Nothing's Too Good For My Precious Pooch, or, Why Our Planet Is Dying

This past Friday morning, as per my usual routine, I sat down to read the Philadelphia Inquirer with my coffee and breakfast. And I came across an article that nearly made me vomit back all that delicious Toy Cow Farms blueberry yoghurt I had just spooned down. I refer, of course, to the piece on the "quaint Victorian home" shared by Darla, Chelsea, and Coco Puff.

Their dwelling has a cedar-shake roof, vaulted ceilings, and hardwood floors, heating and air-conditioning, moldings and casement windows, drapery with valences, and fanciful wallpapers.

At Christmas, music from the RCA Victor radio carried outside to a grassy yard surrounded by a white picket fence. A sign on the porch reads: "Three spoiled dogs live here."

Yes. Darla, Chelsea, and Coco Puff are dogs. They live in a home that cost "$20,000 in construction, transport, and equipment, if [you include] the painting, landscaping, screened doors and windows, miniblinds, and ceiling fans, as well as the yard with artificial turf." (Do follow the link and check out the photo.)

The doggie mansion, at 8 by 11 feet, has just slightly fewer square feet of living space than the room my mother now calls home at the assisted living facility. The dogs at least have their own yard to poop in. My mother has to go down the hall to a shared bathroom. This is the best facility we can afford for her on her monthly income, without spending down her investments. (We have been hanging on to her investments for the time we can see coming when she will need nursing care, which is much more expensive than assisted living. I don't have to tell you what has happened to her investments over the last year.)

I traveled to western Pennsylvania today to be with mom for the next five days or so. On Monday, she is going to move into a new room, basically the same size as the old one. This room was once someone's office, in a building that was once her high school. It is reasonably nice, with an attractive (though not fanciful) wallpaper and new carpet. Underneath the new carpet is extra padding, which bespeaks the reason for the move. Mom has begun having frequent falls. The staff at the AL facility felt it would be safer for her to live in the part of the facility with more intensive oversight of residents, rather than where she is now, in the section for residents who need somewhat less care.

This is no doubt the best thing for my mother, and there are even some benefits to the move beyond enhanced oversight and thus more safety. Her current room has one small window which looks out on an interior courtyard rooftop. Because of constraints presented by the room layout, the only place to put her recliner chair is with its back to the window - so she can't even see out the small window with no view. The new room has two large windows with views of trees, hillsides, houses, a street. She'll see more life and activity out of these windows - indeed, even being able to see out the windows at all is a major plus. She'll be able to see out them from both her chair and her bed.

But it is hard to go through this move with her. She doesn't want to move. It was hard enough to move from home to the AL facility. She lived in the house she was (literally) born in, for 79 years, before the move. Over the past year, she has managed to make her tiny room feel like a home to her. Many times, in recounting conversations she's had with other residents, she has let me know that they refer to their rooms as their houses. So this isn't really just a simple room change. It's leaving home all over again. Even though she often complains about various aspects of her room, it is her house, and I am complicit with the staff in evicting her from it.

The move also signifies another step downhill to her, another small loss of autonomy. My mother does not like the idea of needing to go into the area for higher-care residents, and indeed, she doesn't have much in common with many of them. She is more mobile than many of them, has much more of her mental faculties intact than many of them and, except for the weakness in her legs and balance problems, can handle more activities of daily living than many of them. Yet there are signs that some things are beginning to slip. She is at the top of the slippery slope, and does not like it, not one bit. It is my chore to help her through this move, soothe her and ease her transition, and try to start the process of making the new room feel like her "house" - and try to keep her spirits up through this.

So you see, when I look at this woman who used to run a household of nine people ranging in age and type from retired coal miner to toddler child; who used to run up and down the stairs from second to first floor, first to basement, basement out to back yard with laundry to hang, back into the house, back upstairs, over and over all day; who was a Girl Scout leader and Band Booster, a Civic Club member and a Rosary Altar Society member; who made sure we had books to read at home and access to the lending library in Carmichaels 14 miles away; who used to write me three letters a week when I was in college and talked me out of quitting engineering my freshman year when my advisor was no help at all; when I look at this woman reduced to life in a 9 by 11 foot former high school office room, and I see three dogs living in a custom-built $20,000 doggie mansion...

...well, I wanna do some serious shoe-pukin'.

You know, even if you don't give a crap about my mother's situation compared to the cushy life of these dogs - I mean, you could argue that my mother is living quite well compared to the situation of many a person on this planet - you should still be outraged. Because people like Tammy Kassis, with her "three spoiled dogs", living in a $20,000 heated and air-conditioned, decorated doghouse, are the reason this planet has so little chance of surviving our presence on it. If you asked Tammy what we should do about starving children in Africa - hell, about starving children in our own U.S. cities - do you think she would just reply "let them eat cake"? After all,

She has her eye on a small plasma-screen TV for her pups. "They love to watch Animal Planet," Kassis says. "It's their favorite."

Well, I suppose we ought to let the little pups enjoy it - while the planet is still able to support any animal life for us to film.

More like this should still be outraged. Because people like Tammy Kassis, with her "three spoiled dogs", living in a $20,000 heated and air-conditioned, decorated doghouse, are the reason this planet has so little chance of surviving our presence on it.

Nope. This is just one example of someone with more money than I have spending a chunk of it in a way that I consider silly (or wasteful or obscene or whatever description you want). There are others, some of which offend me personally more than the doggie example.

And "... so little chance of surviving our presence on it"? Please ... this is arrogance pure and simple. We couldn't destroy the planet if we tried. We can certainly degrade it in ways that some of us would find unacceptable, but let's not give humans more power than they have.

Although George Carlin is far from the only person to comment on this, his formulation is brief and pithy - "The planet is OK ... the people are fucked!!"

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 15 Mar 2009 #permalink

Dear Scott "Head In the Sand" Belyea: Perhaps you have not hearing about climate change, rising seas, decreasing biodiversity, widespread deforestation, increasing desertification, native plants threatened by invasives, declining bird populations, not to mention our polluted air, land, and, I do not think the planet is OK. But enjoy your blissful ignorance while it lasts.

Sure, the "earth" wont be destroyed. Its a giant ball of rock. What people mean by "earth" is the ecosystem we live on. I understand the point, being deliberately obtuse so as to deny the degradation of the ecosystem to one that is at best miserable to live in.

Wow, that dog house is bigger than Bernie Madoff's cell ...

I think Scott's point is that the planet will survive, with new species evolving to fill the niche created by large crumbling buildings after we are gone. It might even sort of survive when its sun goes into its red giant stage.

What Scott misses is that her actions will speed the day when her children will struggle to survive in the absence of petro-fertilized crops. Even that nice artificial green turf yard helped deplete what is left of our oil. But it might be that she is spending money on dogs in lieu of children and doesn't care about that.

What is really nuts is that someone has a business building these dog houses, and that they moved this one from their old home to a new one!

BTW, my own theory is that building houses out of wood is a form of carbon sequestration, just not a very good one.

Yeah, it only takes 10-30 million years for global ecosystems to recover from a big mass extinction event. It's really not such a big deal - as long as you're not irrationally emotionally attached to one of the species that goes extinct.

Zuska, I don't think you get Scott's point. All the calamities you describe may well make the planet unlivable for the likes of us, and then when we all die a miserable death or are at least reduced to a final few that have survived the massive wars that will result, but in the end life of some form will go on without us. Life in all its forms have no special place for the Earth of today or even of 500 years ago -- life just goes on living in one form or another. We along with a great many species may rely on the Earth of today, but not life in general.

I agree with everything you say above. The following is a little off topic but hopefully will help with what is coming.

My mother started down her slippery slope two years ago. We are the sandwich generation with children on one shoulder and aging parents on the other. Our culture is not set up for this. We have entered into uncharted territory with such long lifespans. I hope I don't offend when I say that the dying process when it comes will be difficult for all involved. A good book on the subject:

It was a living nightmare (and this is how most people describe it) with my mother suffocating from heart failure and put on morphine to keep her unconscious. Morphine, I learned, actually extends the life of dying heart patients by unloading the heart. When she awoke calling "Help me" we increased the dose.

Basically, I had given permission to starve my mother to death by carrying out her do not resuscitate orders, which withheld all medications, water, and food. Sores were developing. The nightmare lasted 12 days. I was lucky to be there, holding her hand when she took her last breath. I just wish she hadn't suffered so. I've been told this is how most of our parents die now. It is wrong. Something has to change. Washington State has passed a death with dignity law along with Oregon. I just hope I have the strength and wisdom to take advantage of it when my time comes. Again, please forgive me if I have offended by talking about death while your mother is still alive.

The question is not whether the Earth will survive us (it will); it's whether we (and other species like us) will survive the changes that we're effecting to the Earth. I agree that that seems pretty unlikely when there are people whose dogs have as significant a carbon footprint as a person in a wealthy, industrialized nation.

On what level can dogs possibly care that some thrips-brained human spent $20,000 to provide them with a landscaped, air-conditioned kennel with hardwood floors and miniblinds? This isn't even about loving pets -- it's about loving money. Seriously, obsessively loving it to the exclusion of all things alive, human or otherwise.

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 15 Mar 2009 #permalink

Amazing what people will do to avoid training their dogs.

Yo people. If you and they had had the gumption to plan ahead a bit and try to develop preventative treatments, your momma might still be happy and healthy. Instead you decided you would like to impose your morals on everyone else an the future generations by avoiding research on anti aging therapies.

Check out the methelusah foundation ( for examples of how this attitude still prevails. Being fairly young, if you don't support anti aging, remember I will be laughing at you when you are old and feeble and suffering, as you would apparently so gladly have others be.

wow, Gregor, that's an amazingly insensitive thing to say to someone writing about her mother's experience with aging. Zuska would certainly not be overstepping any boundaries by banning you outright.

Ditto for me...your ass should be banned!

I was not addressing Zuska in isolation, but rather the populace in general, and I made that clear enough.

If there had been as little research on fundamental cancer therapies for the past 50 years, and you replaced "aging" with "cancer," it would easier to see how my post is appropriate.

No regrets, no apologies.

Gregor, you are an insensitive selfish ass. Your post was not in any way appropriate, especially after Russ Finley's heartbreaking post - you just came across as downright rude. Go off into your nut zone of the "methelusah" project (and maybe learn to spell it) and leave us alone here. The last thing our over-consuming society needs is people like Tammy Kassis living forever. Because of course, it's the jerks with tons of money who will pony up for shit like that - it won't be the poor folks in developing countries who get to take advantage of all your wonderful anti-aging discoveries. Gah. Go away and leave me alone.

Sometimes aging just sucks. I'm sorry. And I agree that the doggie houses are outrageous. Remember what happened to Marie A? Unfortunately that kind of ostentatiousness sets up revolutions, which not only harm the careless perpetrators of extravagance, but ordinary people too, because violence begets violence and totalitarianism, not democracy. Those people who still have a say in it should think about that.

Is that 20K doghouse really worse than a 500K(depending on local housing costs) house for people?

Scott 1
Zuska 0
Gregor -1000

Zuska, I'm so sorry -- about your mom, and about the resident trolls being such asses. I don't think they even realise how bad they make themselves look, but you shouldn't have to deal with that kind of nonsense right now.

I hope your mom can get some comfort and enjoyment from her new view. Maybe you can get her a windowbox, which would allow her to expand her "domain" to a little way outside the room; my experience with my grandmother was that this gave her a degree of satisfaction, as a small way of pushing back against smaller digs.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 26 Mar 2009 #permalink

I'm getting a house for my dogs. Why not? It's my hard earned money and if people have an issue with it OH WELL! LIFE is too short might as well enjoy every minute of it! By the way I'm a fan of Tammy Kassis!!!!

By Animal Lover (not verified) on 24 Jan 2010 #permalink