Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Veterans issues

Charitable giving opportunities abound.

Giving of Ourselves

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes the best way to beat supply-chain issues is by giving of ourselves. If that sounds so sweetly altruistic you can’t even stand it, please hold on. Don’t give me an eye-roll just yet!

Last week I wrote about solving supply-chain issues for holiday gift-giving by focusing on locally-available goods. And especially those bought from small, locally-owned businesses. But the smallest, most local resource at our disposal is right here in our own homes, inside our own skins. It’s us.

And there are all kinds of ways to give of ourselves that don’t involve huge sacrifices of time, labor, and money. Actually, giving of ourselves in the ways I have in mind often are fun to do. And many are cheaper than buying more traditional stuff. So hear me out.

Handmade fiber art from G. S. Norwood: crochet, quilt, and knitting.
My sister G. S. Norwood gets crafty in several fiber art media: L-R, my daughter’s terrier Anika approves of her crochet project (on my bed); a “Log Cabin” quilt she created more than a decade ago; the beginning of a cable-knit project from 2020. (Photos by Jan S. Gephardt; G. S. Norwood).

Our Crafty Side

Many of us do not believe we are creative or artistic, but don’t sell this one short. There are many ways to create cool stuff without having to be Picasso or Mozart. Last year my sister wrote about her needlework and gardening, along with other “lockdown pastimes” people developed. The post is Get Crafty! (exclusively on The Weird Blog).

Perhaps you, too, have honed some skills during lockdowns. I’m not only talking about knitted booties or crocheted afghans, either. Do you know great recipes to share? Print up a little collection of them to slip into a holiday card. Suddenly, you have a nice little gift! It’s practical and tasty, too! Not to mention economical.

Four examples of hand-decorated wrapping paper.
How to make hand-decorated wrapping paper? at left, Marian Parsons used stencils (top) and stamping. At right, Morgan Levine made simple prints using a pencil eraser (top) and a wine cork (see credits below).

Giving of Ourselves by Adding Flair to the Delivery

Maybe we have a gift package, but we want to give it with extra style. Giving of ourselves by adding personal touches requires some imagination. And maybe a little paint or fabric, etc. Back in 2016 I ran a series of four blog posts about crafty wrapping strategies.

One post offered Five Slick Tips to Make Our Own Wrapping Paper. None of them required artistic talent, though a good eye for color and design helps. Stencils and stamping strategies meant no drawing skill required, though you will need craft paint, possibly glue, construction paper, and a few other household items.

Fabric of the Imagination and Repurposed Wraps offered clever on-site recycling suggestions for old boxes, tins, fabric, ribbon, and much, much more. While Does Your Gift Wrap do Impressions? suggested some themes one could explore.

Stage play, kids at a zoo, and historic steam engine.
A stage play, trip to a zoo, or a ride on a narrow-gauge train are only a few ways to give and share experiences. (See credits below).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Giving Experiences

A less homemade “giving of ourselves” approach is to give our loved ones well-chosen experiences. Perhaps they’re excursions to enjoy together, such as a zoo or amusement park trip with a child. Sometimes the greatest gift is spending time with someone you love.

But even if you’re separated by vast distances, there may ways to place someone’s wished-for concert tickets in their hand. Or to give them an admission pass to a place you know they want to go. In an age when we can buy tickets online, tickets to practically anything – anywhere – can be had. Concerts, plays, restaurants, parks, zoos and aquariums, nature centers, and museums are within reach practically everywhere. We just need to keep the recipients’ tastes and preferences foremost in mind!

Respite care and yard work photos.
L-R: Offering help with caregiving, joining a yard crew team (this is Madrona Group Real Estate’s team, center), or helping a neighbor rake her leaves are all great ways to give of ourselves. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Our Service

While we’re talking about spending time with those we love, I’d be remiss if I said nothing about gifts of service. Giving of ourselves in service to someone else’s need is a profound – and often profoundly pleasant – thing to do.

Giving of ourselves through individual services, such as babysitting, pet-sitting, or offers of respite for caregivers can make a huge difference for someone in need of help. We may have someone on our list who needs this kind of help.

Do you know someone whose leaves you could rake? Perhaps an elderly or sick neighbor whose drive or walk you could shovel when it snows? Letters or groceries delivered to their door, gutters cleaned out, a ride to an appointment . . . We may never know how deeply they appreciate it, until years later. When it’s our turn to be on the receiving end.

Charitable giving opportunities abound.
There are many ways to give to charity. Boxing Day and Giving Tuesday offer special opportunities. But whenever you give, I suggest Charity Navigator as a good guide. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Donations

Volunteering through agencies or organizations is another way that giving of ourselves can help others and benefit our community. And as I noted in my post “The Value of Volunteering,” making a difference in someone else’s life is a satisfaction few other pleasures can match. We should start early with teaching our kids this joy, too.

Some of us may have people on our lists who “have everything,” but who might be touched and honored if you dedicate a donation of gifts or services in their name.

Donations don’t always have to be of money, although that’s often the first thing we think of. And it’s certainly true that money is always the right size, the right color, and the right flavor. We don’t have to wait for special days such as Giving Tuesday or Boxing Day, although we may be able to compound our gift through matching funds on such days. We also might consider setting up a monthly gift for a special cause that we or an honoree on our gift list would really love to support .

Household donations, a child hair-donor, and a blood donor.
There are ways to give of ourselves that literally cost nothing—but some might just save a life. (See credits below).

Giving Literally of Ourselves

Donations in kind are also often greatly appreciated by recipients who need them, and the holidays are a time when many of us do most of our charitable giving. Donate gently-used clothing or housewares and toys to thrift stores that support charitable organizations. Donate food to food pantries (give them things you would like to eat, or choose from a list of most-needed items). Also consider paper goods, and other household necessities. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are always needed!

While we’re giving of ourselves, don’t forget we can donate blood (through the Red Cross or a local blood bank) or other tissue and literally save someone’s life. Those with long hair like me can ask our hairdressers to help us donate some of our hair. And, each time we renew our driver’s license, we can make sure we’re registered as an organ donor! Once we’re done using them, parts of our bodies can make a world of difference for someone else. What better way to say “goodbye with love”?

A word cloud of “Thank You” in many languages.
No matter how you say it, “Thank you” is a message all of us appreciate, but we hear it too seldom. (Image by “dizanna” via 123rf).

Giving of Ourselves Through Gratitude

Even for someone who’s not normally much of a writer, there are two kinds of writing that any literate person can do. First, we can write (and tell and show) the people we love how very much they mean to us. We should tell them what we love about them. And tell them why we think they’re special. Second, we can write sincere “thank yous” when they do something for us or give us something.

In this hurry-up world, people don’t get thanked enough. We should try to remember to thank the harried sales clerk who helps us find what we’re looking for. And thank a person who does a thoughtful thing for us.

We should thank the front-line workers who stock our groceries, deliver our mail and packages, or pick up our trash. Once again, I’ve written blog posts that may be helpful. Take a look at “Three Creative Ways to Thank a Veteran,” “Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders (Plus a Suggestion),” and “Another Way to Thank a First Responder.”

The Opportunities are Endless

Giving of ourselves is far more than just a simple strategy to beat the supply chain issues of the moment. This kind of giving can become our joyous offering to the world. We must find the ways that work best for us. There’s a special niche for which each of us is uniquely best-suited. And when we find it, it’s fun and rewarding to make giving of ourselves a lifelong habit.

IMAGES

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood, for the images in the first montage (originally published in her blog post “Get Crafty!”). Likewise, the full image credits for the second montage can be found in Jan’sFive Slick Tips” post on creative giftwraps. The ones in the montage are courtesy of designers Marian Parsons and Morgan Levine, who is now a celebrated ceramics artist. All montages in this post were collected and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Photos for the “Giving Experiences” montage came from far and wide. Many thanks to “What’s on Stage” (London) for the Johan Persson photo from the production of Some Like it Hip Hop. We’re grateful to the Ft. Wayne, IN Children’s Zoo, via Vet Street, for the pic of kids with one of their giraffes. And the great photo of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge’s steam engine (with actors to add flair) comes from Nick Gonzales and the Durango Herald of Durango, CO.

Deepest appreciation to Visiting Angels, Darts, and Upworthy, for the “Yard Chores and Caregiving” photos. For the “Charitable Donations” montage, we thank Giving Tuesday, the BBC and Getty Images, Charity Navigator, and Checkbox Accounting. Finally, for the “Literally of Ourselves” montage, we thank Love to Know (in-kind donations), The FDA (donating blood), and “Still Playing School” for the three-part image of “E” donating her ponytail. And the “Thank You Word Cloud” comes from “dizanna” via 123rf.

The front of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, in Kansas City, MO.

Our veterans haven’t failed us. But have we failed them?

Every Veterans Day, as a nation we’re supposed to pause. We’re supposed remember the many ways that veterans have never failed to serve our nation, when we called on them. But, especially on this Veterans Day, I worry: have we failed them?

Personal connections

I’ve never served in the armed forces, but service members and veterans have had a place in my heart for a long time. My father is a World War II Navy vet. He was one of the last men off of the USS St. Lo aircraft carrier, after a kamikaze sank it during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

A kamikaze suicide pilot hits the USS St. Lo on Oct. 25, 1944. Gi’s and my father was one of the last men off the ship. Many thanks to Col. Tannenbusch and You Tube for this video.

My first beat as a student journalist was the Veterans Club at my alma mater, the university now known as Missouri State University. That was during the Vietnam War, so veterans weren’t excessively popular at the time, but I tried to represent them fairly. They eventually voted me the Vets Club Sweetheart (how’s that for unbiased journalistic rigor?).

The men of my generation

My brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood, our “Honorary third Weird Sister” of Weird Sisters Publishing, served in Vietnam. It changed his life. As my sister G. S. Norwood puts it, “Warren was proud of his service but didn’t recommend it to others. He went in as a born again Baptist, went through an atheist period before becoming a Buddhist by the time he came home from Nam.”

My Beloved is a longtime employee of the Kansas City VA Medical Center. My immediate family’s livelihood, for more than four decades, has depended on service to veterans.

Blogging through the Veterans Days

On a background of the US flag are the symbols of the five branches of US military service and the words "Veterans Day: Remembering all who served."
We remember. But have we failed them? Image courtesy of the City of Coronado, CA.

So, let the record show that I care about veterans. But as a country, have we failed them? Some of those worries came up in earlier posts.

Last year on Veterans Day, I blogged about the price of veterans’ service. In 2018, the centennial of the Armistice was a can’t-miss opportunity to look back. But the year before that I again echoed worries about the respect that we pay. Is it enough? Or have we failed them?

My 2016 Veterans Day post is one of my most popular by far. It tried to answer the question of “how can we thank them?” with three suggestions. But the acts of individuals—although they can be powerful—ultimately are not enough.

As my sister G. put it, “we owe our soldiers more than just thanks for their service. If we ask people to volunteer to serve their country we need to make sure it’s a worthy cause and we need to take care of them when they come home. They are not disposable.”

Have we failed them?

Before anyone ends up a veteran, they have to serve active duty. And active duty is fraught with needless difficulty—in addition to all the hostile action one may see. Recent uses (or threatened uses) of the military by President Trump have placed our armed services in a bad position.

Although Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milly accompanied Trump to his infamous photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church in June, the general later apologized. “I should not have been there,” he said. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

President Trump walks to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1 with Atty. Gen. William Barr, Defense Secretary John Esper and Gen. Mark Milley.
President Trump walks to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1 with Atty. Gen. William Barr, Defense Secretary John Esper and Gen. Mark Milley. Image courtesy of Associated Press / Patrick Semansky, via the LA Times.

2020 protests

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said this summer, of Trump’s plan to call out National Guardsmen to counter demonstrations: “The American military should not be the president’s tool . . . to suppress Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

I blogged earlier this year about frightening actions by unmarked, apparently-Federal agents in Portland. These turned out to be from Customs and Border Protection, not the National Guard.

A Russian bounty?

For most of the summer we worried about intelligence reports that the Russians had offered the Taliban a bounty for American and UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The President claimed no knowledge of it, although it was widely reported. Later he called it a “made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party.” (unfortunately, given the President’s demonstrated trustworthiness when using such language, that convinced me it was probably true).

After a Pentagon probe, officials released a statement that they had “not been able to corroborate the existence of such a program.” While not a clear “no, that didn’t happen,” this did cast more credible doubt on the story.

Meanwhile, though, what must the troops in Afghanistan have been thinking?

In this 2018 photo, US soldiers walk past a building in Logar Province, Afghanistan.
US soldiers in Afghanistan’s Logar Provice, in 2018. Photo courtesy of Reuters/VOA.

Military pay and other issues

Active-duty service members’ problems didn’t just start recently, however.

According to “The Military Wallet,” in recent years the pay for active duty military members has increased enough that those in the lower ranks no longer have to rely so much on food stamps or other assistance programs.

But in July 2019 NBC News found that making ends meet was still a widespread problem for military families. And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a recession reckoned to be the “worst since World War II.”

More hazards for military families

Low pay brings with it the plague of payday lenders, a predatory industry which somehow is still legal. In 2015, a brief furor erupted over the news that payday lenders often located their stores near military bases, and targeted military service members and their families at twice the rate of civilians.

The Military Lending Act (MLA) pushed back. Passed and signed during the Obama Administration, it provided short-lived protections. By 2017 the Trump Administration eased regulations on payday lenders targeting military family members, to circumvent the MLA. And in 2018 the Administration had so weakened the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had oversight responsibility) that the bureau’s leader, Richard Cordray, resigned with a fiery letter of protest.

A business offering short-term loans near Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.
Blatant targeting near Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. Have we failed them? Interest rates on short term loans can reach as much as 80 percent. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/The New York Times.

In 2011, I blogged about reports of substandard school buildings on military bases, and wondered how sincere all the then-in-vogue flag-waving truly was. Unfortunately, all too little has changed, from the look of things.

But once they leave active duty are they okay?

Let’s be clear. Many veterans thrive after their military service. Many use skills they developed in the service to find jobs in the private sector. Military service has enhanced the résumés of many illustrious business, professional, and political leaders.

My husband’s career is testament to the VA’s health care mission (although that hasn’t always been carried out well). Many veterans, such as my father, can comfortably rely on the lifelong health care that veterans (especially Purple Heart veterans like Dad) are entitled to receive.

My father has been supplied with glasses and hearing aids, prescription medicines, a wheelchair, and care by a home health aide from the VA. His medical care has been excellent, and he’s always greeted respectfully. I wish all veterans could have the same kind of experience at VA facilities.

The front of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, in Kansas City, MO.
The Kansas City VA Medical Center has always treated my family well. Photo courtesy Kansas City VA Medical Center, via KSHB 41 Action News.

However

I can’t close with my father’s positive experience. You probably figured a “however” was coming. Unfortunately, there are several “howevers,” and they leave the question of “Have we failed them?” very much still in play.

For years there’s been a steady churn of reports of sexual assault and harassment in our armed forces. It’s risen from murmurs to a roar in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, but as recently as August many observers agreed the system is still badly broken.

“These cases are not handled properly and the follow-up care for the victim is not right,” says Kayla Kight, who was sexually assaulted while serving as an Army nurse. A victim who served in the Navy, Sasha Georgiades, says, “It’s a problem that’s deep in the culture of the military.” Women are targeted at a much higher rate, but men by the thousands suffer, too.

Homeless and/or suicidal

While the numbers of homeless veterans has been decreasing in recent years, at last count approximately “40,000 veterans are without shelter in the US on any given night,” according to a September 2020 report from Policy Advice. Many fear the Covid-19 pandemic and the recession it caused could create another upsurge in homelessness among veterans.

And so far nothing has stemmed the horrific number of suicides among veterans. In March the head of the nonpartisan advocacy group American Veterans called the mental health system “horribly broken.” Now that suicides are rising in the general public, presumably as a response to the pandemic, the picture for suicidal vets could be even worse.

It’s a hard problem to solve, even without the pandemic. During hearings then, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), who is both a veteran and a physician, pointed out that 70% of veterans who commit suicide never sought help from the VA. “How do you identify those veterans who never show up?” he asked. Good question.

Unfortunately, it’s not as hard to find them after it’s too late.

So, um . . . happy Veterans Day?

By all means, please celebrate Veterans Day. Display your flag. Thank a veteran (or give them a hug, if you know them that well). We owe them our respect for their service. We owe them our honor for the (sometimes many) prices they paid and may still be paying. And we certainly owe them far better treatment than they all too often receive.

Have we failed them? I fear the overall answer is yes. So once we’ve folded up the flag and spoken our respect, we need to get to work.

  1. Call or write our representatives.
  2. Advocate for better treatment, both of active-duty service members, and of veterans.
  3. Donate to reputable veterans’ charitable organizations, as we can.

When we fail veterans, we dishonor ourselves and our country.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Col. Tannenbusch via You Tube, who posted the video “Kamikaze versus USS St. Lo” for us to see. I also am grateful to the city of Coronado, CA, for the Veterans Day graphic. I appreciate the AP, photographer Patrick Semansky, and the LA Times, for the photo of Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Square promenade, and Reuters and VOA, for the photo of the US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2018. Thanks very much to photographer Ivan Pierre Aguirre and The New York Times for the photo of the “Military Lending” store near El Paso, TX, and the Kansas City VA Medical Center, via KSHB 41 Action News, for the photo of the VA Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

4-book Aces High, Jokers Wild pubishing.

For the characters

I’ve heard it said that people pick up the first book of a series for the plot, but they stay with the series for the characters. This is true in spades (sorry: pun intended), when it comes to the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” series by O. E. Tearmann.

Book Four is Aces and
Eights. Available now.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

If you’re already a fan of this series, I have excellent news! The fourth book, Aces and Eightsis now available in e-book format (here’s hoping a paperback and audio version are released soon!).

If you’re not already a fan of this series, I have even MORE excellent news! There is a wonderful series awaiting your discovery–and it’s now four books long! (plus a Christmas-themed novelette, After Hours Game, that ideally should be read between Books 2 and 3).

If you’re not reading the XK9 books, why not these?

Dystopian warm fuzzies?

Personally, I tend to steer clear of fictional dystopias, although I have a dear friend, Lynette M. Burrows, who writes a great dystopian series. (Scroll down her homepage for a list of great dystopian novels, if you love to read them).

The Hands We're Given  (Book One) was a tour de force introduction to this world. (Image courtesy of Goodreads.)
The Hands We’re Given  (Book One) was 
a tour de force introduction to this world.
(Image courtesy of Goodreads.)

But I made an exception for the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” books–and I’m very glad I did. The people in these books are all their own kind of special. Talented, broken. Abused by the brutality of the world in which they live. But they rise above. They pull together. And, bit by bit, the oddballs and misfits of Base 1407, AKA The Wildcards, triumph. They use their unique talents and diverse strengths to succeed where more conventional approaches fail.

I love these people so much, I will gladly read anything Tearmann writes about them. Strictly for the characters, this series has become an “insta-buy” for me. 

I love them because they’re smart. They’re perceptive–about their situation, and about each other. They love first, and while they may quarrel about details, their love is unconditional. Put to the most severe tests, they stay true to themselves and their team.

If you haven’t discovered this series, you’re in for a treat (Image courtesy of the Aces High Jokers Wild website).

The world they inhabit

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesyof Goodreads).
Call the Bluff, Book Two,
is a bit shorter, but every
bit as riveting. New dangers threaten,
and cherished lives are endangered.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

Tearmann has done some interesting world-building in these books. The Unites States of America that we know has been overrun and subsumed. In this world, seven corporations rule much of North America, each with its own territory, its own rules, and its own moral code. Codes which are imposed on the subject-citizens, although the “Corps” themselves follow an amoral code of self-interest and absolute control to the greatest extent possible.

Climate change has wreaked its havoc on the world, and most of the formerly-verdant plains states are now desolate near-deserts. Only the areas farmed by AgCo, with its patented, genetically engineered food crops that can’t reproduce on their own (no seeds but those controlled by AgCorp will grow) feeds the nation.

The Co-Wy Grid (contemporary Colorado and Wyoming, where the Wildcards of Base 1407 stay on the run) is a patchwork of danger and sanctuary, respite and conflict. For the past 60-some years, the Democratic State Force (on the Co-Wy Grid they’re informally known as the “Dusters”) has sought to restore democracy.

The LGBTQ angle

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesy of Goodreads).
Raise the Stakes leads the
Wildcards into new
realms of possibility, and
sees a promising new turn
in the fight against
the Corps. (Photo courtesy
of Goodreads).

If you’re not normally a reader of LGBTQ fiction, this series may take you by surprise. As with everything they do, the Wildcards don’t particularly adhere to conventional gender norms.

That starts with the protagonist of the very first book, Commander Aidan Headly (born Andrea), who gradually transitions into his true self over the course of several volumes.

The books include a fair number of rather graphic sexual interactions. They may or may not be your “cup of tea,” but as I noted in my review of the first book, I’ve never read a book in which such scenes were more essential to the plot, or more appropriately used to express character growth.

If you’re willing to roll with it and let your hair down, these scenes are pleasantly steamy no matter what your orientation. After all, love is love. And it’s masterfully handled here.

For the characters

But there’s also a lot of plot between the steamy sex scenes

Do you like suspense? Join Kevin and his team when they go on the Grid. Do you enjoy sticking it to “the man” and triumphing over the machine-like inhumanity of large corporate entities? Then Tweak and her unique talents are your sweet spot. She’ll have you cackling with glee.

Do you love the drama of bringing a traumatized human being into an accepting space, then helping him or her understand they are finally, finally safe? (Or as safe as it’s possible to be, in this world.) Then you will love these books.

Buy them. Read them. Do it for the characters. You will not regret it.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Amazon for the cover images for Call the Bluff and Aces and EightsThanks to Goodreads for the cover images for The Hands We’re Given and Raise the Stakes. And many thanks to O. E. Tearmann’s website for the four-book series image. I appreciate all of you!

K9VeteransDayMontage

K9 Veterans Memorial

Today is an especially fitting day to share photos of the K9 Veterans Memorial. Because today is K9 Veterans Day

Established on March 13, it’s the anniversary of the 1942 founding of the United States Army K9 Corps. If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know I’ve recognized K9 Veterans Day several times.

Some background on the K9 Veterans Memorial

Here are two views of the Mark Dziewior dog sculpture at the heart of the K9 Veterans Memorial.
Views of the K9 Veterans Memorial in Fort Atkinson, WI. Mark Dziewior sculpted the bronze dog. The Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson conceived of the project, conducted the fundraising drive, and installed the memorial. Photos are from Facebook.

The K9 Veterans Memorial’s centerpiece is the sculpture Unbreakable BondWisconsin animal sculptor Mark Dziewior created a touching vision in bronze.

It’s in McCoy Park in Fort Atkinson, WI. The local Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson (KCFA) takes their K9 veterans very seriously. 

An honor guard from the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson attends a ceremony at the K9 Veterans Memorial on March 9, 2020.
An honor guard from the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson, WI, attends a ceremony at the K9 Veterans Memorial. The photo date is March 9, 2020. (Photo from Facebook)

They not only sponsored the creation of the K9 Veterans Memorial in McCoy Park (dedicated June 25, 2017). A couple of years earlier, they spearheaded an effort to get K9 Veterans Day officially recognized in the State of Wisconsin, in 2015.

A couple of deputies pose by the K9 Veterans Memorial with their K9s.
A couple of deputies pose by the K9 Veterans Memorial with their K9s on March 12, 2019. The men are identified as ED and KC. Their dogs are Friday and Nox. (Photo from Facebook).

A day dedicated to Military Working Dogs

The Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson and a lot of law enforcement handlers and K9s appeared at the Wisconsin Capitol in 2015.
The Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson and a lot of law enforcement handlers and K9s. They appeared at the Wisconsin Capitol in 2015 to gain state recognition of K9 Veterans Day. (Photo from the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson).

Don’t confuse K9 Veterans Day with National Police K9 Day. That’s celebrated on September 1, according to one of my favorite K9 charities, Vested Interest in K9s

Military Working Dogs face specific challenges and dangers that police K9s don’t. Just like human veterans, some of them retire to pursue law enforcement careers. So it’s easy for a layperson to think they’re basically the same.

And, like law enforcement K9s, today’s Military Working Dogs or MWDs are usually one of a few main breeds. It’s another reason laypersons may confuse them.

Here's another look at the K9 handlers in the Wisconsin Capitol.
Another look at the K9 handlers in the Wisconsin Capitol in 2015. They went to urge recognition of K9 Veterans Day. (Photo from the Kennel Club of Fort Atkinson

Typical breeds for MWDs

The brilliant SEAL Team 6 dog Cairo was a Belgian Malinois. Malinois mixes also make up a percentage of MWDs. They’re not show dogs. The armed forces don’t care about breed standards. So they sometimes create crossbreeds for specific purposes.

People know less about Dutch Shepherds, but everyone knows the versatile, ever-popular German Shepherds.

The Armed Forces also frequently use one of the retriever breeds for scent detection. Labradors are their favorites, but they also sometimes use Golden and Chesapeake.

Trained to do any of a dizzying number of tasks, MWDs’ skills range from single-purpose to a range of tasks required for Navy SEAL or CIA work.

This quote from Susan Orlean says, "Dogs are really the perfect soldiers. They are brave and smart; they can smell through walls, see in the dark, and eat Army rations without complaint."
This Susan Orlean Quote comes from GetintoPC.

How can we civilians honor and help K9 veterans?

We keep awareness alive with installations such as the K9 Veterans Memorial. They help us focus on the issues surrounding retired Military Working Dogs.

And we’ve achieved positive results. Our efforts to recognize these dogs’ gallantry, service, and often immense sacrifices already have caused changes.

The Armed Services still classify them as “equipment.” But since the year 2000 they’re no longer abandoned on the battlefield or euthanized. When they’re too old or traumatized or wounded to serve anymore we bring them home.

Civilian and handler outrage made a difference. Most MWDs are now adopted by a former handler. As I noted above, some have second careers in law enforcement.

But all too many MWDs, like all too many human soldiers, go home wounded and traumatized

This is where organizations like Mission K9 Rescue and specialized programs from groups such as American Humane can forge lifesaving links. If you’re considering donation options, why not make a donation to them?

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to AKC and Working Dog Magazine for the images used in the header composite.

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.

Service dogs for first responders

In light of Wednesday’s post, here’s a video about service dogs for first responders. 

Thank goodness, leadership in some areas has begun to cut through the “tough-guy” culture in many agencies. It’s high time we recognize the huge impact of stress on first responders. When more than twice as many police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, something is seriously wrong!

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows I’ve posted about service dogs many times before. I’ve featured dogs who help calm child witnesses in courtrooms, and others who aid deaf people, or help with mobility.

Some comfort hospice patients, or support recovery from PTSD. Especially as they’ve become more widely used to treat PTSD in military veterans, it’s logical to expand the idea to include service dogs for first responders.

Dogs’ roles have evolved

This kind of caregiving role for our canine friends isn’t a universal centuries-old tradition. Over the millennia they’ve been our co-hunters, herding dogs, and guard dogs. But in isolated instances people have used animals as helps in therapy or guides throughout history

L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.
L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.

Our contemporary understanding of what a service dog can do began in Germany after World War I. Former ambulance dogs found new roles as guide dogs for blinded veterans. The idea spread to the United States, where trainers established several schools.

Developing the concept

From there, a whole new chapter in the relationship between dogs and humans has unfolded. Service dogs now help people deal with all kinds of medical and mental health issues

But the first time I became aware of therapy dogs helping first responders cope was through stories about therapy dogs at the site of the 9/11 wreckage

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.
Crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, helped responders cope at Ground Zero. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Individual agencies have begun bringing in therapy dogs occasionally. In the 911 Call Center for Sheboygan County, WI, a team of therapy dogs visits on a regular schedule. 

Back in Fairfax County, home of the police in our opening video, they also have a Goldendoodle therapy dog named Wally in Fire Station 32. Therapy dogs have been brought in to help firefighters battling wildfires in Californina (I hope in Australia, too!).

I think this trend of providing service dogs for first responders is positive. What do you think? Should more agencies should explore it as a way to offer our first responders some relief?

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to VOA for the video about therapy dogs in the Fairfax VA Police Department. I deeply appreciate the three-photo composite of guide dogs through the centuries from Tori Holmes and Bark-Post. Finally, I want to thank the New York Daily News for the photo of Tikva the Keeshond, and the accompanying article about therapy dogs at Ground Zero.

A German Shepherd sits alertly in front of a glowing Christmas Tree.

Seasonal K9 moments

The Artdog Images of Interest

It’s the end of the week, and for many of us it’s the start of a holiday break. I thought you might enjoy some seasonal K9 moments on a Friday-before-the-big-events! 

Home for the holidays

One inevitable problem every year is the struggle to travel. We Americans live in a far-flung nation, so we’re always going to grapple with travel woes. But it’s far from only an American problem. 

Crowding, bad weather, and security bottlenecks create chaos wherever we are (or are trying to go). How to cope? Working K9s will have many “seasonal moments.” They’ll be busy patrolling, screening packages at airports, and doing all they can to keep us safe.

This meme shows an alert German Shepherd sitting on an airline passenger's lap, surveying the other passengers as if they're suspects. The meme says, "Here's an idea: put a drug sniffing, bomb detecting, terrorist eating, bad ass German Shepherd on every plane. Problem solved."

But “home for the holidays” doesn’t only apply to humans. Learn more about American Humane’s Service Dogs for Veterans initiative. If you’re looking for a place to make a holiday or end-of-year donation and you believe every retired service dog deserves a good home, consider this program.

Encounters with Santa

Would the holidays have as much sparkle without the chance to give and receive? Certainly not. And there’s all sorts of potential for seasonal K9 moments with Santa, in the run-up to Christmas.

This meme shows an alert German shepherd in front of a glowing Christmas tree. The wording says, "When this 'Santa Claus' comes, I'll be waiting."
In this photo a person in a Santa Claus outfit leans away from a barking German Shepherd. The meme says, "You are not leaving until I get my Tennis Ball."

Holiday gift-giving

Silly memes aside, I’d also like to highlight some more serious thoughts about seasonal K9 moments. Specifically, some very special, life-saving holiday presents for working police K9s

Vested for Christmas - San Antonio K9 Rick, shown with human partner Acosta, received a protective vest from Vested Interest in K9s Inc.
Vested in time for Christmas” – San Antonio K9 Rick (shown here with his human partner, Officer Robert Acosta of the VIA Transit Metro Police Department) received a bulletproof, stab-proof vest in mid-December 2018, from Vested Interest in K9s Inc. These vests are expensive, but through donations the organization provides them to working police dogs at no charge to the department.
Clinton Iowa K9 Roman (handler unidentified) also received a protective vest from Vested Interest in K9s Inc.
Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. was at it again this year, with (among other gifts) a bulletproof, stab-proof vest for K9 Roman (with unidentified sidekick) of the Clinton, Iowa Police Department, paid for entirely through donations.

hope your holiday traditions include charitable giving. If they do, consider a gift (perhaps on Boxing Day, especially if you missed Giving Tuesday) to one of the K9 good causes I featured in this post:

IMAGE CREDITS

The “Here’s an Idea” image is courtesy of Imagur’s Service Dog Memes. Many thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Community (the GSDC) on Facebook via Sheryl Pessell’s Pinterest Board, for the “I’ll be Waiting” meme (she has other good ones on there, too!). And double thanks to CHEEZburger, via I Can Has CHEEZburger’s “17 of the Best Animal Christmas Memes” page, for both the “You Are Not Leaving” (via I Love my German Shepherd Dog and Add Text) and the “Bark at Santa” (via Bella German Shepherds) images.

Finally, thanks to My San Antonio, for the “Vested in Time for Christmas” photo of K9 Rick and Officer Acosta (with accompanying story). Thanks also to KWQC of Clinton IA for the photo and story about K9 Roman (unfortunately, his uniformed sidekick wasn’t identified). And thanks very much to Vested Interest in K9s Inc. for their work!

Happy Thanksgiving

Blessings to count

Happy Thanksgiving!

this design says "Give Thanks."

It’s Thanksgiving in the USA this Thursday. Many nations, cultures, and religions through the ages and throughout the world have designated official days to give thanks. But seriously. No matter what day it is, there are always blessings to count.

If you don’t think that ‘s true–or at least not for youyou’re overlooking some important aspects of your life. Including that you have one

The image quote says, "Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles. Notice them."

What blessings?

It’s a near-certainty that there are people who love you. Please note: companion animals count as “people” for the purpose of establishing this fact (it’s never wise to discount companion animals, in any case). They are among the many blessings it’s especially important to count.

But also please note that there really are people who care about your welfare . . . even if they don’t personally know you. This means that you’re actually not ideally suited to count all the people who care about you. This is because you can’t read minds, and you don’t know everyone. 

This goes double if you’re depressed. You may not believe it, but you DO have blessings to count.

The image quote says, "the things you take for granted someone else is praying for."

There are politicians who will brag that the economy is booming, and that’s true for a lot of people (particularly those in whose favor the system is biased). If you’re not one of those people, however, that doesn’t mean your life is all blight, unless you refuse to see it any other way. Even the least advantaged among us has blessings to count.

Beyond being blessed

The quote from Camille Pissarro says, "Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing."

The best way to count one’s blessings, in my experience, is to pass blessings on to others. Best of all is to do it with all the generosity we can manage. If you have blessings to count (and I believe all of us do), then you have the means to not only enjoy blessings, but to be one to others.

Believe it or not, the act of giving–of being a blessing–multiplies our own feelings of joy and well-being. We humans are social creatures by nature. We are innately programmed to connect with others. Thus, it stands to reason that we feel most fulfilled, most right with the world, when we can do good things for others

Evolution has dictated that people need to work together, especially in the face of challenges. It’s the most effective survival tool we have. The “loneliness epidemic” of today is a direct result of people losing their connections to others, and thus their sense of purpose, their sense of worth. 

Reaching out to others with a helping hand or even simply an encouraging word is essential to rebuilding a sense of connection. In general, the more connections you make the more blessings you’ll be able to count.

This image quote says, "Don't just count your blessings. Be the blessing other people count on."

The blessing of “thank you”

Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. It’s the most under-used and extraordinary gift you can give, sometimes. It costs no money at all, “only” a moment of thought and noticing

Over the years, I’ve written several posts about saying “thank you.” One of my very most popular posts is the one on ways to thank first responders. I recently reiterated thoughts on gratitude to veterans, and another one of my all-time most popular posts is the one on ways to thank veterans.

Honoring those who give of themselves to serve our community is always appropriate. But sometimes I like to challenge myself to find others who deserve thanks and rarely get it. If you’re traveling this holiday, you’ll have lots of opportunities. Consider a thank-you or a kind word to an airline or highway employee who’s trying to make things work, in a challenging situation

The image quote from Henry Ward Beecher says, "The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings."

Do you thank wait staffhotel employees, or sales clerks who smooth the way for you? Do you appreciate those skill or knowledge helps you? You might rationalize that they’re only doing their job, but if you use that as an excuse to treat them like machines or tools, take warning: you’re developing a crabbed and callous soul, and it sucks to be you.

Connect with people. Sow peace, not division. Be a blessing to others, and it’s well-nigh guaranteed you’ll have a generous bounty of your own blessings to count.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Vikayatskina via 123RF, for the “Give Thanks!” wreath design. I’m also grateful to Fight for Life via Mimipopa, for the “thousands of tiny miracles” quote, to Picture Quotes for the “take for granted” quote-image and  the “be the blessing other people count on” quote-image, and to Everyday Power, for the quotes from Camille Pissarro and Henry Ward Beecher. Finally, many thanks to Residential Home Solutions (via Hallmark?) for the header image. I appreciate all of you!

Three dogs hug their humans.

Could it be love?

Does your dog love you? Or are you just projecting? Scientists try very hard to avoid anthropomorphizing their animal study subjects. Emotions are difficult to measure. But now we’re finally getting closer to answering the question, “could it be love?”

This is the third and final (for now) post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed them, click: “Dogs: verbal virtuosos?” and “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also previously written about working dogs on this blog–a post that touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!) Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also later posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Because science doesn’t stand still, there’s also some updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.

Anthropomorphism

Three anthropomorphic cartoon dogs: Huckleberry Hound, Snoopy, and Scooby-Doo.
Huckleberry HoundSnoopy, and Scooby-Doo each created a humorous satire on certain human characteristics, but anthropomorphism gets in the way of scientists studying real dogs. (Images via Wikipedia)

When humans attribute human characteristics or emotions to non-human entities (weather conditions, animals, plants, gods or other things), they are anthropomorphizing. It’s an impulse as old as human “behavioral modernity.” In fact, one of our oldest artworks is anthropomorphic.

The so-called “Lion-Man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel,” also called Löwenmensch figurine, is an ivory sculpture about a foot tall, that was found in Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany. It’s the oldest example of what everyone agrees is figurative art,  carbon-dated between 40,000 and 35,000 years old. You might recall dogs have probably been hanging out with humans somewhere in the neighborhood of 32,000 years.

So, yeah. We have an apparently-innate tendency to anthopomorphize all kinds of things (just for fun, run an image search with the keywords “faces on inanimate objects”). And while Huckleberry HoundSnoopyScooby-Doo, and dozens of other anthropomorphic dogs might be fun ways to poke humor at certain types of human characteristics, but they do nothing to help scientists understand real dogs.

The right chemistry

Three dogs give their humans some very convincing hugs.
A Golden Retriever who passes out hugs in New York City, a demonstrative rescued pit bull, and a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy who leans on his human and pulls him closer (Photos: varied sources/First for Women).

The human tendency to anthropomorphize may be hard to control for, but blood chemistry is entirely another matter, when we ask, “could it be love?”

Several studies have shown that oxytocin levels (the so-called “love hormone”) rise in both dogs and humans during interactions. When the human smiles, they look at each other, and when they snuggle, or when dogs are caressed, both release more oxytocin. Some researchers believe this mutual reaction is key to dog domestication.

In humans and other animals oxytocin is “correlated with the preferences of individuals to associate with members of their own group.” Thus, it’s not surprising that it’s been found to be important in bonding between mates and mothers and their infants, as well as humans and companion animals.

Could it be love? Check the MRIs

Dogs trained to hold still for an MRI are showing us more and more about how many similarities there are between their brains and ours.
At left, parallel brain structures in human and dog brains activated in response to stimuli (in this case words, but in other studies it’s been smells) at Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University. (image: Andics et al./Current Biology) Center: Border Collies and Golden Retrievers pose with the MRI in the Hungarian lab. (Photo: Borbala Ferenczy) At right, fMRI scans from Emory University show brain activity associated with decision-making. Similar studies using fMRI have demonstrated emotional reactions that parallel those of humans. (Photo: Berns et al./SSRN).

Oxytocin isn’t the only scientific proof that it could, indeed, be loveStudies of dogs in MRI scanners show the brain structure (caudate nucleus) associated with anticipation and positive feelings lights up in dogs when they smell the odor of a familiar person.

Other MRI-scan brain studies reconfirm the dogs’ verbal recognition skills, and offer the beginnings of understanding how dogs make decisions.

Other indications

And then there’s body language. How can you mistake the message of the facial expressions,  the wriggling body, the wagging tail? How can you mistake the hugs? 

Could it be love? Watch this compilation of dogs greeting their returning soldiers home from deployment, then decide. What do you think?

https://youtu.be/RKBcs9tNWg8

Dog owners know: dogs “get” us, in a way few other animals do. After 32,000 years, even the scientists are beginning to agree.

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to Wikipedia for this images of Huckleberry HoundSnoopyand Scooby-Doo. Thanks and hugs to First For Women and their adorable photo feature, “12 Adorable Pics of Dogs Hugging their Humans for Valentine’s Day,” the source of the “Dog Hugs” composite. For the “Dog Brain Scans” composite, I wish to thank Wired MagazineAttila Andics and Current Biology, photographer Borbala Ferenczy, and to Wired MagazineGregory Berns, and SSRN. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and FunnyPlox, for the video of dogs greeting their homecoming soldiers.

On a background of the US flag are the symbols of the five branches of US military service and the words "Veterans Day: Remembering all who served."

Service comes at a price

All of our current service members have chosen to be there, standing between us and our foes. Increasing numbers of veterans volunteered for their tours of duty. They signed up to protect and defend their country and the Constitution. I believe their choices deserve our honor and deepest respect. Because their service comes at a price.

On the backdrop of a US flag, we have symbols for all five branches of the service, Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, and the words "Veterans Day, Remembering all who served."

We still have a lot of Boomer veterans, and significant numbers who served in the Korean War, or (like my 95-year-old father) in World War II. But the USA has had an all-volunteer force since early 1973.

I remember hearing the news that the draft had been ended. I felt relieved, after years of seeing my male classmates and friends conscripted for the Vietnam War. Though early results were worrisome, most observers now agree our professional armed forces are more effective than when we relied on draftees in earlier times.

Enduring challenges of military service

Military service comes at a price. It changes a person. It usually begins when the person is coming of age. This makes it a powerful lens through which the person views the rest of his or her life

Long-term studies identify both negative and positive outcomes. There are many positive outcomes, such as higher levels of fitness, organizational skills, teamwork competence, and more.

But service in time of war is dangerous and difficultIn some cases it inflicts crippling trauma or enduring health issues. And we’ve had continual war for long enough in recent years that some serving now in Afghanistan or elsewhere weren’t even born yet on that infamous 9/11.

Among the worst outcomes are higher suicide rates among veterans than the general population and a persistent pattern of homeless veterans.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that “homeless” and “veteran” are two words that should never go together, and that losing 17 veterans to suicide each day while the VA underspends by millions of its budget for helping them is unconscionable.

A dark background and a black-and-white photo of a homeless veteran combine to make the point, along with an anonymous quote: "I was prepared to serve, I was prepared to be wounded, I was prepared to die. However: When I came home, I was not prepared to be forgotten."

Acknowledging that service comes at a price

By now most of us have learned that the popular phrase “Thank you for your service” can come across as hopelessly glib and thoughtless to some veterans. 

For a significant number it’s on the same order as the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” when offered as a cheap substitute for action.

How do we move beyond “thank you for your service” (however well-meant or deeply felt)? Can we express our gratitude in more practical ways? Dr. Michael B. Brennan of Psychology Today, who is himself a veteran, offers three suggestions.

Dr. Brennan’s three suggestions

First, go ahead and say “Thank you.” Many veterans still appreciate it, as does Dr. Brennan. On Veterans Day a few years ago, I posted a list similar to his, entitled “Three creative ways to thank a veteran.” I continue to stand by what I said there.

Second, get involved locally with initiatives designed to help and support veterans. Advocate. Interact with veterans at local VFW or American Legion posts. Or work with other credible local nonprofits. 

Here in Kansas City we have the nationally-recognized Veterans Community Project. But everywhere has (or should have!) something. And there’s nothing that says you really do care, better than face-to-face interaction

Because I believe in the organization, and because this video offers insights we can transfer to other contexts, here’s a little more on the Veterans Community Project:

Third, Brennan suggests that you educate yourself. Take time to develop “Cultural competence.” When you understand more about veterans’ issues, it shows when you interact with them. You’re also better able to advocate for improvements when you know more. 

That’s important. Advocacy matters! For veterans, it matters because service comes at a price. But sometimes politicians and others don’t want to remember that, or help pay for it.

What does your community do to support veterans? Are you involved in advocacy? Local volunteer action? Please share in the comments, if you’re willing.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the City of Coronado, CA, for the Veterans Day graphic, to the HeartMath Institute (via @Sharon4Veterans on Twitter and Pinterest) for the “Not prepared to be forgotten” image, and to The Veterans Community Project and Kansas City’s Atlas Roofing, for the video describing the Veterans Community Project, who runs it, and why their tiny homes for homeless veterans are built the way they are.

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