Do You See Us?

For Blog

March is Intellectual and Developmental Disability awareness month and I had the good fortune to go to a film festival graciously hosted by Stargazers Theater, to watch some short clips made by, and starring I/DD people.

What struck me the most, was that all the short clips focused on one or several things that made each I/DD person just like us. In fact, halfway through, I was not seeing the disabilities, but all the similarities that we face as a people. Things, hopes and dreams that we could all relate to. None of us like being labeled and put into a box; whether we are being labeled as conservative, liberal, black, white, etc. Yet the disabled are labeled constantly, even if it is an unconscious labeling. Because of their limitations in areas that others perceive to be normal function, they are often overlooked for the brilliance and talent that they have within them in other areas that we may not be so familiar with.

I think about all the people that I know, and I would say that we all have some dysfunction on one level or another. I know many dyslexic people that may not be great at reading or spelling but have great careers in honoring their own strengths. I can be a bit OCD doing daily tasks, which can drive me and perhaps others, crazy. We are not all good at the same things and I think that there is a reason for that. We can learn from one another, and teach one another. When we learn from someone that we cannot understand in the more typical way, such as many I/DD persons; we are moved to open our heart space, as that space is the easiest area to access a new learning, and also the space in which the I/DD person lives from. We can teach each other tolerance of our own inadequacies.

My two sons had IEPs in school, which meant that they had an Individualized Education Program, IEP’s go hand in hand with being I/DD. Both had a form of ADHD. My oldest son struggled the most, and even with the IEP, he struggled with grades and found it too overwhelming to finish high school. They had him on meds to help, but the meds caused another stress factor for him. It was not easy getting to the nurses office to get the meds and make it to his class on time. He was ridiculed and made to feel less than; it was too much for him to stay in the school system and he quit in his mid-junior year. He had always been a great artist, and writer, although he could not spell and do grammar, his content always amazed anyone that took the time to hear him. Another talent is that he can remember every movie that he has ever watched; knows all the actors and how they play their roles. I cannot remember a movie well unless I have seen it several times and it is one of my favorites. Now in his thirties, he still struggles to fit in society, with societies’ views on what success is, but he is still brilliant at those artistic things. He has recently joined a local theater group and has hopes to write a screenplay. This has been a great move for him, as he is seen as the artist that he is, but he still has to unravel what society has categorized him in his own head. You start believing the talk. It takes some courage and effort to walk the walk through the old talk and feelings of being less than. There are many others with this struggle, and worse.

March is awareness month, but I wonder what the awareness really is. Is it the awareness that many people in our society have disabilities? Is it the awareness that they are also capable of doing many great things within society? Or is it more for us, normal folk; awareness of how we think about people with disabilities, or awareness of how we act around people with disabilities. Do we see them for the people that they are? In looking at these questions, I have to admit that I have felt a level of discomfort around some people with disabilities. I have to wonder why. Guilt feels like a likely answer; guilt that I do not share their struggle, even though I have struggles of my own. Fear also shows up; fear of what? Fear of the unknown? Lack of understanding them on my part, and fearing that I am not as authentic as they are? Interestingly, I have not really seen these people and have turned a blind eye to them due to my own insecurities, not for any lack in what they have to offer.

Part of the film festivals agenda was to also rid the world of labeling people with the R word. When I was in grade school, the kids would poke fun and call one another retarded if they did not know the answer to the teachers question. It amazes me that in this day and age, we have not grown beyond our actions of childhood. Calling someone retarded is hurtful and ignorant and it still has to be addressed to our society. Well, I have another R word for you. Restricted. Labeling people comes from a restricted way of thinking. Restricting your thinking is the same as shutting your heart as if your arteries had closed down; no opening or nourishment to allow an active life force to continue spreading. Restrictive thinking does not allow any room for the heart felt experiences or healing. I hope and wish that both R words could be eliminated and that we could all find the comfort and support in one another, as it was meant to be.

Do you see us? All of us, seeing each other perfectly in our imperfections. Seeing inside our own selves to see what needs to be adjusted. Opening the blinds in our hearts and letting empathy, charity and understanding sink in. My strength can support your weakness and my weakness can be supported by your strength. Do you see us as a whole society or are we doomed by a world of yet another separation?



Foster Failing

Tammy 2A foster failure is a term we use in animal rescue work to denote, that we, as fosters, have decided to keep our foster dog instead of adopting them out. Of course, it is really not a failure for the dog or us, but a perceived failure of the system of fostering. Fostering involves socializing and teaching an animal to be a good citizen in many areas. Walking on a leash, housebreaking, and any number of behavioral issues, like fear or anxieties and getting along with other dogs and animals, because, as everyone knows, foster people never have just one animal. Everyone has to know their role in the pack. Doing this also helps the dog by making them more adoptable to a good home. Many times, somewhere in that process, the foster decides that they cannot bear to adopt out, and instead, decide to make them a permanent part of the family.

This is what happened to me, again. To be clear, over the past 10 years we have fostered well over twenty five dogs, and out of that, we have failed the adopting out mission five times. This will be number six. A couple of those we fostered with the intention of keeping, all the rest were surprises to us. This latest one was of particular surprise to me as she is not typically the kind of dog that I would ever pick out of a line up. And yet, she started working her magic on me at the kennel when I was looking for a new foster and had walked by her several times; each time she was pleading with me to take her home.

You see, I have always had big dogs and although I love all dogs, I have a horse farm and have always had dogs like German Shepherds and Labs. Our own dogs have always been in the 50-100 pound range, and the same with the fosters. Very rarely did I stray from that ideal. We fostered a cattle dog that soon became ours, but even he pressed the scales at about fifty pounds, in his prime. Several years ago I brought home a cocker spaniel to foster, who was adopted to one of my students within a few months; and then, the most recent time, five months ago, I brought home that Tibetan Terrier who was casting her spell during my kennel walk.

Yes, I had been looking for another personal dog to stand in the paws of my sidekick that I had lost in 2011. He was the perfect dog. About seventy pounds, loved to go for truck rides to different farms that I taught at and I could let him out and he never got in the way of horse training or me giving lessons. He simply would lay down out of the way and wait for me. He got along with all animals, big and small; everyone that met him loved him, and when we were traveling cross country with him, a couple of people even asked if they could have him. He was a foster failure too. Up until now, four years and about eight foster dogs later, I had yet to find one that I not only loved, but could be that same type of dog for me.

Enter, Tammy Tibetan Terrier, hiding in plain sight with me for all these months. She is very good with other animals but is more interested in being with me. Whether it be outside on a nasty wintry day or just hanging in the office, she follows me and is just content to be. She will accompany me in the truck or car and while I run errands, will sit in the drivers seat waiting, keeping my seat warm until I return and send her back to the passenger side. When giving lessons, she is by my feet with no desire to be anywhere else. She was constantly staking her claim as my dog.

Looking back now, I can see that she has been auditioning for a permanent role with the farm family for the whole five months that she has been here. She has been acting her role flawlessly, waiting for me to wake up and see the real plot.

I could blame it on being too blonde or having long term senior moments as the cause, but if I am honest, I have to admit that I had not given her a chance for that role because she did not arrive in the package that I expected or was looking for. She was a small foo-foo type dog and as well as me not taking her seriously, I never considered her for the part. It was not until the mother organization called upon me to update her bio and get new pictures taken of her that I realized she was the dog that I had been searching for since Pierson crossed over.

I have to wonder how many other things that I have not noticed in life, that I have not given proper attention to because of the packaging. Part of me is mad at myself for setting such limits; I never thought of myself as one of those kind of people. No prejudices, I thought, but yet, this eye opening fact remains for me to work on. Not only can great things come out of small packages, but great things can be in any package. Seeing with your heart and not your eyes. Tammy Tibetan Terrier knew this. It will be interesting to see what else she teaches me over our time together.

There Is No Place Like Home

IMG_20150226_133402793_HDRHome. A word that brings up not only images but feelings. Dorothy said it best.There is no place like home.

Working with rescue and shelter animals, I have seen many homeless first hand.Those animals who have lost their families due to no fault of their own. Or perhaps they have never had a real home. A kennel is not a home; it is just a container filled with a life wanting to be seen, understood and given a second chance.To be truly seen, loved and homed; that is what all beings crave and deserve that. I am forever grateful to all the wonderful rescues and sanctuaries that have gone out of their way to help these animals feel the warmth of a real home and finally be seen.

Daily, from the comfort of my car or from a warm building in the city, I see lots of other homeless.These homeless are people.They are everywhere, and are unseen also.They have fallen through the social cracks, down on their luck, or maybe they were once one of us. Maybe once they had a home, and like my husband, who was within a hairs’ breath of not having a job a few years ago before he got rehired, but they found no job and now are homeless. Maybe a serious health problem stripped them of all their savings and home. Maybe they were a veteran, who came back from war and could not find a job to fit their skills, or maybe that veteran has suffered mental illness or physical disability from the time served and was not capable of taking on a job. Maybe it was a mother and kids that are escaping domestic abuse, trading in the lesser of the evils; living on the street instead of with her abuser. There are so many ways, that in an instant, we all can be homeless. I see them as courageous and strong, and I wonder just how long I would go without my home without all its trappings of my own bed, clothes, internet, TV, food, heat, cell phone, etc. without wanting to jump off a bridge. Yet these homeless people do it daily. How humbling and horrifying it must be to have to rely on us and the system for their survival or escape from homelessness. They are still one of us, and it would be good for us to consider seeing ourselves in them.

Have you ever tried to support yourself, let alone, a family on minimum wage? I have a son in Portland Me that has a great work ethic and a good part time job, but only receives minimum wage. He is in line for full time; he has been in that line for the past several years, but it looks like someone has to quit or die before he can move up. So he stays, waiting and worrying that he gets enough work so that he can continue to wait. He lives in a one room studio in the YMCA and he is one of the lucky ones; at least he has a roof over his head and heat during the winter, but he is always just hours away from being on the street.There are many weeks he does not get enough hours at work to eat, pay his rent and get bus fare to work; somehow he gets by until the better weeks roll in.

I wonder how we got to this point of a throwaway society. We throw away pets, animals, and other people. How can we, as a society, turn a blind eye to homeless beings of any species, and how can we deny it? Why we are unable to see the unseen hundreds that are right under our nose. Why their lives do not matter as we scurry about in ours. I wonder if it is fear. Fear that it could happen to us, so if we close our eyes it will not be present with us? Or are we afraid of them; that they may rob us or do us some harm? I think that maybe we fear looking at ourselves; they make us question who we are and what we stand for. What would we have to do to become the person that we would like to be. We are only as good as the weakest member of our society and we are failing. Mother Theresa states that one of the greatest diseases is to be NOBODY to anybody. And yet that disease is all around us. I can see it in myself as I try not to make eye contact.

We may not have all the answers or be able to solve all the problems associated with homelessness, but each one of us can probably do something, albeit a small thing, whether it be animal or people related. Perhaps changing our viewpoint would be a great start and then some hows may show up.

On a brighter note, I did read somewhere in Utah, they are making tiny homes for the homeless to live in that was actually proving to be more cost effective than having homeless people on the street. Then, more impressively, I read about a college student that had built some tiny homes from donations and sponsors that she is going to donate to the homeless in TX. The first home she built she named Ruby from the ruby slippers in the Wizard of OZ, hoping for it to be a catalyst for many families to get back on their feet. After all, there is no place like home.

In Defense of Dog Breeders

IMG_20141016_174342272Dog breeders: it is a tug of war that brings up less than nice images and thoughts from those of us that support rescues. I do not buy from breeders; I have three fosters from two different rescues and two personal dogs. Our personal dogs have always been those that we foster failed with and came from rescues that I work with.There is an unending supply of dogs that need homes and many more that get euthanized each day. People are quick to blame breeders; the breeders are breeding too much and if they just stopped, all would be well in the world. Not necessarily.

Lets talk about the responsible breeders first. They are invested in breeding as a passion and love of the breed that they are producing. They scan potential puppy homes as well as have a buy back policy in case then new owners run into problems down the line, some go a step further and want a spay-neuter contract for all puppies that are not breeding quality. They are invested in making sure that the breed maintains certain standards, like good hips, eyes etc. They get their initial vetting done. They invest their own life blood into this whole process. And what they charge for their puppies over the long run, from the added health benefits plus the unsaid insurance policy of being able to return the dogs to the breeder at a later time due to unforeseen circumstances, makes the price they charge more of a bargain than what you would initially think. These responsible breeder folks may have a big facility with many dogs or they may be a small breeder with only a litter a year or less. The thing that they have in common is a love for specific dog and those traits it carries and are educated and relentless in producing quality vs quantity. All their dogs are cared for and the old retired breeding dogs are either still with them or they have been adopted out to families to live out their senior years. Either way, they see each dog through to the end.

And then there are puppy mills. Commercial puppy factories spitting out as many puppies as they can with no regard for the parents. We have all seen the horrid pictures of the parents living in sub-standard little enclosures stacked on top of each other, dirty and fed only enough for them to breed and stay alive. No vet care, and as soon as the dog is sick or too old to produce, they are discarded at auction or worse. The puppy mills goal is a financial one, not for the love of the dog; they do not burden themselves with a conscience. They do not care that the dogs are inbred or are producing undesirable traits; everyone loves a puppy and will buy it and will not see the health problems associated with unhealthy parents or bad genes until it is older, then the new owners being in love with the dog will have to deal with the problems. Or, not having the finances or resources to deal with the problems, they will end up dumping the dog at the local shelter or worse. Either way, the puppy mill has no consequence to its bad practices.

Our German Shepherd who spent his first year of life in a puppy mill has to have acupuncture regularly to help with his chronic pain of bad hips and neck problems from bad breeding and being locked in a small kennel for the first year of his life. At five, four years removed from the kennel that had housed him, he still has some behavioral issues that can surface but they are so much better now; down inside he is a sweet, loving dog and he wears that face more and more each day.

And then there is this other group; one that you do not hear about as much, but they belong in the ‘irresponsible’ group. Sure they do not seem as overtly horrifying as the commercial puppy mills, but they produce an overwhelming amount of irresponsible bad habits, so they need to be called out as well. We all know at least one. The one that lets their uncut male run rampant, jump the neighbors fence and impregnate their female dog. The person with the female dog that gets loose when in heat and a couple of months later bears many furry gifts to you. The peopled that end up buying the cute little puppy but then realize that they do not have the time or patience that it takes to grow it into a good citizen and dump it wherever it is most convenient. The people hooked on a certain breed, until they see it is way bigger than the picture was or that the typical breed temperament was not suitable for an apartment or couch potato. The people that do not ask their landlord; the people that decide to move and cannot possibly take their dog; the people that are having a baby and do not consider that the dog would love a kid to play with; the people that just tie their dog outside, alone, indefinitely; the people that starve, neglect, or torture. These people contribute more than their fair share to the homeless dog situation. This is a problem of society, not a problem made by the responsible breeder. As a society we are conditioned to throw away what is not convenient, and to too many, it is just a dog. We lull ourselves into thinking ‘someone else will help it, or maybe not, it is not our problem. I guess it should not surprise me as we, as a society, we can turn a blind eye to homeless people~what real chance do homeless dogs have within that type of society? We, as people, need to be accountable for our own actions, quit pointing the finger elsewhere. Rescue groups are full of dogs that have come from breeders, and puppy mills, but most come from our throwaway society; unwanted, through no fault of the dog. I would say that it is time for us to call a spade a spade and fix our priorities in relationship to the animals in our lives. Be the responsible ones that make a difference, not add to the problem, whether we buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue. As for me, I am a sucker for a dog in need, however, I do enjoy seeing those well bred dogs of so many breeds that have been bred by the responsible breeders.  I hope that they can continue to breed responsibly and that the rest of us are able to do the right thing in regards to whatever dog we choose.

Leading From Behind

IMG_20150111_133221888Here in Colorado Springs, our winters are fairly mild. We get a dose of cold and snow, then all goes back to 50s and sometimes 60s; even in January, where we are now. Naturally, I am excited to get one of those nice days to brush the dust off my saddle and think about doing something with my young Half Arab. Both of us are getting pretty tired of the arena, even though we have not used it much in the past cold weeks. I look out in back of my barn and scan the 1500acre field that has been calling us. The cattle have sadly departed on that big bad truck to meet their fate, and no antelope to be found. Today may be a good day to take a stroll on that open prairie. All saddled up and as we ignore the arena path and go straight to the field, I can feel the anticipation of my young horse. I sense the pumping of blood from his feet with each of his steps, while my blood is draining from my face and wonder if this was a good idea. After all, the last time I attempted to take him out there with two other horses, it was a ‘hike a ride’ as he was showing off his heritage in his young body: the Saddlebred quarter of him, prancing with legs and head high, and the Arab other three quarters; eyes bugging and seeing all. I had vowed after that day that I would introduce him to the field more regularly, which I had not. This time I came out prepared, with a long line appropriately attached through his bit to a ring in front of his saddle then around to the other side of his bit. A method I had learned from the Jean Luc Cornille clinics that I had participated in this year. I would simply start out on the ground, until it looked safe to mount. I would use this new found tool in an opportunity to lead from behind, allowing my young horse to have some thought in our training process. I wanted to see what he would do and where he may go, if given some say in the matter. As we walked off from the barn and his buddies I saw the investment of this opportunity in his eyes. They were not eyes of a horse that is looking to find a way to get out of this task, but they were the eyes of a horse that is searching for the correct answer. He stepped off slowly with some apprehension and the short steps that go along with that, but as he realized that he was able to have a dialect in this conversation, his steps got longer and the tension he had been carrying, dissolved. I saw his spirit get lighter and the ease of which he walked across this land, was the ease of a horse that may have been out there many, many times; which he had not. We walked out on that huge prairie for over an hour, with neither one of us feeling overwhelmed or tired. It was a huge step forward in our relationship process. We both learned to trust each other just a little more, and did so without any real rules or restrictions on each other; we just shared this huge space while walking together in this new adventure. We came back to the barn in quiet peace and inner happiness of our accomplishment. And it occurred to me upon returning that I never even thought about getting on to ride. I was simply swept away in the moments of time that we were thinking and moving as one. Surely this was nirvana. Later, I thought of how this leading from behind would mean to people. How we talk to each other is an important thing in any relationship. How we express the dialog really does matter. Are we willing to give up the stiff reins just a bit and not ride each other so hard so that we can all see the best of one another?  Lets all make that journey across that field together. Nirvana awaits.

Can Meat Eaters and Plant Eaters Be Friends?

IMG_20140715_152753671_smIn my first post, Out With the Old, In With the New, I mentioned how working with animals daily had led to me finding a more open heart. It had always been easy to find an open heart concerning animals, but I was surprised to find that my heart was also opening to people. Even people that do not share my passions or beliefs. The nameless numbers of people I had never given half a thought to; people that I would have just dismissed, ignored or even feared. And now, I am seeing more likenesses than not; whether we share the same beliefs or passions, we are all integral to each others’ being and to each others’ journey together.

I have joined numerous Facebook groups in order to connect with people that share my passions and beliefs. To name a few: animal welfare, dog and horse rescues, breed specific groups, motivation/inspiration groups, vegetarian/vegan recipes, and a vegan humor page. One thing that stands out in all of the groups is the conflict that goes on within each group. People have different opinions even though they share the same passions. I understand that. But what I did not expect, was to see the anger, and almost brutality in comments on the vegan humor page. And this is where my topic comes into play.

I am not vegan, but had hopes to turn in my vegetarian hat to become more vegan-like one day; to be totally free of consuming any animal products. And it is not as easy as it may sound. Making the decision would be easy, in comparison. Just pick up anything in the grocery store and look at the ingredients and you will know what I am talking about.

It would seem to me that almost every vegetarian or vegan person originated from being a meat eater. Meaning we all shared the same thoughts as a meat eater and probably the same passion for the same recipes. Then something inside shifted for some of us, we could no longer partake in the eating of meat. All of the vegetarians or vegans I have known, or known of, have become so for ethical or moral reasons concerning the animals involved; not so much for health reasons, although that would be a compelling reason to become one as well. Lots of documented, scientific research to support that. But that is another subject all together, perhaps for another time.

For me, my plant eating days started shortly after finishing my first Reiki Master/Teacher course; it was a spiritual awakening that I had been waiting for, although I did not know it at the time. I would mourn for the giraffes, elephants and big cats that had been shot for fun by tourist hunters that I saw posted on Facebook, and my heart sank when I saw the groups of cattle in the back field of my house being rounded up and put on the big one way semi-truck, but yet I could sit idly by and much on my burger. But no more; I could now see that I had been suffering from speciesism, a close relative of racism, but in the animal world. I would never had entertained the thought of eating a cat, dog or horse, as that would have been revolting.  I can only imagine the outrage that would have occurred over that; another Facebook group would be up, only this time, against me. Now I can see that the cow could easily be the horse, the pig could be the dog and the chicken could be the cat. All species were the same. The meat was no longer just a package in the store that I could conveniently pick up; it now had a face with meaning. Finally my actions were aligned with my spirit.

Then take into consideration, the Groups that were started to educate and support that cause. I like people that are passionate about their cause, but some of their comments scare me. Perhaps not scared by the comments, as everyone has a right to voice their own opinions, especially in a public forum; it was the judgement in the comments. Seeing people so invested in being sweet and responsible to the animals could certainly be quite brutal to each other. We pick between ourselves who is the better person, has the best religion, politics, by the way we eat, and the list goes on, even within the groups we support. This system of judgment is a heart closer. It is no wonder that we have trouble being compassionate about the ones that do not share our views. But that does not mean that we should not try.

One mans’ journey is not any better or more important than that of another. We all learn and evolve in our own time through our own experiences.   We can have empathy for each other, as we all have a different path to walk and be happy when we are able to make changes that are good for us as well as being happy for those making their own changes. I say that the meat eater and the plant eater should be friends, we are all in this together.

Out With The Old, In With The New?

At the start of each new year, we hear this saying: “out with the old, and in with the new.” As I think about this, I have to ask myself why we would be compelled to get rid of the old; those lessons well learned and hard fought. Perhaps get on with the new, but we should save those things that have been tried and true for us. Just add them to the arsenal of your being. Go forward into the new with the wisdom of your failures, and allow those challenging times to help mold you into the person that you want to become.

Was 2014 a rough year for you? I know that for many, it was. I put a post on Facebook post not long ago that said to live life like a dog. Having a bad day? Kick some dirt over that crap and move on. Sounds like great advice to me.  Maybe that is where ‘in with the new‘ comes in. By letting go.  Letting go of past demons to allow a free channel for the good stuff to arrive, clear of any road blocks in our minds and hearts. Easier said than done, for sure. As for me, I  have decided to just purge forward and start doing those things that I have put off for way too long now.  Living in the old would have suggested that I am not ready, living in the new says ‘just show up and start’, and the ‘hows’ will reveal themselves. And this is how I decided to jump off that cliff and dive into my very new world of blogging.  You could use this analogy for whatever is holding you back in your personal quest in to go into the new.

I wear a few hats; humble horse trainer, coach, animal Reiki teacher/practitioner and and animal communicator. I get to work with horses and animals daily and I have seen and felt so much good within that world, it needs to be witnessed. Being able to work with animals, domestic and wild, regularly, has opened many doors and windows for me; most importantly, it has opened the door to my heart. I have seen things that have made my heart swell and soar, and other things that crush it.  In the end, an open heart helps heal those injustices and allows for the possibility of hope.  Animals teach me a new lesson every day that makes me a better person, not just to the animals, but a better person to all humankind.

Messages for the Mindful will be pieces of what the teacher in me has to share.  With open heart I wish to share those things that have rocked my world and allowed me to be able to live in the wonder of being, instead of living it in the whys.  These messages will be sent in the spirit that we are all connected in this life together and I will focus primarily on the human-animal connection. In part, the definition of mindfulness is: that our thoughts need to be in the present moment rather than living in the past or imagining the future; this is how animals understand life and are able to understand us; in the present.  We need much work in this endeavor.  Living in the new could also represent living in the present, and challenging our thoughts  to release those thought patterns that no longer serve us.  I invite you to share this journey with me and I wish you the best at unraveling and knitting your own personal ‘out with the old, and in with the new‘ scarf to becoming your best self in 2015.