Chopper the Biker Dog, San Diego’s Beloved Celebrity

If you live in the San Diego vicinity, no doubt at some point you’ve seen a little Boston Terrier dressed up as a biker in a black leather vest, biker goggles, sporting a “doo rag”, bandana around his neck, and riding a miniature motorcycle that looks like a pint-sized Harley Davidson. He’s always with his “dad”, Mark Shaffer, a man with a heart so big, and so kind, one wonders if he wasn’t born with two. Mark and his dog, Chopper, define the term “earth angel.” They do more good for people in one year than most people do in a lifetime.

Mark and Chopper’s story began eight years ago, when Mark acquired him as a three-month-old puppy. A year before, Mark had lost his first Boston Terrier, Bandit, to cancer. Losing Bandit, who had been his biker buddy, hit him hard. Once he healed, Chopper came into his life. Though Chopper was a cute little tike, Mark wasn’t sure if he would take to the miniature motorcycle that Bandit used to ride. A month later, a local organization called The Nice Guys, invited Mark and Chopper to their annual Christmas party where they give out gifts and food to people in need. Mark used to attend every year with Bandit. He had no idea how Chopper would react to the bike, if he would even get on it.

“I took Chopper and the little motorcycle, the goggles and his little Harley T-shirt, put him on the motorcycle and he rode that little motorcycle just like he knew what to do,” Mark remembers. “It was his first time and he never tried to hop off. Who knows, maybe Bandit’s spirit was riding with him.”

Mark knew then and there that he and Chopper could continue what he started with Bandit.

Initially, Chopper rode Bandit’s bike, then some fans from Florida came to town and asked to meet Chopper. The husband was an engineer and wanted to create a new bike, just for Chopper. The man returned home, bought a little bike, took it apart and rebuilt it to look like Mark’s Harley, all at his own expense. He customized the paint, added LED lights, a sophisticated remote-control system, and better steering control. It was going to cost $800 to ship the bike to San Diego. Not to be deterred, Mark and the engineer raised the funds online to pay the cost.

The two pals attend about a dozen fundraising events a year to support their favorite charities. Events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Breast Cancer Walk, Tip a Cop, the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run, where cops carry a torch from Chula Vista to Los Angeles, the Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive for Rady Children’s Hospital, and the Hornblower Cruise to help raise money and blankets for the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter.  That sounds like a lot, but that’s just a part of what they do. When they’re not attending events, they make about 30 visits annually to patients in local hospitals, nursing homes, memory care centers and hospice, including visits to our local veterans. As a certified therapy dog, Chopper brings smiles to patients’ faces when he rides his mini motorcycle into their rooms, dressed in his leather duds. Once the chuckles die down, he gets onto the patients’ beds, curls up and snuggles with them, imbuing them with therapeutic doggie love.

Chopper has fans everywhere, especially in the law enforcement community. Check out the video of the day Chopper got stopped by a San Diego policeman here. The two buddies have an affinity for law enforcement and the military; if Mark hears about a need, he and Chopper make it a point to visit before anyone asks. One particular law enforcement officer story stands out in Mark’s memory.

“A deputy sheriff and his wife from Oregon were vacationing in Mexico when they stepped out of their hotel and were run over by a car,” Mark says. “When the police arrived, the wife was in such bad shape they covered her with a sheet, signifying she was dead. They soon discovered she was alive, barely. The couple was transported to a trauma unit in San Diego.”

As soon as Mark learned of the tragedy by the Eugene Sheriff’s Department, Mark scheduled his first visit. The husband had already been air-lifted back to Eugene, while the wife stayed hospitalized in San Diego. Chopper and Mark began visiting her as often as possible, Chopper curling up next to her on the bed. When they arrived for their second visit, the woman’s brother met them in the hospital lobby and told Mark that she suffered so much brain damage that she wouldn’t remember them when they entered the room. However, when Chopper rolled in on his motorcycle, the woman pulled herself up off her pillow and said, “Chopper, buddy!”

“All her relatives in the room broke out in tears, because it proved that her brain was healing and her cognition was coming back. Chopper gave them hope that she would recover,” he says.

The day Mark learned that the wife was going home, he called San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who gave her blessing to do whatever Mark planned to help support the Deputy’s wife. Mark arranged to have six San Diego police officers and two California Highway Patrol officers, escort her from her hospital room to the waiting ambulance. Once secured inside, the Highway Patrol escorted the ambulance to the airport with their lights going all the way.

“We wanted her and her family to leave San Diego with ‘respect’ and something positive,” Mark says. “She was life flighted home with doctors on board.”

Two years later Mark and Chopper took a trip up the coastline, stopping to visit patients in memory care centers, hospitals, veterans, police officers and nursing homes along the way. The trip ended in Eugene, Oregon where after two years, he and Chopper were reunited over dinner with the now retired deputy sheriff, his wife and their family.

“It was a very emotional reunion,” Mark recalls.

Then he received a call from a local television station telling him that a man phoned the station because he heard that Chopper was in town and the man’s daughter wanted to meet the canine celebrity. The station directed Mark to the school where they found the entire student body waiting for them in front. He learned that about the time the deputy sheriff and his wife were injured, the girl had been given a class assignment to write about a hero, but it couldn’t be an entertainment celebrity. The girl had heard about what Chopper had been doing for the wife of their local Deputy and wrote her school paper about Chopper.

While that was one of the big ones, Mark could fill an encyclopedia with stories about what Chopper’s presence has meant to people, how his very being comforts and soothes like a balm. From hospitalized law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty, to family members in nursing homes grieving the loss of a loved one, to patients in memory care centers whose faces light up when they see the quirky little dog in biker leathers ride in on his customized motorcycle, Chopper makes an impact wherever he goes.

In San Diego, Chopper is more than a local celebrity, he has built a world-wide fandom through social media, (over 117,000 followers on Facebook and growing) and not just because he’s adorable in his biker outfit and sports a biker-dude persona. More importantly, he is known for his unflagging work ethic and the immeasurable hours of volunteering in the community, never asking for anything in return. It’s easy to get caught up in Chopper the legend. After all, he is really, really, cute and as sweet as a dog can be. Sometimes people don’t realize, or they forget that the extraordinary little dog in leather biker duds is one half of a duo. A selfless man and his selfless dog who spend their free time doing good. And if that isn’t the best example of The Goodness Principle, I don’t know what is. I’ll tell you this much, San Diego is proud to call them our own.

Want to learn more about Chopper? Be sure to visit his Facebook page here,  and his website here.

Texas Shows Harvey a Thing or Two

It’s been said that the worst brings out the best in people. The past few days has shown this to be true in the Lonestar state of Texas. When Hurricane Harvey hit, no one could foresee the devastation that would hit the coastal areas. No one could fathom the massive flooding that would turn the region into one big bayou. In other low-lying states where similar devastation has hit, the residential response has been, how should I say it, less than eloquent. But Texas is not like other places. Texas takes care of its own. Texas did what Texas does, the state and its residents ran to the aid of their friends, neighbors, and people they didn’t know, regardless of their own safety. In countless cases people didn’t wait for the authorities to rescue them or rescue their neighbors. They took matters into their own hands. They pulled out their canoes and boats and dinghies and anything that would float and paddled to the aid of anyone who needed help. They became emergency workers and rescuers. Never mind that no one asked them to do what they’ve done. They stepped up even though no one asked them to.

I have family in Texas whose roots go back to the 19th century. However, it is not just my family connection that makes me proud to be “part” Texan. With all the political and societal divisiveness of late that seems to be splitting our country apart, I have taken great pride in witnessing how when the going gets tough, as it has in Texas, all those things that have pitted people against one another has dissolved. All that mattered was that people came together to help each other out, just as they should.  As a friend said to me, “it was not about politics or color, it was about humanity and compassion, people helping one another.”

God bless all the police, fire, coast guard, sheriff, swat teams and other first responders who have worked tirelessly to save thousands of lives. And not just those in Texas, but also first responders who came from all over the country. And then there are companies, like Anheuser-Busch that shut down beer production at their Georgia plant and switched to filling cans with water to ship to Texas.

However, it’s been the unsung heroes who stepped up and did the right thing that formed lump after lump in my throat. People like the Houston pastor who waded through chest deep water checking submerged vehicles looking for people who needed rescuing. A man named Aaron Jack who stopped for gas and when a lost, wet dog jumped into his vehicle, he set out to find the dog’s owner, and did. John Griggs, who used his kayak to ferry 22 people to higher ground out of harm’s way. One of the most dramatic rescues I saw on Facebook was of two men riding horseback through the flood waters to save livestock left behind to fend for themselves. The clip showed the men freeing a penned-in horse standing in water up to its neck. Then there are the stories of the news media, who had to step away from reporting the news and become a part of it like KHOU reporter Brandi Smith who flagged down a sheriff’s boat to rescue a man stuck in the cab of his truck that was rapidly filling with water. And a news photographer who freed a dog tied to a pole who was going to drown in the rising water and took him to shelter. How about the group of teens in Meyerland that weren’t old enough to drive but they used a boat to help people in their neighborhood? And the boat owner who was asked by a reporter what he was going to do and answered, “try to save some lives.” The stories of heroism are endless, and beyond heartwarming. They renew one’s faith in humankind.

And then there are the celebrities who can always be counted on to chip in, especially when the disaster hits home. You don’t realize how many of them are Texas natives until disaster strikes. They didn’t disappoint. I can’t possibly keep up with all the donations; here’s a small sampling of what I found as of this writing:

JJ Watt – set up the Houston Flood Relief Fund to raise $1,000,000. It quickly reached the goal and kept going. As of this writing it’s at $4,796,074, with a goal of $5 million. I suspect it will top that too.

Sandra Bullock donated $1,000,000 to Harvey Red Cross relief

Country music star, Chris Young: $100,000

Jim Crane and the ownership group of the Houston Astros: $4,000,000

The Kardashians: $500,000 to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross

Kevin Hart: $50,000 and then challenged fellow celebrities to follow suit

The Rock, Dwayne Johnson:  $25,000

The Houston Texans pledged $1,000,000 to the United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund.

Until the end of September, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame are donating 100% of the proceeds of their “Texas Forever” shirts toward restoring homes and lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Just after that announcement posted I went on to order a shirt and they were already sold out. The website said they would be restocking soon.

This list would be the length of an encyclopedia if I tried to include all the many donations celebrities are making to the relief effort. God bless them too. I just hope that when the waters recede and the cleanup begins that they come to Texas and pitch in however they can. Texas is going to need a whole lot more than money. I know in every part of my being that the Lonestar state will come out stronger than ever. Why? Because that’s what Texans do. Texas Strong!

Saving Pets One Life at a Time

saving-tansy-1It’s a tragedy experienced all too often by pet owners whose fur kids suffer a devastating illness or injury that’s treatable, yet must opt for euthanasia because they don’t have the funds to pay for treatment or surgery. The veterinary community even has a name for it – “economic euthanasia.” It means that it’s less expensive to put down a pet, even though the animal’s illness or injury is treatable with a high likelihood of recovery.

According to the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition’s most recent statistics (7/2014 – 6/2015), 1,134 animals specifically categorized as “treatable” were euthanized. This heartrending number does not include private veterinary clinics, which if reported would significantly increase the number of economic euthanasia cases. Can you imagine? You don’t have the funds to pay for your sweet pet’s health crisis and you have to opt for euthanasia instead because it’s more affordable? If you think there’s something terribly wrong about this, you’re right. There is a silver lining to the story (after all this is The Goodness Principle), so stay with me.

saving-oreo

Veterinarians don’t like this situation any more than the pet owners who face this no-win scenario. That’s why a group of San Diego County veterinarians and concerned citizens formed a foundation 10 years ago to help out pet owners facing economic euthanasia. The Foundation for Animal Care and Education (FACE) was formed as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) public charity to provide financial grants for animal owners not able to afford the cost of their pet’s emergency or critical care. It’s called the Save a Life program. And saving pets they have. As of July 2016, almost to the 10 year anniversary day of their founding, they saved their 1,500th pet. Mostly they save dogs and cats, but there have been a few bunnies and an iguana too.

How does it work? According to Brooke Haggerty, Executive Director of the FACE Foundation™, they currently have over 100 hospital partners.

“We work with anyone (veterinary clinic) willing to work with us,” Brooke says. “All of our partners give us at least a 20% discount. If it’s a new clinic we haven’t worked with before we talk to the clinic and set it up. Our funds go directly to the clinics, not to the pet owner.”

saving-tansy-2FACE makes a compelling argument for new clinics to get involved: they help veterinarians save their patients’ lives and ensure they will never have to euthanize a healthy patient again. Patients like Tansy Star, a young kitten who was born with a congenital birth defect, a diaphragmatic hernia. Her major organs enveloped her heart sac, pressing on her lungs, a condition that makes it hard for her to breathe; it only gets worse as a cat ages. Her owner, a retired police officer, lives on disability which made it difficult to pay for the surgery Tansy needed.

Her owner says,I found Tansy’s pregnant mother living under a church building. I named her mother Luna and she gave birth to five kittens the day after I brought her home. Luna is an amazing mother, starving and weak, she gave everything she had to give birth to her kittens and cared for them until I found them all good homes. Turns out, Luna is also very young, we estimate around 12 to 14 months. Luna is healthy and has gained weight and is a permanent member of our family. I decided to also keep her beautiful and spunky daughter, Tansy Star.”

Sounds nice, right? Tansy’s idyllic world came to a raging halt.

saving-tansy-and-mom“I noticed Tansy had rapid breathing which seemed unusual,” her owner says. “I took her to the urgent care and she was evaluated with a congenital hernia. She has seen two surgeons, both say she is an excellent candidate for a corrective surgery and has a very good chance of survival and living a normal life.” As of this writing, Tansy is undergoing her surgery and is expected to have a full recovery.

And then there’s the story of a gorgeous, white German Shepard named Hero. He was a saving-heroyear and a half old when he got out of his yard and was hit by a car. He suffered a painful laceration that needed immediate care. His family had just welcomed a newborn baby into their home and was grappling with making ends meet on one income while his mom was out on maternity leave. A family member let them rent out a room at her house, which helped, but they were still having trouble making ends meet. They couldn’t pay the cost to treat Hero’s unexpected injury. Fortunately, Save-A-Life partner VCA Animal Medical Center of El Cajon told them to apply for FACE funding and they were approved for a grant which gave Hero the care he needed.

In a time when it’s easy to become cynical, and it seems that there are more and more disheartening stories around us, it’s inspiring to hear about good people doing the right thing for pets and people in need. Restores your faith in the human race, doesn’t it? For more info on FACE visit their website here.

Making It Through The Night

Chris Meyer is not having a good night. Tossing and turning, reliving nightmarish flashes, sometimes even uncomfortable night sweats—all a part of the PTSD which accompanies so many returning service men and women. If left unchecked, an alarming number fall into a depression which, tragically, ends for far too many in suicide.

But Chris is fortunate. Not only is he receiving good medical attention, but he has the constant attention of Jade, his partner, confidant, and safe to say, his love. When Chris is having another debilitating nightmare, Jade is right there to wake him from his torture, to assure him everything is all right and he is safe.

MITTN ChrisYou may be wondering what would be the best way to wake a PTSD suffering person without compounding their fright. Jade has perfected the process—first she nudges Chris a few times with her nose, then her long tongue starts bathing his face. Chris wakes up quickly; the terror abated.

You see, Jade is a service dog—a loving Golden Retriever/Shepherd mix, who was painstakingly trained by Graham Bloem, founder of Shelter to Soldier. But providing care-giving dogs to veterans is only part of the Shelter to Soldier story.

MITTN Jade at the park

Graham scours the many local shelters looking for 40 – 50 pound dogs who he can determine have the temperament and intelligence to respond to training as a service dog. MITTN GrahamAfter checking them for optimal health and getting a head x-ray, many of the dogs he tests don’t make the cut. Many of those who do test well were precariously existing on the euthanasia list because no one wanted to adopt them. Graham then saves them and begins their training.

You may rightly say that this process saves two lives at once: the dog’s and the veteran’s. Win-win! But there’s more to the story.

This isn’t one of those places that just finds a dog, then a veteran, and says “Here you go!” No, Shelter to Soldier spends several thousand dollars per dog for medical care and housing during the 12 to 18 months it takes to thoroughly train them as service dogs.

The veterans go through a careful screening process as well, starting with a doctor’s recommendation to the initial telephone interviews. Then the veteran visits the training facility to see how they interact with dogs—and vice versa. When Graham makes a suitable match, he trains the dog to be sensitive to those issues which plague the veteran.

According to 1st Sgt. Tomas Mondares, his dog Sandy (a female Shepherd/Labrador mix), senses when he gets anxious from seeing shadows after dark. Sometimes he gets easily irritated. That’s when she will side up next to him, ‘herding’ him away from the stimulus and de-escalating the situation. It’s like a friend reminding him that “it’s OK Tomas —just chill”.

MITTN Tomas & Sandy gradBut the training isn’t just for the dogs. No, Graham requires that the veteran actively participate in the training a couple of times a week over a period of months. That way the veteran becomes certified as a dog handler, and the dog intuitively learns about the needs of the veteran. At the end of training there is a graduation ceremony for each veteran and dog, concluding with certificates of completion and competency.

For Chris Meyer, knowing that Jade senses when he is in dire need, and has been taught to push a button to administer medication provides great peace of mind. For Tomas Mondares, who received severe injuries to his back and hip during a deployment, having Sandy help him get up when he can’t on his own is crucial.

Graham served a stint in a pet nutrition store, and then as a dog trainer at a large animal shelter. That’s when he discovered his innate talent for connecting with dogs and training them to be caregivers, and Shelter to Soldier began as a non-profit 2012. To date they have placed nine dogs with veterans, with eight more dogs now in training.

According to Graham’s wife, Kyrie, who takes care of the operating details of the organization, their objective is to train 20 dogs at a time. Clearly there’s a huge need; in fact there’s so many veterans in need of service dogs that they can’t keep up. Until they can get into a larger facility they can’t reach that twenty-in-training goal.

MITTN Jade Chris GradShelter to Soldier calls San Diego County home, where 1.2 million active duty, veterans and families of veterans live. Of the active and veteran ranks, a vast number suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) due to their time in combat zones. Shelter to Soldier does not to treat the veterans—that’s left to the medical institutions. Graham’s approach focuses on preparing the dogs to perform care-giving functions that aid each veteran. He understands that dogs are non-judgmental and give unconditional love; the perfect candidates for the job.

After each dog has been trained and goes home with the veteran, the veteran can call Graham anytime with questions and give him an update on how they’re doing. Shelter to Soldier holds events and get-togethers for the veterans and dogs, as well as refresher courses and further training anytime a need arises.

MITTN Sandy & Tomas 2Does it work? Before he entered the program Tomas Mondares felt he was in a dark place, and just wanted to stay shut in by himself. Now with Sandy he feels so much better that they go out more often, enjoying life together. In fact, he claims that without Graham and Sandy, he would be in a much darker place—or maybe not here at all.

Chris Meyer looked into getting  a service dog from five other programs before settling on Shelter to Soldier. He found StS to be the only one that completely vetted each veteran and each dog’s capabilities to provide the best possible fit. As Chris continues in his rehabilitation, he says he wants to give back to Graham and do some volunteer work with the organization.

How did Graham Bloem decide on this path? Is he a veteran? Is he from a military family? Neither. He was born in South Africa, and immigrated to the US through Canada, later becoming a US citizen. He has never been in the military. He did, however, come to realize that he was really good at training dogs. With all the current and former military in the county having needs, his destiny was obvious.

Graham also runs West Coast K9, a professional dog training business to pay some bills, but the non-profit Shelter to Soldier operation is a labor of love and charity. The challenge to the Board of Directors is how to expand the operation to train more dogs, necessitating a larger facility.

Saving dogs, helping veterans, by someone who immigrated here—how’s that for goodness personified?

MITTN Jade

Tomas says that “family” is defined by love, not necessarily by blood. Using that criteria, then it is safe to say that Sandy is definitely family to Tomas, as Jade is to Chris. The unconditional love these family members give to their human counterparts is their own Goodness Principle.

You can learn more about Shelter to Soldier here.

Creating Horse Whisperers

VR Small girl and horseHorses: What majestic, elegant creatures of beauty and grace. And in thundering herds, what power and strength. To be able to communicate with a horse eye-to-eye and with a whisper, using only slight movements to direct motion, demonstrates a gift of true mutual trust. Now, imagine being a child who has had more than their share of problems or hardships, looking up at a large horse and being able develop that relationship and mastery. Talk about a confidence builder!

Okay—a Horse Whisperer is technically “a horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on modern equine psychology”. It takes years of experience to attain that level of expertise, and we all know that is beyond the scope of a young child. Perhaps the terms “friend, buddy or pal” are more appropriate. In any event, learning to bond with a horse comes with lasting life lessons.

There is a place where kids are experiencing that important outcome: Victory Ranch, Inc. in San Jose, California works with kids 8 to 16 years old to help them grow and develop life skills. These are neglected or abused kids, some suffering from depression or addiction, perhaps from broken homes or live in foster care. Some are kids who could use a helping hand and some positive goodness to keep them out of the juvenile justice system. In general, the emphasis is working with disadvantaged, under-served, at-risk, neglected, abused, and low-income youth, that include foster, adopted, and siblings of kids with life-threatening illnesses. Oh, did I mention—there’s no charge for the kids participating in the program?

VR Doug instructing with horseDoug Hutten founded Victory Ranch, Inc. in 2006. He started riding horses at age 6, and his adult equestrian experience spans over forty years which includes avid trail riding, competing, stable management, training, volunteering with special needs organizations, writing for Western Horseman Magazine, working with various equestrian Search & Rescue Teams in two states, organizing and managing a PRCA-sanctioned event, and Charity-Celebrity Trail Rides. In other words, he knows his way around horses.

VR Grooming

He has been involved numerous Horseman Associations and charitable organizations for a long time, giving back to those who need assistance. When he witnessed the great number of troubled kids in the Bay Area, he put his knowledge of horses into focus, and knew he could put the two together to create positive behavior changes. Doug realized that kids talk to dogs; if he could get them to feel safe and open up by talking with horses, only good would come of it. He was right.

One success story is Nick Campbell, now 20 and a student at UC Davis. He was just going into high school in 2009 with a lot of extracurricular time on his hands when he entered the program. “My main job was to help muck out the stalls, groom the horses (and bathe them when the weather permitted), exercise them and keep them in practice with Doug’s style of horse training. It’s very important to be constantly making sure that they know their roles and how to behave on the ground, as well as while being ridden.”

The Kids & Horses Education Program (KHEP) is a 5-week after-school and weekend education program which creates positive behavioral changes in almost every child enrolled. Participants engage in tasks with horses that are fun and facilitate communication and teamwork. The horses themselves encourage cooperation and creative thinking, and are capable, sentient mental health team members providing non-judgmental feedback to the kids.

The staff members are certified in utilizing horses in therapy, and when a child needs special help, the Ranch also offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) utilizing qualified mental health/clinical professionals. The kids are continually monitored by staff who employ program evaluation, questionnaires, and applied observational field research to help measure their progress.

VR kids muckingDoes it work? Oh, yeah, and very well. Kids learn that they can influence something larger than themselves in a positive way, making them feel better about themselves. The conclusions validate that the goals of the KHEP Program (improved life skills – self-confidence, team work, social skills, personal achievement, focus/follow directions, communication skills, and knowledge of horses) are improved/achieved in the majority of students.

As Nick says, “I became a much harder worker because of VR, and a lot better at time management.”

And when a child graduates from the program with a certificate, they are designated “Buckaroos” (467 total graduates to date) and are invited to return to help mentor the younger first-time participants in future sessions. Not only is it fun to help out, but the positive messages are reinforced while developing leadership skills.

Returning as a Buckaroo, Nick recounts, “During the programs for the foster children, my job was to support Doug and Pat as a kind of teaching aide. I had gone through the program as an observer, so I knew the structure. I helped teach the skills the program tries to impart to the kids, and made sure that everyone was kept in the group. The kids were not allowed to be with the horses by themselves, a volunteer or leader had to be with them at all times, especially when they got to be on the horses.”

What’s next for Victory Ranch? With as many children in the Bay Area who really need the kind of positive help the Ranch provides, the natural course is to increase the number of sessions to accommodate as many as they can. They also want to start a program for the Horsemanship Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Venturers. And then there’s the planned expansion into the critical need of serving returning Veterans suffering PTSD. By mirroring the efforts and success they’ve had with the children, translating the horse therapy to the Veterans is sure to have a profound effect.

VR Doug instructing with harness

Would Nick Campbell recommend Victory Ranch to parents of deserving kids? “Definitely, seeing the way that shy, reserved kids start the program and end up with friends and skills that allow them to be social is amazing. A lot of the kids can’t work in group because of shyness or anxiety in the beginning, but they really open up through working with the horses and with other kids in their situations.”

VR Group ShotOf course operating as a non-profit, funding the Victory Ranch programs has always been challenging. Fortunately several foundations and corporate sponsors of note have seen the benefits their support has made (see the website for their list). An endeavor that includes 23 staff and board members (mostly volunteers), the need is constant to make sure that there are enough funds available to feed the horses, pay the rent and provide the free service they do so well. And to ‘take it to the next level’ with additional services, fundraising activities takes a bit of their time and attention. You can learn more about Victory Ranch by visiting the website. If you can help the Buckeroos in any way, I’m sure they would appreciate your interest.

By the way, although they call the graduates “Buckaroos” I prefer the term “Horse Whisperers”. It better demonstrates the magic that happens at Victory Ranch.

 

Hemingway’s Cats Live the Good Life in Key West

Hemingway home

In 2004 we visited Key West to celebrate a milestone birthday. We were entranced by the place, its history, the architecture, the free-roaming chickens, the slow as molasses lifestyle, and the free spirits who have called the small island home, one of whom was Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway - Ivan on the patio

Of course we had to visit his home, now a museum. As we walked around the Spanish Colonial home built in 1851 I couldn’t help but notice all the cats and more cats. Cats everywhere. As a cat lover and mother to two kits I asked our guide, “what’s up with all the cats?” He explained that Hemingway made the Hemingway Black House catacquaintance of a sea captain who owned an unusual six-toed cat named Snow White that captured Hemingway’s fancy. Upon leaving Key West, the captain gave the cat to Hemingway. Though Hemingway left many years later the cat and its offspring stayed. Their six-toed descendants remain today, a living link to a literary giant and an era long gone.

Hemingway and cat

And here’s where The Goodness Principle kicks in. It’s a museum, right? But it’s more than that, it’s also home to dozens of cats that descended from that one cat that Hemingway loved. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum provides a sheltered place for the cats to live. They want for nothing. They are fed, have access to fresh water, safe places to lounge indoors and out plus the museum ensures their health and welfare from the time they are born until they die. If that isn’t an act of goodness, I don’t know what is. I mean, they don’t have to care for the kitties and give them a lifelong home, but they do. Hemingway House cat by EH typewriterAnd because of the museum’s commitment to the descendants of the esteemed author’s beloved cat, they live long, luxurious lives. They even have their own doctor. Dr. Edie Clark, the museum veterinarian keeps a close eye on the pampered felines performing routine procedures such as ear mite treatment, flea spraying, and worming there on the premises. Dr Clark also administers annual vaccinations, and performs routine animal health maintenance https://cialisfromuk.com/generic-cialis-in-uk/. In my next life I want to come back as a Hemingway museum cat.

Hemingway Dinner Guest

So how many cats are there? A lot. These days the kitty population hovers around 40-50 cats, each of whom sports a most interesting name. Hemingway began a quirky tradition of naming his cats after famous celebrities. It’s cute that the museum has continued the practice. Visit and you might meet Joe DiMaggio, Betty Grable, Billie Holiday, Winston Churchill or Rudolph Valentino. I met Jimmy Stewart during my visit, a gorgeous boy. Stroll around the grounds and you will come across another unusual sight, a small kittyHemingway graveyard cemetery. How sweet is that? Yep, I’m coming back as a Hemingway museum cat in my next life. What a life.

Learn more about “Papa”  Hemingway’s home and museum here.