debating the hunt with Greg (part 1): a different world

I pride myself on loving and accepting my family and friends, even if I don't agree with what they do. They extend me the same courtesy, and the result is that we can have educated respectful conversations about nearly anything, and we both come out smarter for it. I don't make public statements on social media about my leanings. I prefer to save those conversations for people (or blog followers) I can speak to "live," and not throw punches in the dark. Let me introduce you to my brother-in-law, Greg, who is an avid hunter and fisherman. Let me introduce you to Greg, whom I love and respect despite this fact. He is one of those people whom I have been able to have these intimate conversations with. You see, as a person heading toward a completely vegan lifestyle, and as a person who has never shot a gun and who has no desire to even catch-and-release, for fear I poked a bloody hole in the mouth of a sea-creature, and may have done psychological damage to said fish, I can't quite relate to Greg on this matter. With part a tone of conviction, and part solid facts and foundations, he has somehow presented to me on several occasions that hunting is okay–for him.


I was a little girl who would order ciopinnio in a restaurant and bring most of it home in a doggie bag, only to attempt resuscitation and give freedom to the in-tact animals in a bowl of water once I got home. They received names. And then were promptly eaten by the cat as soon as I went to bed. Or perhaps they were fed to the cat...hmmm...

Greg and I are one and not the same.

I met my husband's brother when he was sixteen, early on in his hunting and fishing endeavors. He first became interested in waterfowl and upland game bird hunting during his sophomore year in high school. He did not come from this background (so hopefully genes have been spared), but was introduced to it by a schoolmate, Lorenzo. Having completed a hunter education class at the age of fifteen, Greg purchased his first State of California Hunting License. He continued to gain more knowledge and interest, then went on his first waterfowl hunt with Lorenzo and Lorenzo's father.

"After going on just one hunt, I knew this was something I wanted to do every season and would need the appropriate gear to do so (waders, decoys, gun, and dog)," Greg said. His parents allowed him to purchase his first shotgun at age seventeen, with money he saved from working. At the same time, Greg purchased (another point of contention that I understand but don't agree with) his first hunting dog, Ruger, a male black lab. As a high school graduation gift from his parents, Greg received a season-long duck blind lease.

Greg completed his first duck season with Ruger and "found a new appreciation for the sport after watching the dog (I had) trained perform in the field." Greg and Ruger continued to hunt successfully together until 2011, when Ruger developed a brain tumor, declined quickly, and had to be euthanized.

First hand, I know Ruger was not just a hunting dog, but an amazing companion for the whole family. We were all heartbroken when he succumbed to his tumor. My favorite memory of Ruger is when Greg left him in my care and I dressed him in a pink shirt and hair bow, took pictures, and gave one to Greg. It was my silent protest to their manly ways. Although Greg would dispute the fact, Ruger loved the temporary makeover.

I have to admit that although I may not agree with the actual hunting, what I've witnessed from Greg in terms of dog training is quite impressive. I can understand how training a dog to have restraint in the moment so as not to alert prey, then follow commands and retrieve and preserve the kill is something to be commended in terms of skill.

I asked Greg why he initially loved hunting:

"What sparked my interest about duck hunting, in particular, was that it was very challenging. First, you have to sound like a duck...some might think blowing a duck call is easy, (but) it takes years to master. A duck call is essentially a woodwind instrument that reacts to air pressure, the aperture of your mouth, and the movement of your tongue to create notes and tones that sound like a real duck. There is verbal communication between the hunter and the ducks. Being proficient at duck calling is a real talent.

I also fell in love with the fact that most duck hunting takes place early in the morning. Most hunters are in the duck blind well before the sun is up. You really get to experience nature wake up as the sun rises and everything begins to move about. I have always loved anything that involves being outdoors.

Once I acquired and trained my first hunting dog, Ruger, I was able to experience a whole new appreciation and passion for hunting. Watching your dog perform in the field is the equivalent of watching your children compete at sports. When they perform well, it makes you proud. It is amazing how much natural instinct and drive hunting dogs have. They LOVE to be out in the field hunting. Literally, they were bred for it. I can remember times when Ruger would see me loading up the truck the night before we were going hunting, and he would jump in the truck and refuse to get out. He did not want to get left behind."

It sounds so romantic when Greg describes it, I almost forget he's shooting down magnificent creatures. But then I snap back into my own reality and ask why. Why shoot animals? Why not skeet shooting? He explains,

"Skeet shooting is challenging in the aspect that it does take skill to hit a moving target, but it could never provide all of the tangible and intangible aspects hunting can provide. You could never learn to master the art of calling skeet, and I am not sure what dog would want to retrieve broken shards of clay skeet targets. Skeet shooting is a fun and enjoyable sport, but, in my opinion, it does not compare to hunting."

Point taken, but I, personally, still don't get it. Killing animals for sport? Yes, they clean and eat their own haul, so it doesn't go to "waste," per se. It's hard for me to swallow (no pun intended) the loss of life.

So, I respectfully have more questions for Greg. Do you?

seeing things with Sadie

Some animals I meet stay in my heart long after their need for my care is over. I can't say exactly why. I love all of the animals I see (well, maybe there have been a couple I could have done without), but we all have our favorites, no matter how awful that is to admit. There is just this different kind of bond that occurs with some. Sadie is one of those for me. She passed away some time ago, but I truly think of her every day.

Sadie was an eleven-year-old Shar-pei when her parents, June and Ron, called upon me to care for her while they would go out of town. Their home was perfectly kept, save for a border of dots and smears about a foot and a half up the wall all around their home. They were the markings Sadie made with her nose as she navigated her surroundings. Sadie was blind.


Sadie's dad, Ron, told me about how they were reluctant to take Sadie on when they first saw her, and she wasn't blind then. They were not considering another pet at the time. Isn't that how it always goes? Ron and June gave in to Sadie's charms when some friends brought her to them as a six-week-old puppy. "That night little Sadie just snuggled up to June and did not want to leave," Ron recalled. "We figured this was an omen and agreed to make her part of our family."

Ron explained that though Sadie was "truly a great dog and caused very little problems," there was that one incident with his father's toupée. Oh, and a separate incident with a bag of Hershey's Kisses. She was special, but not immune to common canine temptations.

Sadie acquired SARDS and lost her eyesight rapidly. She learned to swim out of necessity, after falling in the pool on several occasions. She adapted to new surroundings after a couple of moves, but when the family moved to Estrella, "she was very disoriented most of the time. Sometimes she couldn't find her way out and had to relieve herself inside. Other times she did find her way out, but could not find her way back in, and the 100+ degree weather would just wear her out," reflected Ron. "After two months of watching her fade...we decided that the best thing would be to put her down." Ron and June stayed with her until after she took her final breath. Her ashes were scattered in a field in northern Arizona amongst the flowers "where she could chase butterflies until we join her."

When I first met Sadie, I didn't think we'd connect very well. There was no sparkle in her eyes that happy, excited dogs usually get when they meet me. No panting, toothy smile. Just a droopy head and sad face. I thought she was smart and brave, but cautious. She knew where to find her food and water and where her doggie door was. She knew where the main pieces of furniture were, and she could navigate mostly without bumping into much, though it would make me sad if she'd miss a doorway or get stuck in a corner, confused, which would happen on occasion. And I would feel terribly guilty if I pulled a chair out to sit and saw her bump into it.

Sadie taught me how to interact with her, and every time I was with her, I learned a bit more. She loved to be pet, but a sudden pat on the head could be quite startling for her because she couldn't see it coming. I learned that if I told her I was going to pet her, she wouldn't flinch quite as bad, and if I kept my hand in contact with her, she quite enjoyed the attention.

Sadie knew where the furniture was, but she didn't always know where I was, so I learned to talk to her as I went about my business of filling her water bowl or scooping her poop in the back yard. That way, she could stand securely next to me and enjoy the company rather than be apprehensive about the possibility of bumping into me. I'd sound pretty silly chattering on about nothing, but we all act embarrassingly silly around our pets, right? RIGHT? Well, Sadie liked it, anyway.

She knew exactly where her doggie door was. Right next to the master bedroom slider. I would exit out the slider to clean the yard and hang out in the sun with her. Although I'd open the glass door wide and call to her, an opportunity not to be missed by a sighted dog, she'd still use her doggie door, a behavior of hers that always made me giggle.

She seemed to like me more and more as the months passed. She relaxed around me. And though I never saw that happy smile I longed for, she just seemed warmer, like she was smiling on the inside.

My main challenge with Sadie became filling the time. My pet sitting visits are about an hour in length, time usually spent taking a walk or playing fetch, activities too challenging for Sadie's condition. So I started bringing whatever novel I was reading at the time, and I'd sit and pet her while I read. I noticed that once I became quiet, stopping my chatter to read, Sadie would lose interest in me and wander off to be alone. But there's only so much you can chat about with a dog. So I started reading to her. I'd sit on the floor and start reading my book out loud. Instead of wandering off, She'd cock her head to the side and settle in next to me, sometimes even putting her head in my lap. The best way I can describe the experience is bonding. Just simple bonding. That type of intimacy is pretty special.

I often think of these reading times with Sadie. She didn't seem to have a preference for fiction or nonfiction. She didn't mind crude humor or historical diatribes. She liked it all, as long as she could hear me. Sometimes, now, when I sit down with a good book, I think of Sadie and wish her sweet little wrinkled head would be there to lay my hand upon and not let go.

the moment of truth: deciding about euthanasia

The other night I had a conversation with a dear, lifelong friend. She sought my opinion and advice about her impending decision about when to euthanize her dog, who suffers from a terminal heart condition. This decision is the ultimate terror for any pet parent. I believe all of us would rather our pet just pass peacefully in his sleep and spare us the misery of choosing the proper time. The right time. The best time.

Each situation is unique in terms of the pet and the owner. There is the physical status of the pet and the emotional condition of the owner. And, though we don't want to expose the elephant in the room, there is the financial aspect, as well. I believe that all three issues must be taken into consideration, with the pet's comfort and quality of life being the absolute number one consideration.

I have helped several clients and friends through this difficult time, and the hardest situation is when the owner can't let go and lets the pet suffer. I have only witnessed this a couple of times and was able to gently guide things in what I considered to be the direction in the best interest of the pet.

When evaluating the physical condition of the pet and deciding when to make the final call, I truly believe in the "you'll know" philosophy. You know your pet best. If they aren't themselves and can't enjoy life, you'll see that. There is a difference between a pet who is slowing down and a pet who is in pain and can't function. The connection between you and your pet can't be denied, and your pet will be able to communicate to you in some way. You'll be in tune to that, and you'll do the right thing, even though it's hard.

Your emotional state is very important, though secondary to your pet's needs. When we become pet parents, we have to know that eventually we will likely be called upon to make this decision. No matter what, there will be some degree of guilt...Did I wait too long? Did I do it too soon? Did I do enough? You have to know that you have done the best you can for your pet. Your pet knows that. Your pet knows your love. Your pet knows. Though the last moment we have with our pets is usually heartbreaking, it's hopefully peaceful, and we should walk away remembering not just that moment, but all the wonderful times, which made up the majority of your time together.

And then there's the money. Having a pet with a long-term disease or issue can often be costly, and the decisions we have to make regarding what to do and the extent to go to can be financially agonizing, which only adds to our guilt. Even if you have all the money in the world, some tests and procedures can be invasive, stressful, and even painful for your pet. Regardless of cost, you have to evaluate the likelihood that it will make a difference. If you can afford something and it's minimally invasive to a declining pet, then go for it. But spending any amount of money on something that is very unlikely to make a difference, especially if it is invasive, just doesn't make sense for you or your pet. I have seen people spend thousands of dollars for an invasive procedure that had little chance of bettering the quality of their pet's life. It can certainly make you feel that you've done absolutely everything. That helps your emotions in the moment, but it doesn't help your pet. And it doesn't help your pocketbook to consent to unnecessary procedures. If you have a quality veterinarian (that you've hopefully built a relationship with), they will help guide you through the process. Most have you're pet's best interests at heart.

Your pet's quality of life is the number one priority. When we sign up to be pet parents, we commit to making the best decision for those in our care. Finances must also be considered, as well as our own emotions. This time in your pet's life is, without question, the most difficult. Trust your instincts, and move forward with confidence. The love and unbreakable bond will be there, no matter what.