Condolences in the Time Of COVID-19

A word from a mourner in sequester.  Don’t know why YouTube isn’t allowing me to embed this video but since everyone and their dog is online right now in quarantine and shelter-in-place and hunker-down and such, there are all kinds of glitchy gremlins afoot. My internet connection has been really slow and people’s phones are cutting out all the time. We are overloading the grid, I guess.

This is KA-WHITE the experience, isn’t it. I’m kind of staggering around lately, how about you?

Oh, and here’s the video I made from the depths of early April’s inherent dreariness. Daffodils are out and we saw some sun today, but it’s a play-Chopin-and-wrap–up-in-a-fleece-blankie kind of time.

Wishing you well!

How (Not) To Train A Beagle

Please click on the photos to enlarge them. – PB

Please do not get a beagle if you don’t believe that dogs have real feelings. Beagles are truly sensitive and they most certainly get their feelings hurt. They mope when over-corrected and when treated with severe discipline, their hearts break. You cannot “break” a beagle, nor should you ever try to. Humiliating them, spraying them in the face with water, shocking them, abusing them for barking, or in any other way applying cruel measures to their normal behavior will destroy their spirits. Those of us who love beagles beg you to consider carefully before bringing one of these brown-eyed darlings home. They are the cutest dogs in the world, among the smartest (hey, just because we don’t know what it’s like to millions of scent receptors doesn’t mean beagles are dumb — it means WE are dumb for expecting them to listen when they have an interesting smell up their snouts!), and incredibly loyal.

There is a reason that this breed is used for almost all of the laboratory experiments done on dogs. It is because they are so sweet, cheerful, trusting and responsive to human attention, they do not become aggressive even when kept under the horrible conditions in labs, and tortured in the name of science or product safety. Beagle people support The Beagle Freedom Project, a group that will figure prominently in the story I am about to tell. But before I tell you that story (which really is about training, I promise), let me tell you about my own beagle, Maxfield.

Max was one of the lucky ones. He was raised from a puppy by a family that loved him a lot and provided him with everything he needed. Unfortunately, they had to surrender him to the shelter when they faced a housing transition and could not take him with them to their new home. Although he had known great love and was treated very well and with lots of affection by the great folks at the Scituate Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, Max’s heart was broken. He was nervous, skinny, and skittish, with stressed-out bloodshot eyes and an air of deep insecurity.

Max Comes Home 030

When my then boyfriend and I filled out an application to adopt Max, the shelter director really grilled us. Did we have a fenced in yard? Beagles can climb chain link fence. Beagles can — and will — dig to escape enclosures. Did I own my own home? Beagles can be destructive! Beagles can chew through floors! My eyes got bigger and bigger and I looked at Greg like, “Do we WANT this dog? Are you nuts?” Greg stood stoically while the director continued on. Are we prepared to love a dog who barks, who “counter-surfs” for food and steals every bit he can get his paws on? Beagles are stubborn, they’re willful, and “you’re going to need an obedience trainer.” She asked us to sign up for obedience training right then and there! Greg and I looked at each other and at Max, the small, smooth guy who was sitting at our feet pressed against Greg’s leg in a position we dubbed “The Max Melt-In.” We politely declined the obedience training and took our beagle home. The shelter required a one week foster period to make sure the adoption would work out.

Given all the warnings we had received, we were very nervous about our new beagle addition to the family. We expected him to howl and bay a lot.

He never howled and bayed. He just cried and cried when we put him in his crate at night.

We expected him to chew everything.

He never chewed anything but the pads we put in his crate.

We never let him off leash because we had been sternly instructed to NEVER do that. EVER, as beagles are scent hounds and if we let a beagle off the leash, he would immediately run off and get lost or killed.

He didn’t get let off leash for over a year.

Eventually I tried traning Max with treats, and to my great delight he proved responsive to training. Food, my friends. I never leave the house with him without snacks on hand. I use a special whistle and a hand signal to alert him that I have a snack for him. He runs right to me.

Of course I am taking a risk, the way any dog guardian takes a risk in letting her dog off leash. Some beagles cannot be trained this way. You have to get to know your own dog.

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Eventually, although we had been told by everyone in the dog world that dogs LOVE crates and that Max would grow to LOVE his crate, we had to listen to him and respect his sincere, insistent crying message that he did not LOVE his crate and felt very hurt that we were making him sleep in a crate, and so we had a long talk about it. We told him that he could sleep with us but that we were worried that he was going to destroy everything in the house if we didnt’ crate him when we left.

He was so much happier sleeping with us. That’s all he wanted.DSC02188

Please don’t get a beagle if you’re not prepared to cheerfully lose many the typical dog-person arguments. Beagles will persist. You have to love their persistence and give them a chance to be who they are or they’ll become hurt, bewildered and miserable, and probably act out.

Beagles are obsessed with food. They’re never NOT going to be obsessed with food. As I said, they have more scent receptors than the other breeds, so if your childhood golden retriever was notorious for occasionally snitching the roast beef off the counter, prepare to guard all of your food all the time with a beagle.  You’ll get used to it, and to commanding DOWN or OFF a thousand times a day. If you can’t love an animal who will watch you eat with huge, pleading eyes, pre-clean the dishes while they’re stacked in the washer, tremble and moan when there’s a chicken roasting (the first time Max did this I thought he was having a seizure), and counter-surf, please do not adopt a beagle.

He’s not counter-surfing yet, but he’s thinking about it.

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I belong to a Facebook group called I Love Beagles (I know), and we regularly hear about beagles being rejected by — to put it bluntly — unkind and stupid humans. Recently, in early February of 2015, a member of our community found a Craiglist ad by a woman who said she was giving away her beagle because she was incorrigible.

First of all, please — no matter what — please don’t ever give away a dog on Craigslist. They will mostly likely meet a terrible, torturous fate. Please for the love of God, find a local shelter and leave them there. Even if they’re euthanized the dog won’t suffer in a lab or be used as bait in a fight dog. Beagles are mostly submissive and get stolen for these two purposes. The best thing you can do is get in touch with a regional beagle rescue organization or a no-kill shelter, of course.

Continue reading “How (Not) To Train A Beagle”


As I was driving away from a nursing home this afternoon I realized that as I get older, transitions between the different demands of ministry (which are, in fact, the thing that keep this work so constantly rich and fascinating)are more and more difficult and depleting to achieve. There was a time when I could go from the bedside of a sick or dying person right to a committee meeting, home for a quick meal and then jump into the study to start some worship planning or writing.

I find to my dismay that try as I may, I simply can’t do that anymore.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it means that I’m more present where I am and that the wide chasm between the the energy in, say, the hospital and a church social event is too broad to jump with my old alacrity. I find that when I expect an instant transformation from pastor to Minister, I get disoriented and just want to hide out because I know I’ll do or say something insensitive or out-of-it. Honest to God, I don’t know how anyone does this work without theater training: I can’t think of how many times I’ve walked into a room absolutely pretending that I’m fine, ready, and truly present when I’m grieving some sadness shared with someone in the parish. Oftentimes the energy of the group inspires and rejuvenates me and I go home feeling up and connected, but that half-hour to hour of transitioning can be really tricky to navigate. For one thing, I look around the room and think “who else just came from some emotionally draining situation to be here tonight?” That can be very distracting, because as we get to know our congregations better and better, we learn that the answer can often be, “Everybody!” And yet the Church calls us out to do the work of the covenanted community, and we respond. Thanks be to God, and dammit it to hell, if you know what I mean.

How do you transition from one emotional setting to the next?

I find that it helps to schedule pastoral calls in the afternoon and then some mindless errands immediately after them, or to head home to prepare dinner. Instead of seeing three people, I now only try to visit one or two and then move quietly around the kitchen (careful with those knives!) preparing nourishing food before heading out for evening meetings or the study (or just winding down for the day when the schedule allows). Through my thirties I was able to make several visits back-to-back, rush out for take-out food, run home and check mail/e-mail and rush out the door for the evening. No way, Jose. Not any more.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that I’ve become less and less coherent and able to get much work done on Sunday afternoons. Thank God I am not asked to teach or attend meetings after church except on very rare occasions. After presiding over a worship service I am more blotto than I used to be — good only for one-on-one chats with people (I love to stand at the periphery of coffee hour and watch the crowd hum but I can’t for the life of me concentrate on conversations unless they’re at least a few feet away from the food tables). When I hear of ministers who are expected to lead worship service (or services!) and then attend board meetings in the afternoon I have utmost sympathy. I honestly don’t know how they do it.

Living in New England with such distinct natural seasons helps me to lean into this aspect of my aging with more acceptance and not to fight it too much. We have to know our strengths and weaknesses, and it’s also only fair to notice how we change through the passing of time. I was talking with a Methodist colleague this afternoon about maybe (just MAYBE) trying to adjust our expectations for winter time, encouraging our communities and ourselves to slow down as the days get considerably shorter and the dark and the cold urge us indoors for more reflective pursuits. I adore the busy buzz of autumn, spring and summer and tend to get mopey and lonesome in the winter, but maybe it’s time to lean into that reality, too.

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s marvelous book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she reminds us that it’s neither ecologically sound nor spiritually mature to insist on bananas in January in the northern hemisphere. This makes me think that if it’s not good stewardship of the earth to demand kiwi fruit in Massachusetts in December, it’s also not wise stewardship to demand springtime brightness from myself as October rolls in. Nor is it wise to expect a 42-year old to have the same resilience as a 29-year old, or to get hung up about it. That almost-42-year old knows a lot more than that kid in her late 20’s knew, has buried a lot more beloveds and somberly marked their names as “deceased” on the church rolls, and has hung around a lot more hours with Lady Death and Mister Trouble. I used to be able to get up from the table after a lunch date with them, leave a few bucks for the check and get right on to the next thing. Nowadays I linger over coffee, haggling over the bill, and arguing, always trying to get them to schedule our next lunch for a much later date than they have in mind.