Friday, January 31, 2020

Preventing close encounters with coyotes

In recent weeks, stories made national news in which people had to fend off coyote attacks. You may also have seen photos on social media showing coyotes calmly wandering around urban locales. In unison with this, conservation commissions of various states have issued warnings.

As a high-level predator and Man share the same habitats I suppose there is always need for some caution. You can avoid conflicts with these common (yet rarely seen) canines by playing by the rules.
First and foremost is making sure they aren’t fed. Unintentional food sources attract coyotes. Wildlife officials suggest that you should not feed pets outside and you should make garbage and compost inaccessible to coyotes. All of that certainly makes sense, not only for keeping coyotes out of your yard, but other pesky animals as well, such as opossums and raccoons.

Coyotes are fearless when it comes to dining near the confines of Man. If you can catch online the 2014 episode of PBS’s “Nature” about the Eastern coyote you’ll be amazed at the overnight footage filmed with night vision in residential Toronto. Stealthy and otherwise undetected, the animals eat out of dog and cat dishes on front steps and sniff around garbage cans and bags.

That’s happening not only in the Big City but also out here in the rural landscape where those wild dogs are much more abundant. If I have a dusting of snow at home it shows that coyotes of various sizes traverse my lawn most every night.

Game officers also will also say you should not allow coyotes to approach you and you should appreciate them from a distance. If you see a coyote in your yard or on the trail, be aggressive in your behavior - stand tall, and hold arms out to look large. If a coyote lingers for too long, make loud noises, wave your arms, throw sticks and stones. It’s pretty much the same set of rules told to us regarding bear encounters.

I can attest to the DEC’s statements about movement and aggressiveness. A few years ago I was turkey hunting in Allegany County when a coyote zeroed in on my calling and thought I was a hen. It quickly and quietly appeared of nowhere, navigating the series of rises on the ridge behind me. I didn’t see or hear him until he was less than 10 feet away, coming in to get what he thought was an easy meal. He moved fast and was just a couple feet away by time I could react. I raised my arm to protect my neck and face and that was more than enough to deter him as he immediately bolted upon figuring out I was person.

But, being a loud, large and angry human doesn’t always work (although it does most of the time), as coyotes can have rabies, both from being a social animal and from feeding on common carriers of rabies. A few years back, a fearless coyote was seen a few times in the city of North Tonawanda. One morning, when I arrived at work, the coyote was in our driveway and couldn’t care less about my truck being alongside him. I purposely parked next to him and he never ran off. Two days and a few blocks later, the coyote bit a man who went to pet him thinking it was a small shepherd -- the third coyote bite in that city in 3 weeks. When police finally caught up with the coyote, it attempted to climb their cruiser before being shot. Of course, it tested positive for rabies.

Related to this, it is critical you spend some time online familiarizing your family with what a coyote looks like. You need to learn the difference between them and a “police dog” or German shepherd. But, don’t fall into the trap of thinking larger canines are not coyotes – many websites will say that coyotes top out at 45 pounds. They do out west where they are purebred. But, the coyotes here have wolf genes and can be large, anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds.

It’s also important to supervise all pets, especially outdoor ones, to keep them safe from coyotes and other wildlife, especially at night.

Small cats are especially vulnerable. That is something I know too well. In high school one of our favorite cats was out at night when a coyote killed her, only for the sake of killing her. The coyote didn’t eat the cat, it only eliminated a threat: Coyotes don’t want to co-exist with other carnivores that might be pursuing some of their favorite foods like mice.

Small dogs are also at risk of being harmed or killed when coyotes are being territorial during denning and pup-rearing. The DEC says small dogs should not be left unattended in backyards at night and should remain supervised.

There’s a lot to digest here and it’s certainly worthwhile to ponder as coyotes become more numerous and more brazen. Some people think that coyotes are moving into our domains, but one could argue that it was theirs to begin with. So, we need to understand these canine neighbors and approach these animals with respect – and a little common sense.

From the 03 February 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, January 24, 2020

Legislature considers mental health evaluations for gun purchases

When assessing mass shootings, especially those that have decimated schools, churches and public gatherings, people on both sides of the gun debate agree that serious mental issues should preclude someone from having access to firearms. In most of the high-profile incidents there existed a well-defined history of deep and troubling mental illness and actions.

Tools exist to ensure such individuals shouldn’t get their hands on guns. Most states have licensing procedures with handguns, there are waiting periods and we have background checks led by the FBI’s system.

But, those tools aren’t always used to the best of their abilities and potential. The federal system has allowed troubled souls to purchase firearms because of two issues: inadequacy of input and inadequacy of the FBI.

A database is only as good as the data it contains. The amount of info entered is a fraction of what it should be. Federal agencies, military, states, courts, local law enforcement, tribes and hospitals have to do a better job of sharing information within the system.

A database is also only as good as its usage. The FBI has in recent years been unprepared or overburdened and has let many background checks get a pass despite not actually being completed. For example, in 2018 there were 8.2 million checks but more than 200,000 were never fully realized.

There needs to be a concerted effort to update and transmit proper records. The FBI identified its flaws in a 2015 internal report but has hardly moved on them. Federal legislation and funding has attempted to fix the broken state/local reporting system but a majority of states remain weak in their policies and procedures and most don’t have penalties for failing to report findings.

So, the system exists, and it could be a good one, but state and federal officials have to flesh it out and add meat to the skeleton.

That should be the focus of lawmakers but here, in New York, it’s not.

Some want to reinvent the wheel – badly, at that – and develop an elaborate, intrusive and unconstitutional system that, rather than utilizing known records about troubled souls, would force all gun buyers into having a mental health evaluation before completing a sale.

Unlike the pistol permit which is your universal and allegedly lifelong ticket to buy because you went through one of the most stringent licensing processes in the nation, this bill would require a permit of sorts, done by a mental health check-up, not just once but prior to every purchase. Suppose you were new to the shooting sports and over the course of a year you bought a .22, a shotgun, and a larger-caliber rifle – you would have to see a psychologist every time.

To make this work, the State would require the Commissioner of Mental Health to establish a process for identifying which mental health professionals can complete the certifications, how it’s done and what assessments can deny a purchase.
That leads to a list of questions and concerns.

What exactly will be considered a potentially-deadly mental illness? The existing federal background checks identify what is a risk. Will the State’s assessment mirror that, or like this bill, will it be overkill and blacklist otherwise harmless illnesses -- and even world views -- that could be deemed unhealthy in bureaucrats’ eyes? 

Will first responders and military be denied their rights? Many firefighters, EMTs, police and active and retired armed forces suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because they’ve seen and/or experienced tragedies in volume that most of us never will just once in our lives. Some health professionals consider PTSD a gateway to other mental illnesses and an ailment that clouds judgment. It’s not a stretch to believe that it could land many on the watch list. 

How else will the findings be used? Once the State knows your mental status -- or what someone perceives it to be – will the information be shared with other agencies at the state and local level? Could the assumption of you being a threat, even if you’re not, be used against you if an issue went before family court or you went to see your kid at school?

Are there enough psychologists? Millions of guns are sold and transferred in New York every year. This past December alone nearly 33,000 federal background checks for weapons purchases were completed in the Empire State. There are nowhere near enough mental health professionals to conduct evaluations for every sale, let alone every gun owner on an individual basis. Look at the phone book to get a feel for that: Beyond government agencies there are few psychologists out there; both the Niagara Falls and Lockport phone books showed only two.     

Could a psychologist be held liable? My wife has a doctorate in psychology. She tells me most sociopaths will lie and put up fronts if interviewed. If that happens and a doctor gives the stamp of approval could he or she be held liable if someone passes the test and commits mass murder? You’re guaranteed lawyers will go that route.

Will this drive law-abiding citizens away from exercising their rights? This adds significant hassle and cost (at least $100 a session with a psychologist) to a simple purchase and assumes we are all guilty until proven innocent. This will discourage good people from buying firearms and continue to encourage bad people to get them in other ways. 

Obviously, this bill is a threat to not only the Second Amendment but to other rights as well. If this proposal concerns you -- it should -- reach out to your state official. The Senate bill is S07065 and the Assembly bill is A01589. The latter has a number of cosponsors, some of them heavy hitters like assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz, so it’s not as if support for it is lacking in Albany. We just have to make sure there’s more against it.

From the 27 January 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, January 20, 2020

Lamb of God sermon

Background: During the week of January 12th, 2020, Pastor Rodney Klinzing of Zion Lutheran Church had a heart attack. As he was on the mend, he asked me to do the sermon at the early, 8:00 AM, service at Zion on January 19th. My sermon for the church, which was founded by my great-great grandfather, focused on John 1:29-42 which is about the lamb of God and John's baptism of Jesus. Here's the transcript of my sermon....

As you know, Pastor Rod had a heart attack last week.

He needed two stents and spent a night in the ICU at Buffalo General. We’re blessed that he knew what was happening and that doctors could address it in a timely fashion.

He wanted to come back this week, but the doctors told him “no” ….and so did Janice.

It was imperative that he rest.

So, I told Janice that one of the best ways to make stubborn people rest is with a right hook.

She must have given him one…because he called me Thursday night to ask, “will you handle the sermon Sunday?”

No one in the right mind would ask me to do that.

But here I am.

Today’s sermon? We’ll give it a title of a “The lamb arrives…and so does a New Era.”

Once Rod told me what our scripture was this week I thought "Lamb. Delicious.”

It was fresh in my mind because I made lamb kebobs for our special New Year’s Eve dinner at home.

I’m sure that you either went out for dinner or stayed at home and made something really swell for New Year’s Eve.

Why do we do that?

Two reasons.

Reason One:

To say good-bye to the era that was. We savor the good but we wish away the bad things that happened in our lives.

Reason Two:

To welcome a new era. We get excited about what the future holds.

So, it’s fitting that I had lamb when I said “Goodbye 2019. Hello 2020.” because it mirrors what we’ve just read and how it impacts the universe as we know it.

Let’s go back and see how that New Era reflects our New Year celebration.

This is the first time we see adult Jesus in the New Testament.  Look at John’s exuberance.

He knows the man -- the son of God -- before him is newness, a brighter future. His excitement can be felt throughout the reading. It’s the same excitement you had looking at what 2020 will hold.

John said: “he forgives the sins of the world!”

That’s the same outlook we had on New Year’s Eve when the change in calendar forgave the sins or bad moments of 2019 and put them in the rear view mirror.

John’s analogy was spot-on, too: Jesus was the Passover lamb.

You might ask, “what’s a Passover lamb?”

Well, according to the Tora, which defines the rules of Judasim, each Jewish household had to sacrifice a lamb WITHOUT BLEMISH each year during the Feast of Passover.

It was killed on the evening of Passover and eaten the next night with herbs and matzo.

So, the Passover lamb was a perfect, clean lamb and a sacrificial lamb.

That’s what Jesus was in the hands of his father.

As we know through his teachings and of those who walked with him, Jesus was without sin. He was, like the Passover lamb, without blemish.

There are the stories of his trial in Wilderness and how he denied Satan’s wishes 3 times. There are stories of how he turned away riches and influence to stay with and protect the common man and even the uncommon man, the lowest of the low.

He was then sacrificed just as the lambs were.

It was said that butchering the Passover lamb was necessary as it would die in place of the First Born child during the 10th Plague of Egypt.

Jesus, like that lamb, then died in your place, and he died in a special way, for our sins.

Had he not, sin would have led to separation from God – and eternal death.

And, to round out this whole “Passover lamb” thing – when did Jesus die?

Some will say Passover, others say the last supper happened on Passover. Any way you put it, it’s when the lamb went to slaughter.

So, the title the “lamb of God” was incredibly fitting in so many ways-- and it stuck. That’s why even nonbelievers or irregular church goers know Jesus as such.

This got me thinking about the whole concept of Jesus as food.

This is the first time was see Jesus as an adult. He’s compared to a lamb that is eaten during the Passover feast.

The last time we see Jesus as a minister before becoming a prisoner is during the last supper. There, he offers bread and wine as his body and blood.

So, the entire Jesus ministry, the whole adventure of Jesus, is bookended with him being the embodiment of food.

He’s food for the soul.

That got my thoughts going back to my New Year’s Eve dinner, my lamb kebob.

What’s the critical part of New Years? Resolutions.

We resolve to be better people, in some way, shape or form.

We set goals.

For many of us, it’s focusing on better health.

What does that take?


And sometimes, a personal trainer.

And that’s what happened when Jesus appeared on the scene to be baptized and go down his chosen path of sacrifice.

He asked everyone to commit themselves to the wonders of his Father and the wonders of loving your fellow man and the wonders of eternal life.

But, he understood we couldn’t do it on our own.

We needed a spark. We needed a personal trainer for our souls.

He was it.

He motivated our spiritual exercise with parables, sermons, and actions.

He made sure mankind resolved itself to be better in a new era, just as we do in a new year.

So it’s important we follow his lead and put his teachings to use….to exercise our hearts and souls….

Let’s make sure his sacrifice was not put to waste.

He was our Passover Lamb.

Let’s enjoy the feast.