For several years now, Spike’s K9 Fund has been the premier charity benefactor for the Old Point, Wicked 10K and Monster Mile run in Virginia Beach, held every Halloween weekend. This year was no different, except for the covid-calamity.
We are quite fortunate to have partnerships with organizations that we admire. J&A racing is certainly one of those relationships. It is difficult to understand the huge undertaking one has to confront when you hold a running race, let alone several running races during the year. In our short conversations with them, I’ve learned how tough it is, even for a business that brings well over 30k visitors a year to the area, to get things done.
J&A are an excellent example of how to be persistent and positive in spite of insane regulations and people who are less than enthusiastic about helping out. We run into similar situations when we try to help certain organizations. The way J&A perseveres, every year, is an amazing example.
I think that the most important thing that we gain from our relationship with J&A is an “attitude check.” They always strive for a positive attitude and because of that, being around them gives us a jolt of light! I for one could use some work in that area.
I am also very proud to be associated with a crew like J&A. A crew that understands, and believes in the value of “community.” They understand that bringing humans together in a positive way, sends positive ripples and creates a better world to live in. I’m not being overly dramatic. It is true, I see it every year when we participate in this event. People show up early, in their costumes and run and laugh and enjoy each other’s company for several hours. The support and entertainment associated with the event are top-notch and although we didn’t have any of that because of covid, we, because of their hard work, could still participate with close loved ones or friends, as we did on Friday morning.
Thank you J&A- thank you for the financial support and more importantly, thank you for your example, especially as we navigate this tough time in our country.
I wrote this at the end of my first semester at Yale University in 2019.
At the age of 52, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University.
I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories about the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.
I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned, for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage. Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.
The vetting process is difficult and the percentages of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.
In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.
After receiving my acceptance email and returning to consciousness, I decided to move to Connecticut and do my best in this new environment. Many people have asked me why I want to attend college at 52, and why at an Ivy League institution like Yale? I could have easily stayed in Virginia and attended a community college close to my home. Well, based on my upbringing in the military, I associated difficult vetting process’ with quality. I was correct in that guess. More importantly though, I simply want to be a better human being. I feel like getting a world class education at an amazing institution like Yale will help me reach that goal.
My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was so for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak English as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.
At one point, I said; “hey, I’m just an old guy sitting here with a bunch of smart people, but I think….” And they all smiled, some of them nervously because I was essentially an alien. I
was an old dude with tattoos all over his arms, and a Dutch Shepherd service Dog brandishing a subdued American flag patch on her harness, sitting next to him. Professor Quint later approached me and said “hey, don’t downplay your intelligence. You are smart as well.”
I thought, I’ve got him fooled! Turns out I didn’t fool him at all when I turned in my first paper, but that is another story for another time.
After a few classes, I started to get to know some of my classmates. Each of them is a compelling human who, in spite of their youth, are quite serious about getting things done.
One young woman made a very big impact on me. She approached me after class one day and said; “I am really glad I can be here at Yale and be in class with you. My grandfather came to Yale and when WWII started, he left for the Navy and flew planes in the Pacific theater. After he came home, he came back to Yale, but he couldn’t finish. He locked himself in his room and drank and eventually had to leave, so I feel like I am helping him finish here at Yale and I’m doing it with a veteran. You.”
I was surprised and quite emotional. Exceptionally emotional. She went on; “I can send you a photo of him!” and I told her I would love one. That evening she sent me this photo of her grandfather.
I used to read stories about men like him and they are heroes to me. Clearly her grandfather is a hero to her as well, and she is going to make him quite proud. This connection with a WWII vet through his amazing granddaughter is a gift. One of many I receive on an almost daily basis in this amazing University. I think it’s worth taking a moment here and acknowledging that this thing we now call “PTSD” has always been around and some of us veterans escape it while others, like me and likely this gent in the airplane, felt the sting of it.
One day in in another lit class, I brought up a book I’d read a long time ago called “Taxi Driver Wisdom” by Risa Mickenberg, Joanne Dugan and Brian Lee Hughes.
After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their fathers were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.
Think about that for a second. These students are second generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending college at Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.
Let me address this “snowflake” thing. According to the Urban dictionary, a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie “Fight Club” from the quote “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”
I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love, they say things like; “how are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?”
Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I meet seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18-22-year-old. These kids work their assess off. I have asked a couple of them help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my “prose” and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is a very special young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily news expressing the importance of public demonstrations in the light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the “patriarchy” at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in a conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.
We recently met with a prominent writer from a think tank who is researching the state of the humanities in the university setting. There were four of us students, two other young men, the young woman from Chicago, and me, the old guy. As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word “safe space” and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, “Safe Space” isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by “safe space” was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or judgement. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this University setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as “natural slaves.” She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in
that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don’t understand or have, for the most part of my life, written off is a good thing.
Being uncomfortable is KEY in this world of ours. Not altogether different from the world of special operations, where the work needs to be done, regardless of personal feelings. The climate in this educational institution is one where we seem to understand that there HAS to be a place where people can assault ideas openly and discuss them vigorously and respectfully in order to improve the state of humanity. I’ll call that a “safe space” and I’m glad those places exist.
Here in the “Directed Studies” program, instead of “tuning in” to our favorite self-confirming “news” source, we are given a timeless text with heavy ideas and then we throw them out on the floor and discuss them with people who have, as I mentioned earlier, made these works and their meaning, their vocation.
In my opinion, the real snowflakes are the people who are afraid of that situation. The poor souls who never take the opportunity to discuss ideas in a group of people who will very likely respectfully disagree with them. I challenge any of you hyper-opinionates zealots out there to actually sit down with a group of people who disagree with you and be open to having your mind changed. Not submitting your deeply held beliefs to your twitter/facebook/instagram feeds for agreement from those who “follow” you. I have sure had my mind changed here at Yale. To me there is no dishonor in learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.
On veteran’s day, there was a great scene on cross campus. A bunch of American flags had been placed there and I stopped on my morning walk to class and took photos of my dog in front of them. Later at some point, a young student placed a glove with red paint on it on one of the flags as she wanted to demonstrate her displeasure with something…I’m not quite sure what.
That same afternoon, some of my fellow students from Directed Studies, after a lecture, gave me this:
It is a card thanking me for my service to our nation. I was awestruck and amazed.
These kids are very kind and very thoughtful. A far cry from the picture that is often painted of them.
I am quite fortunate.
One of my Professors, a Professor of Philosophy, told me once “a good leader is a bridge builder.” This professor is David Charles. A man who has been teaching bright young people and some slow and old ones like me, the difficult subject of Philosophy at Oxford and now Yale. He’s been doing this for over 30 years. He is extremely humble and very kind, in addition to being brilliant. I want to build bridges and lead, in some small way, a new conversation where we stop pointing out perceived (often, like my own expectations, wrongly) differences in each other, or this group vs that group, and start pointing out similarities. We don’t need more condescending friction in humanity. We need less. One step in the direction of less societal friction, is to seek commonalities. Another step, and one sorely needed, is respect.
Now before you think I’m preaching, please know that I come from a place where I was distinctly the opposite of this ideal. I looked for reasons to disregard the opinions of those I didn’t respect. I discounted the ideas of people I felt like hadn’t earned the right to share what was in their mind. Particularly when it came to national security issues, I felt that if you hadn’t taken a gun into combat, I didn’t give a damn what your opinion was. Talk about a “safe space!”
I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here. We need everyone who gives a damn about this American experiment to contribute and make it succeed. We humans have much more in common than we have differences. Thanks Yale, for helping me to become an aspiring bridge-builder at the age of 52,
In our welcome speech at the beginning of this semester, with all of us Freshman sitting in Woolsey Hall, me sitting next to another veteran, one who’d served in the 82nd Airborne, President Salovey said;
“There is so much we do not know. Let us embrace, together, our humility—our willingness to admit what we have yet to discover. After all, if you knew all the answers, you would not need Yale. And if humanity knew all the answers, the world would not need Yale.”
Now back to that bridge. I need to figure out how to actually build one. Good thing I’ve found a place where I can get help. If this place is peopled by “snowflakes” I’m proudly one of them. I’m a snowflake with a purple heart.
Today is a special day – National First Responders Day. Thank you to all the first responders out there who are working hard each day to keep us and our communities safe.
Jimmy Hatch is giving a speech today at a memorial for a first responder. We wanted to share it with you.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a product of good policing. In the summer of 2010, after being wounded in gunfight during a mission attempting to save an America hostage,
I was sad, suicidal, without hope, and had a pistol in my mouth.
My wife called 911. I remember thinking to myself that I hoped that these officers would come to my home and put me and everyone else out of the misery I had caused.
Me being that misery.
I did not think for a second about how unfair that would be for those officers. I didn’t consider how it would hurt my wife. I was mentally ill, and I did not believe that I had anything to offer. Additionally, I didn’t think I had anything good to offer anyone in the future because I lacked hope. That is called ‘despair’.
Despair is dangerous.
The officers who came to my home were not who I’d hoped would greet me.
They were kind.
I was looking for a fight. They were not.
I think y’all have a special gift with that ‘verbal Judo’ thingy.
They came to my house and treated me with a great deal of respect and care.
Toni Morrison once said, ‘people will probably not remember what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel’.
Today, I stand in front of you and testify that those officers made me feel like they cared.
That is a unique and very significant gift that those officers gave me.
‘Never underestimate your ability to affect the trajectory of another human’s life, especially in their most difficult moments.’
After the Officers who came to my home turned me over to mental health professionals, I went on a long journey through the psychiatric care arena.
People there helped me just like those officers, people that didn’t know who I was or where I came from; they only knew that I was a human being, and I was suffering, and I needed some help.
They were in the business of doing that very thing.
The Officers who came to my house on my worst night, put me in front of you. They shaped my trajectory.
Today were are here to remember and, more importantly, honor the law enforcement officers who gave their last full measure for us.
They showed up to work like every other day and did what we as community asked them to do.
In doing so, they willingly put themselves in harm’s way, and they perished for us.
Let me repeat, they did this for us.
College introducted me to these things called ‘Epic Poems’.
Epic Poems are like a novel written in verse, like a poem. They are amazing.
Some of the epic poems I read last year are the Iliad, the Odyssea, and The Aeneid.
As I read through them, I realized that we are all authors of our own poem.
Our lives are epic poems, and some of those poems are short, sometimes for tragic reasons, and some of those poems are long.
Some aren’t so epic. Some are amazingly epic.
Regardless, we are all writing ours – all the time.
When I think about Officer Thyne’s poem, I am amazed at how much selflessness she packed into that brief life of hers.
She served in the US Navy; she volunteered again to help her community by becoming a police officer. From what I am told, she was kind and generous and loved to smile.
And that leaves us to ask ourselves, should we be sad that we didn’t get the poem we wanted or needed from her.
My answer is a resounding ‘no’.
We should be grateful that we were exposed to it.
See, Officer Thyne was similar to the Officers who showed up at my house on arguably my worst night.
She wanted to help people, and she did. She didn’t just talk about it; she did it.
Her life ended while she was doing that very thing.
And that is why, in my opinion, the best way to honor her and what she stood for is to work extremely hard at our own poems by using her as an example. We have an opportunity that she and other officers, military members, and first responders have given us and one they don’t have for themselves.
We have an opportunity to write a longer poem. Maybe not as epic as the poems of the fallen, but much longer and with more opportunity.
To honor the fallen, to honor Katie Thyne, live your life as full as you can. Write the most epic poem you can with the gift she gave us.
While writing your poem, remember:
Never underestimate your ability to affect the trajectory of another human’s life, especially at their most difficult moments.
Honor those who paid the ultimate price for our way of life by living an epic one.
This is K9 Blaze. He is a Dog that works for a trainer named Evan, who works for Crystal Clear Canine.
Blaze is a beautiful K9 who has had some excellent training and conducts himself like a pro!
I share Blaze’s photo because I feel strongly that we need to open our minds a bit to who these amazing creatures really are. Some of us like to see bite-work, some of us enjoy watching a K9 track down a missing child, some of us look in awe as a dog settles down a panicking patient at a hospital. Dogs work in so many disciplines that share one thing: They work for humans.
These Dogs are a gift to us. We want to advocate for them and insure that they have what they need to live a safe and happy life.
Blaze, the K9 model that he is, wants you to know that he might be pretty, but he could still give you one heck of a “tooth-hug” if he were asked.
In 2011 I purchased a Dutch Shepherd puppy from a breeder in the Netherlands. We decided to name her “Mina.” Mina became an essential part of my life. She was not a “working Dog,” although she was the same breed as some working Dogs. Mina gave me something to think about instead of feeling sorry for myself. The Dutch Shepherd breed has very high energy, and an increased (compared to other types of dogs) drive to work, so I had to keep her busy. In doing so, I saved myself from myself. Today is national “Pets for Vets” Day. I hope that there are other vets out there who have a fantastic companion, one to help them find a path through the vapid and increasingly insane theater known as the “civilian world.” 🐾🐾
The Search and Rescue Community is one that is largely self-financed. From the purchase, care and feeding, to the equipment and training time, Search and Rescue Dogs and their humans are always operating on the bare minimum.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t appreciate the need for SAR Dogs until we absolutely need one to find a lost child or confused adult. We generally don’t think about these amazing teams until a disaster rolls in and we need to use them.
This is unfortunate. These K9 Teams often work in very austere conditions and the amount of training, and therefore , “time” it takes to properly train these K9’s, goes unrecognized, as do their needs.
Spike’s has helped many SAR K9 teams across the country. From avalanche Dogs in Sun Valley, Idaho to the SAR Teams on the eastern seaboard, we try to help these teams with the proper equipment and medical cost assistance.
It seems like we see the need for these amazing K9 teams increasing as our world seems fraught with fires and hurricanes and other natural and unnatural disasters.
Spike’s aims to be an asset for these teams and with your help, we will make sure that they go to do their jobs with the best chance for preservation and success.
Hello my friends, and happy Tuesday. It strikes me that we could all use some positivity in our daily roll though the 2020 landscape. Well, here is some positivity for you. Let me introduce you to one of the most motivated and effective of the “Spike’s Supporters,” Renee Criswell.
For the last three years, Renee and her friends at the Clubhouse bar and grill in Virginia Beach, have held a fundraiser for us and every year it gets more and more prolific.
This year, Renee lost her mind! She made over 200 cheese-cakes and sold them to earn $ for Spikes! She also made over 150 jello-shots for the people who attended the fundraiser! At the fundraiser, Renee, who is a lovely woman, but given her passion for Spike’s, one could only describe her fundraising tactics as “guerrilla warfare!” She moves through the crowd, smiling and cajoling and laughing and all the while, surreptitiously strong-arming the crowd for more donations! She has, over the last 3 years, raised over $20k for the K9’s.
Renee, when she isn’t working as a tier-one fundraiser, is an arson investigator with her sweet Dog, Caylee. It is always eye-opening to me to witness the selfless work of amazing people like Renee and to know that they are doing it because they believe in Spike’s K9 Fund’s mission. Taking care of the Dogs who work on behalf of Americans.
There are many examples of awful and selfish behavior in America these days. Renee Criswell is an example of what we should all aspire to be; an American, NOT an American’t.
Renee, thank you so much for your hard work and time, and most importantly, thank you for pointing the enormous heart that beats inside your chest, towards helping us take care of these amazing creatures that enrich our lives in so many ways.
We at Spike’s K9 Fund are constantly working towards protecting and caring for the K9’s who serve our nation and the communities that make it up.
We provide equipment and medical cost assistance for working and retired K9’s.
We look for new and needed ways to help K9’s and our mission evolves as we are presented with new realities. The things we can influence will change with the organizations that employ K9’s. We will continue to develop and to try to find ways to weave through the human bureaucracies that control the volunteers who use K9’s on our behalf.
Every Dog that goes to work for humans should never want for the best protective equipment or veterinary care. There are over 25,000 K9’s doing various public safety jobs in our nation. We need your help to reach our goal of every one of them having what they need.
In the fall of 2014, three years after I had retired from the military, I was given the opportunity to help out the Norfolk, VA Police K9 Unit. I didn’t really do much, they more or less just kind of took me in and helped me feel like I had something to offer. While doing that, I saw that there were K9 needs that the municipality couldn’t support. It was made most clear by a K9 that had an injury that needed surgery. I thought that I needed to do something for that Dog. So, I went to a friend and he helped me create Spike’s K9 Fund logo:
It was important for me to represent the K9’s that I’d served with, who had been killed in action. The four red stars represent, Spike, Toby, Falco and Remco.
Once I had that, I had some sweatshirts printed up with it and sold them using social media.
And we were off. In 2015 I received, with the help of some very good friends and their legal representation, we received the IRS documentation to be a bonafide 501c3 organization. Initially, I thought we’d need a kennel facility, but with the help of one of our former board members, Kim Wheeler, I realized that we could do far more for many more K9’s with the $ we’d be spending on building and operating a structure. So we initially started with taking care of medical cost assistance and then K9 Krijger was shot and killed and I knew by looking at this X-Ray:
we needed to do something about this. Krijger had been shot by a man who’d been involved in a brutal assault on his spouse and when he threatened the officers, Krijger was sent. The suspect shot Krijger twice with his hand-gun, killing him. At this point, I knew that we needed to provide these Dogs with the best and most utilitarian body-armor available. It was made by K9 Storm and the vests are light and custom fit. K9 Storm has documented cases of K9’s being shot in their vests and going to work the next shift. We have put these vests on close to 600 K9’s.
Later, we looked at the # of K9’s who die in hot vehicles, and we started a relationship with a very good company that provides heat alert and door popper systems. Ace K9, gives excellent equipment and great service. We’ve provided over 100 of their systems to handlers across the country.
Lastly, I want to share this:
This is from a donor in 2015. I kept this and keep it where I can see it. We take the generosity that our supporters show us, very seriously.
Spike’s K9 Fund has helped close to 1200 K9’s in 48 states. There are approximately 25,000 working K9’s in Law enforcement, Search and Rescue, and military roles in the US and our goal is to ensure that they are all cared for. Our mission will continue to expand and we will continue finding ways to help these innocent creatures, Dogs that we bring into our crazy human world.
In closing, I had my life saved in violent combat situations by K9’s and I also have had my life saved by K9’s in non-violent battles I am fighting. I’m not alone. K9’s deserve our best effort.
Thank you for supporting us and thank you for caring about these amazing souls.
In 2006, I was in Iraq. Spike and I were on deployment and then one night, Spike died. I sent him to stop a human and the human started fighting him and was on top of him. I shot the human and the bullets went through the human and killed Spike.
After the ride home in the helicopter, with Spike’s body cold in my lap, and the mission debrief, and then taking his body to the Vet to get an autopsy; one in which I saw the entry and exit wound from my bullet, and then watching him be respectfully cremated, I went back to his kennel and wrote this poem by the great Pablo Neruda, on his kennel door.
“What hope to consider, what pure foreboding, what definitive kiss to bury the heart, to submit to the origins of homelessness and intelligence, smooth and sure over the eternally troubled waters?
What vital, speedy wings of a new dream angel to install on my sleeping shoulders for perpetual security, in such a way that the path through the stars of death be a violent flight begun many days and months and centuries ago?
Suppose the natural weakness of suspicious, anxious creatures all of a sudden seeks permanence in time and limits on earth, suppose the accumulated age and fatigues implacably spread like the lunar wave of a just-created ocean over lands and shorelines tormentedly deserted.
Oh, let what I am keep on existing and ceasing to exist, and let my obedience align itself with such iron conditions that the quaking of deaths and of births doesn’t shake the deep place I want to reserve for myself eternally.
Let me, then, be what I am, wherever and in whatever weather, rooted and certain and ardent witness, carefully, unstoppably, destroying and saving himself openly engaged in his original obligation.”