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.