Good Girl

Bretange, 9/11 rescue dog. From the book "Retrieved" by photographer Charlotte Dumas.
Betrange a 9/11 rescue dog. From “Retrieved” by photographer Charlotte Dumas.

Have you ever loved a dog?

If you haven’t I don’t know that I can help you understand it. There are only about a million and sixty-seven books about dogs people have loved. There’s Sounder, Old Yeller, Marley & Me, Good Dog Carl, and if you read The Art of Racing in the Rain and are not in a pile of rain of your own making, let me know.

I loved My Life In Dog Years and the science-y Inside of a Dog and the (controversial) zen of training by the Monks of New Skete,  How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Also movies. Mostly made out of books. Some, like All Dogs Go to Heaven just say it all.

A list of books and movies, though, doesn’t tell you about loving a dog. The thing about loving a dog is that it is always 100% mutual. So maybe it’s not so much about loving a dog as being loved by a dog.

I didn’t grow up with a dog in my house, but we had a dog. My grandmother had a dog and he was ours. His name was Napoleon. My uncle, who was a jerk, named him. We called this pup, Nappy. He was my first dog. He would give you his paw. He was very smart and never stepped into the house from the kitchen. He would go out back, but never step in. I know this because we tried to get him into the dining room. Wasn’t happening. I think it hurt his feelings that he couldn’t accommodate our wishes.

Nappy was my first, but not my last. I’ve known many dogs. Dogs of friends, like Max a significant German Shepard who would kill a dog walking on his sidewalk but would lie down next to the couch waiting for my fingers to stroke the spot between his large and alert ears and was afraid of the kitten who moved into the house. Working dogs, like crazy yellow lab Charlie who’d run across the parking lot at the unnamed secure location I worked to flop at my feet and splay for a belly scratch.

Three sweet pups have been a part of my family. Each of these roommates have been very different, but all are most dear and have loved me more than I deserve. Way more than I deserve. Even this current one, whose huge head is at this exact very moment draped on my lap and topped by my laptop, and who has been known to send me to the hospital. Twice. So far. But he’s a good boy. Who’s a good boy? Yes, he is.

So, I am a sucker for dogs, for dogs who love you. For dogs who look at you with the soul of god (you do realize that god is dog spelled backwards, don’t you?). Not really piercing you because it doesn’t hurt, but with a look that lays your own soul bare in a way that exposes you without shame and with an embrace. So when I heard, I was so sad.

Bretagne died today. She is a dog that I have never met but who is in a book I have, a picture book of the search and rescue dogs who were tasked to find survivors on 9/11. She worked for FEMA.

In September 2001, amid the twisted pile of steel beams, concrete and ash where the World Trade Center once stood, 300 or so search dogs worked long hours and used their powerful noses to try to find survivors.

On Monday afternoon, the last of those search dogs died at age 16 with her longtime handler and best friend by her side. —more

And when I read that, I cried. Not because it was cruel, but because she was a good girl. Yes. She was.

Love, FEMA

So yesterday FEMA said that they would take some of their mobile homes leftover from Katrina to house people who lost their homes in last week’s deadly tornadoes in the South.

Today, FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released information of the formaldehyde tests they ran in December and January.

CDC’s preliminary evaluation of a scientifically established random sample of 519 travel trailers and mobile homes tested between Dec. 21, 2007 and Jan. 23, 2008 showed average levels of formaldehyde in all units of about 77 parts per billion (ppb). Long-term exposure to levels in this range can be linked to an increased risk of cancer, and as levels rise above this range, there can also be a risk of respiratory illness. These levels are is higher than expected in indoor air, where levels are commonly in the range of 10-20 ppb. (halfway into FEMA’s press release.)

FEMA has been kicking the formaldehyde can down the street since September 2006. OSHA came in last May to see if it was safe for FEMA employees. FEMA was working to get people out of the trailers in September 2007, but was acting like it was precautionary rather than necessary.

Now we know that the trailers pose a health risk to their residents. The CDC said so. But does FEMA know that?

Dear Disaster Victims in Tennessee and Arkansas,
Sorry about your losses. We have these great trailers for you to stay in until you get back on your feet. And maybe some swamp land in Florida. Oh, and don’t forget to read the warning labels on the trailers.
Love, FEMA

Hierarchy of Needs

Here’s one for the kooks. As a point of reference, Government Computer News is some geek vanity press weekly that preys on the ga-zillions of dollars that the feds spend on technology. That’s where this came from.

Now here’s the rub. There is this Emergency Interoperability Consortium, that likes to use the acronym EIC. This meaningless acronym primarily signifies a relationship with the government, which–of course–pees all over itself in acronyms. But I digress.

Anyway, this Emergency Interoperability Consortium has this incredibly brilliant idea that what we really need during a catastrophic emergency of biblical proportions is a new flavor of XML, a Common Alerting Protocol. This is key because at a time of extreme emergencies, we expect people in governments that are not functioning because they HAVE NO ELECTRICITY, and, yes, their offices (including computers) were swamped and there’s no place to sit, to somehow enter information into a database so that we can magically get fire-trucks, bomb-sniffing dogs, and helicopters to where they need to be. Shoot, if it were that easy, why didn’t FEMA use XML to set up disaster recovery centers in Pass Christian, Miss.?

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? I love geeks, but are some still unclear that people don’t have water six weeks after the hurricane? There was one voice of sanity in the article. Charles Werner, fire chief in Charlottesville, Va., and a geek himself, thought that it might be better to invest in practical first level stuff. Like investing in the primary systems of communications first. If we know Level 1 doesn’t work, couldn’t we just work on that?

What is better, being able to radio to someone what you need? Or how about a big complex system dependent upon electricity, internet access, trained staff that are missing or evacuated, and sensitive computer equipment?

To hell with meeting basic, physiological needs. The latter is a technology project, so let’s fund it.