In Memory of a Dog named Zoe

IMG_1007After losing our pet Bichon Frise last week, I intended to share my own recollections on a family member with whom all three of our sons grew up.  But instead I’d like to share the feelings expressed by the family poet laureate, Alex Shortall.

Since this has already been a tough week, particularly for Carol, I will reserve my thought and memories for a future post.

Alex’s heartfelt expressions are framed by literary excerpts he thought were appropriate to our loss.

Many years ago, when the first cement sidewalks were being laid in our neighborhood, we children took the paw of our dog Mickey and impressed it into a kind of immortality even as he modestly floundered and objected. Some time ago after the lapse of many decades, I stood and looked at the walk, now crumbling at the edges from the feet of many passers.

No one knows where Mickey the friendly lies; no one knows how many times the dust that clothed that beautiful and loving spirit has moved with the thistledown across the yards where Mickey used to play. Here is his only legacy to the future – that dabbled paw mark whose secret is remembered briefly in the heart of an aging professor.

The mark of Mickey’s paw is dearer to me than many more impressive monuments – perhaps because, in a sense, we both wanted to be something other than what we were. Mickey, I know, wanted very much to be a genuine human being. If permitted, he would sit up to the table and put his paws together before his plate, like the rest of the children. If anyone mocked him at such a time by pretending to have paws and resting his chin on the table as Mickey had to do, Mickey would growl and lift his lip. He knew very well he was being mocked for not being human.

The reminder that he was only a poor dog with paws annoyed Mickey. He knew basically a lot more than he ever had the opportunity to express. Though people refused to take Mickey’s ambition seriously, the frustration never affected his temperament. Being of a philosophic cast of mind, he knew that children were less severe in their classifications. And if Mickey found the social restrictions too onerous to enable him quite to achieve recognition inside the house, outside he came very close to being a small boy. In fact, he was taken into a secret order we had founded whose club house was an old piano box in the backyard. We children never let the fact that Mickey walked on four legs blind us to his other virtues.”

– Loren Eisley, “The Night Country”, Chapter 6: Paw Marks and Buried Towns

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Today at 3 p.m. I felt one of my oldest childhood friends shudder and die in my arms.  At the veterinarian’s office, they have a special room where families go to spend their last few moments with a beloved pet, and when you’re ready, you flick a switch which summons the doctor who brings The Injections, first one white to relax the muscles, and then one pink to stop the heart. I couldn’t stop thinking, how many families have cried here together over an animal which is probably too distressed and sick to be aware of their presence? I’m not sure if Zoe knew whose company she was in at that moment, being blind and deaf and panicked, and had she seen me, would she have recognized me?

At the end of it, her head rested softly on my lap, staring straight ahead but seeing past everything, and I wanted nothing more than to close her eyes for her and let her sleep, but dogs don’t have eyelids the way we humans do, and the stubborn things stayed open. My dog’s ears were floppier than mine, her nose wetter, her body crippled and twisted by what was likely a stroke, and the hair on her face was a bit cleaner and sparser than mine. In the next day or so she’ll be ashes, returned to us, and then returned to the earth. I have a few photos of her on my phone and in my room, and her toys still lay around the house, my own childhood toys mangled and gnawed from her days as a vicious pup, but no dust or pavement will ever hold her mark. Her paw print is more an internal impression, which is me remembering how it felt to have her next to me.

Her mark is unique. It is the feeling of her chin on my thigh, her fur between my fingers, the shift as she rolled aside to let me scratch her belly, and watching her eyes slowly close in a peaceful slumber, knowing that in a few hours she’d be awake again, ready to walk or eat or watch my mom prepare dinner in the kitchen. I know now that she will never wake again, and that’s okay. She put in her fifteen years as a loyal and steadfast friend, the first animal I ever loved as all animals should be loved. She taught me a lot about what it means to be human, but also that being human isn’t so much special or better than being anything else. I wouldn’t trade my life for that of a dog, but neither would I choose it.

I love you Zoe. Rest in peace. I’ll meet you in the ether when the light flickers out.

Please send my mom good vibes in any way you can. She loved that dog more than anything, and fought hard to keep the candle burning. She will miss their walks dearly.

Best wishes,
A bad boy who lost a good pup
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

– Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass”, Section 6

The Hole in our Home

The hole in our home
Is not huge by any measure.
’Tis simply one of
Life’s little treasures.

The hole in our home
So recent in the making,
Was a loss we expected,
Quite common is its aching.

The hole in our home
Was Love with no conditions.
Affection given freely
No matter our dispositions.

This hole in our home
Our sweet memories will jog.
For the hole in our home
Is in the shape of a dog.

You will always be with us, Zoe!
Rest in Peace

You could never trust her to properly decorate the Christmas tree. But she was a good and loyal dog!

You could never trust her to properly decorate the Christmas tree. But she was a good and loyal dog!

Citizens Police Academy: District Courts

citizens-police-academy-wilmington-delawareSession 3 of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy (CPA) dealt with District Courts, the most local of courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania judicial system.  The seminar was provided District Justice Paul N. Leo, Magisterial District 38-1-14, located in Hatboro, Pa.

Justice Leo was a police officer in the Upper Moreland Police Department.  He has been elected to his third term (six years each) on the District Court.  In addition to giving his time to the Hatboro and Horsham CPA, he provides instruction at the Montgomery County Community College Municipal Police Academy.  In this capacity, the Honorable Justice teaches police cadets the basic and finer points of criminal law and the legal system.

Frankly, the law – like economic theory – tends to make my eyes water and ears bleed.

(For this reason, I take no responsibility for inaccurate legalese which may – or may not – be found in the following.)

Judge Leo was able to make the legal system – as seen through its basic, most local interaction with the average citizen – both interesting and relatable.


Click here: Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System for an extremely informative, interactive presentation of the PUJS pyramid style organization.

  • Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System consists of:
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court – Highest State Court
      • Established in 1684 (Oldest appellate court in U.S.)
      • 7 justices request selected appeals from Superior and Commonwealth Courts
    • Superior Court and Commonwealth Courts
      • Superior Court (15 judges)
        • Final Arbiter in most legal matters, primarily criminal and most civil matters
      • Commonwealth Court (9 judges)
        • Established in 1968 and unique to Pennsylvania
        • Primary responsibility is with issues involving State and Local governments and regulatory agencies
      • Superior and Commonwealth Courts hear appeals from Court of Common Pleas
    • Court of Common Pleas (451 judges)
      • 60 Judicial Districts (67 counties in PA, 14 counties combined into 7 districts)
        • General trial courts for both criminal and civil cases
        • Appeals from District Court decisions
    • Minor Courts (526 judges)
      • 526 magisterial districts
        • includes 13 Allegheny County DJs serving Pittsburgh
      • 29 Philadelphia District Courts (27 General, 2 Traffic)
      • Civil trials
      • All minor criminal and some serious criminal trials
        • Decides which criminal cases refer to Court of Common Pleas
      • Preliminary hearings and arraignments
  • Montgomery County Courts consist of 30 District Courts
    • District Justice Paul N. Leo, Judicial District 38-1-14
Paul leo

District Magistrate Paul N. Leo (MD 38-1-14)

In District Court, Judge Leo is responsible for hearing criminal arraignments and deciding – on prima facie grounds – the likelihood that a crime has been committed and whether the alleged perpetrator should be held over for trial or if bail should be set (except for cases involving murder and voluntary manslaughter that automatically go before the Court of Common Pleas). He also decides which criminal cases are sufficiently serious for Court of Common Pleas.

In addition, Judge Leo hears all civil cases in disputed amounts up to $12,000., summary offenses and municipal ordinance violations.

In his presentation to the CPA, Judge Leo also touched on subjects such as:

  • The hierarchy of offenses in the criminal code that range from Summary and Misdemeanor (Classes 1-3) offenses through Felonies (Classes 1-3) and Super Felony charges for drug dealing and abuse of a child.
  • Workings of the bail bond system
  • Domestic abuse and implications of Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders
  • Role of the Prothonotary
  • Search warrants

One of the more interesting topics was a discussion of the “four corner” concept in the presentation of Probable Cause, which is normally the responsibility of an arresting police officer.  The concept requires that all facts and evidence substantiating an arrest and the alleged commission of a crime or violation must be contained within the four corners of any document submitted to The Court, particularly in criminal matters.

The concept places the onus for documenting any violation or crime on the arresting officer.  It requires a meticulous attention to detail and relies on the ability of the officer to properly articulate all important facts and supporting information without providing the Defense an easy out on technicality or substantive error.

As you can imagine, some of the stories related on this issue and others, gleaned from years of experience on the bench were enlightening, troubling, or downright funny.  The impression one gets is that a day on the bench cannot be confused with a day on the beach; but it does have its moments.

02The judge related several issues of frustration.  One was on the parade of repeat offenders or “frequent fliers” whose experience in the legal system rivals that of the judges themselves.  Too often repeat customers of The Court know all too well the gradual escalation of court action and sanctions; and they are able to “game the system” to maintain their freedom right up to the point where serious action and incarceration might occur.

The saddest problem involves the redundant appearance of domestic violence victims, who often refuse to testify against a significant other repeatedly over separate incidences of abuse.  It’s a long-standing and difficult problem with no easy or simple solution.  The worst part is that it can eventually become a matter of life or death.

Other subjects I found interesting:

  • Law degrees are not required to serve as judges in the lowest courts (Magisterial District) or in the highest court (Pennsylvania Supreme Court); but they are required to serve on the mid-level courts (Common Pleas, Commonwealth, and Superior)
  • Conviction rate for jury trials in Montgomery County is 87%.
  • Video arraignment systems now available at incarceration sites and to The Courts is saving much in the way of costs and in freeing police officers and sheriff’s staff for other duties due to the removal of transportation complications.

courtroom-gavelOverall, Judge Leo did an excellent job of explaining – in mostly laymen terms – the conduct, operation, and expectations a participant might have of an interaction with the Minor Courts of Pennsylvania.  It’s difficult to make discussions of law sound very interesting to the man on the street.  Judge Leo made it interesting and well worth the time spent listening.

At some point, I plan to take the good Judge up on his open invitation to observe his court in action.

All courts, including local Magisterial District Courts, are open to the public.  Judge Leo’s court is located just south of “downtown” Hatboro, as part of the Victorian Village complex at 420 S. York Road.  The Judge recommends calling (215-957-5935) for The Court’s schedule before stopping in to observe the local court at work.

The Magisterial District Court for Horsham (38-1-22) is operated under District Justice Harry J. Nesbitt III, and is located at 903 Sheehy Drive, Suite A, Horsham, PA 19044 (215-675-2040).

Citizens Police Academy: Patrol functions

citizens-police-academy-wilmington-delawareOur second class in the Citizens Police Academy provided insights in the patrol functions of the Hatboro and Horsham (Pennsylvania) police departments.  The presentation was once again very interesting and educational.  However, the night’s presentation started off with some sobering statistics as provide by Sargent Peter Van Dolsen of the Hatboro PD.

  • Hatboro, the primary focus of the patrol presentation, serves 8000 inhabitants in a borough just 1.4 square miles in size.
  • The borough’s police department answers approximately 5000 calls per year
  • Nationwide an estimated 50,000 police officers are assaulted each year
  • 30% of these assaults occur during domestic disturbance calls
  • In 2014 122 police fatalities were reported for officers in the line of duty.  (This statistic covers all manner of death, including issues of health, accidents, and the result of criminal assault.)
  • Four officer deaths occurred in Pennsylvania.

Sobering as they are, these statistics highlight the difficulties and risks our law enforcement officers face each and every day as they perform their essential community functions.  Besides situations of domestic disturbance, an officer’s most hazardous duties are – not surprisingly – found in the overnight hours when the cover of darkness invites criminal activity and when many people have been drinking and/or using drugs.

When I walked in tonight, Lt. Jon Clark, Horsham PD, called me over.  “We were talking about you …”

Uh oh …

But it was just about a courtesy e-mail I had sent the Police Chiefs in both townships before I took the liberty of using our police instructors’ names for this blog.  Afterwards I went on my way, but the quick conversation would reemerge later that night.

Later Sargent Van Dolsen embarked on an interesting discussion of the scale of public interaction officers face each day while on patrol.  The most innocuous interaction is the mere encounter, a chance contact with a citizen that arises unexpectedly in the normal course of patrol. Usually, there is no indication of wrong doing.  An example might be a courtesy check on a lone individual walking down the street on their way home from work or a friend’s house at 2 a.m.

BaltimorePoliceCommunityInteractionReasonable suspicion might involve a situation similar to the above, where the officer’s observations (suspicious behavior, evasive answers, no connection to the neighborhood, etc.) and community awareness (recent burglaries, car break-ins, etc.) would lead to the reasonable conclusion that the person has or is about to engage in criminal activity.  Under these circumstances an officer can stop and frisk an individual without violating their Fourth Amendment rights (See Terry v. Ohio) .

The highest level of police interaction is probable cause, a situation in which the officer has the reasonable justification to make an arrest, to conduct personal or property searches, or to seek a warrant where a crime has been committed and sufficient information indicates a specific individual(s) were involved.

The key factor to understanding the escalating nature of each incident is the ability of the police officer to articulate his decision to escalate the interaction.  The Court will require the meeting of the reasonable person standard supported by the officer’s observations and hard evidence that led to reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the officer.

A scan of our audience reveals the following demographics:

  • Class size: 20-25
  • Age spread: 16-75 estimated
  • High school/college-age: 6-8
  • Female: 35-40%

Other topics and my take aways from each during our second session:

  • Miranda Rights: Not at time of arrest, but required before questioning
  • Spontaneous utterances: Why it makes sense to wait until questioning to Mirandize a suspect …
  • Warrants: standard, “no knock”, and night-time warrants
  • Differences between day-time patrol and night-time patrol
  • How officers protect themselves through situational awareness, physical positioning, and teamwork
  • Managing a felony car stop (known criminal activity)
  • Evolution of police training in the response to physical threats

Police Officer Arresting Young ManThe most interesting topic of the night was a discussion of the OODA Loop, a decision-making model developed by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd.  The OODA Loop is an ingrained four-step decision-making process (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that everyone uses constantly – though subconsciously – throughout every day without even knowing they are doing it.

In the world of law enforcement, as well as that of fighter pilots, the person that completes the OODA Loop in the shortest period of time wins (or survives)!  The average person processes an OODA Loop in roughly 1.5 seconds.  A successful major league baseball player standing at homeplate – bat in hand – will complete his OODA process 0.5 seconds after the ball leaves the pitchers hand!

Which explains why I could never hit the fastball … or the curve … or “fast pitch” softball …

US Air Force Colonel John Boyd

US Air Force Colonel John Boyd

Police officers are trained extensively in the OODA Loop for one very good reason.  It could save their lives!  Distance is an officer’s best friend.  In the time it takes an officer to process a threat; draw his weapon; and fire if necessary, the average person can cover a distance of 21-30 feet, depending on the officer’s mindset and expectation of a threat.

It was a fascinating discussion about how an officer faced with an uncertain or clearly threatening situation must be mindful – even if it’s subconsciously so – of working inside the other person’s OODA Loop.  The stakes can be incredibly high.

As the night ended I headed for the exit, but popped into the community center canteen to say good night to Lt. Clark. 

He called out, “Mike, I might not be here next week, so Happy  Birthday!”

I stopped, pleasantly surprised by the thought expressed … until something else crossed my mind.  “How’d you know it was my birthday?”, I asked.

He looks me right in the eye, and deadpans, “I’m a cop.”

My mind went racing …. our earlier conversation, “We were talking about you, the Chiefs and I.”  Talking about me … What else were they talking about?  Who’s been talking?  What do they have on me?  How long’s my “rap sheet”?!? 

My OODA had turned to gouda …

“You’ll be 59, right?”, Clark adds.

Damn it! …. Cops!


Police Academy 19

1626For 19 times the police departments of Horsham and Hatboro, Pennsylvania have presented a seminar-type forum know as the Citizens Police Academy.  Having heard several rave reviews of the program, its organization, and presentation, I decided to register and take a look at what our local law enforcement types do and how they do it.  There are local CPAs in surrounding communities as well, such as Abington, Cheltenham, as well as both regionally and nationally.

This past Wednesday night was our first session.  And although the first session was by necessity a bit dry and full of background information and program objective, several interesting factoids were presented that would make the under-educated (police service-wise) go, “Hmmmm …”

If subsequent sessions appear to be nearly as interesting as I think they might, I intend to share some of my experiences and lessons-learned with you.  I will not promise to do so each week; but I will not let anything of value out.

By way of full disclosure I reveal the following.  I have several former and current officers in my family, including one who retired from a command position in a fairly large police department out west.  Currently, I have one extended family member serving as a patrol officer (last time I checked) in Wilmington, Delaware.

The objective of the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) are fairly obvious.

  • Improved community relations
  • Improved public safety
  • Crime prevention through the elimination of Opportunities to commit crime

PA-HorshamTwpPDOf course, the primary goal is an outreach to its citizens as a way of fostering familiarity with police roles and techniques, an understanding of what police can and cannot do, as well as a forum for citizens to learn how to prevent the most common criminal acts and how local police will react and handle those situations.  The underlying theme is to promote a tighter relationship between the community and the police, and to encourage greater participation by everyday citizens in community.

Personally, I find it to be an excellent way to show support for local law enforcement as well as taking an interest in the important role they play in making our community a safer, more attractive place to live.

My class has roughly 20-25 attendees on the first night, coming from both Horsham and Hatboro.  For those not familiar with the two communities, they are located very closely though they do not physically border each other.  The township of Upper Moreland separates the two by a thin piece of land, known by some as “the dog leg”.  However the two communities share a common school district, known appropriately enough as the Hatboro-Horsham School District.

I live in Horsham.  But in a strange quirk of U.S. Postal Service zip-coding, my residence holds a Hatboro zip code.  (Not sure how that fits the narrative here, but there ya go!)

You want to do what?!?   (generic CPA photo)

You want to do what?!?
(generic CPA photo)

Our first class was mostly a familiarization session, with some random facts and an opportunity to check out the routine equipment carried and used by today’s officers.  Most of this was interesting in a hands-on way, being able to feel the heft of the expandable baton or noticing that their sidearm ammunition used hollow-point bullets or imagining what it feels to have 50,000 volts of taser hitting your muscles from an effective range of 25 feet.

Does this come in pink? (generic CPA photo)

Does this come in pink?
(generic CPA photo)

Future classes will include patrol functions, a session on District Courts, use of force, crime scene and homicide investigations (CSI), the FBI, terrorism, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), K-9 programs, and drug awareness.

Some other random tidbits picked up in our first session:

  • Although Pennsylvania is an open carry” state, as soon as you enter a vehicle with your weapon, it is considered to be “concealed” for the purposes of requiring a Concealed Carry permit.
  • The average police shooting last 3-6 seconds from a distance of 3-6 meters where 3-6 rounds are fired.
  • Police officers “walk through” every school in the Hatboro-Horsham SD at least once a day.
  • Hatboro will be celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015!

More to follow …

The inconspicuous news

The stories that might escape your attention for any number of reasons.

A Greek warning to Peace and Democracy

alexis-tsiprasTracy Rubin, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, posted an interesting article on the recent election in Greece and its potential ripple throughout the European Union.  Rubin phrases her warning as one to the European elite, but the effects of widespread dissatisfaction throughout Europe, largely due to financial struggles and large-scale disenfranchisement, should be am alarm to every EU citizen.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the government’s top post by promising to renegotiate the austere economic measures imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund in its 2010 bailout of the bankrupt country.  The causes of the collapse are not much different from those in the U.S. in 2008.

Free-wheeling borrowing and lending were the primary cause; but Greece’s overly generous public benefits programs were also a huge factor in the collapse.  Unfortunately austerity measures imposed on Greece in the bailout left many without jobs and even without heat .  Youth unemployment, always a catalyst for populist revolt and even the attraction of political extremism, reached 60%. Many of the same conditions can be found in Spain, Italy, France and other less well-off countries.

One only need refresh their 1920-40s European history to understand what the potential is for such widespread austerity, and the disillusionment it breeds, and to realize the kind of extremist behavior can result.

Boys and our toys

Yes, Virginia, some of us never, ever grow up completely.  Let’s just get that fact out of the way!

So what could be more appropriate on a Superbowl Sunday, than to relive one of those epic memories from those days before animated electronics and computer-generated graphics!  Those days of wiffle ball, street hockey, and electric football!

20150201_inq_fitz01-aThe game was tabbed as the closest a kid could get to real football without the risk of concussion or the need for future hip replacement surgery.  Until you flipped on the power and – as the author notes, the field looks like “a jarful of crickets had been released onto a hot skillet.”

Good memories surround the hours needed to properly set up one’s squad and maybe play a full quarter of football.  More time was wasted than in any other childhood activity that fascinated for reasons that puzzle us to this day.  But the memories? Irreplaceable!

Now for some really crazy numbers.  In 1947 over 40 million sets were sold.  But if you think interest in the game has died in those 70-plus years … An electric football newsletter currently has over 20,000 subscribers.  In 1999 a group from Philadelphia hosted an electric football competition and attracted 1500 participants!

Yep, us boys are loyal to our toys!

Moderates start pulling GOP a bit their way

The political reality in the Philadelphia suburbs is that, if you are a Republican looking for wide, cross-party appeal and win elections, you must present a more Moderate political view.  The same probably holds true in a lot of suburban communities surrounding large concentrations of urban Democrats.


Congressional Rep Charlie Dent (PA-15)

Such an approach helps to explain the popularity of such local talents as Congressional Representatives Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

But another factor to consider is the political weight these Moderates might pull in a Republican Congressional caucus looking to grow their national appeal.  In recent weeks, Moderates in the delegation have been able to blunt some controversial legislation and political moves.

As Dent mentioned in a recent debate, “Week One, we had the vote for Speaker. Week Two, we debated deporting children. Week Three, we’re debating rape and incest. I can’t wait for Week Four.”

The rise of the Moderates might be worth watching.

Breaking up is hard to do

Mashed-heartDear Chuck,

I know this will come as a shock to you, but it’s over!

Breaking up is always hard to do.  And I’m certain you will be surprised at this unfortunate turn of events.  But you have to ask yourself how you missed all the changes.

You should have noticed that I wasn’t coming around as much.  You should have noticed that I rarely ever called.  You should have noticed how quiet and unsettled I was around you.

To be honest … it’s not you, it’s me.

Every other month simply does not a relationship make.  And yes, I’m sorry.  I have been cheating on you!

It didn’t start out that way.  At first, I was just being lazy … not wanting to put in the time or effort for our usual thing.  I was desperate once and needed a quickie.

From there it progressed so rapidly, I was – I think – caught off guard.  It was too simple, too easy, too addictive.  And once I started, it seemed impossible to return to you.

Ours has been a healthy and productive relationship.  We have been through so many life events, personal problems … Good times and bad.

You were always there to tell me I looked nice.  And I was always happy to give you my advice, although frankly, I suspect you very rarely took it.

I heard you on the phone one time after I pleaded with you to follow your heart.  I heard you on the phone with that other guy … in the other room … whispering so I wouldn’t hear.  That time it hurt, but it convinced me that all I was to you was a means to an end.

Well, let’s not rip the scabs off old wounds.

Fact is, I really don’t need you anymore.  I really don’t need anybody!  I can do all this myself.

norelco_kitWhen you offered me the Low Volume Hair Discount, I knew it was over!  So I jumped into a relationship with a damn fine Norelco …

And the next time you need a tip on a football bet, go ask that idiot who told you to take the Cowboys and the points!

I hope we can still be friends …