Reader feedback

The original purpose for building this website was to create an internet platform to advertise the fact I’d become an author, and to promote my books.

The idea was that my writing would eventually provide me some level of income, but there’s only one small problem — I haven’t written enough material in any particular genre to draw and sustain a large audience, and there’s a lot of competition in this new age of digital publishing.

Long ago the decision was made to sacrifice quantity for quality, so I haven’t tried to produce a steady stream of content on one particular subject. I have tried to focus on writing well, rather than publishing more frequently. Naturally, it was a very rewarding feeling in 2013 when not one or two, but three of my books won awards, but the problem is that awards don’t automatically produce income. The market has been flooded with competition, and not enough people know who I am. I’m no genius when it comes to marketing myself as a writer, but I know that I don’t have enough readers, book reviews, and my work hasn’t gotten much publicity.

This is somewhat difficult to write without sounding like I’m pleading for money, but in order for my work to earn income, I need to sell books and short stories. I have resisted the idea of buttons soliciting donations to support the website, and Patreon accounts. But on the other hand, I don’t have an agent, or a book deal. I don’t get paid six or seven-figure advances on work that hasn’t even been written yet. The two small, independent publishers who have published my work paid fair royalties, but those are based on book sales. To be brutally blunt, if my family depended on my income as a writer to survive, we’d have starved to death about nine years ago.

Fortunately my wife believes in my talent as a writer, and I believe in myself.  The problem is largely one of my own making, I do believe.  Because my six published works range from nonfiction books about religion and philosophy (Divine Evolution and Counterargument for God), a collection of short stories about animal rescue called Always a Next One, plus three detective novels, I haven’t built an audience base that impatiently waits on my next book.

My first novel, Coastal Empire, introduced private detective Robert Mercer and his canine partner, Ox, as they tried to solve the mystery of why someone might steal a person’s identity without stealing their money. Premonition is the sequel to Coastal Empire, and Secondhand Sight is an amateur sleuth novel featuring Dan Harper as the main character. The next Mercer novel, which will be published in 2017, will be called Atheist’s Prayer.

I know from comments that people enjoy reading my blog, or so they claim, but do those same people read my books? If not, why not?

What do you like about my website, and what don’t you like? 

Like anyone else with an ego, of course I enjoy a complimentary review, especially when it is published at Amazon. However, I must admit that I crave constructive criticism, and I pay closer attention to those one and two-star book reviews, especially when it is obvious the person actually read my book. After all, if we fail to learn from our mistakes, we never stop making them. If my next novel isn’t better than anything I’ve written before, I’m not learning enough from my mistakes.

If you read one of my books, did you publish a short review on Amazon? Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, if you didn’t like what you read. Trust me, I’ll get over it.

I’ve been thinking about ways of monetizing the website, but the only thing I’ve decided to do so far is to publish here more often, and ask for your feedback on my writing. Having Atheist’s Prayer published later this year ought to help. Yes, I am committed to seeing that project completed in 2017, and then moving on to Devil’s Breath. I’m committed to working on Atheist’s Prayer every day, until published. Less time squandered on social media, and more time devoted to real work. If I simply went by Google Analytics, I’d write about Georgia Bulldog football every day, but I think there are enough websites already dedicated to that subject.

So…what do I do right? What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing differently?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Home Improvement(s)

IMG_0011When we bought our new house earlier this year, we realized several significant projects would need to be completed before we could relax and truly call this “home.”

Of course we needed a fence so our dogs wouldn’t roam all over the neighborhood, and the Chamblee Fence Company recently completed an outstanding installation — this is the first fence I have ever owned that the gates can only be left open if they are held or blocked, perfectly positioned so that they will automatically swing shut and close, a feat previously only managed post-installation, with a special hinge from Home Depot.southernprose_cover_AANO

There is nothing that will put fear into the heart of a pet owner quite like discovering an open gate when their dogs have been outside, enjoying the yard. Chamblee Fence has been in business longer than I’ve been alive for a very good reason.

The fence came after the rotted old timber retaining wall was ripped out and replaced the incredible crew at Bentley’s Nursery and Stone Yard.

When professional engineers have highly recommended their professional work, it was an added bonus that Bentley’s quote was considerably less than other estimates, and the quality was obviously exceptional. Check out the before…

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and after pictures!

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My final project was one that we decided to tackle ourselves, even though I need my fingers for typing, and hammers tend to place them at risk. Therefore my solution for the construction project involved the liberal use of a Paslode nail gun. IMG_0004

My wife Lisa created the design, and my son Matthew and I served as her construction engineers. I think the end result turned out about as well as I could have hoped, considering the fact that I was acting as the lead carpenter. But the plans were excellent and the shelving solid, as long as I didn’t screw the cutting and assembly up too bad.

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One significant issue we needed to solve was the location of the air vent was installed at the baseboard level, unlike the floor vents in other rooms. Our solution needed to leave the vent unblocked, so Lisa designed the bottom to look like a piece of furniture.

When writers aren’t writing, we like to read. Over time, we tend to accumulate books.

 

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I now have a room dedicated to serving as my office, and my new office has a simple, custom made bookcase. Most of my books have been living in boxes for the last seven years, because our old house was too small for me to have an office of my own.

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I think it’s about time to get back to work on my next book!

 

 

Speciesism and Animal Liberation

Ingrid Newark of PETA

Ingrid Newark of PETA

Speciesism is a term used by so-called animal rights activists to belittle the belief a hierarchy exists within the animal kingdom, and that human beings are a superior form of life lording over the food chain.

The extremists have decreed speciesism to be just as bad as racism or sexism. By their definition, I am a speciesist.

To the average animal rights activist, a human being is just another animal — nothing special.

As People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) founder Ingrid Newkirk famously said, “When it comes to having a central nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

Therein lies my problem with PETA — members of that organization obviously fail to recognize that the lives of some creatures are clearly more valuable than others.

And on that critical point, I strongly beg to differ. Of course, Newkirk is right about one thing — animals can feel pain. So what?

Animals can get hungry, and thirsty, just like a human being. Yet when a human suffers a mortal or life-threatening wound, they often go into shock, which ultimately causes them to experience less pain. By the same token, why can’t we assume the same thing happens with other animals, that they might also go into shock when death becomes imminent?

The animal liberation movement began with noble intentions — opposing the barbaric practice of using of kittens and puppies for laboratory testing or medical experiments.

But a rat is vermin. A pig might be served for dinner. And a dog is man’s best friend, as this story suggests: a heroic German Shepherd dog was bitten three times while saving the life of a seven-year-old little girl from a rattlesnake, instinctively jumping between the snake and the child to protect his human companion from harm.

A “pet” snake would surely not do likewise. Reptiles are not known for displays of altruistic behavior. Yet applying the rationale of PETA’s Newkirk to this story, the life of the rattlesnake is no less valuable than the life of the dog, or even the life of the little girl.

According to Newkirk (and PETA) the snake has an equal “right” to life. Here’s my take on the situation– the snake has every right to live until it poses a direct threat either to me or my family.

Human lives matter more.

A copperhead or rattlesnake deep in the woods won’t bother me, so I won’t bother it. But a dangerous snake slithering around in my own backyard is a completely different story, and it will soon be a dead snake. Should the snake bite my German Shepherd, I would even take great satisfaction from killing it, and I would surely use excessive force to be certain the snake was dead.

This is just common sense.

The word ethics simply means defining, and then defending a concept of right versus wrong behavior. In philosophy, the study of ethics leads to a determination of morality, of right versus wrong and good versus evil. ethics

According to these animal rights extremists, people should not kill and eat other animals, or see them as any less important than a human being. It is even considered immoral to eat steak, or a chicken leg.

The term speciesism was coined by British psychologist Richard Ryder in 1970. To explain the application of the word he wrote,

“Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no ‘magical’ essential difference between humans and other animals, biologically-speaking. Why then do we make an almost total distinction morally? If all organisms are on one physical continuum, then we should also be on the same moral continuum.”

In essence, Darwinism takes the Creator away from His creation. Naturally, the fatal flaw in the logic of this line of reasoning is that life cannot evolve until it exists. Before evolution could ever become possible, creation has already occurred.

Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Philosopher and Ethics Professor Peter Singer wrote the seminal book for the “animal rights” movement published in 1975, titled Animal Liberation. In his book, Singer popularized the term “speciesism” as a subtle form of criticism of the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview that granted human beings dominion over the animal kingdom.

The term implies a prejudice against animals exists within humans that’s not really any different from prejudices such as racism or sexism — essentially, it is an atheistic argument that challenges and even directly contradicts the theology of the Bible and traditional Christianity, which asserts that God created both animals and man.

Singer argues that human beings have no business raising animals for food or using them to otherwise improve the human condition, under the pretext that animals should have rights equal to a human.

It is perfectly okay with me, if some activist nutcase wants to label me a speciesist. Guilty as charged.

I even have a confession to make: animal flesh is delicious. Human beings were designed to be omnivores. We need meat in our diets as a primary source of protein. Contrary to popular belief, vegetarians are not necessarily healthier than meat eaters.  There’s nothing wrong with eating a (cooked) dead animal.

Humans are supposed to be good stewards of the earth and to manage our natural resources. We’ve also come to realize that carnivores are actually very good for the environment because they control the population of grazing animals, learned from observations of the reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

southernprose_cover_AANOAnyone who questions my credentials as an animal lover should read the book shown on the right, because I wrote it.

Always a Next One is a collection of short stories about animal rescue, and probably the best evidence that I could offer as proof of my love and devotion to our four-legged companions.

If you haven’t read  my book, please buy a copy from Amazon. You can find it online either by clicking here, or on the book cover itself.

Then after you’ve had a chance to read it, please consider leaving a short review online, that might help other readers discover a new book they might like. Your opinion matters more than mine, when judging the quality of my work. Okay, that’s more than enough shameless self-promotion. Let’s get back on point, shall we?

Under no circumstances should one of these ridiculous animal liberation activists attempt a stunt like this with me, to antagonize or berate me because I like to eat both eggs and chickens. Such a confrontation definitely would not end well for the drama queen…

I would begin by politely noting that in Genesis 1:28, it says that the Creator of all living things gave Adam and Eve authority over every other creature:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

Furthermore, it’s rather clear that if we believe that God exists, we should consider human life as special, and that it’s perfectly okay to be a speciesist. And if there’s any doubt about whether or not we should use animals for food, the answer can be found in the book of Acts, Chapter 10:

He (Peter) saw heaven open and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, as well as birds of the air. Then a voice spoke to him: “Get up, Peter. Kill, and eat!”

Naturally my atheist friends (many of whom are animal liberation advocates) would have a conniption fit and say something like, “But that’s in the Bible, which is a work of fiction” or something similar, because atheists often mistakenly believe that science has somehow proved that the Bible is a myth.

Clearly, the alternative to being a speciesist is lunacy, if the criteria of PETA is applied to every living organism. The “animal rights” people aren’t going nearly far enough, if that’s the path they choose. If this nonsense were true, humans ought to be reduced to trying to survive only on dirt and sunlight, like any other plant would.

What about plant liberation? Why should we discriminate against plants, showing favoritism to animals?

Plants are living organisms, too. And if atheism is true and Darwinism is true, then abiogenesis must have occurred without divine intervention. That would mean life was created from inanimate matter by chemical reactions.

According to the calculations of Nobel Prize-winning chemists, at the most abiogenesis could have only happened once without some sort of divine intervention, due of the sheer improbability of such a remarkable phenomenon.

Every living organism on earth would be here only as a result of and related according to sexual reproduction, given sufficient isolation of a small breeding population for an organism, as well as copious amounts of time. If abiogenesis occurred without creation, it would mean that even by eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, we would allegedly be consuming our distant cousins. How can eating a green and leafy cousin be that any more moral than eating a furry or feathered cousin instead?

Don’t be ridiculous, the animal liberation advocate will instinctively say…plants don’t feel pain. Plants don’t have a central nervous system.

Okay, fair enough — but how can we be sure? How do we know this?

It’s important to note that scientists have known for a while and it has been proved that plants have learned how to produce extra tannins as a defense mechanism against overgrazing by animals that could potentially kill the plant. As a result, we can believe that at least some plants have a natural instinct for self-preservation and their own survival.

In other words, plants exist in this world which are smarter than some people I know.

The Pearl : 2 April 2015

Dave Barry

Dave Barry

You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, “My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!” – Dave Barry

Because the Pearl on April Fool’s Day was a serious thought, naturally I looked for something humorous to post on the day after.

Dave Barry is a very funny writer.

In my opinion, there is nothing more difficult to write than a full length novel that is hilarious from start to finish.

Dave Barry’s Big Trouble is one of two such novels I’ve read that had me laughing out loud virtually from cover to cover.

The other was Handling Sin by Michael Malone.

I cannot recommend any two books more enthusiastically — not even books that I’ve written myself.southernprose_cover_AANO

In spite of the fact that I’m a huge admirer of his work, I must say that Dave Barry is absolutely wrong about dogs in his remark above.

I only chose the quote because I thought it was funny, not because I think it’s true. He’s appealing to the common but mistaken assumption that dogs don’t understand words, and only react to one’s tone of voice.

However, if Mr. Barry were ever to visit our home, he would discover rather quickly that my dogs do know some English, even if they can’t speak the language. Wyatt does try to tell my son that he loves him, though.

And every one of our dogs recognizes the word “treat” and responds with great enthusiasm, no matter the tone of voice.

Granted, nobody likes to be yelled at, so some will probably approach with tail tucked between legs. But they want the treat.

For that very reason, my wife and I haven’t taught our dogs how to spell, so we can still communicate without making the commitment.

According to the dogs, the rule is that once you say the word, you’ve entered into a contractual relationship and as such, you’d better be ready to fork over a treat.

Quite frankly, if Dave Barry wasn’t just trying to be funny — if he really believed what he said, he must not know very much about dogs.

He can’t have heard of the famous Skidboot and said those words –as a matter of fact, Skidboot served as one of my inspirations for the character of Ox in the Robert Mercer mystery novels.

That dog was truly amazing — a lot smarter than some people I know.

The Pearl: 19 March 2015

Groucho-MarxOutside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. — Groucho Marx

I remember what I’ve said in the past about actors…but Groucho was a lot more than just a movie star. He was a comedic genius who wrote most of his own material, and he was even funnier and more brilliant when he ad-libbed without a script.

Besides, he said something nice about both books and dogs, and in the same sentence.

It’s a very funny line. And if you’ve read my book Always a Next One, you know how much I love dogs.

The reward for fostering a dog

southernprose_cover_AANOThe very first short story I wrote about animal rescue and fostering dogs was about Trooper, a little yellow dog once struck by a car and left for dead.

He became one of the many animals my wife and I fostered during our tenure with the Humane Society of Forsyth County, when he had recovered well enough to leave the veterinary hospital.

Whenever someone says that they couldn’t foster a dog or cat because they are afraid of becoming too attached, I often think of Trooper.

My wife and I would have loved to have kept him, but he was a very desirable dog that proved easy to place in the perfect “forever” home where he wouldn’t have to compete with the pack for attention.

Trooper is the reason why my book was named Always a Next One: true stories of dog fostering.

Trooper_poseIf we had adopted him, we couldn’t have fostered Bessie the Basset Hound or any of the other dogs that followed Trooper.

Only by helping good dogs like Trooper and Bessie go to the right homes, perfect homes for them, were we able to help save even more animals.

It was easy to become attached to the fosters, and not as easy to let them go. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

We fostered Pancho for over a year before the perfect home for him came along. I grew very attached to him. Unlike Trooper, Pancho had people issues and wouldn’t easily fit into just any home. When the perfect home for him finally came along, it would have been wrong for me to keep Pancho.

If we hadn’t let go of Pancho, we might not have had space for Trooper during his recovery. There was a  great reward for having that dog in our lives, even if it was only for a short time.

Never forget, there’s always a next one. The reward for animal fostering is bittersweet, to be sure.

You will love the foster pet as if they were your dog or cat, but you know that day will come when they find the perfect home for them, where they will be cared for as well as you could do yourself, as difficult as that may be to admit.

Once in a while, you might come across a con artist like Rusty who got ideas of his own about his ideal home. However, if the dog or cat looks relaxed and happy in their new environment, it’s probably safe to let them go and say goodbye.

Then sometimes when you least expect it, an update will come out of the blue and brighten your day.

We recently retrooper_recentceived this photo of Trooper with his new family, who have proclaimed him the best dog they’ve ever had.

As well they should.

 

 

 

Amazing Gracie’s terrible ordeal

southernprose_cover_AANOIn my book Always a Next One, I shared the story of how my wife and I came to rescue Gracie, a skittish little Norwegian Elk Hound pursued by a dedicated group of animal rescue volunteers for more than a month before someone finally caught up to her.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of an even more harrowing rescue attempt that happened only yesterday.

This is Amazing Gracie.

As this picture suggestDSC_0009s, she’s not a very big dog, perhaps slightly overweight for her size at around forty pounds.

Of course, every member of our pack is special in their own right. But Gracie has endeared herself to the point she is the only dog in the pack with more than one nickname. She’s also the baby of the pack.

Depending on the circumstances, she has been called my sunshine because she brightens my day, our little butter bean because of her somewhat rotund body, the Chupacabra because of her feigned aggression at mealtime, and she’s even been called snicker doodle, for some strange reason — by me.

I can’t begin to explain how or why those words occasionally come out of my mouth when I’m talking to Gracie, so I won’t even try. However, her whole body wiggles with joy when I say her name.

How could anyone not love a dog that looks like a little grey German Shepherd and acts like she loves them with every fiber of her being? How could I help feeling a little more protective of her than I would, say, of a ninety pound German Shepherd who would eat you if you posed a threat to me, or my family?

Compared to the mighty Ox or big, ferocious-sounding Shiloh, Gracie doesn’t appear to be even mildly intimidating. Strangers most often use the words “cute” or “adorable” to describe her.

So without further ado, this was yesterday’s big adventure…

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Now it’s a very good rule of thumb, when you have more than one dog, to periodically conduct a head count to make make sure that the pack members are all present and accounted for.

But yesterday my impromptu head count of the pack came up short one dog.

Gracie was missing.

A quick check of the backyard proved fruitless. She didn’t come when I called her. I checked and double checked the house, but Gracie was nowhere to be found.

I was completely baffled as to how she could have gotten out of the yard. Both fence gates were securely closed. There weren’t any fresh holes dug under the fence where she might have escaped.

Nor could she have escaped through the house without my knowledge.

Nevertheless, Gracie was definitely gone. It was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth. And in one very literal respect, she had.

On those few, rare occasions in the past when Gracie had somehow managed to get out the yard off leash, it had always been pretty easy to figure out how she escaped– invariably, one of the two fence gates had been accidentally left open.

Yet on those rare occasions, it always proved to be relatively easy to find her.

Gracie never wanders very far from home. Her behavior in that regard has always been quite predictable.

In the past when the gate was left open, Grace simply walked around our neighborhood by herself, following the same route I take her on leash.

However this time, there were no obvious answers to the question of how Gracie could have disappeared without a trace yesterday from our backyard.

For a guy who writes detective novels and takes some pride in spending most of his waking hours trying to think like a private detective, I’m ashamed to admit that I was baffled by her disappearance, completely stumped in fact.

It was a mystery to me as I wondered how Gracie could have disappeared like she had in broad daylight — unless someone had deliberately snatched her.

My wife Lisa immediately joined me in the hunt for our missing dog, repeating my methodical search of the backyard. I decided to get in the van and circle our neighborhood to look for Gracie, even though I had no idea how she might have possibly escaped from the yard.

I rolled down the windows so she could hear me as I called to her, but only managed to back out of the driveway when I heard the most heart-wrenching sound in the world as my wife screamed in sheer panic at the top of her lungs: “Gracie…Oh MY GOD! JOHN! COME QUICK!”

Mere words cannot describe the full range of emotions I experienced as I ran for the backyard. Dread filled me with the ugly thought that I was going to be helping Lisa recover Gracie’s lifeless body.

I harbored no delusions that our story might have a happy ending at that moment in time. After all, I had searched the backyard  rather thoroughly only a few minutes before and had seen no sign of Gracie. She hadn’t made a sound as I repeatedly called her name, never barked or even whimpered loud enough for me to hear.

At that moment in time, I could think of no reason for optimism. However to my shock and amazement, Gracie didn’t appear to be seriously hurt. But she was in a terrible predicament. The torrential rainstorm overnight had gouged out a deep sinkhole in the side of a small hill in our backyard.

Somehow that sinkhole had swallowed Gracie alive. Her head appeared to be at least four feet below the surface of the earth.

Remembering that scene in retrospect, we now realize that we might never have found Gracie in time,  if Ox hadn’t found her for us. Ox stood vigil over the sinkhole until Lisa went to investigate, curious why he refused to budge from a vantage point where there was nothing to see…except, of course, Gracie, at the bottom of a very deep hole.

That ugly little sinkhole turned out to be nothing more than a narrow crevice, a mere sliver in the earth. Backyard_hole_1

But it was really deep.

In fact, it proved to be so deep that our rake almost disappeared underground when placed in the hole handle-first, as shown in the picture below. Backyard_hole_2Gracie seemed to be going into shock.

She was panting rapidly, obviously confused and afraid.

To make matters worse, Lisa became convinced that the hole kept getting deeper.

Normally I’m not one to panic, but I admit that seemed to be the most logical and appropriate reaction under the circumstances.

One of Gracie’s front paws was tangled in some tree roots, and appeared to be the only thing keeping her from slipping deeper underground. The earth all around the hole was extremely soft.

It looked as if the hole might cave worse if I even breathed on it too hard. A couple of landscaping bricks were precariously perched in loose soil, right above Gracie’s head.

Before I completely lost my composure, I dialed 9-1-1 and asked for help.

Within minutes, the Alpharetta fire department had answered my call and began to assess the situation.

One of the firemen pulled out the loose landscaping pavers from the dirt just above Gracie’s head and tossed them out of harm’s way.

I tried to grab the remaining brick but it slipped from my fingers and fell into the hole, narrowly missing Gracie’s head.

Acting on instinct, I dove on the ground near the hole in a hopeless attempt to catch the brick before it fell. I only managed to widen the hole as the shelf of dirt caved in, burying Gracie up to her neck.

Her nose, ears and eyes were about all that remained visible.

The rest of her body was almost completely covered by dirt and mud. At that point, I finally realized that I was part of the problem, not the solution.

I was convinced that my well-intentioned efforts to save Gracie were going to kill her. After doing the smart thing and calling for professional help, why hadn’t I just let the firefighters do their job?

I got out of the way so the other firefighters could assist the man at the hole just when he said, “She’s trying to climb out!”

Apparently, as Gracie wiggled around, the dirt that fell on top of her then fell under her feet, and she began inching her way up toward freedom.

She soon had scrambled and clawed to get within reach and a second firefighter reached in and grabbed Gracie by the scruff of her neck.

“I’ve got her!” the lady firefighter exclaimed.

In the blink of an eye, Gracie was running around in the yard, celebrating her moment of freedom before going inside for a desperately needed bath.

I barely had time to shake hands with the men and women who quickly and professionally saved my dog’s life before they were headed back to the station to wait for the next emergency call.

My wife and I cannot thank the Alpharetta fire department enough for their cheerful assistance in our time of most desperate need. They seemed almost as happy about the happy ending as we were.

Postscript: it took 800 pounds of concrete to fill that sinkhole. It’s really scary to think how a hole that deep and dangerous could develop so quickly, literally created overnight by the erosion caused by heavy rainfall.

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.

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.”

 

 

Animal cruelty, for the sake of dental implants, at Georgia Regents University

southernprose_cover_AANOWhile we were visiting Miami for the Readers’ Favorite book awards ceremony, my friend Claire Stanton Wells sent me a link to this article about Georgia Regents University and unnecessary, painful dental experiments being performed on dogs under the guise of scientific research.

Quite frankly, the story got my blood boiling.

It shouldn’t be very difficult to guess which side I will naturally take in this controversy — the side of the dog, of course.

Otherwise, I should be forced to give back the gold medal I just received for my book Always a Next One: true stories of dog fostering.

I simply cannot and will not tolerate the idea of dogs or cats being tortured or  allowed to suffer needlessly, especially not here in my home state.

The salient facts in the article were quite clear–dogs have been used for the purposes of experimental dental surgery, and then put to death for a piece of their jaw.

For those of us dedicated to the cause of animal rescue, this needless and barbaric practice is totally unacceptable. It flies in the face of everything rescue groups stand for.

Life is a precious gift, not to be squandered for frivolous reasons. These poor animals deserve better.

Humane advocate Nathan Winograd has demonstrated that given time, no-kill shelters will work. Man’s best friend should never put to sleep for lack of space, or the want of a good home.

Only incurably sick animals, or those suffering from severe injury that cannot be healed and rehabilitated should ever be humanely euthanized.

Aggressive spay-and-neuter or “SNAP” programs have helped reduce the number of unwanted puppies and kittens, trying to control the supply so it doesn’t exceed demand.

Local humane societies have also been aggressively running campaigns like “adopt, don’t shop” to encourage adoption from a rescue group rather than buying a dog from unscrupulous breeders — apparently the very type from whom Georgia Regents University procured these poor, doomed animals.

We’re trying to end the suffering of these animals many of us welcome into our homes.

In defense of the research, Dr. Mark Hamrick of Georgia Regents University claimed that disturbing video showing dogs with open neck wounds was not taken until after the animals had been euthanized.

In other words, filming took place after their needless suffering finally ended.

I’m sure the researchers at Georgia Regents University won’t appreciate my use of the phrase “animal cruelty” or “needless suffering” to describe their experiments.

But healthy teeth were pulled and replaced with implants. Then the dogs were killed. The researchers will be sure to point out that the unnecessary surgery was performed under anesthesia.

However, the patients are, in fact, still dead. They won’t be getting better.

Why is this sort of experimentation even necessary? Simple answer: money. Greed, and $$$. After all, we already have dental implants. Why do we need more?

Why must dogs be vivisected and then slaughtered, just so that we can have more kinds of false teeth?

These poor creatures were callously butchered, only for reasons involving greed and profit.

If you are as outraged as me about this story and feel compelled to voice your displeasure with Georgia Regents University for allowing this abominable research to be conducted on their campus, the primary switchboard phone number seems to be (706) 721-4001.