Month: June 2018
The rich green scent of dairy cows wafted off the pasture and blew the bitter blue diesel smoke away from my face as I drove our tractor to dig a grave for Cooper. Sweat poured out and soaked my shirt with a toxic cocktail of shock, grief, anger, and guilt. Only a few hours had passed since Cooper was brutally murdered by my neighbor.
What if I had reacted more quickly? What if I hadn’t been so busy watching the new puppy? Had any aspect of the day gone just a little differently, Cooper would still be with us. Five days later, the guilty self-recriminations still loop relentlessly as my mind continues to replay the last few seconds of this beautiful dog’s life.
Cooper was the sweetest most innocent guy I’ve ever known and he joyously greeted every visitor to our house. When people came to fish in the pond, he always accompanied them and made sure they were doing it right. He even went ice fishing in the middle of winter. He was a Corgi mixed with some sort of hunting dog – maybe a Bassett Hound or Beagle. Whenever the tenant farmer came to drop off or pick up his cows, Cooper always helped load and unload the trailer. He was shaped like a fat sausage with short, stubby legs and his head was a little too big for his body. We often called him names like dork and shrimp but it didn’t seem to hurt his self-esteem a bit.
My wife always said that Cooper should wear a cape. He flew around the yard like Super Dog with a huge smile on his face and it was hard to believe those little legs could propel his chubby body so quickly and with such precision. When we gave him and Riley beef bones, they would go to separate sides of the yard to chew. Cooper would soon be slinking off with his signature Elmer Fudd swagger to bury his bone and then return to steal Riley’s.
When he slept in our bedroom, Cooper would throw the same little tantrum every night. He would get on his Sealy Posturpedic dog bed, roll around, and whine about having to sleep on the floor like a dog. Once we were sound asleep, he would quietly climb on our bed. If my stepdaughter was here, Coop would almost always sleep with her. She provided him with a pillow and blanket right next to her and I dreaded breaking the news to her most of all because of the deep bond that had developed between them.
Last year on Memorial Day weekend, only a few weeks after the passing of my English Shepherd, Birdie, some hunters we know stopped at our house with Coop in the front of their truck. They had found him wandering the woods on Armenia Mountain and brought him to their cabin for the night so he wouldn’t be devoured by the local coyotes. They said they were looking for the Animal Shelter, but that was total bullshit. They knew I would give him a home. My wife was in the shower so I took him upstairs on a leash to get her approval.
Who knew then what trouble he would be? We live on a two-mile dirt road with only four households on it. There is little traffic most of the year and we have over 1000 feet of fence surrounding our yard which we began shoring up immediately. The larger dogs can’t escape, but the system wasn’t designed for dwarves. We succeeded in securing the roadside fence but there were still places he could fit through on the pasture side.
Cooper never respected the fence and he was constantly escaping and running down the road. When I called for him to stop, he would turn around, look at me, and then make a mad dash for it. It was a game. As a jolly trickster, he loved all games. I would dutifully hop in the car to retrieve him and sometimes he would run a mile or more before he was out of breath. Then he would just hop in the back seat and ride home content that he had outsmarted me yet again. Over the last year, he had gotten better about the running but never gave it up entirely. Recently he had taken up woodchuck hunting and I was there for his first confirmed kill.
We tried a shock collar starting last fall, but he didn’t seem to care. Once he was running after something there was nothing that could make him stop. One night last winter, I chased him across a field of deep snow as he ripped across the frozen pond to see what the coyotes were making such a fuss about.
Cooper was a tire biter. He didn’t just chase cars; he went to the front and would try to herd the vehicle. On the few occasions when this happened, I was usually already out in the road trying to stop him. Invariably, the people would laugh, stop their cars, and wait for me to catch him. Sometimes they would even open their doors to hop out and pet him as he innately trusted all people. Our road isn’t really on the way to anywhere and people generally aren’t in a big hurry to get nowhere. Like almost all dogs, most people are decent.
Last Wednesday, Cooper had snuck out to hunt woodchucks and finally came back to one of the gates. I called him in but he wouldn’t come. I had our new Great Dane puppy on a leash and I had to take her and Riley inside and lock them in my office. I didn’t need three dogs out in the road. When I got back outside, Cooper had already dashed off to the field across the street. I walked down to get him and he wouldn’t come so I went back to the house to get truck keys as he almost always comes to me if I am in a vehicle. I glanced out the window and saw my neighbor driving down the road very slowly and Cooper appeared from nowhere nipping at the SUV’s front tires. The vehicle was moving so slowly that all the nasty old curmudgeon had to do was stop. At that point I was already in motion and heading out the door. I was only out of sight of the incident for a few seconds.
Once I got out of the gate though, I could see Cooper lying in the road and panic set in. He was rolling his head around as I called out to him and the old bastard’s vehicle was long gone. Coop’s eyes said it all to me. “Jeff, I really fucked up this time, but why didn’t you keep me safe?” The old shit had slowly run him over, dragged his body 25 feet down the road, and sped off. Cooper’s lovely life force blew away with the wind as I held him.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this was malicious intent. He killed Cooper on purpose.
My neighbor is the sort of mean junkyard dog who only bites when your back is turned. He is always snooping in everyone’s business like a malevolent Gladys Kravitz and he is the type who drops a dime if he sees you doing some work on your property without a permit. A malicious gossip, I have never heard him say a kind word about anyone over the 35 years I have known him. We have done him and his family a number of favors related to their property but I can’t think of a single time they have ever reciprocated. A poisonous, greasy trail of bad karma lingers wherever he has been.
My experience with dogs is that they will always come and apologize for some bad deed, but my neighbor hasn’t been dog enough to knock at my door and explain himself. The difference between dogs and humans is that badly behaved dogs can generally be fixed — they almost always want to be good regardless of the abuse and maltreatment they may have suffered previously. While humans have the choice and the capacity, they rarely choose to become better people. This is why relationships with dogs are generally more rewarding than those with humans.
In his late 80’s, my neighbor will be meeting his maker before long and I suspect he will have a great deal to explain when that time comes. I hope an accounting for what he did to Cooper is at the top of the list. While my neighbor qualifies for several of the circles of hell, there surely must be a tenth circle for cruelty to animals.
Digging Cooper’s grave allowed me to take my mind off of the horrific chain of events for a little while. I am not the best front end loader operator and digging in the rocky, Pennsylvania soil is always a challenge. I decided to bury him next to Lucy, our Great Dane who passed away in 2016. Cooper never knew Lucy, but he loved all dogs, people, and he even tolerated cats. He is now part of the DNA of this land forever.
The laughter, joy, and happiness Cooper brought to our lives will be with us for the remainder of our days, but we are all still devastated. I can’t help but feel that my wife and stepdaughter both hold me responsible, and I can’t blame them if they do. It was my job to keep Cooper safe and I failed when he needed me most. It’s a painful addition to a long list of lifetime failures – the things I have gotten wrong — the failure to recognize what was important in real time rather than in retrospect.
While the guilt will fade over time, it will come back periodically and stab me in the heart with its cruel, razor sharp blades.
Rest in Peace, Cooper. I’ll try to do better.
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2018
Stoners at the donut shop
It’s maddening. I pull up to my local branch of a national coffee and donut chain and here’s how the conversation goes.
“I’d like an extra large extra extra and a large extra cream please.”
“Uh . . . What was that again? A large cream and sugar and a large cream and extra sugar?”
For Christ’s sake! They take coffee orders for a living and can’t even get a two-item order right.
Blame it on weed
I blame it on Pot, Reefer, Ganja. How much marijuana do you have to smoke to make your brain function that poorly? All over the country, though, legalized marijuana is being pushed hard by pandering politicians. How will legalization affect society, commerce and the workforce, though?
In my view, no one should ever spend a single day in jail or prison for possessing or using any substance whatsoever. Certainly, no one should have a felony conviction because of this behavior. If you are committing other crimes to feed your habit, though, they can lock you up and throw away the key. Substance use, abuse, and addiction are not excuses for criminal behaviors like property crime and violence.
Just because I don’t believe in incarceration of drug users doesn’t mean that I think using drugs is a good idea. On the contrary, it’s a horrible idea. My wife is a behavioral health executive and former substance abuse therapist and she finds current trends like marijuana legalization and “safe” injection sites to be alarming. She sees the human cost of substance abuse every day and has a difficult time seeing the issue from the libertarian point of view. She has some good points and we both agree that prevention and treatment are better solutions than arrest, incarceration, and permanent criminal records that marginalize people’s lives forever.
Drug-related vehicle accidents now kill more people than alcohol-related accidents and the problem is continuing to get worse. Currently, there are no national standards for measuring drug impaired driving.
Cost of the drug war
However you look at it, the drug war has been an unmitigated disaster. The DEA’s budget alone is around $2.9 billion a year and they employ nearly 10,000 people. I don’t know what the hell they are doing with all that money, but I am pretty sure it would take me about 15 minutes to figure out where to go buy drugs if I wanted them. With the cost of incarceration and all the other federal, state, and local agencies involved, the drug war costs about $80 billion a year and well over $1 trillion has been spent on it since the 1970s. We seem to have little to show for it except for a lot of people in jail and prison for victimless crimes.
There are currently 79,036 people incarcerated in the federal prison system and nearly 200,000 in state prisons for drug crimes. About 44,000 are in state prisons solely for possession. In 2016, there were nearly 1.6 million arrests for drug law violations in the US, roughly 85% of which were for possession. This doesn’t seem like a wise use of scarce resources.
The drug war has created an all-you-can-eat feeding trough for the entire Government Drug Industrial Complex that includes law enforcement, correctional officers, judges, social workers, probation officers, case workers, therapists and other well-paid public sector employees. Additionally, attorneys, private prisons, pharmaceutical companies, drug testing companies, and a host of other private organizations are also sucking at the public teat but doing little to actually win the war. There is simply no incentive to do so. Politicians and lobbyists for the $80 billion industry are no doubt keen to keep the feeding frenzy going.
Sleazy politicians across the entire political spectrum all love the drug war. From the tough on crime, “Let’s hang ‘em all” district attorneys and judges to the “free tuition, legal pot, and Medicare for everyone” socialists, it’s a win-win from the point of view of getting elected. States like California, while requiring drug free workplace certifications from vendors have legalized marijuana. While smoking pot may be legal, you won’t be able to get a job with a company that does business with the state. How much sense does that make?
International drug trade
The drug war in the US is small potatoes compared to the international illegal drug trade which is estimated to have a value of more than $500 billion annually. How much of that money makes its way to politicians to maintain the status quo? It’s enough money to buy entire third world governments with plenty left over to influence policy in the western world.
Many people think that corporate leaders are akin to the worst criminals in the history of mankind. However, I know of no incidents of corporate executives cutting off heads, cutting out hearts, and chopping rivals into little pieces. I would much prefer a transparent, corporate drug trade to the system now in place. Again, there is no incentive to change this. $500 billion can buy you a lot of politicians. Open, legal drug trade would change the production and distribution landscape entirely and those profiting from the illegal drug trade, whoever they are, won’t give up their golden geese so easily.
The drug war has cost us all our freedom
In addition to the human casualties of the drug war, we’ve all lost our freedom. Civil asset forfeiture, DWI checkpoints, and stop and frisk policies should be anathema to every American citizen. That we are not all joining hands to end these affronts to freedom is the inevitable result of a poorly educated population that believes rights come from the government. Few Americans have even a basic understanding of Constitutional rights and far fewer understand the concept of natural rights.
Drug addiction is yet another form of imprisonment and politicians at the state and federal levels love to imprison their subjects – every one of us. Like 30-year mortgages, seven-year car loans, welfare, and six-figure student loans for worthless degrees, legal drugs will be yet another form of control the government can exercise over you. A stoned population is a complacent one and your new drug dealer will be the State. Like everything else run by the government, your legal drugs will cost a great deal more than the private sector version.
How drugs affect business and work
In many states, a felony drug conviction can limit your ability to get professional licensure as a barber or hair stylist. Do you really care if your hair stylist smokes pot?
I’m ok with baristas, hair stylists, musicians, screen writers and the like smoking pot or using any other substances they wish. If they are too dysfunctional, I will simply patronize another business. Like excessive, visible tattoos and piercings however, drug use, even if legal, can and should limit your career options and this isn’t an example of the white patriarchy at work; it is common sense.
Who wants to be a passenger in a jet operated by a pilot who goes flying on Alaskan Thunder Fuck after work every night? I don’t want potheads operating heavy equipment, driving trucks, doing surgery, or performing any other activities where they may endanger other people and those employed in these professions should continue to be regularly tested for drugs that impair cognitive and motor ability. I don’t even want stoners doing data entry. Stoned, drunk, and hungover employees are bad for business.
Just because you can legally use, doesn’t mean employers have to hire you and tolerate your scrambled brains. At least not yet, but I’m sure some such legislation will be forthcoming. Employers already can’t inquire about criminal history in some states. What’s coming next and how will legalized drugs affect how work gets done in your business? Will you soon be forced to hire criminals and drug users and give them “equal” pay?
Legal drugs and a welfare state don’t mix
Another policy issue with liberal drug laws is the question of the welfare state. Do we really want to pay people to sit on their asses, smoke pot, and watch The View all day? Personal responsibility and accountability have to be components of liberal drug policy. Marijuana was legal until 1937 and opium was legal and freely available until 1909. Back in those days, if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat and for most people, work meant hard physical labor. Drug use and abuse resulted in serious personal consequences. It still does, but our social safety net allows for people to make bad decisions and choose marginal lives at the expense of their fellow citizens. If you want drugs, you damn sure better pay for them yourself. But, that’s not the way things work in our society now. Promising free stuff is a good bet at election time.
It strikes me that the logical next step after legalization will be to add marijuana to the list of entitlements and include it as part of the SNAP allowance. You can go to the grocery store, get your “free” munchies and pick up your “free” weed before you head back to your “free” apartment to Netflix and chill on your “free” Internet connection.
Enlightened drug havens?
Many people point to Amsterdam as a paradise of enlightened policy. Have you ever been there? It’s a seedy place. Most Americans, even “social liberals” tend to be a puritanical and prudish group of people. The outrageous debauchery, open drug use, and overt sex trade in Amsterdam would offend the sensibilities of many, if not most Americans regardless of whether they consider themselves to be liberals or conservatives. Hamburg, Berlin, Bangkok, and a host of other cities share similar traits. If you haven’t experienced the “night life” in these cities, it is something everyone should experience at least once. Most of us wouldn’t want this sort of behavior happening in our neighborhoods.
I have been an ardent proponent of total drug legalization for the last 40 years, but I know that it’s not all Unicorns and balloons. Drug abuse is a serious problem, but the drug war, at least the way it has been conducted isn’t the solution. Drug use isn’t a moral issue; it’s an issue of liberty and natural rights.
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2018