?”    “I am not sure”  I replied, ” But  this is a response to is all the regular folks, housewives, kids, just people, contacting the company.  We made an impact. They know it is an important issue to us.”

Margaret had an idea for a brochure. It would be printed on an 8.5 x 11 ” piece of paper, on both sides, that could be folded over and stapled together.  It was just 12 little pages. Now,  this was the days before laptop computers as well, so I suggested that we get all the ideas together and type them out, and then put them together.  Margaret did copy right it (1984), but she wanted it to be simple enough for any animal welfare group to copy.

The first page—the cover, was a little cartoon of a bird, a dog, and a cat  around an armchair, with some  copy that   said: “Animal rights activists disable pirate whaling ships, liberate animals from laboratories, disrupt annual baby seal hunts, airlift burros from the Grand Canyon…as much as we may want to help, there may be no way for us to participate in these forms of activism. So…presenting ARMCHAIR ACTIVIST  Easy, inexpensive, close-to-home ways to make a positive difference for animals.”

We left page 2 blank, so any group could copy the brochure and  put information about themselves on that page.  On actual page 1, we started our ideas.  We called it “A penny for your thoughts”: We suggested contacting local animal shelters to find out what they felt was important, and learn from the national groups what  their issues were—and to write letters.  We encouraged  people to write their elected officials as well. These days, it is so easy to email, but back then, we encouraged the sending of  postcards—especially if you were writing the head of a company,  With a postcard, not only did you NOT have to look for an envelope, it forced you to be concise, and every one from the people in the mail room to the CEO’s  secretary would see it and be affected.  This had a huge impact on so many companies.  It still does.  Now we also have and The  petition site—and  it is so much easier.

We told people to put their 2c in, and when they saw something to say something:

to zoos with  jail like ‘habitats; circuses  which promoted unnatural behaviors and very confined housing;  rodeos;  street fairs that offered pony rides and petting zoos, or allowed  giving away of pet animals;  carriage horses—having to work in terrible heat and cold, in very stressful traffic conditions (I mean, how  romantic is that?), cattle trucks;  live poultry markets; dogs tied up outside stores or left in  parked cars (always an issue…still…), pet shops;  school science classes that demanded experimentation on live animals, including frogs and guinea pigs; initiation rites (swallowing goldfish).

We asked people to check hardware stores to  request they not sell steel jaw leg-hold traps, or glue traps  for mice.  We encouraged people to keep prestamped postcards to  write to sponsors of TV shows that  made light of animal suffering.  We protested  sweepstakes that gave away fur coats ( how many of you  remember Bob Barker on The Price is Right?  Not only would he not be a party to giving  away furs, he ended the show by saying, “Please spay or neuter your pet!”  That became part of Drew Carey’s  contract with the show as well).

We asked people to monitor the classified ads in the Sunday papers and call  people who  offered free puppies and kittens (these days, I would ask you to flag the idiots  who post on Craigslist—they post in pets , farm & garden, & general for sale).  Free pets generally end up either being neglected or  tortured…still. The person who won’t go to an animal shelter & pay the fee—which  generally includes shots & neutering, will also balk at paying for veterinary care and even  dog food.

We encouraged people to watch the editorial pages of local papers, and challenge inaccurate information.  Keep in mind  that many localities in the US still ban Pit Bulls—when  Pits are not the problem—the owners are ( see Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, “Troublemakers”).

We encouraged people to SPREAD THE WORD:  to ask local clergy to address compassion towards animals, or offer to speak to your own congregation, or  boy or girl scouts, or a classroom.  Some newspapers allow people to  post free personal ads, and we encouraged people to  advise pet owners to spay or neuter their pets.  We asked people to order  brochures on these topics , or make up their own, and post them on public bulletin boards. We encouraged  people to  volunteer their time and talents, either directly working with animals or offering to do administrative, book keeping, or fundraising  help for animal shelters .We encouraged  people to make donations-in-kind (shelters always need  towels, blankets, paper towels,  pet toys, collars and leashes…and can sell whatever they don’t use).

We encouraged people to make crafts, design t-shirts and bumper stickers, and offer to pay for these things. These days,  many people may not be able to permanently keep a pet, but they might help with fostering.  In Chicago, we have volunteers  who play with and even train many  ‘court case dogs’.  These are dogs taken as evidence when  a defendant  doesn’t want to sign over, so the dog is in the city pound as long as the case is active.  Continuances can go on for years.  That’s a terribly long time for a formerly pet dog  to sit in what should be a temporary boarding situation.  Very stressful. We got court permission to exercise these dogs and prepared them for a life  in a home if a judge decided a defendant could not get his dog back.

Margaret’s book was a forerunner to the very popular 50 things you can do to save the earth.  We didn’t address recycling in our brochure, or keeping the size of your birth family small if you decided to have children, but those are 2 more things you can do if you want to help animals.  Recycle your material trash, compost of veggies scraps, cut your  meat (animal) intake and go vegetarian—start 2 days a week.  Go go the Greater Good Animal Rescue site & sign up to do the daily clicks to fund shelters and projects.  It costs nothing.

Now, with social media, more  people are aware of all these ways of changing what is wrong.  I hope you will copy this and share this with friends when they tell you they wish they could ‘do something’.