Sunday, August 12, 2012

Does it take someone special to adopt a special-needs pet?

The short answer to that question is “No, not really.”

Special-needs pets. The term itself sounds foreboding in a politically correct sort of way, doesn’t it? The phrase has become a name tag for thousands of pets awaiting adoption in shelters and rescues across the country and indeed the world. The term is also broad and covers a lot of ground, much like we have many similar phrases for similarly-problematic human beings. We do need those phrases though, don’t we? In the cases of special pets, they can be a great way to drop a barrier between a pet and a prospective forever family.

Special-needs pets can fit into a large range of situations. They can be formerly abused animals, neglected animals, physically-challenged animals, deaf and/or blind animals, and even simply older or elderly pets. They are all pets that either haven’t been given much of a chance by humans, or have been hurt by humans, or have been simply abandoned by their former masters, either through malice or economic need.

Long before the phrase became a catchword, back when I first got out on my own, I adopted an older cat from the local Humane Society in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I could have gotten a kitten; believe me, there were plenty of them there. But instead I decided to opt for a little less active cat that I saw there; I just wanted the cat for companionship, as I have almost always had pets around the house.  I also knew that there were loads of families who would want to adopt kittens, but not that many who want a "pre-owned" pet, if you know what I mean. Her name was already Lu, so I kept it that, and she came home with me. As you can see in the photo below, she was a big fluffy girl, very lovable and was wont to tell me she wanted attention by plopping herself on top of whatever book I might happen to be reading.  She and I moved to Pennsylvania, but unfortunately I had to have her put down back in 1999, due to kidney failure. It was the first time I had to face that bleak prospect, and it isn’t one that I wanted to go through again. My little girl had been with me for eight years, and I suspect she had been at least six to nine years old to begin with, so at least she had a relatively long, pain-free life.

After moving to Pennsylvania, my wife Mona and I decided to adopt a dog. We had two cats at the time, Lu and Mona’s pet Whobee. Into that mix came Buster, a Jack Russell terrier mutt who we were told was only a year old, but later discovered was a few years older. Buster was definitely a “special-needs” animal. He had been abused by former owners, who burnt him with cigarettes, and he spent a large period of time outside in the wild and the elements.  He wasn’t a very well-adjusted dog at the shelter, getting into fights and all sorts of things. But there was something about him that really clicked with me; Mona was a little more reticent, but she eventually came to love him as much as I did.

Buster had a habit of hoarding food. He would collect as much of it as he could when offered, and then run off to some little hidey-hole and stash it for later. He once put two dog biscuits in his mouth the long way, and nonchalantly pranced off to hide them. I am so glad he usually only did this with dry dog biscuits, because I’m betting I still haven’t found all his little doggie caches around the house. One time outside on the patio, we tossed him an ice cube, which he quickly crunched down. The next one we threw him, he took into the backyard and buried it for later. I was quite literally rolling on the ground laughing when I saw him do that. He was such a sweet little hound. 

Buster’s main problem was his excitability. I believe that from living in the outdoors for so long, he developed an intense fear of thunderstorms, and would howl and fret and pace frantically throughout the house. We gradually learned to stay calm with him, and even got some herbal medication to calm him from the local naturopath for when he was getting too rowdy. You could see in Buster’s eyes that he was sorry for what he was doing, but he didn’t have any control. We’d just give him his meds, talk to him calmly and hug him as much as we could to get him back to normal.  Buster has been gone for a few years now, having died at home from an undiagnosed illness (we believe it was kidney failure, and it struck very quickly).  He wHe

As you might notice, Buster got along with everybody.

The newest member of the family is the only one who shows any outwards signs of being a special-needs animal. But you probably wouldn’t even notice at first. Ruby Xev is a black kitten we adopted from the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA in Pine Grove, Pennsylania. We had gone down there one Saturday to donate some pet food, and decided to wander around the pens, looking at the cats and kittens, with no intention of adopting any.  Well, both me and my wife couldn’t get little Ruby out of our heads afterwards. Ruby’s only problem was that she had a major eye infection and was blind (initially, we thought she had some sight remaining in her eyes, but I don’t believe that was the case).  We went out and got all the accoutrements that a young kitten requires, including a cage to keep her in when we were gone. Then, about two weeks before we were planning to adopt her, we got a heart-rending email from the shelter saying that one of Ruby’s eyes had ruptured and she was heading to Allentown for emergency surgery. She came through that fairly well, but ended up with a case of pneumonia. Luckily, she responded well to treatment, and we ended up taking her home about a week sooner than we normally would have, just so she wouldn’t have to stay in the shelter and mix with all the normal contaminants in the air from the other cats and kittens.

Mona about to put Ruby Xev in the carrier for her ride to her forever home.

Ruby Xev has been a literal eye-opener. Three quarters of the time, it is so very hard to believe that there’s anything at all wrong with this little fireball of fur. She has a better memory than I have, remembering the layout of the rooms, heights of chairs she likes to climb up and jump down from, and where the litter boxes are. She still occasionally runs into things, usually if she's chasing one of the other cats. It took maybe a week, but she soon came running with all the other cats at the first release of air from a cat food can by the opener. There are times when I think she’s got something more than sight; you can wave your fingers at her from a yard away, and she’ll act like she’s noticing them and often leap and actually grab them.  Ruby’s a little more physical in her dealings with other creatures, I assume because she’s making up for the missing sense.  Her little Wolverine-claws are always out, but almost always to swipe playfully, not painfully. She’s one of the more amazing individuals it has been my luck to know.

Certainly there are special-needs animals that need more personal care than the three that we’ve adopted.  Many dogs and cats require special trolleys and carriers with wheels so they can move around when their spines and legs don’t work properly. Many don’t adapt nearly as well as Ruby did to blindness or deafness. They take a little more care and understanding than your average pet, at least at the beginning. Once you both get into sync with each other, you won’t even notice a problem. There are millions of pets out there in the world who are looking for families to stay with. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a regular pet, but anyone can do that. If you have just a little more time and love to give someone, why not adopt a special needs pet? The end result is the same: You help a creature in need, and in return you get a new member of your family who will love you as much as you love them.

 A "too-much" loveseat soon to become a "one-cat" loveseat, after a cloud of fur and claws.

Some excellent special-needs animal pages on Facebook:

I’d also like to give a shout out to the Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA. They do FANTASTIC work and deserve all the support you local folks in Schuylkill County can give them. You can find them at their Facebook page and at their regular website.  Please stop by and give them a “like” if you get a chance.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fear-mongering Among the Indies

Indie writers, over the course of the past two years, have been the victims of what I term “fear-mongering” from many sources. One could look at it as a paranoid pattern of hatred for independent writers by those who are frightened by what their blatant freedom from the constrictions of the traditional publishing formula brings to the industry. Unfortunately, I don’t buy that particular explanation; there are, quite simply, a lot of stupid and arrogant and spiteful people out there.

Let’s look back to late 2010/early 2011. Someone noticed that an author had self-published a book on Amazon championing pedophilia. The national media got a hold of the story and things went viral with hatred for this book, and e-book authors in general by association, with screams for a monitoring system. Personally, I could care less if someone publishes a story featuring bondage, discipline or what not; it’s just a story. Raptor Jesus knows there are plenty of proponents and opponents to that sort of fiction, all with the proper justification. But the book in question was one of a number of similar titles that laid out plans for a pedophile to actually meet up with a child. That’s NOT okay. I am a proponent of the First Amendment and the right to Freedom of Speech. People who want that right also have to remember that with any right comes RESPONSIBILITY. Say what you like, but don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater; you also don’t tell creepy men how to rape children. 

Then we had a minor shakedown by Paypal when the on-line payment service refused to process payments on Smashwords for books of an erotic nature (oh, let’s face it: 90% of them were out-and-out porn).  Mark Coker got his name in the news battling for “the rights of his authors” on this one, even though the no pornography thing had been a part of Paypal’s terms of service for years. Score one for Mr. Coker for getting it solved; score two for making the mainstream media think all indie writers do is scribble down wanking material. 

Last month, a blogger posted that they had used a photographer’s picture without permission and that said photographer was making their life miserable wanting money for the use of said photo. The case in question was being arbitrated between lawyers for each party; it had never gotten to the court stage. Suddenly, it was posted all over Facebook and indie authors were in an uproar. "Oh my God! I’ve got to delete all these photos! Everything I’ve ever stolen for use on my website! They’ll take my house, my car, my kids! Swing loooow, sweet chaaaaariot!"  Ahem.  Sorry. People started worrying about that. Instead of simply using some common sense and trying to understand the basics of copyright and trademark law, or simply e-mailing some artists and photographers for permission, or even just giving their pics a line of attribution, they went into frenzies and deleted photos right and left.

We had a rumor that Amazon was stealing reviews. The company was going around and deleting reviews that they could substantiate as having been “paid for.” Yes, apparently there is a sub-class of indie author that are so incredibly wealthy that they can pay people to review their books. They also might just be incredibly stupid, and I’m not ruling out both.  FYI, I was not given the key to that particular clubhouse, and I don’t know anyone who has been. But apparently there have been enough people willing to consider paying $400 for what may be a bad review that folks believe this to be something that is happening. Who knows? I suppose it could actually be true, but considering the difficulty it usually takes to just get an email from someone at Amazon’s KDP program, I just can’t see them wasting the manpower or computer time doing this. There was another rumor floating around at the same time that Amazon was going to get rid of every author who didn’t have at least three titles published. Yeah, they’re going to get rid of what, a million books in their catalog like an after-thought? I think not.

Conversely, there is an elite tribe of idiots who supposedly troll the Amazon listings just to give bad reviews and ratings to the books of indie writers. This is apparently actually happening, or at least there are a lot of morons taking credit for it. There are also a lot of people out there who can’t deal with a bad review and thus, that review is automatically from one of the “Amazon Trolls.” Get real, folks! You are going to get a bad review now and again. I’ve got them, and I’ve given them. I have no compunctions about doing so if a book is mediocre to outright stinky, and I will do my best to explain why I think that, just like I will try to explain why I think a book is the cat’s pajamas. But you have to remember: Not everyone likes cats.

And then, we now have Bloggers Gone Wild! There are a number of bloggers out there who are perplexingly attacking indie writers, even though sometimes they themselves are indie writers. They usually fall into three categories:
  1. Writers should treat us like GODS, for that is what we are – we have the power of our blog review in our hands to bestow glory upon them, or smite them down like the dogs they are! 
  2. Writer-bloggers who rant about the fact that they’ve given their books away for free to people to review, and they didn’t jump with a smart click of their boots and read and review that book the instant it was sent into the ether to them. A couple have even gone so far to publish lists of “bad reviewers,” apparently not caring which foot they shoot off, since they figure how many feet do you actually need to ride a unicycle going backward? On the other side, some blogger-writers felt they shouldn’t EVER give away their work for free, since it cheapens everyone in the industry. Sure. 
  3. Writers are pretty superfluous and a dime a dozen. I’ll get to this review, which will be mediocre at best, after I make sure my own agenda is put forth in glowing, mile-high letters on the internet.
We also have the viewpoint that is championed by Mark Coker at Smashwords that everything Amazon is bad. Amazon is evil! Amazon will steal your firstborn in the dead of night! Amazon sparkles like lame vampires! More power to you and your opinion, dude. It’s a free country. I have statistical proof that for me, my sales have more than tripled using Amazon KDP and KDP Select. I will also say that my sales on Smashwords have increased, since I did actually have a single sale on the site this year, as opposed to let me see … carry the one … none last year. When Smashwords and its “premium channels” have the distribution and promotional firepower of Amazon KDP, and the KDP Select program in particular, drop me a line. Hopefully, I’ll still be alive then, and the sun won’t have turned into a frozen ball of ice.

We’ve also got a lot of less-than-attentive authors out there, and the fear-mongering has given them paranoid trigger fingers, for guns that are shooting in the wrong direction. Recently there was a major e-book bootlegging operation working out of Canada. Besides getting Paypal to stop taking payments for them, nothing much was done about it. At the same time, people were concerned and started Googling their books and noticed they were showing up on a site called Jumpin’ pie-jiggers! People are getting my book for free! Everyone, gang up and let’s shut this bastard down!

Had anyone actually gone to this site, they would’ve found it was a simple site that facilitated lending of Kindle books between people. For those of you who don’t know, most indie Kindle books (and quite a few from other publishers) can be lent out. Once.  For fourteen days. You buy a Kindle book that has the lending option and you can lend it to someone else ONCE. That’s it. There have been numerous sites that have sprung up over the past two years that support this and help people get together and find books they want. It is NOT PIRACY. It is, in fact, not a big deal at all. 

Unfortunately, the guy who created was hounded, his family was threatened, and his host service finally was forced to drop him because of all the extra work they had to put into his account. All for doing something that a lot of authors apparently didn’t read the small print about when they saw that little box about lending that was clicked right above the “Publish” button they pushed with wild abandon.

There is a LOT of simple hatred for indie writers out there on the internet. The Kindle forums on Amazon are full of it. People think indie writers are not as skilled as “proper writers,” that they don’t bother editing their books so there are hundreds and thousands of errors in them, and even big-name mystery author Sue Grafton calls them lazy.

It is true. We ARE lazy. We don’t jump through the hoops that everyone else had to in order to get started on their stellar, if alphabetical, writing careers. And that’s the thing: WE DON’T HAVE TO. We are here at the start of a dynamic new paradigm shift as the immediacy of the information age meets the eternally stodgy print world. We don’t have to worry about making sure there is a market segment for the books we create – WE make those segments and we find our own audiences. The old axiom that “everyone has a book” in them should soon be replaced with “everyone has published a book” as there are no barriers to what we do or create.

Don’t let the fear-mongers chase you away from the playing field before you get a chance to realize your dream.