Monday, August 15, 2016

Chance of a Lifetime


A happy Chance last October when first riding in his stroller.
Enjoying the green grass again.
"Who me, old? I can walk the rest of the way!"
My "baby."
 
It was the worst shelter dog photo I had ever seen.
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An angry, snarling Pomeranian who actually had extra fangs in the middle of his mouth.
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"Vampire dog," I thought.
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But if the photo was less than endearing, the shelter description of the dog who was then on the Euthanasia list for the following morning was even more troubling.
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"Male, neutered, Pomeranian, ten-years-old, 17 lbs. Severe behavior. Extremely aggressive; tries to bite. New Hope Rescue only."
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As a New Hope Rescue partner to New York City's Animal Care and Control shelter, I had Internet access to the shelter's "Kill List" animals each night. When having an open foster spot, I routinely checked the list for any dogs or cats I could responsibly save.
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The snarling Pomeranian with extra vampire fangs intrigued me. Yes, I could personally foster a small male dog; even a slightly temperamental one. My main concern was that he could get along with my cats and spayed, female dog.
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I called a trusted and dedicated AC&C volunteer and dog walker to inquire if Evelyn knew anything about the Euth List Pomeranian named, "Chance."
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"Oh yes, I know the dog," Evelyn replied somberly. "But I don't know that you should take him. I was not able to get him out of the cage. He tried to bite numerous times."
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I was completely taken aback. In all the times I had called Evelyn to inquire of a dog, she had never once advised not taking the dog! On the contrary, she usually begged for rescue of them!
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Chance must indeed be quite the risk, I thought ruefully -- apparently fully living up to his vampire image.
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Nevertheless, after speaking with Evelyn and probably against my better judgment, I called the New Hope number anyway to put a "hold" on the feisty Pomeranian and essentially save his ass.
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I rationalized and told myself that another rescue probably called before I did as Chance was a small, purebred dog and except for the Dracula fangs and angry snarl, appeared to be quite cute. Surely, other rescues would want him!
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But I was the only one to call on the nasty Pomeranian who appeared proud of his extra fangs -- "The better to bite you with!"  Jessica, the New Hope Rescue Coordinator for AC&C called me early the next morning.
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"Patty, how soon can you pick up this dog? He needs to get out of here today."
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I was at the shelter in less than an hour.
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Two kennel workers had to wrangle Chance out of his cage and brought him to me at the end of a slip leash.  I am not sure how they accomplished the feat. Everyone just seemed eager to get "Cujo" out of the shelter.
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I did not dare try to touch or pet Chance who was aggressively baring all six fangs to me. After signing the bite waiver and other paper work, I turned to leave when suddenly Jessica announced that she had a "nice surprise" for me!
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"Charlotte, the shelter Director is so pleased and grateful that you are taking Chance that she ordered a $200.00 check be sent to you. You should get it in a few days."
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Shocked beyond belief, I was nearly speechless. I had rescued more than a couple thousand of animals from AC&C over the years and had never been offered a dime to take any.
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Just how bad was this dog, I wondered nervously?
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But, instead of voicing concerns, I simply smiled and told Jessica to thank Charlotte for me.
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Hoping to burn off some of Chance's frustrations and "anger," I walked him the mile and a half home. He was a good little walker on the leash, but also an embarrassment. He had at least a couple of pounds of hard feces stuck to his backside. It looked like he had not been groomed in years.
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The "story" on Chance is that he had been owned by an elderly person who died. Relatives didn't want him and brought him to the pound. According to them, Chance was good with other animals and that is what primarily mattered to me. That he "didn't like people" could be resolved with time.
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What I didn't think about then was how I could adopt out a dog with all the "Severe, Aggressive Behavior" and "attempts to bite" on his shelter record even if and when overcoming his behavioral issues?  Were Chance to ever bite anyone, I could be sued for knowingly adopting out a "vicious dog."
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But for those early days, my prime concerns were for cleaning Chance up and over time, getting him used to and comfortable with strangers. I would worry about the other stuff later.
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As matters turned out, Chance was wonderful with other animals, including cats. He and my Corgi mix, Tina, got along beautifully and were well matched in size, age and energy levels, and even coloring. Tina was however, much friendlier and trusting of people than Chance.
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I did not try to clean the crap off Chance's rear immediately or to bathe him. Such would have been suicidal. Sure, I got some discerning looks from neighbors in the early days, but I am not one for adding stress to my life or the animals in my care.
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It was about two weeks before Chance got entirely cleaned up, bathed and brushed. By that time, I had slowly earned his trust in small increments -- enough to allow cutting the stuck poop from his butt in the first few days.
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Chance was quite handsome when all cleaned and poofed up. He had a very long, dense and luxurious, red coat. Except for his unusually large size for a PB Pomeranian (most are under ten pounds these days), he looked every bit the "expensive" Upper East Side, Manhattan dog....well, except for the extra fangs.
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But as much as people were drawn to the beautiful little fox-like dog, I sometimes had to warn them to admire from a distance in the early days. (The last thing I wanted was a law suit.) However, once Chance opened his mouth and showed his extra fangs, most people backed off without being told.  Vampire Dog.
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I had Chance a couple of months before finally taking him to my vet to have his extra fangs removed.
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By that time, he had evolved into a confident and mostly trusting, sweet dog. Long walks in Central Park everyday with his human-friendly companion, Tina, had magically transformed Chance into a whole new dog -- one whom I had grown to deeply love.
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Any thoughts of "adoption" long flung out the window, I nevertheless still had the perfect excuse of a "horrible shelter record" to offer to others, including my own daughter for keeping Chance. Despite his amazing transformation, my daughter and some friends still didn't quite trust Chance when visiting. I could never understand the caution and "reservations" on their parts for what had really become a very loving and beautifully behaved little dog.  
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Labels like "Vampire Dog" and memories of extra fangs apparently die hard -- even long after the extra fangs are gone.
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Fast forward, a bunch of years and thousands of long walks in Central Park -- particularly at night.
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I loved walking Chance and Tina in the park at night and both dogs, though small and "poofy," took their protective and other duties seriously. People often remarked how "well trained" my dogs were, always staying close by me, waiting patiently while I photographed the geese and ducks of Central Park and remaining watchful, but friendly to other people.
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But I never officially "trained" Chance and Tina. Both dogs were conditioned to a particular routine and lifestyle that they loved, took pride in and looked forward to.
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Unfortunately, time moves on and dogs age.
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Tina was a couple of years older than Chance. Though she remained amazingly healthy and spry for her age, eventually it began to catch up to her.
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The last year of her life, I had to cut out the 2 to 3 mile walks in the park everyday and settle for only a few blocks. Medications helped for a while, but at nearly 21 years of age, Tina's days were numbered.
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Two years ago, when Tina could no longer walk without pain and her appetite left her, my daughter accompanied me to the Animal Medical Center on Labor Day where the only humane option was euthanasia. Despite the kindness and support of the vet, I was a complete basket case and was lucky to have my daughter, Tara, to literally hold me up.  
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Fortunately, I still had Chance to come home to.
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Though hurting himself with loss of his long time canine friend, Chance was the brave little trooper for me. Always happy and attentive and looking forward every day to his walks in Central Park.
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But, as with Tina, age catches up and Chance significantly slowed down over the past year. Long walks were out of the question as he was approaching 20 years of age.
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Then, last October, I got the brainstorm of purchasing a stroller for him.
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I ordered a pretty blue stroller from Amazon.com with no idea of whether Chance would adapt to it or not.
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Fortunately, for both, Chance and me, he not only "adapted" to the stroller, but loved it!
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Most of all, it enabled both of us to still enjoy the long trips to the park. Chance loved being wheeled around most of the park (like a baby) while still being able to walk the last 7 or 8 blocks home. For me, the experience was like reliving the early days with my daughter when she was a baby. Only the "baby" this time was a senior little dog who was limited in his ability to walk, but still delighted in the park.
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Some people laugh or even scoff at the idea of treating a dog "like a baby," but sometimes the circumstances merit it. Anything that adds quality and enjoyment for both the dog and caregiver in the animal's waning days is worth it. I trust that one day pushing a senior or disabled dog in a stroller won't seem any more "strange" than taking a dog in a car. I think for dogs, strollers are very much like car rides.
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But, as the saying goes, all good things eventually come to an end.
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A few weeks ago, I noticed that Chance was not as animated when taken to the park in his stroller. Instead of sitting up and looking out alertly, Chance was slumped back and appeared listless and uninterested. More alarmingly, he had trouble walking the few blocks home and would fall down a few times.
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I tried to attribute the "sluggishness" to advancing age, poor vision and the heat of summer.
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But when his appetite suddenly dropped off and I noticed he was lighter to pick up, I decided it was time for a trip to my vet.
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Part of me realized I might be compelled to make a painful decision. But I refused to think about that too much.
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I was sure, Dr. G. would have some magical potion or pills that could help alleviate some of Chance's aches and pains and afford him more months of quality life.
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What I never considered was that Chance had terminal and quickly descending disease.
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"Lymphoma" was the lethal and certain diagnosis. And no, there was no magical cure.
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Dr. G offered that chemotherapy can be an option, but it would only add a "couple of more months" if even that. Neither he nor I thought chemo the appropriate course of action.
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I stayed with my little boy through the anesthesia and the eventual injection that brought on peaceful and merciful death. But it was so, so hard.
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Afterwards, I kissed Chance on his still head and said a prayer to God to welcome his beautiful little soul to heaven......
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It's been almost two weeks since Chance's passing and no, I am not "over it."
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I am not sure that we ever really "get over" the loss of deeply beloved animal -- an animal who literally becomes as a child to one.
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It's been nearly two years and I am "not over" the death of Tina. Both, she and Chance live in thousands of memories inside my heart and my head. The loss of both now leaves huge voids and gaps in the center of my soul and in the banality of the everyday.
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It is only today that I even attempt to write about Chance.  
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But, I prefer to write primarily as he had lived and not how he eventually died.
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Yes, Chance was the only animal I was ever paid to rescue (so desperate was the shelter to not "euthanize" a healthy, purebred, small dog who no one but a fool would want). And yes, he was the "vampire dog" who mirrored a canine version of Dracula, complete with long, threatening and extra fangs. And yes, Chance's snarling dog photo was the worst I had ever seen.
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But, underneath all the "severity and attempts to bite" beat a strong, enduring heart of pure gold that though already ten years old at the time of rescue, would continue to lovingly beat for another ten glorious years.  
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Ten years of romps in the snow, walks in the sunshine, endless primping, brushing and making pretty and ten years of seemingly endless love and devotion.
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My Chance of a lifetime was in fact, one of the great blessings of my life. He was the risk that never for a moment was regretted.
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I hope that somewhere, Chance is able to find his pal, Tina and that both now freely romp heavenly fields of green grass or glistening snow and infinite blue skies.
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And like so many days of old, I hope both still patiently wait for me with happy, eager grins on their faces.  -- PCA
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Candy -- The Reluctant Mallard "Octomom"


Candy and her six of her eight scattered babies last week.
On their own again.
Mom finally shows up.
Candy and some of the kids this morning.
While one swims off.
Taking a breather.
Mom with one of the kids casually watching as the others take off.  "What me worry?"
 
No sooner had it been predicted in this blog that the last, remaining goose family would leave the Central Park Reservoir, that they actually did.
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Hansel, Greta and their three goslings in fact vacated their nesting and child rearing location the very day I posted the last blog -- forecasting they were about to depart.
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"Eleven weeks" appears to indeed be the developmental period in goslings that, for whatever reason, compels the families to stretch their wings and seek new horizons.
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It is likely that neither of the two goose families will be observed back at the Reservoir until next March. That has been their pattern over the past several years. If there is one thing we have learned about geese it is that they are creatures of set patterns and rigid time schedules.
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Though there are currently no geese at the Reservoir, that is not to say it is entirely without a water bird family.
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For the first time in many years, there is actually a mama duck with 8 ducklings.
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I noticed "Candy" and her eight tiny hatchlings nearly three weeks ago.
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Or, rather I first noticed eight frantic ducklings who were wildly swimming and crying out in the water. They were desperately seeking their mother who was apparently no where to be found!
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I thought the mama was among a small group of mallards in the water who often come to me for treats. But, why wouldn't the ducklings simply stay with her?
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After a few minutes, the ducklings moved to the north side of the Reservoir, still crying out loudly and still searching their absentee mother.
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It was only when the hatchlings were nearly a quarter of a mile away, that a female mallard finally left the ledge where she had been greedily gulping treats from me to fly back to her wayward and frantic brood.
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I could not believe a mother duck would prioritize treats over protecting and staying with her newly hatched ducklings (hence the name, "Candy.")!  What kind of "dutiful" mother was this?
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The following night it was the same story. But that time, I immediately recognized the irresponsible Candy and gave her a swift pat in the butt with the back of my hand (instead of treats). That was to send her back to her distressed babies who were loudly squawking and panicked in the water.
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As someone so used to observing the devoted and extremely protective parental behavior of Canada geese towards their young, it was truly shocking to note the nonchalant and devil-may-care attitude of a mother mallard towards her young.
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Candy was by far, the worst animal mother I had seen in years! Everything about her screamed, "Whatever! If they make it, they make it. If they don't, they don't!"  
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Granted, eight babies were a lot of mouths to feed and worry about. Human "octomoms" aren't apparently so great either.
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Considering the high mortality rate of ducklings (under normal circumstances with good mothers), I was determined not to "feel" too much for this particular batch of little ones as I was sure few, if any of the ducklings would ultimately survive.  Though the Central Park Reservoir doesn't contain abundant predators, there are many raccoons, some hawks and maybe a snapping turtle or two.  I figured the ducklings were doomed.
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Low and behold however, it is now three weeks later and all eight ducklings are still hanging in there!
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Don't ask me how, as Candy's behavior towards her brood has not changed in the least.
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A few days ago, I thought she had lost five of her babies as I only saw her with three. But continuing to walk along the Reservoir, the other five ducklings were spotted 30 or so feet away from the mom and other siblings.
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"If they make it, they make it. If they don't, they don't."  Candy is obviously not one given to worry.
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This morning, Candy and her brood were to the north side of the Reservoir. Her babies are big enough now to climb along the rocks and scoop up some treats with their mom. But a few got quickly bored and returned to the water to swim off on their own.
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If mom has "taught" them nothing else, she has taught her babies early independence.
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Nevertheless, the fact Candy still has all eight ducklings might suggest she is not such a "bad mom" after all.
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Either that, or she is simply extremely lucky. -- PCA
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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Call of the Wild -- The Geese Take Flight


The goslings taking flight with their parents.
Landing after their test run.
Dreaming of far off places and new adventures?
 
Checking this blog from a year ago, it was noted that Hansel, Greta and their goslings left the Central Pak Reservoir one week before the goslings turned three months old. This year, John, Mary and their three goslings also departed Central Park last week -- exactly one week prior to their babies turning three months old.
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Is there a pattern here?
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Do geese have a calendar or stringent time schedule?
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If the "theory" is right, then Hansel, Greta and their three goslings will depart the Reservoir some time this week as their latest crop of youngsters hatched in mid May.
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What is known at this time is that the goslings not only can fly, but in fact, are eager to do so.
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Yesterday morning, I walked around the Reservoir.
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Suddenly loud, excited honking could be heard emanating from the skies above me. At first, I thought a large gaggle of geese was flying to the Reservoir from some northern point in the park or city.
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But, it was only five geese.
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They flew over the trees and landed proficiently and joyously in the water below me.
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When the five geese made their way to the rocks to happily greet me, it was more than obvious they were Hansel, Greta and the three babies.
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The family had either been out on an early morning flying exercise or perhaps had briefly stopped to graze at the North Meadow which is close to the Reservoir.
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Certainly the preparations are underway for a soon departure from the Reservoir and Central Park. But, where exactly the geese go during the fall and winter is a complete mystery. While seemingly eager to show me that they all can fly now, none are divulging that secret.  
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In all, there were close to 40 geese who stayed at the Reservoir during the molt this year. They included the two families (who hatched a total of six goslings) and roughly close to 30 other geese -- a number similar to that of last year.
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As noted, the Central Park Reservoir is a secure and safe location for geese who cannot fly.  There are few predators and the geese are safe from human activities -- most notably, USDA goose culls.
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Sadly, more government orchestrated goose slaughters occurred in New York City again this year. However, with the exception of 50 geese captured and killed from Brookville Park in Queens, we don't know where the other roundups occurred. There apparently was little public monitoring or reporting this year as in other recent years. We will have to wait until USDA "Wildlife Services" issues a report on their NYC goose "removals" sometime in the next few months.
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With the exception of Hansel, Greta and their three hatchlings, all other geese left the Reservoir over the past few weeks once they regained their flight feathers.
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There was a time I thought the two families might depart together since they appeared to develop a bond during the gosling-rearing period. But, it seems calendar and time schedules might dictate their patterns more than particular alliances they may form during the seasons.
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When it comes down to it, tight family units are the driving force among geese, though they do form large group alliances during the migration and molting seasons.  
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But family unit and call of the wild are the things that keep the blood flowing and the wings flying in Canada geese.
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I trust I only have a few more days to enjoy the special comradery I have enjoyed these past few months with Hansel, Greta and their three new babies.
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But, God willing, they will all be back next spring as they were this and previous years. --PCA    
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Friday, July 29, 2016

Reflections of Elections, Past and Present


Reflections....
I have been around for many Presidential elections and remember most.  I have usually voted Democratic, but have voted for a few Republicans along the way.
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But the election of 2016 is truly like no other.
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We have a candidate running for the highest office of the world who has never so much as served as a city councilperson.
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Many argue that Donald Trump is appealing because of his lack of political experience. "He speaks his mind!" they say. "He's not part of the politically correct establishment!  We need change. We need to make America great again!"
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Well, okay.
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I just wonder who these same people call when their toilet is overflowing? A plumber or a florist?  If they have a brain tumor, do they seek out an experienced surgeon or an auto mechanic? If they are in legal trouble, do they seek a credited attorney or a TV reality game host?
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Thinking over the past elections, it was always uplifting if my candidate won and disappointing if he didn't. But regardless of who was the winner and who lost, I think it is reasonable to conclude that all the Presidential nominees were qualified and experienced enough to be President. It was usually differences in policies and ideology that spelled either victory or defeat.  Sometimes the country was in a more liberal bent and other times the political direction leaned more conservative.
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But no one can say for sure if Donald Trump is a liberal or a conservative. In fact, he has been a supposed Democrat for much of his life and now claims to be a Republican.
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Some democrats accuse Donald Trump of being a "racist," "misogynist" and "bigot."
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While true that Trump appears to attract many people who hold prejudicial and even racist views, I am not convinced the candidate himself is seeped in bias and hate. 
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That's because I don't believe Trump thinks about anything long or deeply enough to hold actual ideological position, be it liberal or conservative, politically right or wrong.
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For example, when questioned on the issue of abortion, Donald Trump initially voiced the Republican line of being "pro life." But, when pressed on the issue, Trump stated that women who have abortions "should be punished" were abortion ever to be banned in the country again.
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Does Trump actually believe that women who have abortions should be punished?
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I doubt it.
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Rather, I believe that Trump doesn't care about abortions one way or the other. I doubt it's an issue he's given more than five minutes thought to.
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And therein lies the main problem with Donald Trump.
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He hasn't given anything other than the most shallow of thought to any issue. -- Thought that can usually be summed up in 140 characters on Twitter.
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Thinking back on all the losers of past Presidential elections I personally remember, some were Republicans and some Democrats; some conservative and some liberal.
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But one thing we can say about Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole, Bush 41, Mondale, Dukakis, Carter, Ford, McGovern, Humprey, Nixon and Stevenson is that they were all qualified to BE President.  They were all learned, thoughtful and experienced individuals. They all had policies and ideological positions. They all loved and wanted to do the best for their country.
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And whether we agreed with them or not, there is not one of these candidates that would have spelled sheer and utter disaster for the country had they become President.
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But now we are faced with a candidate who does not appear to put the country ahead of himself and his own ambitions.
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Said Donald Trump at a recent press conference:
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"I am only interested in winning. Once I win, I'll get along great with foreign leaders."
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Indeed, Donald Trump is only interested in winning. After that, it's a crap shoot for both our country and indeed the entire planet.
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Let it be said that one doesn't call a florist to fix a broken toilet. And one doesn't go to an auto mechanic to remove a brain tumor.
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And most of all, one doesn't elect a TV "reality show" host to deal with and manage a world of actual and potentially catastrophic realities.
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The election of Hillary Clinton this November is not just a choice or preference of ideology and policy, but in this case an act of suicide prevention. -- PCA
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