Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Year of the Bug: Sofafree, Doggy Seating

Week 13/52 Sofafree, Doggy Seating

I took some Golden Half pictures, hopefully they'll come out a little clearer.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Damn the Man: I Did It

Warning: personal post ahead.

(Written the day after I gave notice)

About 3 months ago I noticed I was waking up with my jaw clenched. I wasn't doing the teeth-grinding thing, but I was waking up with my chin all super-hero jutting style- tightly clamped down, ready to save the day. I've never had any trouble sleeping at night, and although I have a history of night terrors from when I was little, and talking/yelling in my sleep, this blatant sign of stress was new. It hurt my jaw and weirded me out.

About two weeks ago, I started having dreams about euthanasia. Dead dogs and cats started appearing in my dreams. One dream involved me and a coworker holding a cold, dead momma cat and her live day-old kittens, trying to warm them while explaining to a citizen why it wouldn't be practical to try to bottle feed them in the shelter. It was vivid and real, and kitten season hadn't even started yet, at least, not really. There were more, but I can't remember them all, fortunately. I remember 7 or 8 years ago, when I went to see my first euthanasia, and the woman who explained how it affected her told us about a dream she had about all the kittens she had euthanized bouncing around the room. She was telling us that this was a "normal" thing that happened to "us" who dealt with euthanasia and that it was important to let ourselves process, to get help, and to know when enough was enough. And since then, I've probably had under 10 euthanasia dreams. In the last two weeks, I've had at least 10.

What's changed?

I'd love to blame this on Nathan Winograd. You know I would. Since I really started thinking/reading about Winograd and no-kill, about a year and a half ago, rather than just writing it off as more PETA/animal rights bullpooey, I've had to question each and every act. This is proof of Winograd's effectiveness. Whether I agree with him or not on the overall theory that we can be a "no-kill nation," I've definitely come around to the idea that I don't do a whole lot of euthanizing. I kill animals. This is hard for me to reconcile when I'm in the euthanasia room. It's hard for me to feel like a token "Good Cop"- I really believe that I am a good animal control officer. I think that my agency does a great job. But the system is messed up. The animal control system as a whole, and the police agency I work for. Winograd is right- animal control needs to be rethought. A no-kill paradigm may or may not be the framework to use, but I am no longer prepared to go to work in the current framework. Damn the Man.

About 6 or so months ago, we had some personnel changes. I had to report to someone in the department who I felt was unethical. I work in law enforcement, and I felt that this person used his authority to overreach the law, bending it or disregarding it completely to suit what he felt was right. I never quite knew from day to day what would this was, but I knew that it sure didn't feel right or legal to me. Wearing a police uniform carries an immense amount of privilege and responsibility. I'm a civilian, not a sworn officer, but I still feel the onus of power that comes with my uniform. I could not bear to see my commander operate in this manner. It pained me to go to work and see him use this power this way. Remember Public Enemy? My dad loved this song. I felt like I was working for it. I was a authority mocking kid, and was reminded that I never knew how I ended up working for the police. Damn the Man.

It wasn't the work environment that made me quit, at all. I was also sick of being used as a human punching bag by citizens that hated what I represented. I can't blame them. The above paragraph and video would pretty much make me hate the police or any of their proxies, too, especially if I was part of a population used to dealing with them. On the other hand, as an individual member of the police department, I am a human being. A sensitive human being who loves her job, dedicated to making a difference. I took beatings from all sides: from people who hated me for being the police, to arm-chair rescuers, to people who could never do my job. I truly believe that everyone deserves respect. It's my intention to go into every interaction on the job giving people the benefit of the doubt, and to treat them as an equal, because we're all human beings. I would do this no matter what, but also because I'm a professional with the privilege of a badge. Only, that badge seems to give people the right to treat me with disrespect, dishonesty, and sometimes outright rudeness, and hostility. Some days at the shelter, it would be hours of person after person yelling at me. Of course they would be yelling at me for things that were not my fault, and of course I would tell myself this. I would respond with respect, but there is only so much and so many years that a girl can take. This is the same in the field: I do things that people do not like. Simple things like asking someone (or telling them) to put their dog on a leash can cause tirades. Writing citations can cause literally an hour of cursing or require backup units. And when seizing someone's animals for animal cruelty, I can be the enemy. I understand all of this. No amount of politeness can overcome what I am doing. But it still takes its toll. I am the man in these situations. I am tired of being the man. Damn the Man and Fuck the Police.

Here's what I want: I want to go back to liking dogs and cats and puppies and kittens. I still like them, I'm not THAT animal control officer yet. But I want to stop noticing every dog that's not on a leash, or to stop going "ahhh that puppy is too young to be on the ground, he's parvo bait!" I want to stop looking at a dog's gonads first before his face. I want to start enjoying spring again, and forget all about kitten season. (I know this one is a long shot.) I want to go to the county fair and just pet the animals. I don't want to know a house on every block because of animals I've seized, or negligent dog owners. I don't want to notice every piece of roadkill in the road, or be able to identify a piece of clothing vs a dead raccoon vs cardboard in the street. This is not a skill I need to maintain.

And while I try to maintain a reputation as a misanthrope and a curmudgeon, I'm not, really. I'm generally a pretty nice person, and if you promise not to tell, I like people. I'm ready to go back to liking people, to not questioning why I give people the benefit of the doubt, to regretting trusting people. Call me naive, but I think it's a good quality to trust people, to take things at face value. I'm ready for a job that I will be met in the middle, where people will also trust me, and be deserving of my trust. I'm ready to be out of the police business, where every interaction can be seen as a confrontation. I'm ready to be one of the "good guys" again.

Today is my first day without being an officer. I was always weirded out by being called "Officer Themacinator," it never struck me as "me." Today is the first day of funemployment, of true liberation. It's scary, but a good scary. I'm going shooting, in the rain, after gordos. Tomorrow I'm going to Disneyland, with my main man. I have no real plans. I know I'll always be an animal welfare nerd. But I'm ready to be a nerd that doesn't euthanize animals, that isn't a punching bag. Onwards and upwards.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Year of the Bug: Usual Spot, No Sofafree

So the freeway by my house is an awesome spot to sofafree hunt. First, they seem to appear a lot there. Second, the light there rocks. So on our walk today, I spotted something new. Graffiti that pretty much sums it up.

usual spot, no sofafree

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Peter Hessler: Country Driving

As always, I'm behind with my New Yorker reading. Last week, I finished the 2010 "World Changers" edition- the yearly issue of innovations. David Owen wrote a fantastic piece (only available online to subscribers) about the "Jevons Paradox" in regards to energy efficiency. Basically, the Jevons Paradox or "rebound effect" argues that greater energy efficiency may result in short term gains, but in the long run ends up in larger use of energy. Stuff that uses energy gets cheaper because it's easier to make and power, so we use more of it. The argument has gone in and out of favor, but Owen makes a pretty good argument for it (and against things like hybrid cars: we feel virtuous for driving cars that get good mileage, so we drive more, and further). I'm reminded of a book that I read years ago by Jane Kay, "Asphalt Nation," about how cars swell to take up the roads that are built for them. It's a cycle: more cars and drivers mean that more roads are needed to ease the congestion. As more roads are built, more cars are bought/created to fill the now easier roads.

David Hessler spent 10+ years in China proving the Jevons Paradox. Okay, I don't actually know if the Jevons Paradox applies to more than just energy in the literal sense, but if it does, post-Reform China as Hessler describes it is a key example. For the majority of the book, the refrain "If you build it, they will come," echoed in my head. The first third "Country Driving" is devoted to Hessler's travels around northern China in a series of crappy Chinese cars. The sales of cars have skyrocketed, not least because a) they're cheap and b) China has been building roads at a pace that makes the American road building campaign in the middle of last century look an ant-farm next to a real ant hill. Chinese drivers are signing up for their version of drivers ed so that they can buy cars, so that they can drive on new roads. Remember the traffic jam that was all over the news last year? The way Hessler describes driving in China, it makes sense. There was no culture of driving until recently, and there's no sense to the roads or the traffic control. There's no traffic cops, and the drivers ed doesn't make sense. Driving is a sign of prestige for the individual, and a sign of making it for the country. So traffic jams are inevitable. It's Jevons Paradox at work, at least as I understand it: if it's cheap, if you build it, they will come.

In the second part of the book, Hessler finds a spot in a nearby town to do some writing, and it becomes his home away from home, out of the city. And as the road comes to the town, so does moderate economic prosperity. I'm reminded of Mexico in a way, though people move to other, richer, more modern places in China, rather than crossing any border. Hessler becomes close to a family who are in possession of the last child in town. Every other young person has moved/migrated away to somewhere better/more modern/rich. If you think about it, the "if you build it, they will come" slogan means that "they" have to come from somewhere. They come from towns like this rural one where Hessler has made his home. Hessler follows the family's upward economic mobility, trackable by things from the foods they eat, the size of the child, the types of cigarettes the dad smokes, even to the car the dad (not very successfully) purchases and drives. China is becoming notorious for its energy consumption. Energy is cheap in China (China is also notorious for cheap pretty-much-everything), so as soon as a person can afford "stuff", they buy it. Jevons Paradox again.

The final section of the book is Hessler's take on a "Development Zone," with a case study of a factory producing clothing accessories, specifically "bra rings." Yeah, the part of the bra that allows you to adjust your bra. The entire point is that the factories in development zones produce things so obscure that the profit margin is minuscule. Again, I'm reminded of maquiladoras in Mexico, and the (mostly) women who work there, having migrated from rural towns in order to improve their lives from subsistence to something slightly better, leaving only older generations surviving on remittances in rural towns, forgotten by the central government. Hessler remarks that the improvements he sees in these zones are that people begin to individualize, and move away from group-think, but acknowledges that the Chinese education system is pitiful, and does little to promote innovation. The economic boom that manifests as development zones is false, and is as bound to fail as the mortgage boom in the US. Basically, the profit margins are so small, and so based on industry without innovation that there is no there there. Roads and construction with no tax base do not make a stable economy. Combined with the destruction of rural villages and the literal reconstruction of the environment- enormous dams and literal moving of mountains- along with enormous pollution from factories and the new car culture, Hessler paints (without doing it outright) a distressing picture. The book is a fascinating, if long, take on China. Highly recommended for anyone interested in, well, how a large portion of the world lives.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mac Brings You Peace

Although slightly finnicky about the particular blades of grass, Mac could like to recommend you stop and enjoy your green leafy vegetables.

(Taken outside Looking Glass Photo. Mac is available at a discount price for weeding with mention of this blog post.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Year of the Bug: Sofafree Returns

This was taken in the usual spot- the freeway underpass right by my house. Sofafree seem to proliferate there, and it's got great light. I brought my Golden Half half frame camera and had my iphone with me, too. I never know how film is going to turn out, so I wanted a back up plan. I love the Goldie version:

TGISFW: Week 11, BedBug Edition

but it's possible I might like the iphone version better. It's processed with the instagram app, which just might be my new favorite camera and my new favorite application. Try it.

This project (I know I've said this before) is making me realize just how fast this year is. Less than 2 weeks till Opening Night!

What the Dog Sees

I know it's supposed to be funny, but it's So True.

We chain together events, like coming home with dinner. Dog doesn't know that we've been at work/out, he just knows that human-opening door-giving food goes together. The old saying "jokes start in truth," man, I really do always take things too far!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Year of the Bug: Welcome to the MacCave

I've only recently been exposed to the concept of a man cave. Apparently man of them feature video games.

For week 10, Mac shares his version.

Week 10: Welcome to the MacCave

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Theory, Practice, and Emotion, Dog Training Version

In theory, I love R+, or "Positive Reinforcement" dog training. For example: I think that knowing dogs, and your dog or the dog that you're working with is key to training. Even though I can never keep the four quadrants straight, I get them, and think trainers, and really, owners, should get the basics of learning theory. I love Suzanne Clothier's concept of relationship based training. This stuff applies when I talk to people who really DO dog stuff (I was talking to a man who does French Ring the other day), to people who are just adopting their first dog. Another example: I think it's totally possible, and great, to potty train a dog without ever rubbing their nose in their pee or whacking them with a newspaper. In theory, it's also totally possible to teach a dog to walk on a leash, on a flat collar, from the beginning, without correction, so that if they're not on a leash, it would be the same.

The first thing- potty training- I'm pretty sure I could follow through on. It's been a LONG time since I potty trained Mac. He hasn't had an accident in a long time, but potty training is something that, for me, seems like common sense- owner error leads to dogs doing their thing inside. He goes through my trash occasionally, when I leave something good in it, but that's my fault. I come home, see it strewn around, and think, "Bad themacinator." I pick it up, shrug, and move on. Same concept as potty training without punishment.

The second example- loose leash walking- I failed. I could give a million excuses- like, I was just a baby dog person then, which is true. I could explain that the first trainer I went to was sort of a mixed bag- use a clicker, but you can also use a prong, and the private trainer I went to put a prong on Mac to have more control, though she was very good with the prong. (I know, REAL R+ people will say that "good with the prong" is like saying an "effective spanker.") I could say that I was heavily influenced by a group of pit bull advocates that rely, to this day, on the prong as a tool (crutch) for pit bulls, and think that steering is the proper use for the prong collar. I could tell you that I transitioned Mac to a front clip harness for awhile, which worked like a charm, and that I tried him on a Gentle Leader, but his made his princess chin bleed without him even touching it. Pobrecito. All of these things would be true. I could also tell you the same thing that most trainers who use positive punishment (the introduction of something negative in order to decrease a behavior) would tell you: Mac doesn't seem to mind the prong collar, and it is effective with him. My theory of training went out the window with practice. In this case, it was probably because of how I learned, ignorance, and then laziness. What will I do with my next dog? Who knows.

But the example I really wanted to share was more emotionally related, and not about me and Mac. There have been examples on some internet forums that I read and that I've seen with friends lately of people getting REALLY frustrated with their dogs and lashing out, verbally or physically. These are not bad dogs (obviously) or bad, abusive people (less obviously). This is emotion getting in the way of their theory of ownership. Their theory of dog training may not include world-famous trainers or learning theory, but they're kind people. I'm pretty sure if you sat them down- at least my friends, not the internet posters- they would answer a multiple choice question with the "I would never physically or verbally threaten my dog to get the desired result" response. But sometimes it happens. Sometimes dogs are Really Fucking Annoying. They are mouthy, jumpy, bratty creatures that do things that make us forget why we share our homes with them. They eat the trash, they get in our faces when we're not in the mood, and they annoy our visitors. They seem to do this stuff at the worst possible times, as if they know that we are not at our Most Kindest Gentlest Moments.

At this times, I've seen some of my favorite people respond in ways that I don't think they would recommend to others, or even recognize if played back to them. They've yelled at their dogs or pushed their dogs more roughly than they've meant to. (Of course I've yelled at my dog, and in a way that he would understand, a few times too. In fact, to really YELL at a dog in order for it to be effective positive punishment, rather than "blah blah blah," the yelling I'm talking about is probably what you would need to do.) And the behavior that the people do works: it makes the behavior that the dog is presenting stop. This is effective positive punishment: the addition of something bad- yelling or physical punishment- causes the unwanted behavior- jumping/mouthing/trash eating- to stop. It works. Emotions such as anger, irritation, frustration, etc take over, cause actions that are irrational and unplanned, but turn out to be effective.

I'm making observations here, not advocating for this. But when I see it, it's clear to me how more "force based" training can be persuasive. These emotional responses tend to be loud and forceful as anger and aggravation tend to erupt that way, and also startling. Someone reaches the tipping point of tolerating all they can of naughty dog and lashes out: "Shut the bleep up" or shoves the dog out of the way. Rather than the "nagging" of "stop that, Mac, no, really, stop," like I do, avoiding the sudden yell that might actually be effective, or the ignoring of bad behavior until good behavior is presented and rewarded that would require lots of patience, emotional responses tend to be effective: they stop the dog from what they're doing because they're Loud and Scary and therefore more Interesting or plain old more Powerful than whatever was happening before. Basically, it works, at least for the human. It may not feel good, either for the human or the dog, or be long lasting, but it works, and when you're in a state of frustration for the human, getting results is important.

As someone who has done some dog training, I know that it doesn't take many times (the rule is 3) to lure a dog into a sit before you can fade the lure and start onto hand signals and cues. I actually have never trained a dog to sit by pushing his ass onto the ground (it physically doesn't even make sense), but I can see that it would be faster. You say "sit" and you shove his butt down. It's done. Two seconds. Fast results. It may not work by the third time, but the cue to position time is much faster. Humans, even well meaning humans, are impatient. They are not bad for being impatient. We expect a lot of dogs, and of ourselves. Sometimes it's good to step back and analyze why we do, and not be so hard on ourselves for our failures. Then we can move forward. And stop hitting the dog.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Atul Gawanade: The Checklist Manifesto

I've written about Atul Gawande. I've even read part of this article before at The New Yorker. I even follow him on twitter. You could say I like him. I read this book in one day, because it's a fast read, and because it's good. Read the linked New Yorker for the nutshell version of the book.

Basically, the more complicated medicine (and lots of our world) gets, the better things get. People don't die from heart attacks as much (Gawande knows the statistics, I don't), because there are drugs and surgeries and of course preventatives. Now, people die from complications from the drugs and surgeries and hospitalizations that come from the heart attacks. This alarms Gawande, and it should alarm you. It shouldn't alarm you to the point of luddite-ness, or Christian Scientist-ness, but it got to Gawande, a physician/surgeon/fancy author/doctor person, enough to try something radical: pause and make sure everything was being done that could prevent these complications. Simple things like everyone washing their hands, and wearing gloves. Simple (but disturbingly creepy) things like accounting for all surgical tools after procedures and making sure the right patient was on the table and that everyone in the room was sure of what procedure was being done, and on what side of the body. Simple yet rather innovative things like having everyone in the room introduce themselves.

It turns out that this is groundbreaking in medicine, and hugely effective, whether in first world, cutting edge hospitals, or Global South hospitals where local anesthesia is a luxury. The checklists and procedures can vary, but the outcomes are improved regardless. Slowing down, being conscious of your work, and being aware of the most basic steps as well as the most elaborate ones saves lives. It also turns out that airline pilots have been doing this for, well, ever. They are mandated to as both airline companies and as individual pilots. This results in few crashes and few instances of turbulence, etc. Passengers don't even know what didn't hit them. One of the lines that sticks out is the instruction (this is true) from one of the flight checklists: "Fly the Plane." These simple instructions remind pilots that even in times of crisis, they know what they're doing, they just need to remember to do it. Slow down and remember what you're there for: Fly the Plane.

Doctors, especially in the US, as I read it, are resistant to Gawande and the World Health Organization's distribution of the checklist. Medicine is seen as an art, as practiced by well-educated geniuses who Know What They're Doing. These kind of men don't need checklists. They are a wealth of knowledge unto themselves. Of course they've got the basics covered (and the checklists are only a reminder of the basics). For surgery, Gawande developed "Pause Points": before anesthesia, before surgery, and before finishing the surgery/wheeling out the patient. At each point, Gawande writes about personal "saves": situations where drastic harm and possibly death were avoided. The checklists cause the whole team to work together: although this is the age of The Hero, Gawande believes a checklist requires teamwork, and that the usage of it makes the save a team project.

I've been thinking a lot about this book for the last week, since I finished it, and how checklists could help in animal welfare- where they would be useful. Modern animal welfare seems such a divisive, maverick-favoring kind of place (think of the big names in no-kill and dog training- it's almost cult of personality). Checklists in animal dispositioning may help slow down the process, and rather than dictating an outcome, force a return to the basics. Pause points- evaluation of the temperament, health, options- might lead to better outcome for each animal. The resistance to the idea would be immense- "we don't have enough time!"- "I don't' want to work with them!"- "it's working just fine!"- but as in the airline and medicine fields, might increase the live-release rate. Imagine a group of animal welfare leaders from all types of shelters sitting down to design a checklist that has just a few questions for each pause point: intake, assessment, disposition. The possibilities are endless. The questions have never been asked, at least not systematically.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Year of the Bug: Swim at Your Own Risk

The lifeguard on duty is only semi-trustworthy.

This shot is all Vicky. She sent me the awesome lifeguard outfit. And when I took a whole bunch of crappy shots, she plugged mac into this scene. Thanks, girl!

Week 9: Swim At Your Own Risk