Monday, April 26, 2010

Curious Critter

My dog Mija and I like to get up and out early. I don't know about her, but I prefer to walk when there's a shortage of other people out there. It's in the early morning on our walks that I'm able to think through my day, and come up with crazy ideas that I'm certain will revolutionize the world.
Mija is a little nervous about some of the dogs behind fences and gates. It's interesting that she fears the little nippers more than the macho mutts.
We both marvel at how the young squirrels will scurry part of the way up the trunk of a tree and then hide on the backside -- if it can't see us, then maybe it thinks we don't even know that it exists.
This morning, we both noticed a little movement on the bricks that run alongside the cement path to a wrought iron gate. It wasn't a cat -- the ears and nose were to pointy. It wasn't a mouse or a rat -- much too slow moving. The little fella was curious, and not nearly as cautious as one would think.
I'd never seen one of these this young. I was surprised that Mama wasn't around. One of his or her little sisters or brothers, however, was exploring the flower bed on the other side of the pathway, but wasn't nearly as brave.
I'm sure you know what it is -- even without seeing its telltale tale. Telltale tale? I don't think I've ever written that before.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Night flight to Saigon to save a dog's life

It was one of the most touching moments in my tour in Vietnam. I made the journey in late 1968 -- probably in October. I was with the 212th M.P. Company at a small detachment at the Soc Trang Army Airfield.

Countless times in my 30+ years as a reporter, producer, author and teacher, I've looked into the eyes of people I was interviewing and realized that they weren't there with me -- they had taken a mental journey into the past. They were somewhere else. I eventually learned to remain as silent as possible so that they could stay in that place -- any questions would quickly bring them back to the present.

Ten years ago I attended a memorial presentation at the unveiling of a statue honoring the bravery and dedication of the thousands of dogs what served our country in combat. I remember how, during the ceremony, I found myself in one of those trances -- I was in another place, in another time ....

The strange thing is that I wasn't with my dog Fritz, I was with a 105-pound German shepherd named Samson. I was back on a gunship in the middle of the night sky on our way from Dong Tam to Saigon. I was trying to take Samson to the veterinary hospital at Tan Son Nhut Airfield so a real veterinarian might keep him alive. Samson was suffering from encephalitis -- he was burning with fever and having trouble breathing through the muzzle. I had tied his paws together to keep him from trying to stand up.

Samson's handler was on R&R somewhere and had no idea that his best friend was fighting for his life. All I could think of was my own dog in a similar situation. How far would someone else go to save my dog Fritz? I was determined to get Samson to a place where someone could help him.

It had all begun a few hours earlier when someone discovered Samson nearly passed out in his kennel. Only a day or two earlier I had been "volunteered" to be the acting-vet tech at our little 12-dog detachment in Soc Trang, south of the Mekong Delta. The nearest veterinarian was in Can Tho. On the phone, he told us to get the temperature down (we put him in a bathtub-sized dip tank with ice water) and rush him to Saigon. A local dust-off (Med Evac) pilot agreed to take us as far as he could -- to the airfield at Dong Tam. It was after midnight, when he dropped us off and flew away. Even though I had neither the orders nor the authority to request a helicopter for the dog, I still insisted that the CQ runner (enlisted guy on duty) awaken the officer-of-the-day. I don't know how I did it, but I convinced the mafor in charge to authorize a Huey helicopter gunship to take us the rest of the way.

The pilot and copilot were not happy about the run. They were reluctant to help me load the stretcher into the copter. Of course, there were no side doors and no way to tie the stretcher down. I sat on the floor and held onto the back of the pilot's seat as we took off on a most frightening ride. As they'd bank to the right or the left, the stretcher would slide toward the open door. It took all my strength to keep the stretcher and myself from falling out.

There was nobody manning the M-60 machine guns at either of the open doors. But we were traveling fast enough and high enough that the bright red tracers rising from some ground fire was of little concern to the pilot and copilot.

We eventually landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base at an evac hospital for people. Two Vietnamese ambulance drivers were afraid to load the dog into their 3/4-ton ambulance. Eventually, I convinced them that the dog was tied down, shey finally helped me and then drove us to the triage area.

Two more Vietnamese workers opened the rear door of the ambulance and were equally shocked to see that the patient was a dog. One of them helped me carry the stretcher to one of the empty racks in what seemed like an ocean of occupied stretchers. Soon about 15-20 medical personnel were crowded around us pointing, laughing, and talking.

It was about that time Samson completely stopped breathing! All I could think of was doing that leg-lift-chest-push artificial respiration I had read about somewhere. But his front paws were tied together with gauze. I couldn't get them untied. All I could think about was Samson's handler coming home from R&R to find his dog was dead.

Everyone around me were just spectators -- amused spectators! By this time I was crying.

"Would someone please help me? Please?"

It was then that an angel -- a nurse -- yelled, "Get the %@*% out of my way!" and shoved her way through the crowd.

"What can I do?" she asked. I told her I couldn't untie the gauze. She reached in a pocket a pulled out some scissors and freed Samson's front legs.

She quickly caught on and started lifting his right leg while I pushed on his rib cage. Within two minutes he started breathing again. At almost that moment, some veterinarian technicians from the veterinary hospital arrived in a jeep, and I helped them load Samson into it. It happened so quickly that I never had a chance to thank that beautiful angel. She had vanished.

By sunrise it was clear Samson was going to survive. I knew I could face Samson's handler.

Decades later, on February 21, 2000, I sat listening to the poignant comments at the War Dogs Memorial dedication at March Air Force Base. I looked at all of the guys around me and I could feel the love each one had for his dog, and the lengths to which they would have gone to save their dogs' life or save the live of any other handler's dog.

After all, I'm convinced every dog handler who attended the ceremony was able to be there because of his dog -- and maybe because of the dogs of his fellow handlers. And I wondered how many lives Samson went on to save when he went back to work. And I wonder what ever became of that beautiful nurse.

If she only knew the importance of her work that night.

If you ever encounter a former Army nurse who says she served in Vietnam, please ask her if she remembers saving that dog's life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If you have a conscience, boycott Costco!

Tens of thousands are expected to picket Costco stores across the globe on Earth Day to protest the blatantly cruel treatment of God's cotton creatures.

One can only imagine the terror and torture these innocent animals endured in Asia, Africa and South America before someone packed them into cardboard, pitch-black prison cells and shipped them to North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

Its no wonder stuffed animals are rarely, if ever, found in the wild.

These loving creatures were bred to be silent and obedient enough to live in the homes of children and adults.
But at what price?

If you've ever cuddled a Teddy bear or Curious George, you must take a stand against this kind of treatment!

Please share this with everyone you know who has ever been the recipient of their love.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Real World of Mr. Mum

It was the perfect reading material for a kid who couldn't read very well -- a pantomime cartoon. The Strange World of Mr. Mum ran in scores of newspapers during the 1950s and '60s. I discovered a paperback compilation of the Irv Phillips cartoons when I was nine or ten, as I recall.

I must have "read" the book a thousand times -- and I still laugh at the strange things that the little man and his little dog observed along their way.

When I took a television job in Arizona, my great friend (and former journalism professor), Bill Thomas told me that I should look up his cartoonist uncle in Phoenix. When he mentioned Mr. Mum, he was surprised when I said something like, "Your uncle is Irv Phillips?"

Bill had not encountered too many people my age that had heard of the character -- much less its creator. It was in 1981 that I went to visit the man who had created my favorite cartoon. It wasn't long before I returned with a camera crew to interview him on camera.

Irv Phillips died in 2000 at age 95. He left his lifelong collection of his cartoons and other creations to Bill Thomas and his sister. Today, Bill and his wife are keeping the memory of Uncle Irv at

If you want a book that you and your grandkids (and their grandkids) will treasure, search for The Strange World of Mr. Mum. That's the book that got me hooked.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A rational message about what's rational and essential

It's been a couple of years since I worked with young, professional journalists in Malawi, Africa. You can learn more about my work there at

Since I was there, two of the students have died. It's not surprising in a country where the life expectancy is under 40 years or so.

One of the big reasons is AIDS and HIV. It's not a fun or amusing topic, but this talk posted to day at is essential viewing.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Read between the lines of signs

Indoor Road Rage Rantings

I told a couple of my friends to be on the lookout for a really interesting posting I’m working on. For the record, this isn’t the one I was talking about — that one is still in the works.

I thought I’d share my response to a job posting on The person was looking for someone to help with a start-up website that focuses on the rude things that rude people rudely do:

Dear Rude-ologist,

I probably wouldn’t have been able to send this e-mail if I had acted on my impulses yesterday in that public parking garage in Burbank. You see, I don’t believe they have e-mail access in the city jail.

In my fantasies, I was going to put my car in park and sprint to the car that was blocking everyone in the indoor garage. The back-up of cars caused cars on Palm Street to back up to Third Street.

You know what was going on, don’t you? The lazy, “Oh my god, there’ll never be another parking spot available in the world,” jerk-faced idiot was, you guessed it, waiting for someone to get into their parked car and vacate the space.

In the mind of the rude, senseless, brainless amoeba, this was to be a quality, “premium” spot, as spots go. And in his micro-bacterial mind (I’m being generous here), there were surely no available spots in the three-story structure.

And Parkinson’s Law says that another tired shopper would be unable to back her non-compact car out of her nearby compact car space. That prevented the first exiting driver from backing out and allowing the peanut-brained donkey in front of us from getting his once-in-a-lifetime spot.

Finally, when the second shopper in her over-sized “non-compact” car wriggled her way out, I was able to pass Jerkface on the left, round the first corner and select from more than three dozen available spaces.

My inclination, however, was to yank the oblivious, selfish, self-centered moron (no offense to clinically diagnosed morons — they never do stuff like this) out of his car, turn him inside out and make him eat his stomach.

When I was fuming my way on foot out of the parking structure, Mr. I’m-the-Center-of-the-Universe was still blocking traffic with that stupid turn signal flashing a Morse code message that surely was saying, “Screw all of you! I’m more important than you are! Don’t be in such a hurry! I’m waiting for this spot so I won’t have to walk as far to the Burbank Health Club across the street where I’m going to pay to get exercise!”

Meanwhile, the traffic on Third Street was backed up to Magnolia.

What the hell is wrong with people?

Oh, by the way, your proposed Rudeness site is just what I’ve dreamed someone would create. Don’t get me started on the thousand other “let me tell you about rude jerks” examples I have bubbling out of my frustrated brain.

Then again, maybe you should get me started!


I feel better now!

Don Ray

Are you old enough to remember the comedy bit that the late Steve Allen used to do on his Steve Allen Show? He would pick up a newspaper and read the letters to the editors with the same voice, passion and anger that he figured the original writer was feeling. Maybe you should read the above message the same way.

By the way, I didn’t hear back from the folks who posted the job on Craigslist. Maybe I wasn’t rude enough. Or maybe he or she didn’t believe that I could rant so much over something that apparently doesn’t bother other people.

Don't get me started about my grocery store observations. Did you know that people drive shopping carts the same way they drive their cars? Aaaargh!