Service Dogs






When I retired from the Yarmouth Police Department in 2001 after a line-of-duty injury that left me with severe chronic pain and a diagnosis of PTSD, I decided to train a dog to help me adjust to my new life. I was given a black Lab puppy by a Yarmouthport breeder and named her “Paxil” because I knew she would make me happy.

Paxil provides physical assistance by picking up items I drop, fetching phones, helping me climb stairs, telling me when to take my pain medications, opening and closing doors, tugging off jackets and shoes, operating light switches, and even taking the clothes out of the dryer and putting them on the counter for me to fold.

She provides psychiatric assistance by alerting me to people approaching from behind, waking me from nightmares, creating a furry comfort zone in crowds and distracting me with a paw in my lap or a nose in my face. 

When we first began working together, people were surprised to see us in the mall and at restaurants. Almost every time we went out in public, a manager or security guard would ask us to leave because “dogs aren't allowed.” I carried copies of the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations that gave us the right to be in public places and patiently handed them out to everyone who confronted us. As the years have passed, it's gotten a little easier. If we are approached now, it's usually by a curious stranger who has seen something about service dogs on television. 

HISTORY OF SERVICE 
The first service dogs as we know them were trained in New Jersey at The Seeing Eye. In 1928, an American named Morris Frank and his Swiss-trained guide dog, “Buddy,” campaigned tirelessly for federal recognition of guide dogs and earned the right for guide-dog teams to enter facilities that had been traditionally, and legally, off-limits to dogs.

In the 1970s and 1980s, dogs, monkeys and miniature horses were trained to assist with other disabilities, but they didn't enjoy the same federal rights of access as guide dogs. In the 1990s, the Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) officially gave people the right to use animals to mitigate the effects of disabilities other than sight loss.

It was a breakthrough, and a problem.

Although the ADA distinguished between “therapy” animals that visited nursing homes and hospitals to comfort patients and “service” animals that made life with disabilities easier, it didn't actually define what a service animal was. As the 2000s evolved, the ADA's vague regulation led to an inundation of animals, both wild and domesticated, being touted as service animals.

The Internet and media were rife with stories about people shopping, dining at restaurants and riding buses with parrots on their shoulders, ferrets in their pockets, snakes wrapped around their necks, pigs on leashes, and badly behaved dogs at their sides - one woman even rode a full-sized horse into supermarkets – while declaring that their animal was necessary because of their now federally recognized disability. The ambiguity in the ADA regulation made it illegal to ask someone to refrain from bringing his 9-foot boa constrictor or her snarling Great Dane into public places. The flood of bizarre amateur “helpers” was making it difficult for well-trained service animals to gain respect. Disabled Americans with legitimate service animals, fed-up business owners and confused law enforcement agencies clamored for some clarity.

On March 15, 2011, the ADA, which takes priority over local or state laws and regulations, revised its definition of service animals. It officially excluded all animals except dogs and miniature horses (defined as ranging in height from 24 inches to 34 inches at the shoulders and weighing between 70 and 100 pounds) from having public access and stated that the dogs and miniature horses must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

Disabled people may still use other animals (goats, gerbils, cats, etc.) to assist them but only in places where those animals would normally be allowed to go, such as within the confines of their own homes and private vehicles, and friends' homes with permission.

The ADA also tightened another loophole by outlining the difference between “psychiatric service dogs” and “emotional support animals."

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to recognize the onset of psychiatric episodes and actively respond by performing tasks directly related to the person's disability, such as reminding the handler to take medicine, interrupting self-mutilation and removing disoriented handlers from dangerous situations.

An emotional support animal's sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support. The animal may or may not be able to discern that its owner is in distress, but it is not trained to do anything specific in response to this awareness. It merely provides comfort by being present. Emotional support animals are considered pets and do not have public-access rights. 



FOLLOWING THE LAW
But just because someone enters a public place with a dog or miniature horse doesn't mean the animal is a legitimate service animal. Last summer, a woman was asked to leave a Yarmouth consignment shop because the manager did not believe her dog was a real service dog. When she refused, police settled the dispute by verifying the woman's claim.

But there are people who want to take their pets everywhere they go and are willing to exploit any ignorance of the law to get their way. Most states have laws against misrepresenting an animal as a service animal. Managers of public facilities and police officers need to know how to identify a service animal.

There's a YouTube video of a man in a wheelchair bullying police officers who responded to a beach after complaints about his dog. The dog was not wearing any service dog equipment and had clearly been swimming. The man repeatedly admonishes the officers telling them, “If I say it's a service dog then you have to let it stay!”

That is not true, but identifying a service animal is not always simple. There are no national identification cards or certification programs; service dogs trained in any state or country are recognized by the ADA. Some states issue their own cards and certification letters, but since the federal regulations take precedence, state certification is not proof and cannot be required. Most service animals wear special vests or harnesses, but they are not mandated because they could interfere with the service animal's work or a person's disability could prevent their use. The size of the animal does not matter, except when classifying a miniature horse.

Basically, a service animal team consists of a disabled person and a dog or miniature horse trained to mitigate that disability, and the ADA provides simple tools for anyone questioning the legitimacy of a team.

When it isn't evident that a dog or miniature horse assists someone with an obvious disability, the ADA allows only two questions. The answers must be taken at face value. Only a federal judge can decide if a person is actually disabled or substantiate that an animal meets performance requirements.

The first question is, “Is the animal required because of a disability?” Follow-up questions about the nature of the disability are not allowed.

The second is, “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?” Asking for a demonstration of the animal's training is not permitted.

It is a service animal only if a disability exists and the answer to the second question describes an active, trained response or legitimate work performed on the disabled person's behalf. If not, the animal can be removed and excluded from future access to public areas.

ACCESS IS KEY 
So what is public access?

Federal regulations state that service animals are medical equipment that must be accommodated in the manner of crutches, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. Therefore, state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public must allow disabled people with service animals access to all areas where the public is normally allowed to go, even if health codes prohibit animals. In many states, Massachusetts included, trainers of service animals have the same rights as service animal teams as long as the animal is well-behaved and housebroken. The rule of thumb is that access rights belong to the person, not to the service animal. If the person has a right to be there, an animal that meets the definition of a service animal has a right to be there.

Service animals are allowed at pools, beaches and playgrounds, but they are there to work, not play, so if the animal is running loose, swimming freely, chasing balls or playing with children, then it is not on duty and can be removed.

Of course, everyone needs a break from work once in a while, so an occasional visit to the woods, game of fetch or dip in the water isn't in violation of any rules, but if the animal's leisure activities interfere with other people it can be removed. If the animal is under control and at its handler's side, waiting at the water's edge to assist its handler in entering and exiting the water, or assisting the handler in the water because of a specific medical requirement, it must be accommodated.

Service animal teams visiting a person living in no-pet housing are not required to give notice to management and are permitted by invitation of the tenant to stay as long as necessary, even if the disabled person leaves the animal at the residence during an outing. Motels, hotels and inns cannot require prior arrangements or force a service dog team into a room normally reserved for guests with pets.

Enrolled students with a service animal must be allowed to attend school unless the school obtains a court injunction banning it and anyone who would normally be admitted to enter a school as a guest must be allowed if accompanied by a service animal.

Service animals cannot be denied access to public transportation and no operator of a public conveyance can refuse to transport them. Devout Muslim taxi drivers who refuse to pick up service dogs for religious reasons are in violation of federal and Massachusetts laws and in conflict with the Shariah Council, which has ruled that Muslims worldwide must accept, and may even use, dogs that are trained to assist disabled people.

Service animals cannot be excluded from movie theaters, concerts or auditoriums, but if a service animal makes noise during a performance it can be asked to leave unless the noise was an attempt to communicate with or alert its handler, the animal was deliberately provoked, or the noise was consistent with noises made by humans, such as barking during applause. If an animal is removed because of noise, that behavior cannot be used to restrict its admission to future events. 

HEALTH AND SERVICE 
Regardless of health codes or departmental regulations restricting pets, service animals are allowed in ambulances, police cars and other state and town vehicles. A service animal team cannot be denied transportation under any circumstance in which any other civilian would be transported.

Exceptions could occur if the presence of a service animal in the ambulance might interfere with patient care; jeopardize the safety of the crew, the patient or others; or cause damage to the ambulance or equipment. In such circumstances, personnel are expected to make every effort to reunite the patient with the service animal at the time of the patient's arrival at the hospital by arranging for simultaneous transport of the animal by the police department, animal control or the patient's family.

The ADA has determined that police departments have an obligation to accommodate a service animal in the same way as any other medical equipment unless the animal's presence would cause an alteration in the environment that would disrupt normal operations.
 
The ADA prohibits segregating or isolating service dog teams from other patrons, treating them less favorably than other patrons and charging fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. A business that normally requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets must waive the charge for service animals, but any business that normally charges patrons for damage that they cause can charge a disabled customer for damage caused by his service animal. Staff members at public facilities are not required to provide care or food for a service animal, but they are not prohibited from doing so voluntarily.

The ADA allows, but does not mandate, exclusion of a service animal when the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Health issues could arise in areas such as sterile operating rooms, some intensive-care units and areas where food is prepared, such as kitchens, freezers and walk-in refrigerators. Allergies are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals. When a person who is allergic and a person with a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility. If an animal is not housebroken, it can be removed. However, an indoor “accident” cannot be used as a reason to refuse entry the next time. Unless there is a specific medical reason necessitating it, a service animal can be restricted from using apparatus, chairs and other items provided for the use of humans. A miniature horse can be excluded if a facility cannot accommodate its type, size or weight; if its presence will compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility; if it isn't housebroken; or if it isn't under the handler's control.

Safety exclusions could result if a service animal displays vicious behavior. Viciousness must be an overt display of aggression that is unprovoked. Barking and jumping should first be investigated as a medical emergency since a service dog could be trained to bark, jump or tug at its handler's clothing to call attention to a medical condition. A PTSD service dog may seem confrontational when blocking strangers from approaching its handler, but this is a trained response, not aggression.

Safety concerns cannot be assumptions based on someone's past experience with animals or on his perception of aggression because of its breed's reputation. A person's fear of dogs or miniature horses is not a valid reason for denying access or refusing service to a service animal team.

Private homes and private clubs can exclude service animals if they choose, but if privately owned properties such as gyms and malls serve the public they also must serve patrons with service animals.

HUMAN BEHAVIOR
 When encountering a service animal team, do not distract the animal with whistles, calls or by petting it. The animal has a job to do and its handler could be injured if the animal doesn't remain focused. Some service animals are able to interact with strangers, but look carefully for any tags or patches that read something like, “Do Not Pet” or “Working Dog, Please Don't Distract” before asking its handler if you may pet it or speak to it. Never touch the disabled person without an invitation and never touch the service animal or its harness or leash, period.

Do not separate the service animal from its handler. Service dogs are specifically trained to remain calm in excitable situations, but they are animals and might show aggression or fear if their handler is startled or injured.

If you want to assist a service dog team, ask the person what to do. Some mobility service animals are trained to step aside and allow humans to help their handlers. Animals that guide the blind are trained to “follow” on command a specific sighted person while still guiding their handlers. If your offer to help is turned down, don't be insulted; the purpose of a service animal is to lessen its handler's dependence on other people. If a disabled person doesn't need your help, her service animal is doing its job.

If you believe a handler is abusing or neglecting his service animal, report the incident to your police department or animal control officer. Generally, service animal training facilities retain ownership of the animals and recall them from handlers who fail to meet their expectations of care.

For more information 
To speak with an ADA specialist about service animals and access rights, call 800-514-0301 between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Fridays or 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Thursdays.


(originally published Cape Cod Times 2013.04.03) 







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Remembering C.Ja.

Christopher Jason Adams Sullivan
June 2, 1987 - July 3, 2008

-------

I Meant To Do My Work Today
by Richard LeGallienne

I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?

-------

I haven’t known C. Ja. very long. I ran some errands on his behalf while he was in Florida at motorcycle mechanic school but I didn’t get to know him until he moved back to the Cape. I was lucky to have that opportunity. And I knew I was lucky when it happened. He was that kind of guy.

C. Ja. brightened my life when I was with him. One minute, he was a kid with a wicked grin and an endearing laugh. The next minute, he was a daring teenager with a passion for guns and motorcycles, and a bold wit. The next, he was a young man - empathic, caring, stumbling into his future caring for and teaching kids. But he was always C. Ja., the same little kid I can see in his baby pictures, the same kind, sensitive, intelligent, funny, beautiful person we all saw.

In a typical C. Ja. encounter last winter, I teased him on a particularly cold day because he had no coat and was shivering. I reminded him that he wasn’t in Florida anymore and that it would get colder. I suggested he grow up and go buy himself a coat. He said that a winter coat would “turn up.” That was so C. Ja. that I didn’t bother to retort. If he thought a winter coat would drop out of the sky, he could be right. He was C. Ja., after all. He did foolish things but he did them with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm on his level could grow a coat on a tree. The next time I saw him, he was wearing one. He smiled when I complimented it and modeled it for me. “My Mom bought it for me,” he said. “Isn’t it great?”

When I worked with him at the store, the banter was constant. We could have been brother and sister. Sometimes the customers were amused; sometimes they were mortified. He entertained me with stories of adventures with his friends, fast cars, lots of alcohol, camaraderie and laughter. We talked about guns and bikes and his family. He outlined his plans to marry a “good” girl – not one of those “raunchy” girls who didn’t dress modestly or who belched like a guy – he wanted someone who would behave like his mother. And he ranted about keeping his little sister Alexa away from the bad boys who would take advantage of her.

Most of the time, my little nephew came to work with me. He loved going to “Mrs. Sullivan’s store” and always asked, “Is that guy going to be there? C. Ja.?” On those days, I did all the work. C. Ja. played with my nephew, rolling on the floor, making paper airplanes, teaching him how to catch and throw a ball. Sometimes they had sword fights with wiffle bats. Sometimes they played hide-and-seek. C. Ja. was the perfect playmate – a grown-up who remembered the way to Sesame Street. It was a meeting of the minds. When the line at my register backed up, customers would pass the time by asking, “How old is he?” I always answered, “Which one? Well, it doesn’t really matter. They’re both five; one’s just a little bigger than the other one.” Penny, his Mom, told me that she promoted C. Ja. to six a few weeks ago when he did something with uncharacteristic maturity. I guess it had to happen some day…

When C. Ja. stopped working at the store, I missed him. He stopped in occasionally, most notably a few days after his recent car accident. He let me admire the gash on his head. When I exclaimed about his quick recovery, he quipped, “I heal fast” and hopped over the console to take the wheel of Penny’s open convertible. I didn’t look back to see if he’d finally heeded my latest lecture about wearing a seatbelt. It was too hard to be stern with him; too difficult to keep a straight face when he flashed that smile and he got that amused twinkle in his eye.

In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he wrote, “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” I don’t think that’s true. C. Ja. came into the world with the love of only his family. He lived every day of his life. He left this world with the love and admiration of so many people. He left this world with the legacy of touching so many lives, creating little differences here and there, brightening many dreary days. Twenty-one years doesn’t seem like much but, in the end, a man is judged by how many lives he’s touched. I know that I was not the only one taken by his charm and his antics and his kindness. He remains with us, within us, and he will go many places with the people who know they would not have been the same without his touch, however strong, however brief.

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

I cannot walk by day as now I walk at dawn
Past the still house where you lie sleeping.
May the sun burn away these footprints on the lawn
And hold you in its warmth and keeping
Vikram Seth

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

If I should die and leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore
Who keep long vigils by the silent dust
And weep

For my sake turn again to life and smile
And nerving thy heart and trembling hand
Do something to comfort other hearts than thine

Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I
Perchance, may therein comfort you
Saint Joseph

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




from The Cape Cod Times

Mother: 'C.Ja.' just wanted to help others

HYANNIS — All Christopher Sullivan wanted to do was help others, his grieving mother, Penny, said yesterday.

Sullivan, who was known as "C.Ja." to friends and family, died in a motorcycle accident in Hyannis Wednesday.

Although many people in the area knew Sullivan from his job at the Yarmouthport Village Store and as a landscaper, she said, the 21-year-old East Dennis man found his calling when he took a job as a YMCA camp counselor, working with troubled teens.

Sullivan had recently completed the background check required for a position at the Brewster Treatment and Detention Program.

"He had his own difficulties and then he decided to help other kids through it," Penny Sullivan said. "He was a very sensitive person and definitely a kid at heart."

Police said Sullivan was killed when he lost control of the bike and struck a tree while driving through the intersection of South and Sea streets.

Next to working with kids, Sullivan loved riding his motorcycle, his mother said, adding that he spent two years in Florida studying motorcycle mechanics.

Sullivan's friend, 19-year-old John Mather of Yarmouth, described Sullivan as "the best friend you could ever have" and said the two planned to live together in the fall. He said nothing could change his friend's love of motorcycles.

"If anything happened, he would just hop on his bike and ride," Mather said.

An investigation of the crash is ongoing, Barnstable police said.

Staff writer K.C. Myers contributed to this report.

To view
C.Ja.'s Remembrance Book
click here:
http://www.legacy.com/CapeCod/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=112858300


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Lessons From Dogs




As a child, I looked out the window on road trips, pretending to run alongside the car through the hills and yards. A lone German Shepherd inside the highway fence caught my eye one day. He was trotting along, looking forlorn. I begged my father to stop so we could catch the dog. I was terrified that he would be killed. We didn’t stop. That day on our return trip, I saw a dog carcass on the shoulder of the highway. I didn’t know if it was the same dog, or even the same area but the memory stayed with me. And the lesson – follow your instincts.

I’ve learned a lot from dogs.

My grandparents’ Newfoundland, Blackie, taught me about personal responsibility and holding up my end of the bargain. He had an easy life. He was even treated to a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV every night. But, spoiled as he was, he repaid my grandparents by treating them like royalty and being the best dog he could be.

A Black Lab named Shadow was my companion when I was eight. His participation in his owner’s hobby, duck hunting, turned my stomach. I was convinced that Shadow shared my distaste yet he performed his repugnant job with spunk and style. If Shadow could jump into an ice cold lake to retrieve a bloody murdered duck, I could clean the toilet without (too much) complaining.

I found Mr. Sweets in a neighbor’s yard, chained to a dog house. He was matted and flea ridden and adorable. A good grooming revealed a handsome Schnoodle. We renamed him Mr. Bojangles. His dedication as my willing sidekick helped me to become a better friend.

Trooper was a burly German Shepherd at my kennel job who liked to bite everyone but me. We had a special bond. When I visited him at his new position as a guard dog, he lunged at me and ripped the end of my sleeve. If I hadn’t been quicker, he’d have ripped off my arm. The lesson? Sometimes it’s best to leave the past behind.

Kali was born in a friend’s house at the end of the school year. I used the “she followed me home, can I keep her?” line, and it worked. By the end of the summer I learned the true meaning of devotion, as only a Shepherd could model. Her shamelessness, and friendship, and undying loyalty showed me that dogs have souls, too.

Kevvie, aka Kevlar, the Giant Schnauzer, was meant to be my police K9 partner but her heart wasn’t in it. The day she became entangled in a wayward rope with a terrified squirrel showed her true character. She squealed in pain as the frantic rodent bit her over 70 times on the face and neck in its efforts to escape. Instead of killing it with her massive jaws, she gently pulled it off each time. Still entangled, it attacked again and again until exhaustion rendered it helpless and I was able to cut them free. Kevvie was true to herself and kind to smaller creatures, gifts I admired and endeavored to possess.

Paxil, my current Lab, is an expert at pleasure, both giving and receiving, and at fun. Everything is her favorite. And she has the best stress management strategies: karaoke – howling at sirens, cheap aroma therapy – rolling in every vile, vomitous substance she can find, and soothing water therapy – splashing in the tub with a child. The lesson she expounds is that there’s good in everything if you look (or smell) long enough.

In addition to the lessons I’ve learned, my dogs have taught me about myself. I learned I am a loyal friend when I stood between Bojangles and an angry Doberman with gnashing teeth who outweighed me by ten pounds. I discovered that I am courageous, and foolhardy, the day I headed into a riptide to save Kevvie who was being sucked under and tossed about in terror. I was surprised by my strength of character when I defied the vet and insisted on staying with Kali when she was euthanized. And I wasn’t embarrassed when I brought friends home the day Paxil left half-eaten underwear in the living room and scattered the contents of the bathroom trash throughout the house.

My dogs have been building blocks in my life. The cats? They haven’t taught me anything, except maybe to mind my own business and keep the food dish filled.



Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com

*** This piece is copyrighted and can be used with permission only. ***




Save Your Lost Child



I saw a tip on Parent Hacks

- http://www.parenthacks.com/-
about locating a lost child and I wanted to expand on it:

When you begin your day out on the town with your kid(s), use your camera phone to take an individual photo of each of them, head to toe, and a second shot close-up of each face.

If your child wanders away from you at the park, or in a store or mall, or at any public place, your phone photo will be the best way to offer a description to police / security personnel, and even helpful strangers.

When I was working as a cop, it was maddening to take a report from distraught parents who couldn't give a really good description of their lost child.

Time is important in these instances - any lost child could be an abduction case - and trying to drag a good description of the child's clothing from parents (who are so frustrated that they actually start to argue about the color of Junior's shirt) creates delays that could be deadly.

A simple camera photo taken at the beginning of the shopping trip could be emailed in seconds to the mobile phones of every security officer / police officer in the area, and even to the computers at the police station and/or main gates of major attraction parks.

The photo would show the child's current outfit from head to toe, her exact hair color and style, and any accessories being worn that day. A close up of the child's face would be frosting on the cake.

There are other, supplemental, ways of recovering a lost child (like using a Sharpie pen to write your mobile phone number on the back of your child's hand) but those put the onus on your child to realize that she is lost and to approach a stranger and ask for help.

This phone camera trick would be the best option for recovering a wandering child who is happily browsing the toy store unaware that he's left his parents far behind, and for saving the life of a child who has been grabbed by a stranger who is trying to spirit him away from the area.

It might be a tough habit to get into but it can become as much a ritual as reminding your child to buckle up.




The Donut Dilemma



Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a cop pulls a man over for OUI and says, “I know you’ve been drinking, your eyes are glassy.” The man responds, “I know you’ve been eating donuts; your eyes are glazed.”

Everyone knows a joke about cops and donuts. There are jokes about earning donut “merit” patches for saving lives and about cops revoking the drivers licenses of people who take too long in the Dunkin Donuts drive through. There’s a bumper sticker that reads, “Bad Cop, No Donut.” People send email pictures of a mock crime scene with police tape around a half-eaten donut. Most cops have gotten donuts as a gag gift. I got a lovely pink box with a dozen Boston Crème for my Academy graduation. My family spent years joking that I’d fix tickets for them in exchange for donuts. One of my brothers still insists that my line of duty injury involved falling off a stool at Dunkin Donuts. Firefighters get in on it, too, teasing officers about a new and improved donut, powdered with a dark blue sugar that won’t ruin their uniforms. And even cops joke about their five basic food groups: glazed, jelly, powdered, chocolate frosted, and “ghetto,” the donuts that are left over after a long meeting of the command staff.

It’s not really an addiction - cops can give up donuts any time, especially when their colleagues’ kids are selling girl scout cookies. Besides, it’s not really about the donuts. Not many cops even eat donuts. The donut jokes are what counts. Humor comes in handy when things get serious. When you’re a cop, things can get serious, fast.

Police play a one-sided game every day. It’s a violent game and the cops are the only ones who have to follow the rules. Experts often describe police work as long periods of mind-numbing boredom followed by moments of sheer terror. Every encounter could end with the officer’s death but he is expected to be polite and professional until that actually happens. A bad day for you might involve a fight with your boss, or a network crash, or maybe a missed lunch break. A bad day for a cop might involve breaking up a gang fight, or taking an abused child away from his parents, or spending a lunch break amidst blood and broken glass on the roadway. If one police officer doesn’t meet the media’s expectations, they’re all brutal, or racist, or bungling fools. If one officer does something heroic, the rest are still brutal, or racist, or bungling fools.

Civilians want to hear stories of shootouts, and fiery rescues, and bodies strewn along the highways but cops most often share the stories that involve breathtaking incompetence. A cop’s job security is an incurable disease called stupidity, and many people are carriers. When they don’t know who to call for information about the landfill hours or fireworks, they call the police. They dial 911 if they’re too lazy to look up the number. Why not? The little girl who’s drowning in a local pool won’t mind the extra seconds it takes for the operator to get rid of their call and take the call that might save her life. Indeed, many people call 911 for any threat to public safety – you know, a cable outage on the Red Sox’ opening day, or to report that their friend’s kid went swimming without observing the wait-thirty-minutes-after-eating rule. It’s a trend. Someone loaded your dishwasher the wrong way? Call the cops. Someone ate just one Lay’s potato chip? Call the cops. Left your really expensive stuff out in plain view in an unlocked car? It will be their biggest priority.

They don’t mind. Really. Your room temperature IQ will provide them with the humor they need after doing CPR on the infant who was left in a stifling hot car while his parents shopped for a big screen TV. The fact that you didn’t know there are inappropriate places to pee will keep them laughing when they are trying not to think about what your neighbor did to his own daughter. Cops don’t mind handling all of your problems. They like to say that they enjoy the challenge of being expected to immediately stabilize a situation that took years to deteriorate.

When there are three police cruisers at the donut shop, people complain that their tax dollars are being wasted. They joke that Dunkin Donuts is the “police substation.” Most likely, the cops inside are on a well-deserved break - relaxing, sharing a moment of peace with some colleagues and enjoying a warm, friendly, muted cup of coffee. It’s also possible that the manager called 911 when someone tried to use an expired coupon…

Donut shops and cops will always be a team, until, that is, someone discovers a way to administer coffee, and loyal camaraderie, with an IV. And the donuts? They are very tempting, after all, and the alter of truth, justice and the American way won’t collapse if a cop eats a donut.

George Orwell said "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those that would do us harm."

Who cares if those rough men (and women) are clutching a frosted jelly donut with rainbow sprinkles in one hand?

Jill Wragg is a retired police officer.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com

*** This essay is copyrighted material;
no reproduction or excerpting is permitted without
written consent
from
Jill Wragg (JKWragg@yahoo.com) ***




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Operating Under The Influence


People sometimes ask me, “Are we really safe?” Some people fear burglars, some fear assaults, some fear vandalism. Some simply fear the dark.

So, I decided to ignore everyone’s fears and deal with reality. I decided to discuss the subject that should be your biggest fear. To identify the most random acts of violence that occur with the most frequency. To highlight the crime that victimizes more innocent people than any other. To narrow the topic down to the crime that most frightens police officers.

Any guesses?

I’ll give you a hint. No matter where you live in the U.S., it goes by a nickname of three initials.

Need another?

No matter what it’s called, it indiscriminately maims, kills, and destroys families.

Keep thinking.

It is the most frequently committed violent crime in the United States.

More?

Nationally, it kills an average of two people per hour, 45 per day, and 315 per week with no regard for age, gender, race, or religion. Last year, 15,786 people were killed.

Give up?

The answer is OUI – operating under the influence of alcohol.

Did you know that there’s a difference between an “accident” and a “crash”? One involves chance. The other involves an intentional act that endangers lives. That intentional act is getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.

More people are arrested annually for OUI than for any other crime except larcenies. Approximately one percent of the national population is arrested for OUI every year.

So, how serious is it? Does the term “it’s like shooting fish in a barrel” mean anything? That’s what you’ll hear if you ask a police officer how easy it would be to find a drunk driver if the officer had no other responsibilities. Unfortunately, with minimum shift strength and strict budget constraints, we don’t have many opportunities to go fishing. We have to be content to grab the OUI‘s that cross our paths while we are answering calls for domestics, responding to alarms and handling fights in bars.

It amuses us when defense attorneys claim that their clients were targeted by overzealous officers who “troll” the streets around bars, hoping to catch an innocent driver exiting the parking lot. After reading these statistics, wouldn’t you prefer that your officers had time to actively pursue people who drive while impaired? We certainly wish we had the time to “troll”. Imagine! Time to catch drunk driver after drunk driver and prevent fatal crashes and innocent pedestrian deaths!

Fat chance.

We finish one call, hoping to catch our breath before the next, and stumble across a car that’s weaving. That’s all we have time for. And that’s where the odyssey begins.

An arrest for OUI is the most time consuming event in a police officer’s shift.

The stop of an erratic driver can take between 20 minutes and several hours. Twenty minutes for the questioning of a driver who swerved while sneezing. Several hours for visiting the victim’s family when a drunk driver kills. The only guarantee is that we have removed a potential killer from the roadways.

The paperwork is overwhelming. While booking the prisoner, we explain that, in Massachusetts, he does not have a “right” to a breath test. Rather, he is deemed to already have consented to take a breath test, simply by virtue of his driving on a public way in the state of Massachusetts. If he refuses the test, we are required to fill out even more forms to suspend his license. Once the intricate booking procedure is complete, we begin compiling a report. A report that hardly seems worth the effort when it is torn to shreds in a court of law.

Our report will cover how the operator’s driving caught our attention, how he responded to our questions, and whether he smelled of alcohol or appeared intoxicated. It will contain information about the operator’s performance on the field sobriety tests, his blood alcohol content according to a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) at the scene, and his alcohol content as determined by the Breathalyzer at the police station. It will include all of the information that led us (and would lead a reasonable juror - a member of his peers) to conclude that he was, in fact, operating while under the influence of alcohol.

Unfortunately, not all of that pertinent information will be presented to the jury.

Did you know that an operator cannot legally refuse to perform field sobriety tests? Did you know that if he does refuse, the refusal cannot be mentioned to the jury? If you were a juror, would you wonder why the officer didn’t mention those tests? Would you think the officer forgot to ask the operator to perform them? Would the thought that the officer was remiss influence your decision about the operator’s sobriety?

It gets better.

Did you know that we use the roadside Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) to confirm that the conclusions we drew from the operator’s driving and his performance on the field sobriety tests were correct? Did you know that, as a juror, you aren’t allowed to reach that same conclusion because the PBT results cannot be admitted as evidence?

Wait, there’s more.

Did you know that an operator’s refusal to take the Breathalyzer at the police station is not admissible in court? In fact, no one will even mention whether the test was offered. If you were a juror, would you wonder why all references to the infamous Breathalyzer had been ommitted? Would you think the officer forgot to administer the test? Would you think it meant that the operator had passed the test?

My response as a juror, as a parent, as a driver, as a member of the community threatened by this operator’s complete disregard for safety would be, “What’s up with that?”

If you call the courthouse and ask what percentage of the operators arrested for OUI were actually convicted of OUI, you won’t get an answer. Those statistics are not available. If you know any police officers, ask them what percentage of their arrests either go to trial or are convicted of OUI. The answer will disgust you.

Most OUI arrests result in dropped or reduced charges. Those slaps on the wrist result in repeat offenses. Statistics compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) show that about one third of all OUI arrests are repeat offenders. One third of the people driving drunk in your town have been arrested for OUI before.

Some of them were stopped and arrested soon after leaving the bar. Some of them drove badly enough to contribute to a crash between two other cars. Some of them struck and injured pedestrians. Some of them struck and killed pedestrians. Some of them were involved in crashes themselves. Some of them were injured. Some of them injured their passengers. Some of them were killed. Some of them killed their passengers. All of the people involved were doing what we all do every day of our lives – using our roadways. All of the people involved were someone’s friend, someone’s child, someone’s neighbor. All of the people involved could have been you.

We try to help our intoxicated friends by taking their keys because we are worried for their safety. Maybe we should start a campaign to take the keys from our sober friends, too. We should also take bicycles from our children. And ban lovers from strolling the sidewalks hand in hand. And forbid grandmothers from walking their grandchildren to the park. And outlaw jogging.

As long as there are people who drink and drive, everyone near the road is at risk.

We have a poster in the lobby of the police station that shows a crumpled car wrapped around the base of a big tree. The caption reads, “If you drive drunk, you’ll be lucky if it’s a cop that stops you.” Perhaps the caption should read, “If you use our roadways, you’ll be lucky to get home alive.”

Does that answer your question?


Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com



What Would You Say?


I have many pictures of family and friends on the wall inside my front door. I get obsessed with the arrangement. I’m constantly adding the most current or most flattering picture of the people I like to think about. But there is one picture that doesn’t change.

It’s a picture of a girl. Her long hair is fine and straggly. She’s wearing cut off shorts and a t-shirt. She’s reclining in a bean bag chair on the lawn with her legs spread apart in a decidedly unladylike pose. There’s a litter of four week old puppies sleeping on the ground between her ankles. She’s smiling as she holds one puppy up to the camera. She’s the picture of contentment. She’s completely indifferent to fashion or beauty. She’s happy, and secure, and unencumbered. She’s a treasure. She’s a souvenir.

She’s me on my tenth birthday.

She’s the me who used to make sentences with her alphabet cereal. The one who always shared her Hershey bar with the big Labrador from down the street. The one who could down a bottle of Orange Crush without taking a breath. The one who thought that lying in bed listening to a summer thunderstorm was as exhilarating as a roller coaster. She’s the little girl who finally got brave enough to tear the tag off her pillow, who always had a book nearby, who brought salamanders home in her pocket, who raced motorcycles on the weekends, and who cried every time she read Bambi. The one who insisted that she’d attend Harvard, and who knew she could throw a ball further than the boys, and who was careful not to step on ant hills. She’s the daredevil, the giggler, the shy one, the brat. She used to be me.

I keep that picture because it’s a reminder of my beginnings. In that little girl’s eyes are the dreams that propelled me, the ideals that guided me, and the foundation that grounded me. She stays up on the wall because she’s my soul. She stays up on the wall because I’m afraid of losing sight of her. That little girl stays up on my wall because I can’t see her in the mirror – not even if I squint. She’s my hero. I think the world of that girl. Sometimes I wonder what she’d think of me.

If I were to take that ten year old out to lunch, what would she say?

She’d be happy that I am independent and able to fend for myself but she’d be disappointed that I’m not able to beat the boys at all of their games. She’d be glad that I pet every dog that I see. She’d wonder why I don’t sleep outside or walk in the woods for hours and hours. She’d be surprised that I haven’t memorized all of the constellations. She’d be pleased that I am a vegetarian. She’d be amused by the number of dresses in my closet and by the one pair of heels next to my cowboy boots. She’d be amazed that there are no college diplomas hanging next to the mementos of my adventures – but she’d be impressed by the adventures.

She’d offer me one of her stuffed animals because she’d think I don’t have enough. She’d encourage me to get up earlier and stay up later. She’d invite me to climb trees, and watch sunsets and build snowmen. She’d expect me to laugh more, and tell me stories or tickle me until I did. She’d like my big, high bed and my classical CD’s. She’d tell me that she wants to hike the Appalachian Trail and join the Peace Corps and run a marathon. She’d be envious that I went for a walk with a guide dog, lived in New York City, looked into the Grand Canyon, performed CPR on puppies, made friends with people from Europe, and actually saw Madame Butterfly. She’d laugh at my car and tell me to get a Jeep or a motorcycle.

We’d talk about what a great movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is and about how Tolkien’s trilogy is the best reading ever. She’d be concerned that I don’t spend enough time with my dogs but thrilled that I remember Hamlet’s soliloquy, and Frodo’s quest, and Snoopy’s favorite foods, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s mission, and all the American Kennel Club breeds, and Hawkeye, and how to bake chocolate chip cookies, and how to make moccasins. She’d be glad that I’m friends with my mom.

She’d be surprised that I am not a doctor or a teacher but impressed that I do something that girls don’t normally do. She’d think I’m stupid for forgetting that there’s always a new experience only a minute away. She’d wish that I remembered how to say “no” when I really don’t want to play. She’d worry that I waste too much time doing household chores. She wouldn’t understand why I think about work so much. She’d tell me to concentrate on moments instead of days. She’d wonder why I don’t spend time doing nothing. She’d ask why I don’t read more. She’d think that I act old. She’d ask if I’m happy.

And what would I say?

What would you say?



Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com




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Proof That I Exist



I’m impressed more by facts than by philosophy. I prefer evidence, not theory. I like things that I can prove - me, for instance. I can prove that I exist. I have a birth certificate, photographs, a copy of Alice in Wonderland that I wrote my name in when I was eight, and bank statements. If those aren’t enough, I have a fail-safe, people who will insist on identifying a lifeless body if I stop paying my bills. And my dog, Ripley, exists. I can smell her fur and touch her body and scoop up what she leaves in the back yard. There’s another fail-safe, the garbage can in the back yard that houses Ripley’s, um, leftovers. Proof, any kind of proof, even that kind of fragrant proof, makes me feel safe.

Unfortunately, some things can’t be proven. No one can prove that dogs don’t have souls. No one can prove that my brother has ever read a book. And no one can prove that pain exists. I can prove that everyone at the pharmacy knows me by my first name but not that I have pain. I can prove that I stay in bed for hours and hours but not that I have pain.

I can prove that I continually feel tired and drained but not that I have pain. I can prove that I often function with the animation of a cooked noodle but not that I have pain. People commiserate by comparing their own stories of current or past pain. Those are the people who haven’t experienced pain long enough to know that it is deeply personal. Pain can be shared but not compared. A broken arm feels different to everyone, physically and emotionally. And it’s the emotional aspect of pain that matters. Our bodies deal with physical pain mechanically, somewhat uniformly. When we drag our psyches and emotions into the fray, it gets ugly. The pain that kept you off the softball field for one season doesn’t translate to the pain that has sidelined my life. You’re in the Emergency Room facing traction and a few months of inconvenience. I’m in Room 101, facing my most dreaded fear and a life that doesn’t come close to resembling the one I loved.

Classifying the pain is just as difficult as proving it. Someone made a pain scale with smiley faces. Even worse, someone gave me the pain scale with the smiley faces. I guess it works with kids, or with people who don’t speak the same language as the doctor. But then, how many of us ever do speak the language of our doctor? I’m not suggesting that doctors aren’t people like us. I just think there are some things that go on in med school, things that we don’t want to know about, that alter their perceptions. I have found a use for the smiley faces though; I throw darts at them. If I can throw a dart and hit the bright and cheery smiley face, then that’s my level of pain. If I can throw a dart and hit the scale itself, it’s time for Advil. If I can pick up the dart but not throw it, Tramadol. If I can’t pick up the dart, Vicodin. If I can’t concentrate long enough to find the dart, Oxycontin. If I can’t find the Oxycontin, I cry.

It amazes me how quickly pain turns into depression, how quickly I become an observer rather than a participant in life. It feels like everything is painted gray, like I’m in the midst of a black and white movie, standing still while the action continues around me. My focus narrows dramatically. Time drags. I become a different person, a self-centered person who wields a knife. Ripley gets slashed with the sharp end of my emotions when I have bursts of anger or sadness. My family and friends get pummeled with the blunt hilt when I don’t answer the phone or can’t have a civilized conversation.

But it also amazes me that there’s nothing more grounding than unrelenting pain. When I have to walk more slowly, I see more flowers and dragon flies. When I lie in bed, I get to snuggle with Ripley. If I can’t take my friend Brady to the park, I get to see his delight when he licks the bowl after we make cookies. When I can’t work every day, I appreciate my job and coworkers more. I’ve even been able to add to my list of things that make me happy. Now, in addition to puppies and snowfall and children laughing, I’ve learned to value simple things like inexpensive narcotics, flexible ice packs, and drugs that don’t make me constipated. And I have a new career path. My doctor suggested finding a job that requires no lifting over ten pounds, no prolonged standing, sitting, or walking, and no repetitive twisting, bending, or kneeling. I understand Nevada has legalized a job that fits that description.

I shouldn’t complain. As it happens, it only hurts when I laugh, speak, sit, walk, stand, or lie down. And my life is full and varied. There are annoying days when I can’t remember how to adjust the volume on my car radio, ditzy days when you can hear the ocean if you stand close to me, drugged days when the squirrels out back are singing Barry Manilow songs, in key, and many successful days when I manage to stay alive despite the breathtaking incompetence that comes in the grip of chronic pain.

Prove that the pain exists? I can’t do it. But I can prove that the sun is warm on my face. I can prove that life is what you make it. And I can prove that I have friends to help me deal with it; friends who often ask, “Is there something I can get for you?” I always answer, “Yes, something tall, fit, well-educated and sensitive who gives a good massage.” After all, I don’t want to end up being the quiet neighbor who always kept to herself.


Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com





The Perfect Pearl Earrings



When my Ex-with-a-capital-E moved out after sixteen years, I packed all the jewelry he’d ever given me into his moving van. We’d been together since I was 19 so that left me with a few silver earrings, a Snoopy pendant, and some beaded necklaces. As he drove away with my birthday and Christmas and just-because-I-love-you keepsakes, I decided that I would buy my own jewelry from that point on. I wasn’t going to wait for a man to adorn me with trinkets. Instead, to rationalize the expense, I was going to wait for a man to disappoint me so I could adorn myself. I had no idea how quickly my jewelry box would fill up!

My first purchase was a few months after The-End-Of-Sixteen-Years. It was a big one. It had to be. Sixteen years culminates in a big disappointment. So, I splurged on a white gold necklace with a dangling pearl – in Paris. On My-First-Christmas-Without-Him, I bought a pair of white gold and diamond earrings. I threw in a silver brooch just to be sure. You only live once. Besides, I knew I was too old to count on another sixteen year relationship ending in disaster so I figured I was entitled.

My distress on My-First-Birthday-Without-Him turned into a cute gold and silver watch. In the months that followed, I allowed a lot of moments of disappointment to slip by without observing protocol because I thought they would continue long enough for me to find a fantastic ring. An unexpected epiphany propelled me forward along the grief time line. Before I knew it, I had reached the I-Wouldn’t-Take-Him-Back-If-He-Came-Crawling-On-His-Hands-And-Knees-With-A-Million-Dollars-And-A-Single-Long-Stemmed-Rose-With-The-Thorns-Still-Attached-In-His-Teeth stage. The sudden feeling of forgiveness caught me off guard but I recovered admirably. I quickly bundled any and all remaining disappointment into my fist. I traded it for a gold and ruby bracelet.

Oh, there were trickles of frustration here and there because I saw him at work every day but since it wasn’t outright disappointment, I couldn’t justify any purchases. I controlled those spells with Belgian chocolate. On My-Second-Christmas-Without-Him, he reduced my willpower to rubble by giving me a present. I was so angry at myself for crying that I shunned the cases of expensive jewelry and bought a pewter heart the size of my thumbnail. I carried it in my pocket for a long time. It was a symbolic attempt to keep my heart out of harm’s way.

My-First-Date after my Ex-with-a-capital-E made me feel very special. He awakened some things that had been dormant, some nice things. And he made me smile. I gave him my pocket heart because I didn’t need it anymore. I was ready to take a chance at being vulnerable, and being disappointed. I didn’t have to wait long. Four weeks later when he hadn’t called for a second date, I bought a really great sapphire ring. Not long after, Mr-No-Call surprised me with an invitation. I kept the ring. I’m not stupid. I’d been disappointed for only a short time but it was long enough to size a ring so I deserved to keep it. Mr-No-Call impersonated Prince Charming long enough for me to be disappointed again when my phone stopped ringing. Since it wasn’t entirely unexpected, I was able to exercise a little self-control. The charming little necklace I bought is silver. As an inside joke, I chose one with a heart much like the pocket heart I’d given him but I display this one where everyone can see it.

I’ve been asked for my phone number twice in the past month but they haven’t called. Together, those disappointments were just enough for a small gold and silver ring twisted into the symbol for infinity. Infinity is a long time - time for a lot of disappointments and quite a bit of precious metals. That can’t be a bad thing.

I figure the day will come when a man will ask me out and I will survey my fingers and wrists to see if I need any more disappointments, er, jewelry. Until that day comes, I’m keeping my eyes open for the perfect guy, and the perfect pearl earrings.


Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com






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French Tutor


My French tutor has a cold nose. She also has four legs and a tail. It's actually a stub with a tiny bald spot at the end but it conveys her moods as well as any conventional tail and is more knick-knack friendly.

Her name is Ripley. She's a Giant Schnauzer. “Giant” being the operative word. A point I tried to drive home to Fernando the cat on the day Ripley arrived. The cat ignored my instructions to wage psychological war on Ripley while he still had a chance to make an impression. But she was a cute little bundle of black fur with adorable brown eyes! How could he swat something smaller than him? Regret was written on his face when she doubled in size and weight after two weeks and decided to use him for a soccer ball. Apparently, hind sight is 20/20 even when you're a cat.

I had pick of the litter so I put the girls through a series of puppy tests. I wanted the dominant female. It turns out that I'm much better at testing puppies than I thought. By the time she was eight weeks old, Ripley displayed a dizzying variety of dominant behavior. She growled over toys and food, she stepped on my toes, she leaned against me - and pushed, she stood between me and any food I'd set on the coffee table. She came when she was called but never in a straight line. She even lifted her leg to declare that the trees in the yard were hers. And when she realized that only I was allowed on my bed, she quietly removed herself to the living room to sleep alone. She was not willing to play second fiddle to anyone. She was stubborn, strong willed and hard headed. My mother's wishes had come true - I had a child just like me.

It was obvious that she thought a lot about how to unsettle the pack leader and claim the throne for herself. She wasted little time chewing furniture, peeing on the rug or whining at night. She spent a lot of time refusing to be rolled onto her back, getting onto the couch and chasing the cat, my cat -in other words, using my toys without my permission. My older dog, Kevvie, who happens to be Ripley's aunt, was a plaything, too. Albeit, a plaything with teeth and a short temper around midget upstarts who repay the boss' kindness with disrespect. Sometimes I broke up dog fights but most of the time Kevvie enjoyed a sort of anonymity. Ripley wasn't concerned with Kevvie. Kevvie wasn't the boss.

When Ripley was 1½, I took a crash course in French. Two weeks in Montreal made me dangerous. Dangerous enough to put a few words together to make a sentence. Dangerous enough that anyone who spoke French didn't want to hear me butchering their language. That's where Ripley comes in.

I don't know if it's because she missed me (yeah, right) or because she was a French dog in a former life but Ripley loved to hear me trying to speak French. Her stub would wag, her ears would lift and she would smile. So, I started practicing French with Ripley. She never laughed at my pronunciation or ridiculed my grammatical errors. She'd never cared what was on my mind when I spoke English, but she was always interested in what I had to say in French. It made learning fun. For both of us.

We practiced obedience commands in French. We discussed the meaning of life. We exchanged sweet nothings - I in French, she with her stub. The breakthrough came when I found her on her back with her legs splayed and playfully asked, "Est-ce que tu fais le morte?" (“Are you making the death?”). She grinned a big dog grin and wagged her stub so hard it could have whipped eggs for a soufflé. I took advantage of her mood to rub her belly, something she rarely tolerated. A few minutes later, when she'd regained her composure (and her attitude), I said, "I liked you better when you were dead." And added, “Why don't you ‘fais le morte’?" I was shocked when she instantly fell to the floor and rolled onto her back, splaying her legs and wagging furiously! She'd taught herself a trick and, in the meantime, allowed herself to be subservient to me without compromising her ethics. It was the beginning of a better relationship - and of household harmony.

My French has improved and so has Ripley’s temperament. We occasionally have spats over territory and household rules but I think she's just trying to hang onto her childhood, sa enfance. We hadn’t realized that we were speaking different languages until we learned a new one together. It made us closer. It's amazing what adjusting the lines of communication can do!

The discovery of Ripley’s true self, her inner tutor, has resulted in real learning experiences. Practical French and practical relationships. Too bad it’s costing me a fortune in baguettes and Roquefort! I hope she doesn’t learn to like wine.


Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com






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A Clean House

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I took a test on the Internet that calculated my risk factors and estimated my mortality. According to TheSpark.com, I will die on March 22, 2028, thirty days before my 64th birthday. Sixty-four seems a little young. My Mom will be sixty-four this year and she’s still going strong. Her eyesight isn’t what it used to be but I can handle fading vision. I’d rather be blind at sixty-four than dead.

Facing the bleak reality of an almost imminent death, I tried to plan my remaining twenty-four years. Should I begin connecting with all the people I hurt or disappointed? Should I confront all the people who hurt or disappointed me? Should I climb Mount Everest? Or maybe just try to get fit enough to climb Mount Everest? There are so many things to do, and so little time to do them. There are so many goals, so many dreams. The stress from trying to decide how to best use my time almost killed me, twenty-four years and one week prematurely.

My mementos and photos all told me the same thing, “Been there, done that.” Yet, I knew there was something unfinished, some task I was meant to do before I die, some scared mission. It came to me as I knelt on my kitchen floor. I wasn’t praying; I was cleaning the Chai syrup that Zoloft knocked off the counter so she and Ripley could finger paint. Amidst the mayhem of dog and cat footprints, I had a vision. I saw my mission clearly.

Just once, in my lifetime, in my meager 64 years, I wanted a clean house.

Oh, I’ve had a regular, everyday clean house; the kind of clean house that results from careful lighting, clever disguising, and maniacal hiding. I’ve had the kind of clean house that requires a gallon of Fabreze or a dozen scented candles placed as strategically as a S.W.A.T team. This time I wanted a house that would meet Nurse Ratched’s standards. I just had no idea how to get there.

My childhood room was a “disaster area”. Cleaning it meant shoveling everything under the bed. The sofa bed I bought for my first apartment didn’t have any space under it. Physics prevented me from folding it up with too much junk inside so I piled things in the closets. When all my dishes were dirty, I’d clean the bathtub so I could do the dishes in there. I learned some housekeeping basics in my late twenties. Now, to my mother’s surprise, I fold and hang my clothes, wash the dishes in the sink, make my bed, and put my toys away. Still, the house is never completely clean. How could it be? A glass sits in the sink. The clean laundry is in the dryer. The dog tracked mud on the floor. Life goes on.

But life doesn’t go on forever. After all, mine will stop on March 22, 2028. So, on Sunday, I hit the “pause” button. Life inside my house stopped. I took Ripley to the kennel. Zoloft saw the vacuum and disappeared. I bought every cleaning agent known to mankind, donned a sweat suit, rolled up my sleeves, and went to work. I opened the windows and welcomed the crisp winter air. I moved furniture and polished floors with lemony-fresh oil. I rolled the refrigerator away from the wall and poured straight bleach on whatever that stuff on the floor was. I scrubbed until Mr. Clean gave me a thumbs up, just like in the commercial. The vacuum and I became one. It was a magic time.

By 9pm, I was standing in my kitchen wearing nothing but a smile. Every article of clothing was clean and put away. All the garbage pails were clad in virgin trash bags. The recycling boxes were empty. My curtains were pristine. My bathrooms were radiant. There were no blown-out light bulbs, no disorganized closets, and no expired food in the fridge. My windows and mirrors were sparkling. Not a speck of cat litter was soiled. There were no unfinished Solitaire games on my desktop. My answering machine, and my cell phone voice mail, were empty. My house was clean. It was a magic moment.

But then I started to shiver. I realized that the fresh winter breeze was not good for my bare skin. I realized that the normal soft buffer of pet hair was no longer between my feet and the cold tile. I realized that all the new light bulbs made it possible for my unlucky neighbors to see my naked body through my open windows. I ran to my bedroom, hitting light switches as I went, and snuggled into my bed. I fell asleep quickly, eager to wake in the morning to a perfect house.

Instead, I woke to a smelly litter box, an overturned houseplant, and cat hair on the sofa.

But, on March 21, 2028, I will be able to look in the mirror and smile, knowing that, many years earlier, I had a clean house.



Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com







Ein Weihnachtsgeschenk: Bekenntnisse einer Polizistin

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Liebe Mitbürger, Nachbarn, Freunde und Familie, mein Name ist Jill und ich bin Polizistin.

Das bedeutet, dass die Höhen wie auch die Tiefen meines Privatlebens oft von meinem Beruf mit beeinflusst werden.

Ich bedauere diese Vermischung, verwechsle jedoch mein Dasein selbst oft genug mit meinem Job, genauso wie ihr es auch tut.

Der Stempel „Polizist“ erzeugt ein falsches Bild davon, wer ich wirklich bin. Manchmal fühle ich mich, als schwebte ich zwischen zwei Welten. Meine Arbeit besteht nicht nur daraus, Freund und Helfer zu sein. Sie stellt den Puffer zwischen der Welt dar, wie Du sie kennst und der Welt, wie sie wirklich ist.

Mein Beruf ist nicht wie im Fernsehen. Die aufregenden Momente sind unregelmäßiger und viel plastischer. Es ist keinesfalls ein tolles Gefühl, eine Waffe auf jemanden zu richten. Blutlachen haben einen ekelerregenden metallischen Geruch und dampfen leicht, wenn die Temperaturen niedrig genug sind.

Herzlungenwiederbelebung ist kein Wunder aus der Tüte, und die Rippen einer alten Frau brechen zu hören während ich verzweifelt versuche, ihr Herz am Schlagen zu halten ist überhaupt nicht lustig.

Deine Neugier bezüglich meiner Arbeit schmeichelt mir nicht und ich führe auch kein Buch darüber, was am erschreckendsten, am seltsamsten, am blutigsten oder auch nur am lustigsten war.

Ich erzähle Dir nicht viel über meinen Arbeitstag weil ich die Bilder, die mich verfolgen, nicht mit Dir teilen möchte.

Aber ich möchte ein paar Bekenntnisse machen.

Ja, manchmal ist meine Anlage zu laut aufgedreht. Andrea Bocellis Stimme macht es mir einfach leichter, den toten Körper eines jungen Mannes zu vergessen, der alleine in einem angemieteten Raum starb, weil seine Eltern fürchteten, durch sein AIDS stigmatisiert zu werden.

Beethovens Neunte löscht die Erinnerung an die Krankenschwestern aus, die unter Tränen Schicht um Schicht den Dreck und Schleim von der Haut eines vernachlässigten Zweijährigen wuschen.

Der peitschende Rhythmus der Rolling Stones bestätigt mir, dass es nur pure Ignoranz gewesen sein kann, die die junge Mutter dazu brachte, Blut zu saugen als sie ihr kleines Kind in die Wange biss um ihm beizubringen, andere nicht zu beißen.

Manchmal gebe ich ein schlechtes Vorbild ab. Ich habe die Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung überschritten, weil ich Probleme hatte, vom Adrenalinschub runterzukommen, der mir durch die Adern schoss als ich feststellte, dass der Mann, dem ich während einer Drogenrazzia Handschellen anlegte, auf einer geladenen Pistole Kaliber 9mm x 19 saß.

Manchmal wirke ich unhöflich. Ich war abgelenkt und habe vergessen zu lächeln als Du mich im Laden begrüßt hast weil ich gerade an das ängstlich geflüsterte Geständnis eines Teenies denken musste, der seinen ertrinkenden Bruder von sich gestoßen hatte, um selbst überleben zu können.

Manchmal bin ich nicht so mitfühlend, wie Du es gerne hättest. Ich zerbreche mir nicht den Kopf darüber, dass Deine fünfzehnjährige Tochter mir einem Achtzehnjährigen ausgeht, weil ich gerade versucht habe, die Eltern eines jungen Mannes zu trösten, der sich selbst die Kehle aufgeschlitzt hat, während sie im Nebenzimmer schliefen.

Ich war am Telefon kurz angebunden, weil es mich gestört hat, die Last der Entscheidung zwischen zwei Menschenleben tragen zu müssen während ich auf einen bewaffneten Mann zielte der nicht aufhörte zu betteln, ich möge ihn doch bitte erschießen.

Ich lache, wenn ich sehe wie Du vor dem Chaos im Zimmer deines halbwüchsigen Kindes zurückschreckst, weil ich den Widerwillen kenne, der mich überkommt, wenn ich fühle wie das Blut eines Heroinsüchtigen langsam an meinem Arm in Richtung einer offenen Schnittwunde läuft.

Ich war still als Du über Deine überbehütende Mutter gejammert hast, weil ich Dir wirklich gerne davon erzählt hätte, wie ich heute mit einer Schulfreundin gesprochen habe. Ich hatte ihre Mutter zusammengesackt hinter dem Lenkrad ihres Autos in einer luftdicht verschlossenen Garage gefunden. Sie hatte ihre besten Kleider angezogen, bevor sie die Autoscheiben runtergekurbelt und den Motor angelassen hatte.

Andererseits scheine ich das Blut auf meiner Uniform gar nicht wahrzunehmen, genauso wie die Schimpfwörter, mit denen ich bedacht werde oder auch die hasserfüllten Leitartikel. Das liegt daran, dass ich mich nur zu gut an das erinnere, was ich in meinem Beruf gelernt habe.

Ich habe zum Beispiel gelernt, mir keine allzu großen Gedanken über Kleinigkeiten zu machen. Traubensaft auf dem hellbraunen Sofa und ein Welpenhäufchen auf dem Orientteppich bereiten mir kein Kopfzerbrechen weil ich weiß, wie sich arterielles Blut und verwesende Leichen auf die Inneneinrichtung auswirken können.

Ich habe gelernt, wann ich die Welt Welt sein lassen und mir aus Rücksicht auf mein geistiges Wohl eine Auszeit nehmen muss.

Ich habe den vierten Geburtstag Deiner Tochter sausen gelassen, weil ich über die sechs Kinder unter zehn Jahren nachdenken musste, deren Mutter sie unbeaufsichtigt zu Hause gelassen hatte, um mit einer Freundin auszugehen.

Als die Dreijährige dem Hund Milch aus ihrem Cornflakes-Schüsselchen anbieten wollte, griff der sie an und zerfleischte ihr den Kopf, so dass der Sandkasten blutgetränkt war. Die Geschwister des kleinen Mädchens mussten dem Hund den Kopf aus den Fängen reißen – zweimal!

Ich habe gelernt, dass ich von jedem etwas lernen kann.

Zwei Mütter in einem Fürsorgestreit lehrten mich, niemanden nur nach seinem Äußeren zu beurteilen.

Die minderjährige Mutter, die von Sozialleistungen lebte schaffte es, nicht vor ihrem verängstigten Kind zu weinen, während die gut angezogene Mutter aus der sozialen Oberschicht ein regelrechtes Tauziehen veranstaltete, bevor sie mit dem schreienden Kind auf dem Arm mitten in den fließenden Verkehr lief.

Ich habe gelernt, dass nichts, was von Herzen gegeben wurde, wirklich verloren ist. Eine Umarmung, ein Lächeln, ein paar mutmachende Worte oder auch nur ein aufmerksames Zuhören kann eine verletzte oder verzweifelte Person wieder zurück in die Realität bringen und hilft mir selbst, mich wieder zu fokussieren.

Und ich habe gelernt, nicht aufzugeben. Nie.

Dieser Sekundenbruchteil des Schreckens wenn ich glaube, dass ich schlussendlich doch auf denjenigen gestoßen bin, der jung und stark genug ist, mich zu überwältigen, hat mir gezeigt, dass es für mich nur eine Beschränkung gibt: meine eigene Sterblichkeit.

Eine Woche im Mai wurde als „Police Memorial Week“ festgelegt, eine Zeit, während der man der Polizisten gedenkt, die es nach Schichtende nicht mehr nach Hause geschafft haben.

Aber worauf warten? Nimm Dir einen Moment Zeit, einem Polizisten zu sagen, dass Du seine Arbeit wertschätzt.

Lächle und sage freundlich „Hallo“, wenn er sich mal einen Kaffee holt. Beiß Dir auf die Zunge, wenn Du im Restaurant eine Geschichte über die „böse Polizei“ erzählen willst.

Noch besser wäre es, wenn Du eine Geschichte über eine gute Erfahrung mit der Polizei reden würdest. Die Familie am Nachbartisch könnte eine Polizistenfamilie sein.

Nichts, das von Herzen gegeben wurde, ist wirklich verloren. Es wird in den Herzen derer aufbewahrt, die es empfangen haben. Es ist Weihnachten. Gib von Herzen. Gib den Polizisten ein bisschen was zurück dafür, dass sie ihr Leben tagtäglich für alle riskieren.

Jill Wragg ist pensionierte Polizistin.
Sie kann erreicht werden unter JKWragg@yahoo.com

Ins Deutsche von Benjamin Lehnert.




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