Archives for January 2014

Shiloh’s Accident

shiloh2_bwOur dog Shiloh might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but we love him dearly. He’s the goofball of our pack, a giant galoot of a German Shepherd with a staggering number of genetic defects due to unscrupulous overbreeding. He looks ferocious and his bark is intimidating, but the image he projects is in stark contrast with his sweet and gentle personality.

Shiloh suffers from several physical maladies, but never acts like he’s in pain. He’s one tough cookie. We keep him as healthy as possible. We watch his weight and give him regular exercise in walks. True, not everybody would put up with his quirks and eccentric behavior. Shiloh’s powerful bark rattles the windows of our house daily at the crack of dawn, alerting us of the onset of morning traffic… especially motorcycles and school buses. He barks at cars, trucks, joggers, clouds, and butterflies — anything on the move, because he always wants to go along for the ride.

This is the other story just added to the revised Always a Next One.

Shiloh’s accident

 

My heart skipped a beat when I noticed the open fence gate. The exterminator had visited earlier in the day and apparently he hadn’t closed the gate well enough when he left our backyard. I rushed back inside the house to do a quick head count. I checked every corner of every room with a rising dread in the pit of my stomach.

Three of our dogs were missing.

The timing of their escape couldn’t have been worse. It was approaching the late afternoon rush hour, and we live near a busy road. I shouted for my son Matt, who happened to be home on a break between classes and work. We decided to split up and look for the dogs, each of us heading off in the opposite direction to search for our fugitives.

I jumped in the van and rolled down the windows. As I drove slowly down the street, I called out the names of our missing dogs, hoping to find them before the flood of commuters started coming home for the day. Matt took off on foot in the opposite direction, running around the block following the route we normally walked the pack.

Matt found Shiloh first. “Dad! Come quick! Shiloh’s been hit by a car. He’s hurt really bad,” he said from his cell phone.

Those are the most horrible words an animal lover can hear about any dog, but devastating when the dog in question was Shiloh. My stomach churned, but I tried to stay calm. “Where are you?” I asked.

Of all our rescued pack members, Shiloh had the most special needs. He could least afford to be involved in a serious accident. The large but goofy German Shepherd with a gentle disposition comfortably blended in with the other misfits that make up our pack. The overbreeding that is unfortunately all too common in many popular dog breeds had ruined the genetic makeup of the poor dog. His lower spine was malformed and he suffered from dysplasia in both of his hips. Although he stood taller at the shoulder than any of our dogs, his back sloped dramatically down to his hips and his loose joints gave him a shaky, swaying gait.

Matt said that he and Shiloh were in a neighbor’s car, not very far from our house, so I turned the van around. As I drove back toward home to find them, Matt began to describe Shiloh’s injuries in graphic detail. “Shiloh was hit in the face. Blood’s dripping from his mouth. And Dad — his back leg is mangled. I don’t think he can walk.”

His injuries sounded like they couldn’t be worse. Hit in the head and his back legs run over? How is Shiloh still alive? Why was anyone going that fast in the neighborhood? Why didn’t they stop to help my dog?

I braced myself for the worst. I was afraid that our lovable goofball might not recover. He might have to be euthanized. We’d always been exceptionally concerned about his frail physique — an accidental fall and broken hip would probably make it all but impossible for him ever to walk again. We had “Shiloh-proofed” our house by adding carpet runners on the wood floors, and added an extra door and a shorter flight of steps off the garage, into our backyard. The big dog might look formidable, but his body was as fragile as porcelain.

The thought of Shiloh suffering in pain made me ill, but so did the idea of ending his life prematurely. With any other of our dogs, my mind would have latched onto images of leg splints and recuperation, but Shiloh’s legs might never mend properly. If he lost the use of even one of his hind legs, how would Shiloh be able to walk or even stand on his own? He could live in constant pain from his injuries. I pushed the disturbing thoughts aside. If and when the time came, I would make whatever decision was in Shiloh’s best interest. In the meantime, the only thing that was important was getting him to the vet for examination and treatment as soon as possible.

I remembered how Shiloh had come into our lives. When I first saw him, he was living isolated in a large, fenced pen on top of a concrete slab. His owner had declared that he planned to “get rid of the dog” so he could keep another one that I had brought with me for him to adopt. Those words alone would make the prospective adoption home visit a short one. The man went on, complaining that Shiloh barked too much. I noticed an open wound on the dog’s foot and pointed it out, but his owner seemed disinterested in having the injury treated. Instead of leaving him with another dog, I convinced him to let me take Shiloh away from him.

We briefly fostered Shiloh for adoption through our local Humane Society, until the vet diagnosed the hip dysplasia. A trip to the specialists at the UGA veterinary school told us that he would need more than fifteen thousand dollars of surgery to repair all of his physical ailments, exceeding the abilities and budget of our little rescue group. My wife and I recognized that Shiloh would always have special needs, so we bought foam dog beds for his comfort, changed the flooring in our house to a friendlier surface for his hips, and accepted the fact that we had one more dog with nowhere else to go.

As I remembered how Shiloh ended up with us, I refused to think about the decisions that might be coming. My only concern was getting him to the vet, and finding our other two missing dogs. I dreaded even looking into Shiloh’s eyes, after Matt’s gruesome description. I knew that I would do everything possible to see him through the accident.

Matt lifted the big dog out of our neighbor’s car, carried him over, and gently placed him in the back of our van. Shiloh never even whimpered. The only noise Shiloh made almost sounded like a squeal of delight, as if he was excited to be going for a car ride.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find the other dogs,” said Matt. “Call me and let me know what the vet says.”

As I drove toward the animal hospital, I called to give them advance notice that I was rushing in with a dog that had been hit by a car, and needed an emergency appointment to see the vet. After I hung up I thought to myself, Shiloh sure is one tough cookie. He’s hasn’t even whimpered, and he’s got to be in serious pain.

I was astonished when Shiloh wobbled up to me from his spot in the back of the van and tried to jump into the front seat. “Shiloh, stop it! You’re gonna hurt yourself even worse. You can’t get in the front seat.” I used my free arm to block the gap between the driver and passenger seats, but he slammed into it, nearly dislocating my elbow in the process. He might be hurt, but he didn’t seem to know it. Impatiently, he pushed my arm, trying to bat it out of the way with his muzzle. “No! You can’t get up here,” I said, nearly missing the turn into the parking lot.

When I slid open the side door to the van, Shiloh jumped out as if nothing was wrong. I grabbed his collar and attached the leash, then stepped back to look at him. He didn’t show any signs of having difficulties with his back legs. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a mark on him.

Surprised and curious, I called Matt. “I found the other two dogs,” he said without preamble. “Everybody’s home, safe and sound. I didn’t have any trouble finding them, by the way. Gracie and Sasha wandered back into the yard on their own. How’s Shiloh?”

“Um…we haven’t seen the vet yet. Which leg got mangled? He seems to be walking just fine.”

“The one that’s all bloody,” Matt said with an exasperated sigh.

“Huh… he’s not bleeding,” I said. “In fact, I don’t see any blood on him, at all. It looks like maybe he bit his tongue. But it quit bleeding, if he did.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Matt said.

“I’ll call you back after Dr. McGruder checks him out,” I said. “We just got to his office. I’d better get him checked, just to be safe, in case he’s got internal injuries or something,” I said with a growing doubt.

Dr. McGruder checked Shiloh over thoroughly and confirmed my suspicions. “He’s a very lucky dog. He’ll be fine. Won’t even need a stitch in that tongue,” he said. Then he laughed. “He’s a big boy. Maybe the car got hurt worse than he did.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no difficult choices to make. Our lumbering clown of a dog could go back to barking at clouds and trying to catch shadows in his teeth.

Once Shiloh was safely back at the house, gnawing on a chew treat to comfort him after his traumatic experience, I went to the grocery store and bought a six-pack of beer. I took the six-pack over to my neighbor to thank him for his willingness to help both my dog and son. Not just anyone would put a strange dog into their own car and rush them to get help.

“How’s your dog?” my neighbor asked, after I introduced myself.

“Shiloh will be fine,” I said. “Apparently the car wasn’t going very fast when it hit him.”

“It wasn’t a car, it was a truck.”

What?” I was shocked.

“Yep. Actually, it was a UPS truck,” my neighbor said with an odd smile.

What?” I repeated. “I can’t believe a driver for UPS would hit my dog and just leave him lying there,” I said incredulously. “I should call their offices right now and complain,” I snapped, the unnecessary expense of the vet’s bill still fresh in my mind.

“You could, but that’s not what happened,” my neighbor laughed. “The truck didn’t hit him. He came to a complete stop, just fine. Your dog bolted into the street and ran right into that truck, face first, right into the grill. He even tried to bite the front bumper on the truck. The driver was afraid to get out of his truck. And you know they don’t have doors on those things. Old Shiloh really scared the crap out of that UPS guy.”

I felt bad for the driver, but this version of the story sounded exactly like something our affable lunkhead would do. After years of barking at delivery trucks driving past our house, Shiloh had decided to catch one for himself.

Willful ignorance

southernprose_cover_CAFG A couple of years ago, I faced the rather formidable challenge of engaging in public debate against Ed Buckner, former president of American Atheists.

Ed was very experienced in that sort of thing; it was my first and remains as of today, the only formal debate I’ve ever had in my life.

Therefore, my work was certainly cut out for me.

Fortunately for me, video existed on You Tube showing Ed present his best arguments while debating a Muslim scholar in the U.K. named Hamza Andreas Tzortzis.

So I took copious notes, seizing upon the opportunity to anticipate Ed’s best shots.

In fairness, Ed also should have been able to anticipate my best shots coming, if he’d bothered to read some of my work as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner.

In my opening remarks, I enumerated the seven points that Ed made that were the foundation his best arguments for atheism and then eviscerated them, point-by-point.

I sort of expected that once the logical flaws in Ed’s argument were systematically exposed and shredded before he’d ever opened his mouth, we would then be able to spend the remainder of our time arguing about points about the science that has now officially become the crux of my Counterargument for God.

Because I knew Ed to be quite an intelligent man, I will now confess that I was expecting the alleged “freethinker” would be a little bit more open-minded.

I foolishly assumed that Ed would be able to defend his own beliefs, rather than simply attacking what he supposed to be mine with every opportunity.Sadly, Ed disappointed me.

Also in my opening statement, I had suggested we conduct the debate without making reference to the Bible, saying we could “leave that anthology in the narthex.”

But Ed would have none of that. It turned out that his argument solely depended on attacking the Bible, which is most certainly not “God.”

I countered that the Bible should be thought of as nothing more than a useful tool, such as a hammer, and pointed out that a hammer would never be worshiped.

In reflection, I now realize why Ed was so compelled to focus his attack on Christian beliefs based on literal interpretations of the Bible and the Old Testament in particular. Ed realized if he wasn’t the offensive, his argument was quite vulnerable.

When the debate did temporarily stray into my science arguments, Ed got into some trouble by making factually incorrect statements. For example, he incorrectly exclaimed that Darwin never wrote the words, “Monkeys make men.”

It didn’t matter to him when I said that I’d just seen the Darwin exhibit at the Fernbank museum, which included a page from his notebook highlighting that exact phrase, and I was quoting it verbatim.

Ed seemed to naturally assume that I was somehow being deceptive or distorting the truth by telling it.

He wasn’t the least bit receptive to any possibility that my argument might have been formed using superior logic and constructed with more accurate information than that in his possession.

He must have assumed he would win the debate merely because I freely admit that I am a Christian.

Ed finally conceded his mistake on that one minor point, but that admission came privately, long after the debate was over.

But implying that I had somehow been deceitful wasn’t the worst part of our debate. I was more disappointed when Ed showed me a brief glimpse of his hypocritical side, admitting to his own willful ignorance. After all, he was the one who suggested that our epistemic duty was to seek knowledge and test the truth. Ironically, that had been the only one of his seven points arguing his atheist philosophy that I conceded was true.

However, when I offered Ed several examples of scientific research that he should investigate because he had made statements that conflicted with scientific evidence, he changed his tune and claimed that his real duty was only limited to topics of his personal interest.

In other words, Ed had no real interest in seeking truth. He was only there to win an argument, and I’m not even sure he accomplished that.

But if nothing else, he gave me plenty of fodder for the second half of my Counterargument.

Yet the debate against Ed was nevertheless quite instructive, and therefore well worth the time and effort I invested. I learned that one of the most prominent atheists in America was willing to admit he would not consider new ideas with an open mind, in spite of what he had claimed was his epistemic duty.

But what isn’t worth my time is having an argument on the internet with some character who calls himself “Doc Cos”, who lurks on a Facebook page called God on the Slide.

While Dr. Buckner was pleasant and quite cordial, and without question an authentic doctor, this “Doc Cos” person hides behind a pseudonym and only seems capable of personal attack.

His most frequently used descriptors of me are “idiot” or “liar”, which he invariably spews using poor grammar and misspelled words. The delicious irony of that faux pas is apparently lost on him.

The only reason this nebulous “Doc Cos” merits any mention outside of Facebook is because he accused me of willful ignorance.

This is the same man who refused to accept a free copy of my now award-winning book Counterargument for God so that his criticisms would no longer be littered with ignorant remarks.

However, if ignorance is bliss, Doc Cos is determined that he will live in ecstasy.

And then again recently, I was reading Tom Krattenmaker’s editorial piece for USA Today that asserted “Evolution is not a matter of belief” but an indisputable fact.

Krattenmaker wrote,

But here’s the problem: As settled science, evolution is not a matter of opinion, or something one chooses to believe in or not, like a religious proposition. And by often framing the matter this way, we involved in the news media, Internet debates and everyday conversation do a disservice to science, religion and our prospects for having a scientifically literate country.

Here’s a real problem with Mr. Krattenmaker’s assertion — there’s no such thing as settled science.

If science were ever “settled”, people would still be taught that the earth was flat.

Only a couple hundred years ago,the prevailing wisdom about combustion was phlogiston theory.

Within the last century, many of our smartest scientists and philosophers were convinced the universe was eternal beginning because they recognized the problems posed by the universe having an origin.

Then Edwin Hubble provided evidence of red shift, validating the Big Bang theory in the minds of an overwhelming majority of astronomers and physicists.

The consensus of opinion is now that [the universe] all started with a big bang, as the jingle for the television show of the same name suggests. Yet even today, not every physicist agrees with the Big Bang theory. There are competing theories, like the Big Crunch, and brane cosmology.

Now, I have been known to express my utter contempt for phrases such as “scientific consensus” or “peer review”, but with good reason.

Those are nothing more than buzzwords, simple phrases that censor competing opinions out from public consumption.

If you don’t believe me, read the true story of what happened to Boris Belousov.

Consensus is the death of original thought. A consensus of opinion in the scientific community may well exist about any given theory at some point in time, but there is no such thing as a theory that is immune to challenge. The challenge itself may very well fail, but the ability to challenge will always remain.

But what really irritated me the most with Mr. Krattenmaker was his assumption that my beliefs about evolution theory are borne of willful ignorance, as he insinuated in this passage:

As a progressive, I’m tempted to blame willful ignorance by those on the “other side” when I see the sharp rise in Republicans rejecting evolution, and the always-high percentage of white evangelical Protestants (64% in the Pew poll) who believe that humans were created by God in their present form; i.e. no evolution.

I would be more than happy to debate Mr. Krattenmaker about the science of evolution theory.

Because of the willful ignorance of people such as “Doc Cos”, I haven’t been able to even give away a free copy of Counterargument for God  to an atheist willing to read it, even thought it has won an award.

Alleged “freethinkers” like Mr. Krattenmaker mistakenly believe that the evidence for speciation is as conclusive as the evidence for natural selection.

But the real problem with speciation is not to think that humans and apes could be related by descent via sexual reproduction, simply given enough time. The real problem occurs after one realizes that the exact same biological processes allegedly explain the relationship of both humans and apes to the bananas we both like to eat.

People who believe in the possibility of Divine Evolution  could consider our cousin-ship to both turtles and turnips via sexual reproduction a questionable proposition at best.

And they may very well take umbrage at the suggestion that they suffer from mental defect merely for having a few doubts about how much Darwin’s theory can do about answering our existential questions.

On the other hand, antitheists such as “Doc Cos” revel in their own willful ignorance, smugly confident that their limited knowledge is somehow superior to an argument they don’t even know.

“Doc Cos” won’t even spend a couple of hours reading a book that was offered to him for free.

Sure, it’s easier to criticize what you don’t understand.

But if that isn’t a prime example of willful ignorance, what is?

Runaway Rusty

southernprose_cover_AANOWe decided to add just a couple of stories to my book Always a Next One.

We replaced the preview chapter of Coastal Empire at the back of the book with a little more content while we were adding pictures of the dogs to the e-book version.

These two additional stories are dedicated to Jennie Attaway, for inspiring me to write them.

This one is called Runaway Rusty

Usually, we humans decide to adopt a dog. But sometimes, it works the other way around.

Rusty had experienced a rough life before he came to our house for rescue and rehabilitation. After spending several weeks camped at my wife’s feet, he picked up on what life was like for the rest of our pack. When it came time for his adoption, Rusty had obviously developed his own ideas about where his perfect forever home might be.

rusty“Rusty was returned again,” Lisa said.

“What did he do this time?” I asked, not terribly surprised.

“The woman who adopted him complained that he kept running away,” Lisa said. “She said every time she walked out the front door, he’d make a run for it. She’s tired of chasing him all over her neighborhood.”

Rusty?” I asked incredulously. That didn’t sound like him at all. “When will you bring him back here?”

“When I go to the shelter on Thursday.” And so it was settled.

It wasn’t Rusty’s first time through our revolving door. The older but beautiful black-and-tan collie had fostered with us more than once since his original owner surrendered him back the shelter.

The woman who had adopted Rusty from the shelter as a puppy returned him after six years with her, claiming he had grown too large for her house and that he was digging up her backyard. As the shelter manager deftly pulled the rest of the story from her, she admitted that once Rusty grew beyond the adorable puppy size, she’d bought a smaller dog and banished Rusty to the backyard for the next five years. All that time, Rusty had watched through the sliding glass doors as the little dog stayed warm and dry, while he was forced to brave the elements.

When the woman brought Rusty back to the shelter after years spent in her yard, his coat was a filthy, matted mess. He was also infected with heartworms. Heartworms are a particularly dangerous condition for collies because of their tendency to have adverse reactions to ivermectin, the drug commonly used for both prevention and treatment. Back in the Humane Society’s care, Rusty was cleaned up, groomed, and then began the long course heartworm treatment recommended for collie breeds.

Rusty couldn’t be allowed any strenuous exercise because of the controlled poisons used to kill the heartworms, so the bustling excitement of the shelter was not an ideal place for him to recuperate. Lisa brought him to the comparative quiet of our house, where he spent six weeks camped beneath her desk during the day, getting pampered and slipped extra little tidbits of food.

The handsome dog appeared perfectly content just lying around the house, most of the time at Lisa’s feet, only needing one or two visits outside per day to pee. The most energy he expended came at dinner or snack time. Rusty had a voracious appetite, one that bordered on food aggression. I soon learned it was best to feed him just outside the back door so he didn’t squabble with the rest of our pack while they ate.

His history of neglect explained his craving for human attention, as well as his extreme fear of thunderstorms. Life at our house must have seemed like heaven, compared to the neglect he left behind. Once he fully recovered and we posted him for adoption on Petfinder.com, the beautiful and highly adoptable Rusty drew plenty of interest from potential adopters.

In fact, he was adopted three times in rapid succession. We were all surprised that each time, the mellow collie was returned for a different offense. One woman said Rusty threatened her cat, chasing it under the bed. Strangely enough, we also had fostered a cat with kittens at our house, and Rusty didn’t bother them. In fact, no matter what the complaint when Rusty was returned to the shelter, it was invariably behavior we never saw from the dog.

After he’d been returned for the third time, the shelter manager announced that adoption fees had been collected for Rusty three times, and in each case the adopter refused the refund. The bottom line was that Rusty had paid for himself with his antics, so if Lisa wanted to keep him, she could. We talked it over and agreed our revolving door would swing open once again for Rusty.

“You might as well bring him back and get used to the idea he’s your dog,” I laughed. I knew Lisa had developed a soft spot for the collie she saw transformed with simple, basic care. “It’s what he’s wanted all along. Don’t you see? Rusty recognized a good deal when he saw it. He decided he wants to live here. That’s why he acts up when he goes to a different house. This time, he barely lasted the weekend there. We’re the softhearted suckers who cook twice the meat on the grill. One piece is for us and one is for the dogs. And that boy likes to eat too much to leave here without pulling out all the stops.”

“You think he’s misbehaving on purpose?” Lisa frowned, considering the possibility. “I don’t know, but it does sort of seem that way. You might be right.”

“You know I’m right, and I’ll prove it when you bring him back to the house.”

On Thursday, Lisa brought Rusty home as planned. I put our other dogs in the back yard and met them in the foyer, as soon as they walked in the house. “How’re ya doing, Rusty?” I said.

He stood there wagging his tail, pleased to receive the attention.

I walked past Lisa and opened the front door. “He kept running away, every time the front door opened, huh?”

Lisa nodded, “That’s what the lady said.”

“Okay, Rusty, this is your big chance. Go ahead and make your break for it! I won’t try to stop you, if you don’t want to be here. The door is wide open. Go on, boy! Run for it!”

Rusty looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. His response was to lie down. The matter was settled. With his unmistakable answer, we added Rusty the wayward collie to our pack, the first dog to adopt us instead of the other way around.

“See!” I crowed triumphantly. “I told you, that dog’s not going anywhere. This is where he wants to be.”

“It’s your fault,” Lisa said. “You’re the one who feeds them.”