Pets and Citizenship

Definitions of Neighborly?

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.
 
Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals.
Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.
 
I’d like to say a word for the farmer,
He come out west and made a lot of changes
 
He come out west and built a lot of fences,
 
And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges.

— Lyrics of “The Farmer and Cowman” from Oklahoma by Richard Rodgers

In 1906, when events in the show Oklahoma are taking place, there were plenty of reasons farmers and cowboys didn’t want to be friends…

Disputes over land and water rights were the most common reason for fights. Cowboys were used to having the whole territory available for them to drive huge herds of cattle, so when farmers settled near water sources and claimed areas for their own herds of cattle or sheep, there was an understandable amount of hostility. The farmers, on the other hand, would fence in territory and then have all their efforts trampled by cowboys and their droves of cattle, which was also frustrating.

“OKLAHOMA – The Farmer, the Cowman, and Why They Couldn’t Get Along”

What an unusual opening citation for an odd topic to share on this blog-site! Did I get your attention? Admittedly, I have few answers… just the ramblings of this senior citizen. (So, agree or disagree, we would appreciate hearing your views by posting a comment!)

fox_pups

This article was born from reading a resident’s rant about dog walking on social media:

“It has become apparent, especially in my neighborhood, some of you dog walkers have no respect for other people’s property. Some of us take pride in keeping our yards looking nice. Some also take time to add fertilizer. By letting the dog you are walking pee and or poop in another’s yard, the scent attracts other animals who also want to do the same. Also, urine can kill grass. Being a pet owner myself, I can state when my dogs see another dog peeing or pooping in my yard, they become territorial. The best part is when I politely state please don’t let your dog in my yard, I have actually been asked, “Why not?” The ones who are doing this are the same to whine, complain, and/or call the police when someone offends them.”

— Jason D. on Next Door app, June 17, 2019

My first reaction to this homeowner’s “beef?” He was not being very “neighborly!” But, there’s a lot more to this issue, and I may be on the lower moral ground of the argument.

neighborly
Adjective: Characteristic of being a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, or kind.

dogs at Christmas 2015 - 3Okay, since retirement, for the first time in my life, I may call myself a “good neighbor!”

Since becoming a “stay-at-home” retiree, I can now tell you the names of my neighbors, many previously unknown to me when I was a full-time, 24/7 music teacher constantly returning back to school for extra-curricular activities like marching band, plays, chamber choir practices, festivals, musicals, adjudication trips, and meetings. Until 2013 when we entered our post-employment “bliss,” my wife and I (both retiring from similar all-consuming music programs) were never home. Do you need proof? When we first moved here, my next-door neighbor accidentally “turfed” my front yard in the middle of a snow storm (and I did not notice it until the spring thaw). I was told their lack of notification was due to the fact they never saw us. “We were planning to tell you and promise to fix the damage, but you’re never around and seldom answer your phone.”

twodoggies4u - - 2Well, now I have two dogs (Gracie and Brewster) that I walk religiously several times a day. This means that, unless it is raining hard, I am “out and about” in my neighborhood, a wonderful “bedroom-community” with sidewalks and neatly manicured lawns, flower beds, and trees. One could say I have become a “watch dog” on things “coming and going.” Strangers should beware! We serve as an informal “fox and hounds” security service! The three of us know if you don’t belong on our block (although the pups love the mailman, and would probably bark first and then strain the leash to run over and kiss any other newcomer).

With several small “poop bags” in hand, I clean up our messes. Brewster and Gracie are about 12 pounds each… their impact on the environment is minimal! However, I have noticed a lack of citizenship from other pet owners. One dog walker (large breeds) leaves unsolicited “presents” on the grass near the sidewalk…. sometimes even “gift wraps” them in a plastic bag and drops them by the curb! Shame! It gives the rest of us a bad name! With gloves on my hands, I have taken up bringing a large trash bag with me, cleaning up any of these “rude” donations of doggie pollution, or even stray junk thrown from passing cars on our street.

our two pups 051216 - 1

On occasion, when we expand our territory and walk around the entire block, the dogs and I run into two types residents – opposites – those who love dogs and those who want nothing to do with them. I know there are some who are afraid of pets, so we give them a wide berth. We also avoid the ones who, when I was a kid, we labeled “crab grass kings,” homeowners with not single blade of grass or foliage “out of place.” If your ball accidentally rolled into their yard, you were admonished, “Don’t leave a mark on my turf!” (I remember an incident about a hyper-neighbor with “perfect landscaping” who called the police to “bust up a graduation party” when several teenagers legally parked their cars in his circle. The problem? Several of their tires “touched his grass” (by inches). If memory serves me right, “the rest of the story” was that the angry “lawn-master” would no longer be able to maintain a “perfect landscape” again… the vengeful adolescents retaliated and dug up his scrubs, turfed his grass, defaced his trees, and threw mud on his house and driveway – not once but every time he cleaned up the place.

IMG_1477Gracie, Brewster, and I don’t trespass. We try to model “good citizenship.” We do our best to honor the wishes of our neighbors, respecting any of their issues for privacy, restricted access, fears, or phobias. For the six years I have become a pet owner, only two people have told us, “Don’t let your dogs pee in my yard.”

But, dogs are dogs. Mine seek to “water” every mailbox post and tree trunk on our route. The ten-inch strip of grass between the curb and the sidewalk, a township “right-of-way,” also gets a lot of attention. And, yes, the grass in these areas often fares the worst with numerous brown or yellow patches (although road salt is probably more to blame!)

Am I the cowman whose feels he has the right to let his “doggies roam the pastures?”

No, I will NOT feed my dogs a supplement, like an amino acid-based oral product that claims to eliminate urine spots by changing the pH of your dog’s urine!

Contrary to popular belief, urine spots are not caused exclusively by female dogs or by certain breeds. Rather, it’s the result of urine being deposited in a small concentrated area. Since female dogs tend to squat and stay in one spot to urinate, it will be more likely to damage the grass in that spot. In general, any dog (male or female) that squats or sprays in one spot will deposit urine into a concentrated area. Dog urine spots may also be more noticeable with larger dogs, due to the higher volume of urine produced.

“Green Grass, Happy Dogs: Preventing Dog Urine Spots on Lawns”

If the trouble is in your own yard, there are plenty of sites recommending a solution:

 

But, first make sure your dog is really to blame! The are a lot of conditions that may cause discolored areas on your lawn! Other potential culprits are fungus and other grass disease, insect pests, lack of nitrogen or iron, over-fertilizing, or under-watering.

Believe it or not, dog urine is not as damaging as many people believe it is. Sometimes you may blame the dog for brown or yellow spots in the lawn when in fact it is a grass fungus causing the problem.

To determine if dog urine is killing the lawn or a grass fungus, simply pull up on the affected grass. If the grass in the spot comes up easily, it is a fungus. If it stays firm, it is dog urine damage.

Another indicator that it is dog urine killing the lawn is that the spot will be a bright green on the edges while a fungus spot will not.

“Dog Urine and Your Grass”

doggies 2017 to 2018 - 3

The bottom line? Walking your dog away from your property is important to your pet’s health. Besides elimination, walks are essential for exercise and mental stimulation. Someone once told me, taking your pooch out in the neighborhood on a daily basis is the dog’s equivalent of “checking email” and “posting updates on social media.”

Dogs like to go for walks to get outdoors, sniff and engage with their environment, exercise, and perhaps socialize with people and dogs outside the home. There is no reason that a walk cannot encompass and meet all the needs of both humans and dogs. Because time is often at a premium, it is useful to help owners understand and find creative ways to meet these needs.

“How to Walk Your Dog – How to Do It Well, and Why It Is So Important”

Retirees, read more about the essentials of dog walking here:

 

Other elements regarding pet ownership and citizenship (perhaps the perfect subject for a future blog):

  • Dogs jumping up to greet visitors
  • A large dog “saying hello“ to your guests by placing its paws on their shoulders
  • Dogs who like to play in the mud or wet grass and then leave their calling card with dirty paw prints (on floors, furniture, and people!)
  • Leaving unplanned (solid and smelly) “presents” at the most awkward times
  • Excessive barking, even in your yard, especially when it disturbs your next-door neighbor who likes spending time outdoors gardening

Remember, it usually isn’t the dog’s fault. You don’t actually train animals, you train their handlers! Citizenship is all about the pet owners!

I feel like telling “Jason D” (above) to CHILL OUT! GET A LIFE! There are so many more important things in life about which to worry! One might consider caring a little more about the people (and their children and pets) in his community. His attitude fosters animosity, and besides, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

But… Jason has rights! It is his yard!

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Now, I have to go walk the dogs…

PKF

gracie and brewster musical dogs1

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

What I Have Learned from My Dogs… in Retirement

fox pups posing 051115It was one of the first things I did when I retired from more-than-full-time music teaching and serving as the Performing Arts Curriculum Leader of my excellent school system (Upper St. Clair School District/Western Pennsylvania). Start looking for a dog.

The incredibly hectic non-stop schedule of a husband and wife, both string teachers with a variety of responsibilities, music class assignments, after-school rehearsals, and concerts across numerous buildings, serving as spring musical directors, active music festival and conference participants in our professional groups (PMEA/ASTA), and co-director (wife) or assistant (me) of the marching band – totally precluded having a dog. I think it would have been considered animal abuse. We were never home, except to crawl into bed to fall sleep. That’s the “calling” of a devoted music educator, especially if he/she is passionate about and focused on inspiring and bringing creative self-expression to the students, willingly committing him/herself to countless hours of extra-curricular activities. We are proud of those opportunities that affected so many lives! (Do you remember the theme of that final scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”)

dogs_nopretender_IMG_1565It was quite by accident that we “found” our two puppies. (Actually, as most dog owners would attest, they chose us!) We visited the area pet stores, just to peruse all of the animal habitats, beds, toys, treats, and the like… and did not know that one chain store in our area actually sold dogs! Gracie, a pure-bred bichon frise selected my wife, and a yorky-poo we named Brewster picked me! The rest is history… at a high cost (the premium price for the dogs plus two of everything, including duplicate crates, dishes, bags of food, treats, and even toothbrushes). With lots of surprises in store for us, we rescued them from Petland!

dogs_scolded_IMG_1564After 35 years of having to run in and out of the house to travel and fulfill appointments, errands, practices, and performances, all at once I had a reason to stay home and share the unconditional love of owning not one but two “good dogs.”

New retiree “pet chores” were doled out. My wife was in charge of feeding and grooming. I did the lion-share of walks. We both attended “owner training” (they called it “dog training,” but we were the ones who needed to learn how to control our dogs).

For me, walking the dogs has become the most amazingly peaceful and reflective activity. It has improved my disposition, calmed my nerves, sharpened my senses, increased my dogs_walk_IMG_1782capacity for patience and tolerance, and lowered my blood pressure! Yes, between volunteer escorting patients at our local hospital several days a week and exercising the dogs at least four times daily, we add up a lot of mileage… an average of 15,000 steps or 5-7 miles a day!

Something I would never have predicted before my retirement:  I am now getting up as early as 5:30 most mornings… which is before the alarm would go off when I was employed! Of course, this is every day, every week, every season, rain or shine, with few exceptions. Who needs sleep anyway?

You really ought to try taking two warm bundles of fur to bed with you to hug and cuddle. Gracie and puppy moment3Brewster only have temporary residence on the top of our blankets and bedspread, and must later go back to their playpens in the game-room (our former music studio) once we decide to go to sleep. (My dogs are small… I don’t want to “squash them” when I roll over!)

So, who’s the teacher now? The following are a few of the “life’s lessons” I have learned from close observation of my dogs. Consider this a helpful guide for all retired people.

  1. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  2. Forgive unequivocally and immediately.
  3. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting my ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  4. dogs_fringe_IMG_1990Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
California attorney Mike Vaughn posted several additional “bits of wisdom,” a map for happy and healthy retired living, on his Maritime Law Center website: http://maritimelawcenter.com/html/things_i_learned_from_my_dog.html
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • Never pretend to be something you are not.
  • No matter how often you are scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.
dogs_IMG_1860doggie_heaven_ - 32Tara Mullarkey summed up a few more of the important ones on her blog “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dog” (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7561/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-my-dog.htm):
  • We need to play (every day).
  • Love is all there isl

Attention all recently retired persons: If you do not already own a dog or other pet, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of adopting or rescuing a dog! It may be one of the best decisions of your life!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement, Exercise, and Balance

“One in three people 65 and older fall each year in the United States.” Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

“Staying active with regular exercise can help seniors improve their health and hang on to their independence longer. Walking is a great way for seniors to fulfill the recommendation of two and a half hours of aerobic activity per week.” Source: Livestrong Foundation at http://www.livestrong.com/article/416885-walking-exercises-for-seniors/

According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries, fatal and nonfatal, by U.S. seniors. Older adults can stay independent and reduce their chances of falling by adopting the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly especially to increase leg strength and improve overall balance.
  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for side-effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Check the eyes at least once a year and update eyeglasses to maximize vision.
  • Reduce household tripping hazards by the adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, installing railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in and outside homes.
  • Lower the risk of bone fractures by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D from food and/or from supplements, doing weight-bearing exercise, and being screened and treated (if needed) for osteoporosis.

The best advice I heard recently about retirement and remaining physically active was contributed to PMEA News (state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) by colleague Chuck Neidhardt, a retired member of PMEA:

Begin a routine exercise plan, or begin a sport. You don’t have to be good at it – just do it for your health. This is a must for retirees because the exercise we got from walking the hall between our room and our mailbox (or elsewhere in the school) is no longer there. It only takes a short while to begin to add the pounds and lose the strength we had while teaching. Also, be sure to begin a regular regimen of seeing your doctor and having a physical check up at least once a year. 

Since I have retired, I have experienced a few surprises first-hand in maintaining my own physical fitness and stamina.

One would have thought that once we were released from the day-to-day demands of our music programs and school work, we could become “footloose and fancy-free” to enjoy free time and all kinds of physical activity – to the end-result of noticeably improved health, endurance, and vitality in our lives! (After all, have you noticed that the majority of recently retired people seem to look instantly younger, well-rested, and happier?)

What free time? For most retirees, it doesn’t take long to fill up their “dance card” and calendars with social engagements, family obligations, home improvements, yard work, golf/tennis outings, swimming, or other sports, doctor and dental appointments, local concerts and musicals, trips and vacations, systematic sorting/filing/downsizing the mounds of paper (and music) accumulated over 30+ years of teaching – you name it! You’ll hear it frequently lamented by most retired educators: “How did we ever find the time to do everything when we had our job?”

Where’s my stamina? When I was a full-time teacher with numerous extra-curricular activities, I would arrive to school by 7 a.m., teach 6-9 music classes or lessons during the school day, attend faculty, curriculum meetings or after-school ensemble rehearsals until 4:30, run home to get a quick bite to eat, and then more often than not return to school for at least another couple hours for play or musical practices. On most week-nights, lesson planning and prep had to begin at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

All those years and I didn’t even notice that this “rat race” was stressful and physically grueling! (Although, the evidence was there all along… such things like “always being tired” and “feeling stressed!” Really, is it normal for anyone to take only five minutes to eat lunch in his car traveling between buildings? Many itinerant music teachers who are assigned to 2-4 buildings a day may have to catch a quick-snack this way. Even today, if I don’t hold myself back, I can consume a meal in under 10 minutes!)

Now that I have retired and left all of these “bad habits” behind, why is it that volunteering 3 1/2 hours pushing wheelchairs at a local hospital sometimes seems to be more than I can manage? Nap time, anyone?

What’s a healthy solution? The first thing I considered when I retired was something I could never do during my teaching career – go out and buy two (adorable) puppies! Similar to the exhaustive physical demands of babysitting grandchildren, caring for my “Brewster” (yorkie-poo) and “Gracie” (bichon frise) has consumed every free moment! Just look at their picture above and you will instantly know the rationale behind my wife’s and my commitment!

Well, the good news is… now my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are down! For me, the secret is dog walking! According to the new app that suddenly appeared during an update of my iPhone iOS, I am now averaging 12,000 steps every day, at least five miles (and some days as many as nine!)… and the lion’s share is due to the doggies! To me, walking is a wonderfully peaceful and reflective stress eliminator, and puts me in a good frame of mind. No matter the weather or the season, my “pups” will help me stick to my plan of low-impact fitness training! Isn’t that why they say pet owners live longer?

In conclusion, retirement is a good time to “pump up exercise!” For more specifics, check out the USATODAY online article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/01/19/retirees-exercise-physical-activity/4262151/.

Of course, first consult your physician on what type of physical regimen would be good for you!

I will leave you with this summary from the Livestrong Foundation:

Exercise can have profound effects on a senior citizen’s vitality and overall well-being. Staying active can help to reduce pain and stiffness, improve energy levels and increase strength. Older adults who exercise are more mobile and independent. Senior citizens need to get a mix of four types of exercise: endurance, strengthening, stretching and balance. Your routine can be simple and does not have to involve elaborate or expensive equipment.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox