Category Archives: Veterinary medicine

Translating Dog Language

Dogs don’t really have language, since “Arf”, “Whine”, and “Growl”, do not constitute language, even if you string them all together in the same sentence.

On the other hand, it might be one, since no one has yet really defined what language is.  Or why human speech came to be.  As a (mostly recovering) anthropology major in college, I have a passing interest in linguistics.  Now, after all this time, here is what I think:  humans define what language is, and we’re handicapped by an inability to define it otherwise.  It’s Schrodinger’s cat. The victors write the history.  Those kinds of things.

We are getting better, I think.  We finally understand that whales and dolphins are at least talking to each other, even if we don’t understand what they’re saying.

What would happen if we actually found extraterrestrial life?  I am reminded of a column by the great humorist Dave Barry, who said if his wife were involved and it looked microbial, she would kill it with a spray bottle of Clorox.  So much for science.

But I digress.  No one who knows dogs or has had a dog would doubt that they communicate.  And dogs, in my view, are almost the only animals who care about whether you understand them or not.  But they have to mostly do that with behavior.  But think about it.  Humans do too.  Language gives us the ability to lie.

So, since my dog Troughton died on Wednesday, the other dog, Pippin, has been acting squirrely.

When I got home from the vet’s about 7:15 that evening, he went into mega-sniff mode–which he always does to an extent, whenever any other member of the pack goes somewhere with me that he wasn’t invited.  He’s like, “Tell me your story”.  Because this is the way he apprehends the world–through scent.  He might get it slightly wrong, but humans do too, with speech.

I was not happy with this, because I imagined that the smells I came home with did not tell the story I would like to have told.

It turned out that the vet’s office, which recently expanded its hospital, has a special euthanasia room, or that’s what I think.  I blurted out, Wow.  This is like hospice.  And it was.  There was a deep brown leather love seat against the wall.  An Oriental rug.  An “exam” table with a black marble top.

The vet tech had to carry Troughton there, and he was in the floor by the love seat.  He was fading fast.

So when I came home, I think I smelled like death. Death in general, but with the death of Troughton in the mix.

I have anecdotal evidence of this.  According the rescue group people I know, at the public shelter when they come into the dog “ward” and remove a dog for euthanasia, all the other dogs start howling, as if they know what is about to happen.  They miss their fellow prisoner, and are afraid they will be next.  I think that’s true, but I think it’s because the scrubs the people are wearing smell like death.

After Pippin’s Sniff Fest, he ignored me for the next 24 hours.  It was like if he got near me, I would capture him, take him away, and he would never come back either.

The next morning, he wouldn’t eat his food, because the routine was always that Troughton’s food bowl got filled first.  So he kept waiting for me to put food in Troughton’s dish.  Same deal last night.

This morning he seemed to have come to some sort of understanding.  He ate his food, and he let me pet him.  It’s been less than 72 hours.  Must be nice.


Stormy the Cat Gets Attacked

Not to worry… this happened 8 or 9 years ago.  Stormy jumped out of the bedroom window at the worst possible time–when all four dogs were outside in the back yard.  I didn’t even know anything was happening until I heard Stormy scream, and yes, cats can scream.  (So can rabbits.)

I ran outside and Stormy was lying on her back with all four feet in the air. I think cats do this so they have all four paws (and claws) available to fight.  Unfortunately, by the time they get in this position, it’s already too late. And they have exposed their most vulnerable parts.   Cats are much better off to be upright, where they can run, or swat with their front paws (dog noses are a good target), or leap onto the back of the aggressor and hang on.  And dig in.

By the time I got there, which was only seconds, her abdomen was a bloody mess.  There was blood everywhere.  It was like watching one of the “Halloween” movies. So I started screaming too and did what might be the least smart thing you could do, which is, I ran into the middle of the fray.  To the extent I was thinking (not much), I was trusting that the dogs would not hurt me.  But that was a pretty big risk.  Under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t hurt me.  But at this point they were crazed, and literally, bloodthirsty.  When they get to that point, they lose all semblance of civilization.

What happens next is very blurry to me.  I scooped Stormy up off the ground and rushed her to the vet, which thankfully is only about 3/4 of a mile away.  She was clearly in shock–but so was I.  I just know that the next thing I remember is standing at the counter at the vet’s office, holding Stormy who is wrapped in a towel.   (When did I stop to get a towel?)  I don’t remember driving there.  I remember standing at the counter saying, “My cat has been attacked by dogs.”  And this is why I love my vet hospital.  At that point everything is in fast forward.

The receptionists (of which there are between 3 and 8 at any one given time–it is a huge place) have these walkie-talkies which they normally use to communicate with the kennel staff, but in this case the receptionist says into her walkie-talkie “Cat attacked by dogs” and an army of people rush out into the waiting area and grab Stormy out of my arms and take her into surgery immediately.  The next thing I remember is sitting on a bench in the waiting area, but not remembering how I got there.  And gradually I became aware that there were many other people in the waiting area, who may have been waiting for a long time, and I said, “I’m sorry”.

After about two hours, the vet came out and said, Here’s the good news. We found all the bite marks and puncture wounds and sewed them up, and she survived the surgery.  We’re going to send Stormy home with pain medication and antibiotics.  But here’s the bad news.  Most of the damage is to the fat roll on her belly, and fat doesn’t have veins, so the antibiotics can’t get there or do any good.  So she could develop gangrene.  In which case, we will do our best to remove that tissue, but bottom line–she could still die.

Then he said, your cat is too fat. WTF?  My cat has barely survived an attack and you want to talk about her WEIGHT?  This is the part I DON’T like about my vet.  They are such a large practice that they serve as the host for internships and/or residencies for new vets, particularly from the University of Alabama.  These people are very smart and skilled, but haven’t quite mastered the part about talking to humans.  Yes, my cat may be too fat, but is this really the time to bring it up?

Ahem, I said, showing great restraint, I am not overfeeding my cat.  I adopted her about two years ago, when she was already about two years old, and she was fat then.    There is nothing I can do about that fat roll other than a panniculectomy (which they will do for cats, believe it or not)  and that is not in my future plans.  Then I thought, what the hell am I talking about here?  Why are we even having this conversation?

So I took the cat home, and to make a long story short, she survived and never developed gangrene.  Three of the four dogs who attacked her are now dead (Living, and living well, is the best revenge?)  In the intervening years, I’ve contemplated killing her myself, for one thing because she is so loud.  When I’m trying to go to sleep, she curls up next to my chest and purrs so loudly that it’s like trying to sleep cuddled up with a helicopter.

(Disclaimer:  You know I’m kidding, right?  Sometimes I forget how literally people take things on the Internet.)

Blossom the Cow and Debbie the Cat

In other words…more James Herriot. 

I’m now on the third installment (All Things Wise and Wonderful), having just finished the second one, All Things Bright and Beautiful. 

Before we get to Blossom and Debbie, first, an aside.  In the grocery store check-out line last week, the cashier said, Great book.  (I always take a book into the grocery store in case I have to wait in line, which I can’t bear.)  I said, I can’t believe these books are 40 years old and I’m just now reading them.  Well, she said, people don’t read Tolstoy either and he’s been around a lot longer.  I was just astonished–the cashier at Publix is talking about Tolstoy?  You’d think that considering what I do for a living, I’d know better than to stereotype.  Then she said, the only bad thing about these books is that once you’re finished, you know there will never be another one.  Ouch, I said…so true.  It’s how I felt about reading everything John D. McDonald and Robert B. Parker ever wrote. 

Then the guy behind me in line gets into the act and says Yes, but here’s the good thing.  By the time you finish, you can just start over again because at our age, you won’t remember them.  All three of us were cracking up.  I love these little fly-by social encounters with strangers.  It just brightens my day. 

Blossom was a very old cow, and all of her parts were sagging (can we relate, or what?)  Her hipbones jutted out and her udders were practically dragging the ground.  The problem was that when she laid down, her udders spread out over the floor and the other cows would step on them.  Since cow hooves are very sharp, they would cut her, and when we meet her, Herriot is there to stitch her up for the fourth time. 

The next time he’s there, he’s just in time to see the drover who drives cattle to market arrive to pick up Blossom, because the farmer has decided it’s time for her to become dog food.  When the drover calls her she follows him placidly, joining the crowd of other cattle in his charge. 

As Herriot stands there talking to the farmer, the farmer says, What’s that noise?  It’s the unmistakable sound of cow hooves on cobblestones.  And there is Blossom.  At the top of a hill, Blossom cut away and came back to the barn via a side path.  She goes directly to her stall–like, that was fun, but I’m back now.  Shortly afterwards, the drover arrives out of breath and says, don’t worry, I’ll get her back and this time I’ll keep a closer eye on her.  But the farmer blocks the way to her stall.  NO, he says.  Blossom ‘as come ‘ome, and ‘ome she will stay.

We hear this story because Herriot has dreamed about her.  He is newly inducted into the RAF.  He is desperately missing his pregnant wife and his life on the moors.  He says, I know why I dreamed about Blossom.  I wanted to go home too. 

Debbie the cat is a stray who shows up around three times a week at Mrs. Ainsworth’s house.  Debbie has a bit of food, then sits in front of the fireplace for a few minutes, then leaves to go back to her unknown home (if any).  Herriot learns of her existence when he is called to Mrs. A’s house on Christmas Day to examine one of her three Bassett hounds.  Debbie is an adult cat, but very tiny.  Her growth has been stunted. 

The following year, again on Christmas Day, Mrs. A. calls and says she needs Herriot to come out, only this time it’s Debbie–something is wrong with her.  Debbie has shown up at the house carrying a tiny kitten in her mouth, which she dumps on the rug in front of the fireplace.  Then she lies down, uncharacteristically.  From the minute Herriot sees her bloodless gums and filmy eyes, he knows that Debbie is dying.  He finds a huge mass–a lymphosarcoma–in her abdomen, and she dies within minutes.  And I thought to myself, OMG–this is like good human parents, who want a better life for their children than they had for themselves.  Literally with her dying breath, Debbie has brought her kitten to Mrs. Ainsworth.  Please, Fakename, I scolded myself.  Inexcusable anthropomorphism. 

And then Herriot writes, “Was it too much to think that that dying little creature with the last of her strength had carried her kitten to the only haven of comfort and warmth she had ever known in the hope it would be cared for there?”  So if I’m anthropomorphic, so was he.  And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.  What I think is that animals are very mysterious to us, and while the animal behaviorist people may say we can’t prove that animals have emotions and are capable of forethought, I say, we can’t prove they don’t either. 

Debbie has now been dead for about 70 years, and Blossom, close to the same.  But because of Herriot, they are immortal.  The miracle of books. 


I’m Wrung Out

As we say here in the South.  The present tense of which is “wring”.  Wringing is a process of twisting hand-washed laundry until as much water is squeezed out as possible before hanging it up on a clothesline to drip-dry.   Also used to describe the process of killing a chicken by twisting its neck.  I can’t decide whether I’m a chicken or a pillowcase.  Either fits. 

This week I learned that my dog may have something called Wobbler’s disease (or Syndrome).  The vet, who is eminently qualified, suggested it very tentatively, but I’ve learned to translate.  He means, “I really think this is what it is, but I don’t want to alarm you, and I don’t want to totally commit myself unless we can confirm it with a lot more expensive tests”.

I’m not suggesting he’s trying to make money.  It’s that vets are as hesitant as people doctors.  They get blamed and sued when someone dies.  Ergo, let’s do more tests before we tell you we can’t help you. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  My dog either has Wobbler’s, or something like it, and the symptoms and the treatments are the same.  He’s a Doberman who is 11 1/2 years old.  Something had to happen sometime soon.   It’s just that I’m not ready.   I’ll never be ready.  You could give me another 11 1/2 years with him and I would still not be ready.

But I will be.  That’s the thing about dogs.  You get the joy of them when they’re young, but in the end, you have to be the grownup and let them go. 

Meanwhile, there’s a possibility my job may be ending.  I’ve been pretty good at denial until today, but today I realized that I need to treat this possiblity as if it was a done deal, and hope to be pleasantly surprised instead. 

Meanwhile, there have been the usual petty issues that annoyed me and those that made me laugh during this week.  It’s taken me many years of self-training to get to the point where I deliberately focus on the good stuff and the funny stuff, because it really works to counteract the bad stuff.  But this week I feel defeated, like I just don’t have to resources to do it. 

Small bad things are easy.  I think these are two big bad things.  That’s part of my philosophy too.  Don’t attach major importance to small bad things.  I just wish that when big bad things happen, they would space themselves out, and not happen in the same week. 

This week I intended to blog about Horseshoe crabs.  There was a beautiful tribute to them in the newspaper last week by Ann Rudloe of the Gulf Specimen Marine Labaratory (in Panacea, FL).  Maybe another time.

Sad Dog Stories..or Not

Here at the Fakename blog, we aren’t always the happy-go-lucky, upbeat person you’ve grown to love and expect.  (Staff cues canned laughter.)

So last week I asked Yard Guy what happened to Rusty, his mother’s Dachshund.  Rusty was the very picture of bright and breezy.  He’s the kind of dog who made you want a Dachshund, even if it had never previously crossed your mind.  He and my dogs were fence friends.  (As opposed to the dogs on the other side, who are fence enemies.)

Yard Guy says that two weeks before, he had taken Rusty to the vet and had him put down.  I was like, What?  Just two weeks ago?  I haven’t seen Rusty in months!  He said…that’s because he no longer wanted to go outside and play.  And Playful was Rusty’s middle name.  No amount of barking and intimidation attempts by my dogs ever disturbed his sunny disposition. 

It seems that some months ago, Rusty developed a lump on his shoulder.  The vet said they could remove it, but it would be $4,000, with no guarantee of success.  Yard Guy told his mother that if she commited to that, he would personally come over and kill her.  He was kidding of course. Sort of.   

So the alternative was Wait.  By Yard Guy’s description, the lump grew to a massive size, and Rusty became more and more listless.  So the time came.  You would kind of have had to be there to see the look on Yard Guy’s face as he talked about it, but it was like a veil dropping.  His own naturally lively face hardened in some way and there was somehow a visible look of pain in his eyes.  And part of it was like, I always have to do the hard stuff.  Yard Guy’s father is dead, his brother is worthless, so who’s left?  He always gets the clean-up jobs, and people assume that because he can do it, he has no feelings about it.  My heart was breaking for him. 

I should mention that Yard Guy has a dog himself, a Chihuahua named Peaches, who is positively glued to him.  He takes her everywhere, even, he told me, to work.  In Real Life he works for an auto body shop.  He says that she sleeps all day in the passenger seat of his truck (how unusual–a dog that sleeps all day!), with the door open, so that she can see him if he does something unacceptable, like move.  It’s a little jarring to know this very hearty, physical guy, with…a Chihuahua?  He seems more like the Rottweiler type to me.  But there you go with making assumptions.  I probably look more like the Chihuahua type, but I’m the type in Real Life who had a Rottweiler. 

I can testify to the truth of  Peaches’ behavior.  At my house she will wander around a bit, but not so far that she can’t keep Yard Guy in her sights.  But she’s starting to have some trouble with that.  She’s very old (16 or 17), and has developed cataracts, so she can’t always see and keep up with Yard Guy like she needs to.  Just the weekend before, she was wandering and got lost.  Only so far as the house next door to Yard Guy’s mother, but really, how far can you go when you can’t see, weigh like 3 pounds, and have legs the length of a toothpick? 

While Yard Guy and I were talking, Peaches took a dump right in front of us at the base of a pine tree.  Yard Guy was like, Thanks a lot, Peaches, for embarassing me.  I was like, What?  I’d have to get a magnifying glass to find it.  I’ve seen dead houseflies bigger than this. 

So Yard Guy says that when he loses Peaches, he will never get another dog.  Uh huh, I said.  People always say that.  No really, he says, I mean it.  I’m working a full-time job and doing this yard care stuff on the side.  I just don’t have time.  It would not be fair to the dog.  Uh huh, I said.  (And didn’t say, what about the part where they sleep most of the day?  And the part about where you can take him/her to work with you?)  It isn’t really about anything he said.  It’s about the looming prospect of losing Peaches, and her irreplaceability. 

I’m personally leery of Chihuahuas, because if they aren’t the most timid creatures on earth, they are the meanest.  There seems to be no in between.  Except maybe for Peaches, who is maybe too old to fall into either extreme.  I let Peaches sniff my jeans, and once extended my hand for her to sniff, but I am not stupid enough to try to pet her, although I’d like to.  Peaches is not very dangerous though.  She’s more like, indifferent. 

When my two dogs die, which in one case will be sooner rather than later, I’m never getting another dog either.  They are so much trouble.  Uh huh.  Right.

The Trial of Gary Michael Hilton…and His Dog

Hilton is now on trial in Tallahassee for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46 year-old nurse and Sunday School teacher who was reported missing when she didn’t show up to teach her Sunday School class on Sunday, December 2, 2007.  The day before, she went hiking alone in the Apalachicola National Forest.  In broad daylight. 

At that time, Hilton was 60 years old, gray-haired, and deceptively harmless looking.  Plus–he had a dog.  Among the many chilling pieces of evidence presented is a video of Hilton squatting down beside his dog, petting her and saying, “That’s my baby”.  In another, which is mostly audio, because it’s unclear whether he knew the camera was stiil recording, he says “I killed those bitches.  Now we will go to the park, but first I have to get rid of some stuff”.  Good job.  Make sure you feed your dog and take her to the park after the hard work of killing and dismembering  innocent people. 

I don’t know where he was at that time, but he was either driving north from Tallahassee to Georgia, or back.  From Tallahassee, he drove to another forest in north Georgia, where another woman was hiking alone (in broad daylight) with her dog Ella.  This was Meredith Emerson, who was 24 years old.  Age and sex don’t seem to matter to this guy.  It isn’t like a TV show, where serial killers have a “type”.  This guy was looking for someone to kill, and an opportunity to do it in a remote setting where he thought his chances of getting caught were nil.  And we know he killed Meredith Emerson, because he admitted it, in exchange for not getting the death penalty in Georgia. 

If you watch enough Law And Order, you know that a confession is not really enough.   In this case, he took them to the location of Meredith’s body.  No one but the killer could have known where that was.  They had been searching for weeks. 

He killed Meredith Emerson and beheaded her, whatever good he thought that would do him, but he couldn’t bring himself to kill her dog Ella.  So he let Ella go, and she eventually turned up at a convenience store in the area.  That “weakness” on his part was part of his undoing. 

Which brings me back to the dogs.  When I watched the video of him with his dog, I felt that he came across as an extreme example of the kind of person who says “I like dogs better than I like people”.  Well, me too, quite often, but I don’t want to kill anybody.  And in reality, his dog was just a lure.  A tool. 

One of the people I work with is very unglued by the trial, because he hunts in the same general area where Cheryl Dunlap’s body was discovered.  Her body was in fact discovered by hunters, even though again, the authorities had been searching for some time.  (I thought that’s what Bloodhounds were for.)  It could have been him who discovered her body, or, he might have encountered Hilton himself.  It seems very personal to him.  My response: you’re hunting.  At least you have a gun. 

Thinking that through, I think Hilton would have been less likely to try to approach someone with a gun.  But as the hunter with a gun, you aren’t there to shoot people.  Could you do it?  Would you even be able to think fast enough to switch gears and say” I need to do it”?

There are barely words for the cynicism, or sociopathy, or pathology it takes to use a dog in the fashion GMH did.  As my coworker pointed out, it would be so natural to encounter a stranger with dog and engage in conversation and get close. (Close enough to get dragged into a van.)  What a pretty dog.  What’s her name?  Can I pet her?  How old is she?  What kind of dog is she?  Sure you can walk this trail with me! 

I wonder what has happened to Hilton’s dog.  I don’t like to think about what she may have witnessed…or participated in.

Good Old Dog

This is the name of a new book by a veterinarian from Tufts University.  It’s intended to be an overview of how best to care for your older dog, and it covers topics from diet to cognitive decline to end of life decisions.  I know about it because the editor/author was interviewed on NPR on Tuesday.  How else?  I would never hear about a new book otherwise. 

I only heard a few minutes of the interview, so I missed the end-of-life part of the discussion.  I considered buying the book, and looked for it on Amazon, and the very first review of it by a reader pretty much trashed it, particularly where it concerned the end-of-life decision part. 

I have very strong feelings about that topic.  Some years ago I joined a Yahoo newsgroup called “Cancer in Rottweilers”.  My own Rottweiler died suddenly of what was possibly pancreatic cancer, and I had hoped to get more information about it–to see if anyone else had that experience.  But this group is primarily devoted to Rottweilers with osteosarcoma, which seems to be alarmingly prevalent.  (And only one person ever attempted to answer my questions.)  So the group discusses what the best diets are, and the pros and cons of amputation, chemo, and radiation (which is a rare option).  And frequently, there are agonizing posts about when to “let go”.    I don’t say so, but my answer is always, “Right now!”  If you are already asking that question, then it’s past time. 

In any case the Amazon reviewer perhaps misread the editor/author’s intent in the book.  Here is a quote from him from the NPR interview: 

“If, for example, you had a relatively noninvasive procedure that wasn’t going to cause your dog a lot of pain, and it was going to buy him an extra six months and you could afford that treatment — and those six months were quality life — then why not, if you can afford it?” he says. “But, on the other hand, just to drag out an existence. … Some people, I have known in the past … have done that. Owners, with cooperating vets, have just gone step after step after step, when really, you’re on a highway to nowhere. If the dog is in chronic pain and doesn’t have long to go, sometimes I question the wisdom of that approach.”

Notice all the ifs in there.  And I completely agree with it.  The hard part is when all the “if” parts can be answered positively, except for the money.  But that is the reality.  And it’s the reality with people too. 

I’m now down to two dogs, Troughton the 11 year-old Doberman and Pippin the 9 year-old Basenji mix.  Age-wise, the book editor/author says the seven years for dogs v. one year for humans doesn’t hold up for large dogs or very small dogs.  Small dogs are more like 6 years for every human year and large dogs are more like 8 years.  Both my dogs still qualify as medium, so that still makes the Doberman 77 and the Basenji 63. 

Both of them seem healthier than me, to me, probably because I have to spend my time taking care of them rather than the other way around 🙂  But the Doberman has a skin infection.  The antibiotics he’s been on for 10 days haven’t helped.  The Science Diet food for sensitive skin I bought him hasn’t helped.  The Tea Tree oil spray hasn’t helped.  He’s very itchy and has lost a lot of hair…but even so…this won’t kill him. 

Pippin the Basenji mix has nothing wrong with him at all.  If there were a nuclear holocaust, he and the cockroaches would be the only beings to survive. 

Last night, Pippin and Troughton escaped because I left the gate open.  I was able to recapture Troughton pretty quickly, because he has a sort of obedience gene.  But trying to capture Pippin is hopeless.  He comes back only when and if he wants to.  Lucky for me…he does want to, but “when” is up in the air. 

I could hear the neighbors’ dogs barking all up and down the street as he visited and taunted them.  After an hour, I decided to go look for him in the car, in spite of how fruitless it would be, and when I went out to the driveway, he was standing in the front yard.  “Come here,” I said.  “Not yet”, he replied. 

An hour later when it was thoroughly dark, when he might have been hit by a car in the dark, when he might have bitten someone, when he might have been taken in by a neighbor and confined so he couldn’t come home, when someone might have shot him, when he might have been picked up by the Sheriff’s department, when a bigger loose dog or a coyote or a rabid raccoon or a fox or a bat could have  bitten him, he barked at the door. 

Good dog 🙂

Reading With Fakename: A Twisted Faith

Before writing this, I did something I’ve never done before previous book reviews:  I looked online for other reviews of the same book.  That’s because I was hoping to find more synonyms for the word “vile”.  It isn’t the book that’s vile, it’s the main character.  “Character” isn’t exactly the word; this is non-fiction. 

The setting:  Kitsap County in Washington State, which includes the city of Bremerton, and an island in Puget Sound between Bremerton and Seattle called Bainbridge Island.  On Bainbridge Island, there was a little church called Christ Community Church, which started out as an affiliate of the Assemblies of God.   Now we must pause for a moment to discuss Fakename’s religious beliefs.

Okay, I’m glad we got that out of the way.  So I may not be the best person to judge how seriously awry things can go when religion is involved, but I will say that I believe not all religions are created equally.  For instance there is the guy who rides a peacock.  (I heard of him from the other book I read this week, House Rules, by Jody Picoult–an excellent book.)

In any case, the out-there religions always seem to have a serious sexual sublimation thing going on.  That whole thing of being possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Riding peacocks. 

(Look out for that cobra.)

So to make a long story short, our anti-hero is a guy named Nick  Hacheney, who is the youth pastor for the church.  Then he either volunteers or is assigned to do couples counseling, which is the ultimate fox/henhouse scenario.  Discord and chaos follow wherever he goes.  Then tragedy strikes…his own young wife dies in a house fire on the morning after Christmas Day in 1997, while he is away duck-hunting with the senior pastor and the senior pastor’s youngest daughter. 

Nick then proceeds to fuck his way through the female population of the church, beginning only days after his wife’s death.  Please pardon the language, but no other word seems to quite do the trick.  Being that he’s fat and ugly, it’s amazing that he gets away with it.

Five years after his wife’s death (talk about condensing a book–I ought to be hired by Reader’s Digest), he’s convicted of murder and arson.  The arson conviction is eventually overturned, which means he is eligible for parole in 2025. 

So, how did he get away with blazing his path of destruction through the women of the church?  Here is Fakename’s theory of the crime (and we are skipping their vulnerability and his sociopathy):  he needed a hook.  With one exception–he was already having an affair before the death of his wife–he needed a way into the hearts (and pants) of the women he knew.  Had he tried it while his wife was alive, he would have been just your average run-of-the-mill sleazebag and adulterer.  But afterwards, he was Mr. Sad Eyes.  He was suffering so terribly.  He needed emotional and physical comfort.  He claimed to be as mystified as the women were by his need.  He could only conclude that God wanted him to do it.  Of course, God wanted them to do it too.  Talk about a pick-up line. 

One of the women was his mother-in-law.  How repulsive is that?  Last week, I mentioned that reading The Politician, about John Edwards, made me want to keep washing my hands.  Reading this one made me want to find a decontamination chamber. 

Twisted was a good choice of words.

Tallahassee News…Part 2

Before I get into this, let me state for the record…I like it here.  It’s my adopted hometown.  What is it about us Americans?  A huge percentage of us can’t wait to get out of wherever we grew up.  And I’m no different.  Hell would be being forced to live in the small town where I mostly grew up. 

But I’ve been fortunate since that time to have lived in six different cities, some way larger and more legendary than this one.  In each one, I met loads of people who couldn’t wait to leave, though most of them never did.  They just stayed in place and whined.  From them, I learned the art of appreciating where you are at the moment.  I always saw “their” cities through new eyes.

When I moved here from West Palm Beach, a friend told me I was going to hate it. He said, it’s so…provincial.  You will not fit in.  When I returned to West Palm after my first visit, I told him…You forgot to mention that it’s beautiful there.  Well, he said, there is that. 

When I define Tallahassee, it breaks down to:  it’s the State Capital, it has two major universities, and it has a lot of trees.  I think it’s pretty cool that in the course of my everyday life, I can drive by Andrew’s Capital Grill and see the governor having lunch on the patio.  Politics, thought and enthusiasm generated by the university atmosphere, and lots of live oaks.  What’s not to like?

According to the 2000 Census, the Tallahassee MSA has a population of 284,000-plus, and 150,000-plus within the city limits.  But its size does not begin to define it.  So now we move on to yesterday’s news. 

One of the universities here is Florida State, and one of the top ongoing stories is that they are being sanctioned by the NCAA for a cheating scandal.  To condense, some 60 or so student athletes cheated on an online music appreciation course (oh, stop me from picturing Bubba trying to understand Bach), aided by 3 staff members.  So the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to vacate any victories by FSU in games  those students played in.  The big deal about that is that if that holds, Bobby Bowden will fall way behind Joe Paterno in the quest to be the winningest coach ever.  Okay, fine.  Yawn.  But that isn’t the story.  The story is that when the NCAA issued its decision in reply to FSU’s appeal, they said FSU couldn’t tell anybody what it said.  They sent a read-only file to FSU’s lawyers.  The local newspaper sued.  Finally the State Attorney General sent them a letter saying they were in violation of Florida’s open records law.  Then and only then, the NCAA said FSU could release the records, but they themselves wouldn’t, and didn’t feel bound by that silly Florida law.  So that is the story.  I always thought that the NCAA were the good guys.  Who knew they were fascists?

The other important story in the news yesterday concerned Gary Michael Hilton, who is awaiting trial here for the murder of  a nurse a couple of years ago.  She was found decapitated in the Appalachicola National Forest.  The story was that the Ormond Beach authorities are looking at him for the murder of a decapitated man found in a state park near there.  In that case, his head has never been found.  Gary Michael Hilton confessed to the murder (and decapitation) of a young woman in Georgia, and was sentenced to life in prison for it.  Only because he confessed.  So he will go back to Georgia to spend his life in prison, unless Florida kills him first. 

I went through a tough moment when I was called for jury duty some months ago.  I was afraid that I might be called upon to be in a death penalty case, such as Gary Michael Hilton.  I think Hilton is a monster and a serial killer.  If a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death, I would be okay with that.  It’s just that I couldn’t do it myself.  It’s a contradiction, I know, and trying to reconcile it in my mind gives me a headache. 

So Tallahassee is not that provincial, as provincial goes.  We’ve got high school teachers having sex with students, the NCAA acting like the Gestapo, and serial killers in jail in our midst.  This is, after all, the place where Ted Bundy got caught.

The Persistence of Memory…Or Not

Sunday on 60 Minutes there was an episode about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony.  A white woman who was raped identified a black man named Ronald Cotton as her attacker.  During the attack, she spent her time memorizing every feature she could about her rapist.  Eventually, she identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker in both a photo lineup and a physical lineup.  He was convicted.  She says outright that she hoped he would be raped in prison, and then killed.  Mr. Cotton said he was innocent. 

Then, while in prison, Mr. Cotton learned there was a person who had just been admitted, who had confessed to raping the victim in his case.  There was a new trial.  The victim, sitting in the courtroom, faced with both Mr. Cotton and the new suspect (who did look a lot like him, as Cotton admits), a guy named Poole, resolutely identified Mr. Cotton as her rapist.  He was convicted again, this time if I’m not mistaken, sentenced to two life terms. She was totally sure it was him. 

The only thing was, it wasn’t him.  It was Poole.  The whole thing happened prior to DNA testing, but once it was done, it was proved that Poole was the guy, and Cotton was released.  By this time, he had spent 11 years in prison for something he didn’t do.  The victim was in shock.  She asked to meet him.  She said, If I asked you every day for the rest of my life to forgive me, I will never be able to repay you.  And he said, “I forgive you right now.” 

Now the victim and Cotton are touring the country together, talking to law enforcement about the danger of relying too much on eyewitness testimony.  They have written a book together, entitled Picking Cotton.  An unfortunate title if you ask me, but perhaps they chose it precisely for its shock value.    Stress interferes with memory, and that’s been known for a long time.  No matter how hard she tried, the victim wasn’t really able to “remember” accurately. 

Before you start to think this is a case of white women thinking all black men look alike, consider that much of the program then showed research on the issue, which had men and women trying to identify the faces of mostly white men which had been slightly altered.  The face may have looked the same, but the eyes were slanted upwards instead of down, or some other subtle alteration of that nature.  The reporter, Leslie Stahl, failed the test. 

Back in the ’70’s, my friend and great love Art, who was a psychology professor, did a class which almost got him fired.  He arranged for an acting student to “shoot” him and his co-professor during class.  My roommate and I were in on the deal.  I got to help, the week before, selecting the fake blood they would use, which would be kept in a packet in their shirt pockets that they could smack and burst open when they were “shot”.  Ketchup did not work.  In the end we concluded that the chicken blood they got from a butcher was the most realistic. 

This actually was a re-creation of an experiment that had already been performed at another school.  While my job was to help select the “blood”, my roommate’s job was to start screaming after the “shooting” and create hysteria.  The “shooter” was a black actor (the students were mostly white, so that by itself should have made him stand out) who was outrageously dressed—you know, plaid pants, striped shirt, funny hat, outrageous colors.  The plan after the “shooting” was to have the students describe him. 

As you might guess, this went horribly wrong.  My part in it shames me to this day.  Seemed like harmless fun at the time.  Once my roommate screamed, it was absolute pandemonium.  There was a stampede.  The event took place in an auditorium that sat perhaps 300 students, and it was  jam-packed.  Art was a very popular teacher.  The “shooter” ran out the door at the bottom of the auditorium, then, as instructed, he ran up the stairs to come in the back door of the auditorium, where he met possibly the only person who remembered what he looked like, and she literally almost died of fright.  She dropped out.  Her parents sued the school. 

Some students were rounded up (there were teaching assistants outside the doors to head off mass panic, saying go back in, it isn’t real, they’re not really dead).   The remaining students were asked to describe the “shooter”, and no one could.  I’m talking no one.  He was black, he was white.  He was wearing a hat, he wasn’t wearing a hat.  He had a beard, he was clean-shaven.  His shirt was blue, it was white. 

So I’m talking 30 years ago.  Why are the courts still using eyewitness testimony from people who’ve been traumatized?  That was addressed too.  Eyewitness testimony remains very important, but it’s value seems to be greater and more reliable if you were not the victim but were a witness to the crime.  I can personally testify to the truth of that.  I was once robbed at gunpoint.  That sort of thing focuses the mind.  I thought I woud never forget the guy, but later all I could remember was his teeth and his gun.  In court, I would not say that it was the guy they arrested.  The prosecutor was very mad at me.  But a guy who worked for me, who was never threatened, said, it’s him.  And he was convicted. 

This story was like many stories in one.  On one hand it was about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, but it was also about the power of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is really hard, and there are always those who will say that Ronald Cotton is being a sap.  But forgiveness has to start somewhere, and only the wronged can give it.  There is power in that.