Very little about my life is much of a secret, which is the result of my work and my general disposition. I just never hold much back.

One of the things I’ve never, ever written about, though, are my scars. I mean visible scars, and there are a lot of them, scars on scars on scars, and fairly often open wounds and sometimes, some pretty bad infections. People notice the scars (I cover up the open wounds and infections), but they almost never say anything. I prefer that people say nothing, as it happens, happy to leave them to their own theories for as long as they care to wonder. I’m about as comfortable as I can be with the scars, to the point where I sometimes feel I should leave a note of explanation for the medical examiner for after I die, so no one thinks I was tortured.

The explanation is this: I have scars is because I pick at my skin.

For many years I thought I was pretty much alone in doing this, and living for more than 50 years with the problem hasn’t been a ton of fun. As a child, my parents asked the pediatrician for help, and he came up with a plan for me to drop by his office twice a week. There, I rolled down my knee socks, and if I’d been picking, which I always was, he’d tell me no one would ever love me, and other cruel things meant to dissuade me from my compulsive behavior. He later told my parents not to let me wear knee socks, thinking that if I couldn’t hide the problem, I’d stop picking. Other advice from him: Mittens taped at the base to my wrists every night. None of it worked, and I refused to put up with the mittens — they interfered with my other compulsion, which was reading.

Years later, when the pediatrician died, mom called to tell me, and I blurted out, “that fucking son of a bitch!” which sort of surprised us both. I’m pretty sure she thinks I made it all up, or at least exaggerated it, because everyone went to that pediatrician and she never heard anything bad about him from the other parents. But honestly, I can still hear that fucking son of bitch in my head, still see his exam rooms as right out of a Norman Rockwell illustration and if I think about it too long, I’ll start to cry.

Once I aged out of pediatric care, I tried various things to stop the urges. I’ve been on meds for it, tried behavioral modification, hypnosis, and even went to some bizarre clinic where they wired me up, directed me to touch a scab and then shocked the hell out of me.

Nothing worked.

With the dawn of the internet, I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t alone with this problem, which would have been nice to know a long time ago. Still, I figured it was incredibly rare, couldn’t be fixed and was best treated by long sleeves, pants or dark hose and cover make-up for what couldn’t be hidden by fabric. At some point I learned about “fish” antibiotics, and have long kept Cephalexin on hand for when infections got bad.

Shocked again, but a good kind

This morning, I was reading the New York Times and an article about my condition popped up on my tablet. I know it’s the very first such piece I have ever read about this in a mainstream publication, and I’m 61 years old and still read compulsively and pretty much non-stop.

Turns out, it’s more common than I could ever have imagined, and because of the stigma, it’s under-reported, which means it’s even more common. From the article, emphasis mine:

Habitual skin picking is formally called excoriation disorder (in the past, it was known as dermatillomania). It affects roughly 1.4 percent of the population, according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.-5). (Some studies put the rate higher.) Hair pulling, or trichotillomania, occurs in about 0.5 to 2 percent of people, according to the same manual. The behaviors are classified in the chapter covering obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. This edition, published in 2013, was the first in which the American Psychiatric Association included detailed information about skin picking.

Because patients often work to hide evidence of the disorders, researchers and clinicians suspect that those rates represent an underreporting. But even at these levels, they add up to a more prevalent disorder than some others that tend to be more familiar, such as anorexia nervosa, which affects only 0.4 percent of young women, according to the D.S.M.-5.

I have read the article twice, checked back for the comments (Incredible! Courageous! Affirming!), and had a feeling of such relief that it’s as if a dam gave way. I still think my pediatrician is a fucking son of a bitch, and I doubt I will ever truly let that go.

But I decided after reading the article and the comments, that I don’t want to be secretive about this anymore. I’m still going to be covering up, mostly because I just don’t want to deal with other people asking what’s wrong with my skin, but the feeling of shame is suddenly, incredibly gone.

This is stunning to me.

I keep circling back to feeling such pride in the power of truth-telling, of journalism. Lindsay Gellman wrote an article, dozens of fellow sufferers told their stories in ways that resonated, and the world is a little better for a lot of people in one small way today.

Metaphorically speaking

Part of what I do to make the mortgage is finding content for the social media platforms of various executives, which is just about my favorite part of the job, since it requires — yes, forces! — me to read, read, read. Even better, many of the subscriptions are paid for by my employer, which is even better since it means I can support a handful of great media operations (NYT, WSJ, Harvard Business Review, the Economist paid for by company), and I can afford to pay for a few others that aren’t as expensive.

Of course, my work also entails seeing what other executives and thought-leaders are posting, so I can amplify the message as need be. That’s not always quite so pleasurable, since some of these people, for all their power and influence, aren’t posting great stuff. Or possibly, the folks who are curating their content aren’t exactly deep thinkers.

So it was that I found myself staring at a something on the LinkedIn account of top executive at a Fortune 100 company, a meme with thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, probably 50/50 split between agreement and ass-kissing. This is the “inspiration” they were applauding:

What’s the problem? Cluelessness about a significant and ever-growing population of Americans who work hard, smile for the bosses — and still aren’t going anywhere.

There are people who can’t change that metaphorical tire. It’s flat because they couldn’t afford to replace the tire when they saw the threads grow shallow. It’s still flat because they could only afford a beater, and it came with worn tires. Anyway, it’s going to be flat again soon even if they can get the tire patched because our roads and other infrastructure are falling apart because we’ve given tax breaks and custom loopholes to the wealthiest of families, individuals and corporations while starving our civic institutions.

In other words, they don’t have what they need to get by, and the common goods that used to help us all are increasingly inaccessible or just plain gutted.

I hear all the time from people who have never been in a position where they couldn’t afford to fix a flat tire, and believe me, they all think they got where they are because they are hard-working and smart. They never see that they started several steps up the ladder from those who’ve been handicapped by circumstances of their birth, of which there are many in this country.

They see the difficulties others have in their lives as their own fault.

Yeah, this is just one of those “inspirational” sayings that gets passed around when there’s nothing good to share from the Harvard Business Review. The executive (or his social media assistant) probably gave posting this a moment’s thought, and that was about it.

But the instinct to buy in to such platitudes shows at best a shallow understanding of the lives of others who are struggling, and at worst cements the views of the Corner Office Crowd that they and they alone are why they ended up where they are, and that’s just not true.

If you see someone struggling with a flat tire on the side of the road, you’d likely pull over to help if you can, check that they have help coming if you can’t help, or at the very least call for help, but you’d recognize the need for help, and you wouldn’t ignore it.

We have a lot of people in this country who need help, and saying “just help yourself” isn’t in the tradition of being part of the human community, of helping each other.

Before you share nonsense (or anything, really) think about it a moment, and see what it’s really saying. If the message is: “Fuck you, I’ve got mine,” you might want to think about the person you’ve become — and change your own attitude.

The problem with pet care isn’t what you think it is

In the space of an hour on social media, I saw posts:

1) Calling out pet owners for using liquid ivermectin (sold for livestock) on dogs to prevent heartworm infestation. Ivermectin is the active ingredient in popular heartworm preventives, and the argument was that the dose/quality was hard to get right when using the livestock product, which is true, but … misses why people are using it.

2) Calling for greater communications/education about preventive and wellness care for pets as part of a post about 40% of pets who never see a veterinarian, as if many of these people aren’t aware. Many would take their pets in, were it not for money or other issues, such as transportation and a lack of veterinarians where they live.

In both cases, these posters completely miss the damn point:

Many people can’t afford the cost of flea/tick/heartworm preventives, and they’re doing the very best they can for the pets they love.

Ditto with wellness/preventive care, which can also run several hundred to a couple thousand a year if your dog needs very regular dentals (which is pretty much all small dogs, and NO a “no-anesthetic” dental is not dental care, no matter what your feed store says).

Note before I go on: Most veterinarians are NOT getting rich. They’re carrying massive student debt burdens, and even with decent salaries they can barely scrape by. Saving for a home, the kids’ college or retirement? LOL! They’re working stiffs just as you and I are, and they are not calling the shots because they don’t own the practices. While previous waves of veterinary practice purchasers have come from within the veterinary community, big-money investment funds are jumping on board now, picking up veterinary practices to bundle, maximize profit and flip, in the same way investors have stripped many communities of the entry-level homes that are necessary to provide stable neighborhoods and grow middle-class wealth, turning entire communities into renters who aren’t invested in their communities and who can be evicted at will.

In short: Veterinarians are as much a victim of this corporate greed as we are.

Wanna fix this?

1) Quit bashing pet-owners AND veterinarians for trying to do the best they can. And no, don’t give me that “if you can’t afford X level of care for a pet, you shouldn’t have one” or “if that vet really loved animals, they wouldn’t insist on charging XYZ that I can’t afford!” Understand that even those veterinarians who own their own practices need to pay their bills, their employees, their insurance, taxes and so on, and those who work for corporations largely cannot reduce your bill because they’re not allowed to. And veterinarians, quit bashing people who can’t afford care. No, you don’t have to care for their pets if they can’t afford it, but you can acknowledge the issues and offer lower-cost alternatives when discussing care. If that still doesn’t help, stabilize for transfer or euth if that’s the owner’s decision, and try harder not to judge.

2) Acknowledge the structural problems, both of the veterinary industry and of a country in which the gap between rich and poor grows wider by the day, and the middle class is hanging by a thread. Nothing will get better as long as this keeps getting worse.

3) Continue to develop spectrum of care offerings to help the pets owned by people of all income groups. The gold-plated, top-level standard of care is out of reach for many, and even with pet health insurance (assuming you can afford the monthly premium), most plans are reimbursement, meaning you still have to pay up front. Many people have no access to credit and little if no savings, and pet insurance cannot help them. We need alternatives to help these people and their pets. Because guess what? They WANT to do better by their pets. They just can’t.

4) Acknowledge that much of the costs of veterinary care passes through from large companies that set prices for drugs such as … ivermectin (!) for the pet market. There is no excuse for the price-gouging on meds that have been generic and widely available for decades and are dirt cheap to produce.

5) Fund our great public universities again, so tuition is within the realm of possibility for those who enter professions that serve us all (and this includes veterinary medicine even if you don’t have animals, since veterinarians are a key component of public health protection). Yeah, that means taxes, which are supposed to be for the greater good, and there’s no good greater than an informed, educated citizenry with critical thinking skills, and professionals whose level of education and skill helps us all, from protecting our health to building/re-building our infrastructure. Tax the rich, who’ve been getting all the benefits of tax breaks while getting richer and richer still while schools, roads and other public goods crumble.

6) Fund loan forgiveness programs that pay off student loans for those who work a set period in underserved communities. And allow refinancing of debt when lower interest rates are lower, and allow personal bankruptcies for those who can no longer pay. (For the life of me, I don’t grok why it’s acceptable to bail out banks/industries — while allowing their execs to walk away wealthy — while shouting “personal responsibility” at ordinary people who need a break.) For those new grads who don’t need the assistance, they don’t need to sign up. But helping those who need a hand will not only help diversify a very white veterinary workforce (and as such, help to reach communities where veterinarians are few), but will also put veterinarians back in rural areas, where farmers/ranchers desperately need them.

That would be a start, and it would sure be better than pet-owners trashing veterinarians who are themselves in a bind, and veterinarians getting frustrated with pet-owners who can’t afford care. We’re whistling as we walk by the elephants in the room, and we need to stop doing that.

Worth a thousand words

There’s a lot going on in this picture.

Most eyes will immediately go to Hogan, my neighbor’s heeler-Aussie mix pup, who, at 5 months of age, is showing the kind of aggressive herding instincts that I’ve sure never seen in any of the many Shelties I’ve owned or fostered. (Sorry, not even you, NEDster!). He’s also tough as a heeler should be, taking a head butt in stride and coming right back without a flinch.

He’s so tough that without an absolutely solid recall on board, he won’t be allowed around the livestock as an unleashed adult. I’ve already corrected him for gripping, as have the goats. They’ve sent him flying on a few occasions, but they won’t have that kind of leverage when he’s an adult. Fortunately, he won’t be here in “doggy daycare” much longer, and at Annie’s he doesn’t interact with her Percheron and mules.

Now, the goats. This is the “children’s table.” These are the three youngest goats, and the Mean Girls inside the stall won’t let them eat. So, I feed them separately. (A herd of goats seems awful lot like students at a junior high to me.)

Of the Mean Girls, the leadership role seems to shift fairly regularly now as pregnancies come to term. Trip (the gray one, who used to sit on the couch in the trailer) had been the top Mean Girl, but she’s a waddling barrel on stick legs at the mo, and she could not care less about any other goat. Mia took over the Boss Goat role, but now she’s also into the “I don’t care, just get these kids out of me” stage. Penelope is running the show, and Penelope is one loudmouth asshole goat. A lot of new rules to keep the young goats ostracized from the activities of the Mean Girls.

Of the youngsters, first freshener Twizzy (my fav goat, with her head up) is both head of the children’s table and the sentry goat for the entire herd.

To bring things full circle, Twizzy and Hogan have had at it a couple times, and neither is taking shit from the other.

In a couple of days, I’m taking Mia, Nicola and Penelope up to Redding, where my friend Jane, who owns these three will get them and take them the rest of the way to her home in Oregon. The remaining goats will sort things out again.

My bet’s on Twizzy to end up as the top Mean Girl, when all the dust settles.

Who’s a good boy?

Relationships are never static.

I think everyone who knows me knows how very tight the bond is between me and The Great Zookini. You may even remember the reason he’s even here is that he chose me when he was one of the visiting puppies, and his breeder/owner respected his decision and let him live with me forever after he finished a bench and field few titles.

He is *very* attached, like a remora, and that has never been a problem. I kinda suspected it might become one, but it never was, so I allowed it, because, well, I liked the attention. (Is that pathetic? I know it is!) But recently, I’d noticed a small slide into the “unhealthy” zone, with him just starting to think that maybe no other animal should be near me. People are A-OK, but other animals, from the Shelties to the goats to the pony, were getting a stiff posture and occasional rumble.

Yes, it’s classic “resource guarding”, and I have to note that’s not all bad. In fact, he has protected me from the occasional pushy horse or pony, and has grabbed the rooster once when I was examining a sick hen and Big Al decided to launch an attack to protect her. And there was that time he cut off and roared at a goat who had decided to head bump over some violation of the Caprine Code. All of that was fine, and he seemed to have good judgment.

But this has been different. It’s not, “I’m watching, and will protect you from harm” but rather “I really would prefer no one near you but me.”

Yeah, no, Zoo. You don’t get to decide.

A couple months ago, I started him on a Nothing In Life Is Free regimen, to re-align the chain of command, so to speak. And then, watching friend Miz’s incredible work with her amazing new GSD rescue boy, I started upping the game even more.

But Zooka takes my opinion very seriously, and I had to adjust.

The thing Zooka hates the most is having to do a down-stay *away* from me. He will now do a sit-stay on the other side of the room, but down-stays are very, very hard for him (there’s a reason for this, in the dog’s mind), so I backed up and started with baby steps. That way he doesn’t get much in the way of correction, just lots of praise. Which works for him because he gets very stressed and anxious if he thinks I am unhappy with him. (This is just a him and me thing: He’s pretty tough and resilient otherwise.)

Earlier, I took down-stay off the table for a while and worked on other things to build trust and confidence while still addressing the root isssue: Zooka’s decision that he was the “man of the house.”

This week, I started the down-stay again. This morning, three minutes in the kitchen, and this video is the end of the exercise. Interestingly enough, you can see his stress and anxiety. But it’s something to build on, and I was happy with it.

Baby-steps, and this was a good one this morning, even if we have to work on his enthusiasm for being released.

By the way, the water bottle is on the floor because whenever Bazooka feels as if has to apologize for something, he grabs whatever’s closest and brings it to me.