Over the past week, there have been several stories that I’ve been following that all fit together in an unexpected larger theme. The first was the release of John Jorge’s Music Video, Lovin’. For those who don’t recognized the name yet, I think the first time I was him perform was in the Amity High School’s production of Rent.
I believe this was the day before Thanksgiving, which is the second story to pay some attention. Every year, we stop to give thanks for all that has been given us. As a New Englander who can trace his genealogy back to the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this is an important day for me. Part of what I’m thankful for is the freedoms my ancestors came to this country in search of.
Another big story for me of the past few days is my completion of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I finished the first 50,000 word draft of my second novel on Saturday. There is something very empowering to set out to create something challenging and complete it. I will see if I will go through the editing and revisions necessary to get it to be presentable for publication, either through traditional channels or through self publication.
Then, there was the story in the Washington Post of a teacher resigning because of what is happening in education.
All of this leads up to World AIDS Day and an incredible article in the New Yorker, What Young Gay Men Don’t Know About Aids. I work at a Federally Qualified Health Center that treats people with AIDS. I am a Health Leadership Fellow of the Connecticut Health Foundation working with others to address health disparities in our state.
AIDS is a very important topic we need to have open and honest discussions about, which leads me to the final story I want to focus on.
An article in the Hartford Courant put it this way.
Student representatives from Trumbull High's theater department were told last Monday that the show they planned to perform next spring covered topics too "sensitive" or "controversial" for a high school.
Originally, I was planning to write an open letter to the Trumbull High School administration, pointing out how not allowing the production of Rent was incredibly short sighted. I would talk about depriving students of opportunities for prepare for their careers, as the Amity production of Rent helped John Jorge on his career. How not allowing the production went against the freedoms that our forefathers came to this country for. How not allowing the production was an affront to all people seeking to improve the lot of mankind through creativity. How not allowing the production would damage the school district by showing a heavy handed administration that doesn’t allow educators to challenge their students. How not allowing the production was an insult to the people of Trumbull by saying that students at Amity and in Greenwich where Rent has been produced are more capable of handling “sensitive” or “controversial” subjects.
But the most important topic to me was the health topic. According to The Connecticut Department of Health there were nearly 700 case of HIV infection reported in Bridgeport, the city next to Trumbull during the years 2002-2011. Yes, the rate of new infections has been going down, but every new infection with HIV is one infection too many.
HIV/AIDS is not too “sensitive” or “controversial”. HIV/AIDS is an infection which we can stop the spread of. We can do this by talking openly and honestly about the infection, about the stigma. If we care about the children in our schools, we need to have these discussions.
I am tempted to wax polemic adopting the voice of preachers I know that would point out that by preventing these discussions, there is blood on our hands. Yet I’m not sure that is effective. It isn’t really my style.
But, this evening, I went to a World AIDS Day event where another section of the quilt was unveiled. It commemorated people in Connecticut how had died as a result of AIDS. It was attended by people who were living successful lives knowing that they were HIV positive. These were people who have confronted the stigma, found out their status and were getting the treatment so that an HIV infection for them was a chronic disease, not a death sentence. These were people who knew their status and because of their knowledge, were not spreading the infection.
I wept with them as we mourned the death of loved ones.
In my heart, I prayed for those who indirectly contribute to the ongoing spread of HIV by thwarting opportunities for discussion. I wished they could have stood with me at the unveiling of this latest section of the quilt and I pray that these words might cause some to stop and think about what their decisions mean for freedom, for education, and most importantly, for health.
This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.
First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.
More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.
I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?
These are the questions we should be grappling with.
Yesterday, I wrote about Sad Tails with Happy Endings!, a rescue shutdown by Southbury Animal Control. Since then, I've been in several discussions about the situation, including speaking with people directly involved.
I am particularly concerned about comments that some are making based on assumptions or inaccuracies. A post on Helping Connecticut Canines' Facebook page asking donations to the pound where the dogs have been taken describes this as "a serious hoarding situation".
This is a questionable assertion at best. Ms. Boeckel was running a rescue. Her website lists dogs that she had successfully adopted out and others available for adoption. The description of the veterinary care and feeding procedures for these animals that I've obtained clearly indicate to me that she was not hoarding.
Another comment that I found particularly disturbing was "I assure you they would not have been taken unless the dogs and cats were in immediate need. Thirty plus dogs in any home being cared for by one person is impossible." Based on the information I've obtained, I question whether or not the animals were in immediate need, and I know that the assertion that they were being cared for by only one person is factually incorrect.
Others have jumped in and noted that they knew of a person who as organizing a fundraiser for the rescue and others have applauded Ms. Boeckel's work.
I don't know the ACOs in Southbury, but based on my experience dealing with other ACOs as well as the State Dept. of Ag., I don't always accept everything they say at face value.
If the amount of effort that has gone into taking the animals and subsequently getting supplies to the Southbury Dog Pound had gone into helping Ms. Boeckel in the first place, I believe there would have been a much better outcome.
I am also very concerned when ACOs shutdown a rescue because they don't like the way it is being run. I believe it sets a very dangerous precedent.
So, I encourage everyone to help clean up the mess now and prevent future messes. An important step in this is accuracy in reporting, and not calling something a "a serious hoarding situation", when it is far from clear that this is the case.
Years ago, Fiona and I drove a young pit bull up to Maine as part of a team effort to save the dog from imminent euthanasia. The trip introduced us to what is going on in animal rescue here in Connecticut and across the country. I haven't looked at the official numbers from the State of Connecticut in a few years, but last time I looked, approximately 3,000 animals were put to sleep each year by animal control officers across the state. Too often, animal control was a thankless task tacked onto the responsibilities of the police department, who found it easier just to kill the animals than to find them homes.
Yet Connecticut is one of the better states. Across the country there are states that kill hundreds of thousands of animals each year, and estimate at the total number of animals killed typically vary in the range of three to ten million.
Over the years, I've also gotten to know many rescuers. Some can be a little fanatical, some may lack political finesse, but for the most part, they are the kindest best intentioned people I have met. They sometimes have run-ins with police departments, animal control officers, and the State Department of Agriculture that oversees animal control and I was saddened to hear of the latest run in.
NBC Connecticut posted a story yesterday, 31 Dogs, 3 Cats Seized from Southbury Home.
Owner Nancy Boeckel said she was running an animal rescue business out of her Georges Hill Road home and the dogs were neither abused nor neglected.
There is also a brief article in the Republican American about the seizing of the dogs.
The rescue community, despite various differences, is fairly close knit, so I thought I'd try to get a little more information. From Nancy's LinkedIn page, I found that she was educated at Quinnipiac and runs "Sad Tails Happy Endings" animal rescue.
This led me to the rescue's Petfinder page. Currently, it does not list any animals available for rescue. I'm not sure if this is because the page hasn't been maintained, or if it has been updated as a result of the animal control raid.
On her page, she talks about rescuing Maggie:
Maggie was an owner surrender after 8 years reason given "no time". I was notified Maggie was scheduled to be killed, I was able to rescue her within 3 hours remaining until her scheduled death. I became Maggie's foster Mom.
Christmas morning I transported Maggie to her new family. She was a surprise for 4 children for Christmas. The look of amazement and sheer joy on the children's faces will remain in my heart and mind forever. The parents and grandmother were standing there with tears of happiness running down there faces. It was a very special Christmas morning for all of us. Maggie is now living in her new forever home as happy as can possibly be. The entire family truly love her deeply and she returns their love ten fold.
Yes, rescue is a small word with an enormous meaning!
She also has a website, Sad Tails with Happy Endings!. It has pictures of about twenty dogs that have been adopted and about a dozen currently ready for adoption. There are links to poems popular in the rescuing community.
There is also a link to a blog about one of the dogs that was adopted from Nancy, and great pictures and a video of the adopted dog.
Doing a bit more digging, it appears as if she has had health and financial difficulties. Let's hope a solution can be found that will be best for every, human, canine and feline, involved.
Today, 1,803 voters in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge went to the polls and rejected a referendum to spend $945,000 installing astroturf at Amity High School. While the turnout was very low by normal election standards, for an off-season referendum, the numbers were higher than many expected.
Based on the chatter around various water coolers, it seems like it boiled down to the fiscal conservatives and the environmental conservatives against the sports parents, with many people not having an opinion, and voting based on the recommendations of their friends.
The environmental conservatives were probably the loudest with comments against the proposal on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page, and presumably in backchannels. They expressed concern about fumes and runoff from the artificial turf. The fiscal conservatives spoke up at meetings raising concern about the towns' debt burdens.
This time, I decided to try an exit poll, which I set up using Google Documents. I put it together very quickly before heading off to work, so there were some mistakes in it. It wasn't clear to everyone that while I optionally gathered demographic information, there was no way for me to get any other information about the people filling out the poll.
A handful of people completed the poll, the results were 2 to 1 against the referendum in the exit poll and about the same 64% to 36% in the actual voting. For concerns express, the biggest concern appears to have been the cost, followed by health issues, and environmental issues.
At the Woodbridge polling location just a few people showed up to find the results, and the biggest concern appears to have been about the lack of information that was distributed about the referendum and who should have distributed it.