Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Killing Fields pt 2

I left off in part I of The Killing Fields with what you can do.  Here are a few such things.  

1. The only study that's been conducted about the effects of irradiated food fed to animals was done so by NASA.  Contact them and request, under the Freedom of Information Act, the disclosure of that study.  After all, you paid for the research and it should be made available to all of us.  

2.  Stop sending petitions to politicians.  And money.  They no more care about you and your companion animals than Bill Clinton did Monica Lewinsky.

Proof in point.  Did you know that budget cuts from the Obama administration to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have been so severe that funding levels are at an all time low?  He's been very busy spending trillions even in the midst of the World Health Organization's 2010 report that cancer is, for the first time, the greatest scourge we've ever seen.  

According to their annual report, NCI gave only 5 billion dollars in grants last year.  This isn't a political or party rant since I affiliate myself with neither.  But did you know that during the last presidential election, 2.6 billion dollars, half of what was set aside for cancer research, was put into the pockets of political consultants, lobbyists, corporations, unions, and whatever else it takes to win a presidential race?  

Let me restate that.  The U.S. government spent only $5 billion on cancer research last year.  Over half of that was spent on electing a president.  So while your loved ones are dying from the world's deadliest disease, the fat cats keep enriching their lives at your expense.  

3.  Stop trying to get celebrities to join the cause.  I personally know of many celebrities who have lost companion animals to cancer.  So why don't they step up?  

This has always been somewhat of a mystery to me but I think I have a pretty good handle on it now.  The only thing that celebrities give a shit about is image, brand and franchise and they're afraid if they say, 'Hey, my little Dachshund has cancer' then the rest of the non-Dachshund and even non-animal loving community will strafe them with so much criticism and they crawfish.  

I suspect there are a few actors out there who really do care but their agents and the producers of their projects shut them down.  Think about it, if I'm, say, Jeff Bridges...  No, I need someone a little younger even though I love that man.  The Dude abides.  

If I'm Justin Timberlake, another man I have a bro-mance with but only because he's a fairly decent golfer and one of the game's biggest advocates, plus, he did one of the funniest skits on SNL. 

If I came out and said I lost a dog to lymphoma, the shitstorm that would ensue from all of the people (that's most of you, by the way) who lost 'human' companions to the same disease would potentially devastate my career and all of the hanger-ons would shut me down.     

It's a public stigma I've been branded with more times than I care to remember.  'Oh, you're the dog cancer guy', I've been introduced as.  Or the the more insinuating, less kind, characterization that made me sound like a circus carny, the 'Dog cancer boy'.     

I harbor no ill will towards celebrities and still hope we could one day host a 'Celebrity Coming Out Party' for those who lost a dog to cancer.  But that'd entail you to tell your agents and representatives to bugger off, have the courage of your convictions and damn the consequences.  

Next time.  Part 3. Keep the Pol Pot in Your Pants.   

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Wish I Were a Brave Handsome Man

That's one of my favorite lines from the movie, Mad Dog and Glory.  

I'd like to take a few moments to talk about the evolution of the book and the exquisite yet painful process of writing.  If I was the kind of person to apologize I probably would here but one cannot afford to spend a spare second prostrate when there is so much beauty and magic and mystery in the world to embrace.    

First of all, I am not a writer but I'm guessing you already had an inkling about that.  Not in the professional sense anyway.  I think that's why I made the hard and decidedly controversial (at least to a few of my trusted advisers) decision to publish the first book on my blog free of charge.  

But for me it's more like free of madness.  


After the walk ended, Ed and I worked tirelessly on the manuscript and then, for reasons I'll never understand, Murphy was diagnosed with nasal adenocarcinoma.  After that I just didn't know how to tell the story though my team made a noble effort in submitting it to publishing houses.  

Christian publishers, known collectively as CBA, were all over it but they had "issues" with my use of colorful language.  Clean it up, they said, and we'll make a deal.  

My response was.  I have an important story to tell and what's incumbent on me is to try and tell it as accurately and genuinely as possible.  And if that includes the use of words like fuck, shit, damn, goddamnit, motherfucker, fucking A, fucking B, or my favorite, long lost phrase fuck O, so be it.  

Look I'm not Kurt Vonnegut firing off profanities for fuck's sake.  But I am a Christian and my God has a lot more important things to do than censorship and 'curse' words don't even rank in the top ten million of what's vile and wrong in this world.  

I'll talk more about the sacred and the profane later and spare you the rant for now.  ;)

Needless to say the folks in the CBA market were not amused.  

The rest of the publishing world was less kind or more wishy-washy.  From the editors who took time to write rejection letters the responses were varied.  We're not doing dog books at present.  Or inspirational books.  Or semi-inspirational, meta motivational... my head's starting to hurt now.  

I misspoke when I said 'The rest' since after ten rejection letters I shut it down.  My priority at the time was just trying to save Murphy's life and when the end was certain and the cancer deemed terminal, bring some final comfort to him.  

When your son is dying in your arms, book deals and all that business signify very little.  


One of the rejection letters that has stayed with me most was from an editor who was kind and gracious enough to respond and offer his thoughts.  He said that while he admired my writing, he wasn't in love with it.  

Reflecting back on it now, I recall a speech class I took at the University of Texas.  The professor was showing us an example of how to give an effective, heart felt speech.  From behind his desk, he pulled out a guitar and began to entrance us with his story.  

His father had passed away that year and his sadness had become inconsolable.  But one day he picked up the guitar and started strumming.  He played and played and became pretty damn good at it and his friends asked why don't you start performing?  Austin, after all, is one of the greatest stages in the world for musicians.  

And that's where the point of his speech became apparent. You see, it wasn't about loss or music.  It was about the difference between being a professional and an amateur and he went into the Latin roots of the later word which is love.  Amare.  

My professor had no interest in getting paid for his guitar playing because he felt that if he did he'd loose the love and, I suppose now, his father's memory.  


That editor was spot on.  I love writing but I am not a writer.  

Don't get me wrong.  There are times I wish I was.  I wish a lot of things but what I don't wish is to be a brave, handsome man.  I already am.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Rock: Chapter 1


August 2009.  Oldtown, Maryland.

Gerry, a retired white bearded postman whom I had only just met earlier in the day, sat across from me on his two-sectional sofa.  He regarded me intensely yet curiously like a bug on a rock as either an entomologist bent on studying it would.  Or a madman intent on squashing it.

There was a looming, uncertain feeling in the late night air that made me a tad edgy.  His wife, Bettie, the only certified animal rehabilitation rescuer in western Maryland - and the only reason I was there in their house that evening, had retired earlier leaving only me and him watching TV on the couch. 

But I was regarding him equally as I had done so with dozens of strangers before him.   

Engage and smile graciously.  Then disengage but don’t seem confrontational or discourteous.  It’s a survival strategy you learn to hone on the road staying in unfamiliar houses and with hosts utterly unknown to you but no matter how skilled you think you’ve become in survival, you’re never entirely certain you’ve mastered it.    

When you’re on the road, you see, you never let your guard down.  And you never let anyone around you know it. 

The TV was dialed into some BBC thriller Gerry was raving about earlier in the evening that involved serial killers. Great.  That’s exactly what I wanted to watch while surrounded by dozens of venomous snakes.  As part of Bettie’s wildlife rescue efforts she had saved rattlers, copperheads, and a whole host of other lethal reptiles that were encaged in their living room plus one evil prairie dog in our spare guest room hell bent on breaking loose and putting the hurt on me, Hudson and Murphy, gnashing us to the bone.   

What the hell am I doing here when I could just as easily be camping out on the C & O towpath as we had done hundreds of nights before? 

And then, after many uncomfortable commercial breaks, Gerry spoke. 

“You’re not at all what I expected”. 

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised at all that these were his first singular utterances to me nor taken aback by the apparent effrontery.  By that time, I was kind of used to it.  Most people I’d met on our journey had prior expectations and a mental image of what this ‘Man’ who had sold his stuff and started walking cross county should look, sound, and seem like - A super human genetic hybrid between Bear Grylls and Gandhi. 

The folks in Bowling Green, Kentucky even asked me if I drank beer.  I still laugh at that. 

It was like I was made into the myth that William Wallace was in Braveheart, a ten foot tall giant who shot lightning bolts from his eyes and fireballs from his arse. 

I was about to launch into the ‘Aww, shucks I’m just a southern boy’ speech when Gerry interrupted my thoughts and continued his. 

“No, I mean, you’re like a normal guy.  I was expecting a vegan, PETA card carrying, animal rights zealot doo-dad.” 

‘Heh’, I laughed under my breath and thought to myself.  You don’t even know.  I never even used to like dogs. 

That’s not entirely correct but it is technically and my love of and devotion to dogs developed despite my upbringing, shit, despite me and not because of it. 


Belton, Texas.

Growing up, like most normal boys, I had a whole host of creatures I called pets whether furry, scaly, slimy, or feathered at one time or another - from box turtles to lizards, tarantulas, gerbils, scorpions, and even a ball python.  But our household was home to the softer, more mammalian and snuggly kind, too.    

There was a Siamese cat we had, Papanicolaou, named so by my mother after the doctor who developed the Pap smear for reasons to this day that still elude me and remain inexplicable.  Then there was Wally, a ghostly white cat with extraordinary hunting abilities. 

Jenny, true to the black lab breed, was just about the sweetest dog I ever did meet. Loyal and full of love, I think I drew a picture of her once in grade school.  But man, her noxious farts would disperse a room full of my friends in 0.2 seconds like tear gas and a flashbang and that’s the lone, lasting memory I really have of her. 

Sure, my younger years were replete with pets of all sorts, but not necessarily a love for them. They were all well-kept and cared for in the Robinson household but they were always in the backdrop of our daily lives.  I cannot recall one single vacation we took as a family where any of our dogs came with us. 

Reflecting on it now, it seems the animals in and out of our lives were playthings meant to preoccupy me and my three brothers and for my parents as filler to float the holes in their marriage.  As I am older now, and though a bit wiser and longer on in the years, why companion animals sometimes become surrogates to our personal disappointments and stand-in symbols for something darker still remains a mystery to me.

I grew up in the Deep South where animals were treated like chattel: Bought, sold, traded, or discarded like farm implements or any other piece of property. 


When Lindsey called me that fateful day asking me if I wanted a dog I should have never let my guard down.

Why I did is a question that still haunts me.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Rock: Prologue II

Leesburg, Virgina 2009 

“A What???”

“A stripper from San Antone”, I answered excitedly to Theresa who had left the balcony to take the empty plates into the kitchen. 


Theoretically if you go back far enough in time you can trace the origin of everything.

I was two bottles of wine into a perfect evening of grilled swordfish steak and her husband, Ray’s, guitar when Theresa had asked me how our travels really began.  They were one of our host families for a few nights as we passed through the Washington DC area.

Hudson and Murphy, my trusty travel companions known endearingly as The Fuzzybutts, and I were hiking a contiguous trail system from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital some 315 miles of a low grade, nicely manicured pathway that is part of the Rails to Trails network.    

At that point we were on the second stretch known as the C & O towpath that ran right between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, used years ago to run coal up to Maryland, and the Potomac River.  It had been in disuse for well over a century and the lock houses and gates are now mostly in ruins.  And the waterway that once was the Canal is now pestilent and pea porridge green that smells of swamp stink and host to mosquitoes the size of sparrows. 

Still, so much history and beauty we had found on the trail but it was nice to be out of our tent for a few nights and with such kind and gracious hosts. 


Initially, I answered, as I had so many times over the roughly 1,700 miles we had trekked up to that point and to so many hosts and kind strangers we had met along the way, that our story began with Malcolm, a Great Pyrenees I lost to metastatic bone cancer in 2006. 

I think Theresa sensed there was more to it so she pressed.  “No, I mean, how did it really begin?”

And that’s when it hit me like one of the super-sized semi-trailer tractor trucks that almost plowed into us on the road pretty much weekly. On a good week. 

“Oh.  OH.” 

I shook my head in startling realization as I hadn’t really thought about it.  Not in any of the months since we left Austin, Texas in March 2008 or the many miles we had logged since, because moving forward doesn’t lend itself to looking backwards. 

But I was thoroughly enjoying the company and our conversation and it seemed like the right night to reflect.  I stroked the big wedge shaped heads of the Fuzzybutts sprawled out next to me on the deck, poured myself another glass of wine, and began regaling Ray and Theresa with how our story really began. 


Lindsey was an exotic dancer from San Antonio, Texas.  She was a woman of exceptional beauty and intelligence with a biting wit to boot and we took off the second we met.  But we were like two brilliant stars that, when brought too closely together, they collapse and although our affair was brief, Lindsey and I remained friends throughout the years. 

In the fall of 1997 I received a call from Lindsey and true to her nature, she got straight to the point the second I answered the phone.   

“Do you want a dog?” she asked impatiently borderline impudently. 

But I answered in my usual fatuous way with her, “Why, what’s wrong with it?”

She went on to tell me some crazy story about how she and her sister while taking a trip into the hill country found these cute puppies and they both got one but her sister wasn’t taking care of it or something to that effect.  Just listening to it was exhausting and it sounded complicated to me so I asked if I could think it over.

“Nope need an answer now”, she replied tersely, as though I was merely one on a long list of prospective takers and she had no time to court me.


At the time I was living with my brother in Castroville, a small Alsatian bedroom community southwest of San Antonio, and even though we had an entire acre fenced in, the truth is I didn’t want a dog.  I’ve always lived the ‘work-hard, play-hard’ lifestyle and my many passions consumed just about every spare second I had. 

Plus, I’d never had a dog in my adult life and had no desire to start then and there.  Add that to the fact I was in school pursuing a BBA and had little time for anything else.  It was at that point in the conversation my mind had already begun constructing a spreadsheet with a cost versus benefit analysis when something inside of me spoke, I swear unconsciously and unwillingly.  



Such a simple decision made in a flash of a second would ultimately send shockwaves across time touching thousands and thousands of people throughout the world.  It was a decision that would nearly cost me my life but restore my faith, and it was a decision that would one day save me and change me forever. 


Next week:  Chapter One.  I Don't Even Like Dogs

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Killing Fields Part I

I made a promise to publish the guts, no pun intended, from the many interviews we had on the Summer of Murphy Tour pertaining to the pet food industry even though the actual footage we shot I'm saving for the documentary.

While on Tour I read this article about the recall of Chicken Jerky treats from China.  In it, a gentleman named Tony Corbo with the Food and Water Watch (FWW) Advocacy group was quoted and his comments inspired me to set up a meeting to learn more. 

It was a conversation that would incite such a visceral rage inside me, the embers of which still glow savagely and inextinguishable.   

Back in the late 1990s China was becoming quite the economic powerhouse with an unprecedented and unsustainable double digit GDP growth rate and farming and agriculture was one of their chief industries.  Among other things, they had a bunch of chickens that they wanted to export and here in the United States, well, we love us some poultry.

The problem was we didn't want them.  Not for human consumption anyway because their processing plants couldn't meet up with USDA standards despite the numerous inspections of their facilities and China's numerous attempts to grease our politicians to enact favorable legislation.

'Damn, what we do with all this chicken?', they asked themselves.  And rays of light beamed down on them.. . which ended up being glaring holes in our regulatory guidelines that the Chinese government exposed and exploited.  

Let's Make Dog Food

Unfit for human consumption.  Fuck it, unfit for any consumption, there was a business opportunity there and the Chinese knew it.  

And now, all of us have found ourselves as unwilling and inextricable bit players in this theater of tragedy and absurdity that has costed thousands and thousands of lives, directed and sanctioned by, well, you know who.  

DC... The District of Calamity

You see, the FDA, not the USDA, sets the standards for pet food products though I've since learned from other sources that 'set' is a rather loose term.  It's more accurate to say that corporate industry tells them what they're going to do and the FDA decides whether or not they're going to argue with them through a consortium called AAFCO.  Disclosure - I contacted the FDA for an interview but never got a call back.

So now the millions of pounds of pet food imported into the U.S. from China has grown 85 times over this decade, a reality that wasn't really under the radar of the FWW until dogs started dying from chicken jerky treats.

Through their analysis of various documents that mistakenly weren't redacted, they discovered that the jerky treats were being irradiated at doses up to more than ten times permissible levels in humans.

Nuke it.  Nuke it Good. 

Heck, let's keep making this toxic food product jam packed with bacteria, fungus, and a whole host of other pathogens but expose it to Cesium, Cobalt, or whatever radioisotope of choice to kill off all the bad stuff is their line of reasoning I suppose.

This is where I come in.  We know radiation is carcinogenic.  Shit, it killed its own inventor, Madame Marie Curie.

So how have we let this happen?  First of all, the FDA only has a mere fraction of inspectors that the USDA has and from what Mr. Corbo related to me, inspection times of manufacturing plants is approximately once every ten years or so.

Furthermore, in human food, poultry producers based here in the United States have started building processing facilities in China because of the cost versus benefit equation.  That means they raise the chicken domestically then ship them overseas to process, package, and then ship back to the U.S. for human consumption.

I think I threw up a little in my mouth when we reached this part of the interview since I had consumed a fast food chain chicken meal shortly before.  I won't say which since that's not really my fight.

Them is Us

What are we really fighting here?  It's question and quandary that's kept me unsettled, unsure, and up late for months now following the Tour.

But it's like the life I learned on the road.  When you get too far ahead of yourself from Step One, Step Two, maybe Step Three that's when you start fucking up.

Without exception, every single thought leader, oncologist, veterinarian I met during the tens of thousands of miles I've traveled now for this cause, feels that there is a seriously strong correlation between cancer and diet and nutrition.  But there haven't been any long term, comprehensive, longitudinal studies conducted and that's where I need your help....

Coming up:  Part II.  What You Can Do? 

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Rock

Seven years ago I killed my boy.  Later on, I came up with a more benevolent phrase that I've used at every event I've done and in all the TV interviews I've given.  'I gave Malcolm rest'.  Such a sweet, serene, and publicly permissible euphemism.  

But the stark, midnight truth is I took his life. 

The series of events that came next I have begun to chronicle in a trilogy entitled, 'The Rock, The Ripple, and the River'.  

I completed the first part over a year ago but it has remained unpublished.  And although I could offer up a whole host of thoughts and theories on why, it was because I was afraid.   

I'm not now.

Every Friday henceforth I'll be publishing a chapter from the first book, 'The Rock' right here, on this blog and free of charge.  

Today, on Malcolm's day, I'll start with the Prologue. 


This is a love story. 

And like all great love stories it’s a tale of a journey against all odds, fraught with danger and full of magical encounters and adventures.  Of a love that travelled thousands and thousands of miles across 16 lands through forests, mountains, swamps, and flatlands in hellish heat, arctic cold, and savage storms. 

But this isn’t your typical love story.   There are no fair maidens, no knights in shining armor – just a cast of unlikely characters on an extraordinary journey.  Nor does this story end happily ever after.  But oh, what a glorious journey it was. 

It didn’t begin as a love story.

It began with a dog named Malcolm......

Actually, it began with a stripper from San Antone.


Next Friday, Prologue II.  September 2009.  Leesburg, Virginia 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Humpin Huds

I used to joke that when Hudson became randy towards other dogs, both male and female that it was the French part of the Pyrenees coming out in him. He has that 'Je ne sais quoi' that no canine can resist.  

So I could find no Christmas gift more befitting to him than a 'Whoopie Pie' especially since they're everywhere up here in New England and not surprisingly, Hudsy snarfed it up.  

Indiana got a peanut butter Moose but their main gift was a membership to the dog park at the Animal Rescue League of Conway which they love, love since it enables them to play in the snow off leash.  Nearby is a pic of lil Nana after one such recent day of rompin and stompin at the park.  

So as we ring in the new year, here's to Humpin Huds, Moosey and making Whoopie!