Thursday, April 10, 2014

Purebred Polar Bear

Dad, are you sure I'm all polar bear?
Yes, son, what else would you be?
You -- you're a polar bear?
And Mom, she's all polar bear?
Of course.
Grandma and grandpa, they are 100% polar bears?
Polar bears.
And Mom's mother and father, are they pure polar bears?
So you are certain that I am a purebred polar bear?
What the hell, son?! Why would you think that you are not all polar bear?

Because I'm fucking freezing!

So, early this winter I was pretty sure I was not even a polar beardoodle. It got cold early in November; I showed up to an MRA vertical training in normal attire for the conditions, and found that I quickly became completely useless -- fingers like Jimmy Dean links still in the freezer box, feet that would qualify as wood if wood could transmit excruciating pain, shivering and huddled and fuzzy-brained and pathetic and whiny.

I started understanding about snowbirds. Seriously considered recusing myself from the upcoming recertification weekend on the grounds that I would not be any kind of asset.

But before I conceded defeat, I took some steps.

Started suiting up and working outside for at least four hours a day every day that it was cold.

Admitted that my 22-year-old all-leather spring mountaineering boots were not going to cut it. Not because they aren't still great boots -- they are quality Italian footwear in fine condition -- but because it's not just asses that spread out in the decades between mid-20's and late-40's. Suckers are just too tight for winter use on my middle-aged feet. The sloppsy-woppsy Sorels that I had been using for farm chores and hunting are out of the question for mountaineering, and modern plastic mountaineering boots substitute blood and bruises for frostbite. So I bought a pair of insulated Columbia winter boots that kind of split the difference, and, astonishingly, with push of a button will draw on rechargeable batteries to heat my toes. (I have worn virtually nothing else outdoors since Thanksgiving.)

At our MRA regional team recert in Vermont in December we started the first morning with dead car batteries and -10°F. Out all day doing rope work, it never got above 10°F, there were periods of inactivity, and all of us were fine. Just fine. No cinderblock feet or stupid fingers or hypothermia stumbles. Even me.  In a month I'd gone from a pathetic equatorial poikilothermic lizard-woman to a fucking purebred polar bear.

That all ya got, Green Mountains?

It's been the consistently coldest winter in years, and there I am outside in my Carhartts during the day and then later doing my night chores and looking for more little jobs that need doing (and can be done in single-digit temperatures and significant snow cover*) so I can stay out longer. Maybe I could bring some more firewood from the shed to the front porch? Prune something? Shovel this walk again?

Indoors, the Thermostat Wars rage.

55°F at the thermostat (which is a few feet from the back door and its integral dog door, thus the coldest part of the house) makes for perfectly comfortable indoor temperatures. And we have the woodstove insert in the living room for sitting of an evening and baking like iguanas with a red lightbulb.

Nevertheless, I catch Perfesser Chaos turning the thermostat to a shvitzing 65° while he is sitting in the room next to Vulcan's forge and the weather station ten feet from the stove says 78°.

Ferchrissakesputasweateron. The oil bill this winter is already more than double last year's, and a man could have died in the effort to keep our pipes from freezing. There is no need to burn more money. At any given time there are no fewer than five rooms of the house occupied only by torpid stink bugs and Asian ladybeetles. Although they enjoy the heat, they contribute nothing towards the oil bill.

I might be, for this year at least, a born-again Ursus maritimus, but I am not alone.

Moe's health makes him miserable in the damp cold of fall, or during mild winters like last year's mudfest, but when things get really frigid he and his excessive not-fat-fluffiness are at home in the snowdrifts. It has always been thus, since he went on his first frosty mountaintop bivouac at the tender age of four months, and instead of emulating his mother and serving as my sleeping bag hot water bottle, he declared himself a timberwolf, scratched a nest in the leaves, curled up in a ball and denned solo.

Now, Moe looks the part.  Really, look at him. You just know that when John Thornton dies he's ready to go lead the wild brothers.

He's the guy in the middle. 
But Charlie?

Baby girl Charlie?

Little fur-less Charlie?

Charlie whose mother tucks in under the bedpillows every night? The scion of the little bitch who rides home from SAR training in the passenger's lap so she can have a heated seat and the full blast of the car blower?


Yes, somehow Charlie pup turned out purebred polar bear. Runs all day in snow up to her puppy wazoo, wants more. Breaks through the creek and comes out bejeweled with instant ice, whatevs. Takes her bones and kongs and stolen ski boots out the dog door so she can enjoy them in a snowdrift. Waits in a frigid car sprawled out tits up. Spurns our blankets and offers to cuddle. Has grown a thick polar bear pelt on her puppy belly, contrary to the family tradition of nekkid bellies.

Her siblings apparently agree. Her brother in Louisiana has the fewest options, so he just lives in the pond.

Not a nutria.

Her sister up in Ultima Thule has embraced her heritage

The elusive Loch Ness Mary

Last summer, when Charlie was born, was the coolest in a long time.

I have some bad news for her about this thing called "July."

* This eliminates all fence-building, any manipulation of shatterable plastics or glass or splitable lumber, power tool use, pasture maintenance, garden clean-up, fence-line clearing, manure management, energy-sapping stockwork -- in short, farming.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Career Change Dog

This week AMRG welcomed a new canine teammate to our roster.

Teddy, nee Tad, is a career-change dog. Meticulously purpose-bred* and carefully raised to have the traits of a CCI "program dog," destined for a life serving a disabled master, he had just a bit too much exuberance to keep damped down for that job. Add a touch of possessiveness with objects, and the trainers at CCI knew that they needed to find him different work.

Exuberance and a touch of possessiveness are unalloyed assets in a search dog.

We drove to Long Island last week, toured the lovely training facility and kennels, and ran a brief evaluation; he exceeded our expectations for a prospect in each of the little exercises we asked of him.

So here he is, Rebecca's new partner.

His primary function will be as a Human Remains Detection dog.

Here he is encountering his target odor for the first time, less than a week after coming to live with his new handler.

My aim had been to walk him downwind of it so that we saw a small head shift to the right on the first pass, and then make a second pass during which the sample would be in range. Instead, he caught a whiff and went for the sample just as we started the first grid. The wind was good for long-range finds today. But it was still a surprise to see that he was that motivated to the odor.

The scent sample is a placenta, frozen, and safely encased inside a capped PVC pipe. We never use artificial odors to simulate the real thing in training.**

When he hesitates to approach the container a second time, I think that's because he thought that, since he was rewarded a little ways away from the sample the first time, that maybe he wasn't supposed to go over there. So we'll reward him with his beloved toy right on top of the sample for a while.

* Not purebred. Teddy is a golden retriever x Labrador, a now-common cross for service and guide dogs. An excellent example of the difference between fancy breeding and purposeful breeding. One of the CCI reps mentioned that, while most of their service dogs are Labradors or Labrador crosses that were originally derived from field-line dogs, they have been selected for different traits for so long that one may as well consider them a separate breed.

** And I cannot overemphasize -- all materials that are legal and ethical to possess.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Guest Post: All That Glitter Cost Your Gold

One of the many things for which I am indebted to my friend Rob McMillin is the education he has given me in the art and science of vetting charities based on their fiscal practices.

For example, I am willing to bet folding money that the number of predatory and fraudulent veteran's charities outnumbers those that are credible and effective.

I've developed fairly high-gain bullshit radar for uncharitable charities – especially animal and public safety/SAR charities, which is the world in which I typically move. By bullshit charities, I have always meant people who don't do what they say they do, don't stand for what they say they stand for, and aren't who they claim to be.

Some notable offenders have been the Bear Search and RescueFoundation, People for the ethical (sic) Treatment of Animals, and an assortment of fake, fraudulent, confabulous, evil and felonious SAR poobahs and dog handlers. New cynical schemes involving animals – a popular one now is “service dogs” for disabled(often autistic, diabetic, or seizing) young children, another is “horse rescue” that is merely a meatman's ransom scam – pop up all the time, and are transparent to the trustworthy subject-matter experts in my circles.

Learn enough field marks for the new species, and even a relative neophyte can spot them. Wherever popular sentiment (or the strong loyalties of some discrete minority or interest group) rests, reason and skepticism flee, and shysters see the cavitation and rush in.

But bad intentions and incompetence at performing the stated mission are not the only, nor even the primary, mode of charitable failure.

When you are thinking about giving – money, time, your own reputation – to a charitable cause, part of due diligence is ensuring that what you give will be spent honestly, effectively, and sensibly.
When in doubt, check it out.

When you are sure, check it out anyway.

Disclaimer: Blogger is being a real douche about properly formatting this piece. It is choosing spacing, line breaks, fonts, sizes and styles as it wishes and contrary to my instructions. I give up. I think the links are working now.

A Cynic's Guide To Reading Nonprofit (501©3) IRS 990 Forms

By Rob McMillin


We live in an age of frauds, but that in no way changes the need or desire to alleviate suffering. If anything, it amplifies the need to do due diligence on those who would claim our charity, to ensure it accomplishes the ends they say they seek. I confess a prejudice against large charities, as such tend to have more ratholes in which to hide revenue than smaller charities (and also, more overhead). Part of the reason to engage in charity is the psychic benefits of having helped someone in need, and large charities insulate the giver from the act. So in some wise, the extremely short version of this article may be summarized as,

Don't give money to large charities.

Failing that, we may at least learn something about how to avoid pitfalls in giving, even with relatively small charities. This is not easy to do, as organizations like CharityNavigator have discovered when they attempted to build an automated scoring system to filter out some of the worst performers. As we shall see, it is all too easy to game such systems – and indeed, some of the most egregiously self-serving charities score deplorably well there.

I should add that this is really the Cliff Notes version. The long form course is at the NonprofitCoordinating Council of New York website.

The IRS 990, And How To Find It

The IRS Form 990 is a form most 501(c)3 nonprofits are required to fill out annually. (Small charities may use the 990-N, which is a postcard-sized variant available to organizations with $50,000 or less in income. Religious charities, such as the Salvation Army, churches, and certain other organizations are not required to file at all.) All evaluation must start with this form, as it provides a limited but valuable window into the operation of the charity, giving information about who is involved, the types of activity the charity engages in, and most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, income, assets, and expenditures.

990 forms can be found at a number of sites online:
  • Charity Navigator has 990 forms as part of their scoring system. It is a reasonable first stop in evaluating a charity, but only in the sense that if a charity has a bad rating, it is probably because the operators are too lazy to bother beautifying their IRS 990 form to score better. Charity Navigator does not claim to be comprehensive (at present, “over 6,000”, which I take to mean “less than 7,000”, and the acknowledge they do not analyze foundations or charities filing 990-EZ forms), but they will certainly cover the larger charities. (They have lately increased this number to 1.6 million, which they claim covers all 501(c)3 entities.)

  • The Foundation Center's 990 finder is vastly more comprehensive, but often enough has search issues if the same charity is listed under multiple names. Often, it is necessary to do a separate Google search to find the same filing under a different name. (One example of this came up recently when I was looking for the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey, which uses the Popcorn Park Zoo as its 501(c)3.)

  • More recently, I've been using GuideStar, which seems to be at least as extensive as the Foundation Center (they claim 1.8 million organizations and 5.4 million 990's, with 3.2 million digitized). Their search seems to be a bit more flexible (they got the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey search correct, but that's nothing like comprehensive).

What's Inside? What To Look For

The Doggie Stylish Blog gave a useful synopsis of what to look for in 990's:

IRS 990 Part One
Line 12 – Total revenue. Obviously, how much they took in for this fiscal year.
Line 13 – Grants & similar amounts paid out. This can mask some of the trickier means to hide self-dealing, especially if the entities receiving grants include the same executives or their relatives.
Line 14 – Benefits paid to or for members.
Line 15 - Salaries, other compensation, employee benefits. Along with Line 14 above, gives an idea of official compensation.
Line 16b - Total fundraising expenses. This, of course, is the gamed figure.
Line 18 - Total expenses. How much it costs to operate the charity.

IRS 990 Part 3
Statement of Program Service Accomplishments
This section details the organization’s three largest program services by expenses.

IRS 990 Part 7
Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, Highest Compensated Employees, and Independent Contractors. This is a list of everyone who officially matters at the charity (or their heavily-used contractors), and what they got paid.

IRS 990 Part 9
Statement of Functional Expenses
Pretty much the whole thing is important, but Line 26 - Joint Costs. IS VERY IMPORTANT. “Complete this line only if the organization reported in column (B) joint costs from a combined educational JSA campaign and fundraising solicitation” More on that later.

IRS 990 Schedule C - Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities
Depending on your reason for donating, you may or many not agree with a charity using your donation for political or lobbying purposes.

IRS 990 Schedule F - Statement of Activities Outside the United States
Details of grants or activities of a charity outside the U.S.

IRS 990 Schedule I - Grants and Other Assistance to Organizations, Governments, and Individuals in the United States
Details of grants or activities of a charity inside the U.S.

IRS 990 Schedule J - Compensation Information For Certain Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated Employees
Look at Part Two, Column E. This is the total dollar amount that key employees have received in salary compensation.

IRS 990 Schedule O
A detailed explanation of how the charity spent its donations from Part Three.

Examples Of Flawed 990's

And while these are all important, what's most important is to read the form with a critical eye. In my own reviews of 990's, the most important issues I have encountered are
  • Fundraising expenses moved into program expenses
  • Excessive salaries
  • Large unexplained expenses
Now to find good examples of bad charities.

Humane Society Of The United States

To see why you wouldn't want to give money to a particular charity, it's necessary to review some 990's out there from some of the more egregious charities. We'll start with the Humane Society of the United States, axiomatic as a money mill and a self-serving charity. Patrick Burns back in 2007 gave a fairly devastating critique of their 990 that, basically, boils down to one thing: HSUS moves their large direct mail costs into “program expenses”, which is obvious nonsense. (In addition, Burns engages in some informed speculation about the venal mechanics of their operation.) Worth magazine in 2002 declared them “questionable” (PDF) thanks to high mailing costs. But once the direct mail costs were shuffled into program expenses, suddenly Charity Navigator gave it its highest rating of four stars. This of course is bogus. Let's start by taking HSUS's most recent 990, for tax year 2011.

  • On line 12, they claim $133,577,658 in revenue, most of which ($123M) came from grants.
  • On line 15, $37,788,110 in salaries paid, and $4,343,746 in professional fundraising.
  • Skipping ahead to Part IX (page 9 of the PDF), we learn there was $13,457,363 in “Other” expenses (line 11g), and $11,915,496 in advertising and promotion fees (line 13). But the real kickers are line 24: $24,137,976 for “Education material” (line 24a) and $10,116,669 for “Direct response costs” (line 24b). Adding all these expenses together with the professional fundraising – and I do not believe it is unreasonable to view these as laundered mailing list costs – it totals to $63,971,250, or about 47% of revenue dedicated to mail operations before anything else.
If we add salaries to the totals in the last bullet above, you arrive at $101,759,360, which means salaries plus overhead – and here I am not counting a lot of things overhead, such as legal fees (which really are) – this means 76% of revenues are tied up in salaries and overhead before a nickel gets spent on actual program. The reality, of course, is that it is much worse than that, and while the Worth article from 2001 cited 53% overhead, it's certainly much higher now.

National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation originally came to light here, and while that blog post gives a fine, detailed look at their operations, their 2011 990 opens a different set of questions. Unlike HSUS, NDSDF does not appear to be especially self-dealing, but they are poorly run – an important distinction. Particularly:
  • Self-dealing via no-bid work, so the kennel in which the dogs reside and are trained are also owned by the principal, Kate Davern.
  • Trainer's fees ($203,622 in this, $210,333 from 2009), also presumably paid to herself or her friends.
  • New for 2011 (relative to 2009): three-quarters of a million dollars in “ADP employee salary” ($775,393, line 24a)
  • Silly amounts of rubble pile charges ($600,000 exactly, line 24b; and why is it such a shiny, zero-filled number?)
  • Something called “campaign costs” (line 24d, $127,771)
  • On page 11, line 24, a $3,000,000 unsecured loan – which, on page 19 (of the PDF), part X, line 2, we discover $357,469 in accrued interest. (Paid to whom or what, it does not say.) As I noted at the time, this is something like you or me taking out a payroll loan for the entire value of our annual salary.
NDSDF has a lot of other red flags, and I'll leave you to read Heather's post to detail those objections, but this is a case where the headline does not match the output, not by a long shot. For what it's worth, Charity Navigator dings them for a high fundraising costs and failing to list their CEO, but the problems here are ones of circular outside payments that are not exactly obvious.

Eyes, Ears, Nose, And Paws

This smallish charity came to light recently in the wake of a news report that one of its principals had left a dog trainee in a car to bake to death, and appears, as with NDSDF, to be more a case of a badly-run charity rather than a self-serving one. My major concern in reading their 2011 990 is that of the $128,058 in revenue, $77,000 of it – more than half – goes to the salaries of the two executive directors, Maria Ikenberry and Deb Cunningham (page 12 of the PDF). Also, in the form 4562 on page 10, there is a $2,000,000 cost of property with $500,000 of that expensed for that tax year. This to me bears more investigation; are they using this charity to launder some other personal expense, perhaps a house or a commercial property?

Service dog charities are one of the more egregious frauds in this space these days, and while I don't intrinsically see anything wrong with paying yourself, at some point it ceases to be real charity and becomes a business. This organization looks very much on the cusp of such a descent.

Worst-Case Scenario: YWCA USA

While running through some of these examples, it's useful to note one so bad even Charity Navigator spits them out for wastefulness. One such (which made their top ten list of poor-performing charities with highly paid CEOs) is YWCA USA, which rates zero stars, Charity Navigator's lowest possible score. While there are a lot of reasons for this, a review of their 2012 990 is kind of a tour through the pathologies entrenched and old charities can accumulate over time:

  • Their CEO, Gloria Lau, earned $200,920, including a $52,000 housing allowance while she was working in Washington, D.C. (page 29).
  • As a consequence of spending faster than receipts are coming in, YWCA USA actually spent $2.7 million more than it took in despite slightly increasing its investment income on $58 million of assets (page 1).
  • On $2.4 million in revenue, $1,147,587 went to salaries of officers and other employees, of which it is claimed that $434,212 actually went into program expenses. That means less than half of their employee costs (and here I'm being generous and not even including things like pension contributions, benefits, and payroll taxes) are actually going toward program activities!
  • In addition, there are $518,019 in accounting and legal expenses, $308,559 in investment management fees, and a huge black hole called “Other” (page 10, line 11g) to the tune of $767,123. Nearly a third of revenue goes toward unaccounted-for expenses. Even if you take their word for it that $489,487 of that figure goes to program expenses, overhead is still no less than 36%.
In short, this is an organization with substantial resources that is unbelievably badly managed.

In Conclusion

It's not straightforward to read 990's, because even when you can make sense of them, they tend to obscure more than they enlighten. Large charities tend to be the worst at this, for the simple reason that bureaucracies develop habits, the same as the people who staff them. Waste, venality, and incompetence are all enemies, yet ones such organizations tend to succumb to. If you must give to large charities, read their IRS Form 990 carefully.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Show: The Desolation of Charlie

Our little ski/snowshoe party split up. Goldbrickers Perfesser Chaos and Aunt Barb continued skiing on the trail; Raindog Sophia and Charlie's big sister/niece (it's complicated) Annabelle stayed with them.

Charlie and I, the ones who were actually working, struck off into the woods, off-trail, scouting for places to hide Saturday's search subjects.

It wasn't hard to keep track of the others as they skiied the loop. Sophia sang The Song of Her People as she went; this is reliably piercing at up to 1 km away. The little Chuckster was quite content exploring the deer beds and squirrel hides while I snowshoed briskly along and marked the hidey-spots.

But then we came out onto the trail, and Little Miss Imma Be A Trailing Dog Like My Mommy dropped her nose and announced to me that Daddy passed by here and also that she intended to trail him until she caught him.

And this is what happened when I told her she wasn't allowed to.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's not winter in Harmony until ...

… someone big slides off the driveway into the south pasture.

Our old oil supplier is no longer providing this service, so I warned the new guy that the driveway, though plowed, can be tricky for larger rigs. He figured that since the old driver could manage it, he would too.

As he left, I went into the house to secure the beasties. I looked out the window a minute or so later, and didn't see the truck. Gee, he got out already, good deal.

Went back to work inside.

An hour later the dogs start going apeshit. Because the tow truck had arrived. The special pull out an oil truck with 1500 gallons of fuel in the tank before it tips over in my pasture tow truck.

Poor guy had been starting his second attempt up the hill when I looked out, just as he was blocked from view by the barn.

The tow vehicle had to be secured first. That's where the lone hemlock comes in.

The cherry tree at the curve can never come down; it provides the anchor for the redirect. This is all the same as our mountain rescue rigging, except winch instead of manpower for hauling, no real use of mechanical advantage systems, and if the steel cable snaps, it doesn't just drop its load, it whips around and removes the heads of every person in range. Also, the tow operator had a lot more faith in the power of gravity for progress capture than I did. I figure gravity is what got him in that spot in the first place.

Good times.

If a vehicle is pickup-sized or smaller, I can generally get it out with our manual come-alongs and tow straps.

This was the second oil truck the pasture has bagged in five winters, and here's the thing -- it always takes at least two tow trucks, with winches and anchoring to trees, to get one large truck out.

It's all about the angles, man.

Everyone stayed cheerful about it. No gateposts harmed in this production.

The boss needs to buy some chains for the truck.

Monday, February 3, 2014

You Should Be So Lucky, Redux

The next generation of AMRG canine searchers shows how it is done.

If you are lucky enough to be conscious when the search team finds you, this may be what you see just before life gets a whole lot better.


This video shows some of what I look for in an operational SAR dog: a robust understanding of the goals of his work, and an assertive commitment to communicating with his handler. With real understanding -- cognitive mastery -- comes flexibility and robustness. An animal that is simply conditioned to perform a sequence through a stylized stimulus-response chain won't have either.

It takes years of training to develop a dog and handler into partners working towards a shared and mutually-understood goal.

When Nico first came to us, his handler Jennifer had plucked him from a looming death sentence at a local shelter.

Seems he was, you know, dangerous.


What he was, in addition to "a young male working dog locked in a box in a kennel of yapping idiots," was an ignoramus.

A year or so old, of obviously good working breeding, and no one had taught him anything.

He liked to bite rocks.

That pretty much covers his hobbies and interests at that point.

He had no idea how to greet another dog. His approach to Pip -- in her teens, judgey by nature, and, unknown to us, beginning to feel the effects of the cancer that would kill her in a few months -- was to rush straight at her and mouth her on the top of the neck.

And Pip, never a forgiving sort, said "He's just ignorant. He'll learn."

So we said yes to Jennifer, and Jennifer said yes to Nico, and Nico said yes to a mission in life, which is what all the rudeness and rock-obsessing had been about.

But it took about two years of constant training to get there. No fairy tale "ending" because we are never done. The reward for getting there is the continued hard work it takes to stay there.

Once again, you should be so lucky.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Your Argument is Invalid

Has accomplished more in five years than many people ever will.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Kelley

Five years ago today, the great mass of 189 canine crime victims (plus those in utero) were forcibly removed from Dog Hell as envisioned by Hieronymus Bosch.

Previous victims of the same offender had been "rescued" by those guys who fuck up your day when you see their guilt-dunning commercials.

If by "rescued" one means "confiscated and summarily killed."

An awful lot of people figured that should have happened to the ONB dogs, too.  Said so. Sometimes in print.*

Nobody was saying that about my friend Mr. Barry White last week, as he held sofa-court at his owner's annual full-house-of-guests holiday party.

(Sorry about the crummy phone-photo. His throne room was candle-lit.)

Even the most jealous agility rival doesn't wish dead  the adopted dogs who beat them at the trials.

Sky can grab some of her namesake.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Roper

Blue. Not scared of you.
Photo courtesy of Jody Richwagen
The Ralph Lauren photo shoot personnel didn't wish it about their lovely ES model, Katydid. (Katy got her modeling gig based on wholesome good looks, charm, and solid training -- she didn't need any politically-correct special consideration as a "rescue dog.")

Get my good side. Ha ha. They're all good sides.
Photo Courtesy of Jane Connors
The farmers and ranchers whose ONB dogs slipped right into their birthrights to help with the cows and sheep, goats and chickens, generally do not think everyone would be better off if they were dead.

Skeeter put in an application for a farm or ranch position back in 2009.
Photo courtesy of Liz Dickinson.
Those who figured they were adopting pets are not sorry that their dogs have opened up new realms to them.

Libby, at lessons.
Photo courtesy of Rob McMillin

Contrary to popular perception, not all of them were English shepherds. No matter. We love them no less. Even when they eat rocks.

Jet and his boy.
Photo courtesy of Melinda King.

Absolutely nobody at the search this spring where Cole made his first find -- located our missing man's mortal remains where previous searchers had failed to do so -- suggested that the cheerful little black dog ought to have died for the convenience of his "rescuers," or for his own good, or to save the taxpayers money. Not the police, not the bereaved family, not the firefighters or the media or the other search teams, and especially not his teammates.

In the command post with his friends just before the very last task,
tired after days of searching, but game to do his duty.
Cole does not leave a man behind.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kelley

* The op-ed to which I am replying in this letter-turned-op-ed does not show up when I search The Outpost's site. Not sure whether their archives don't go back that far or what. If anyone has a link to it, please send along.