Chance Encounter

An odd thing happened today.  Marie and I were at the Friends Animal Shelter in Newport to assess a dog they have there.  While that is not a common occurrence, that is not the odd thing.  After we assessed the dog we were standing outside talking to a staffer.  I noticed an Audi pull up to the front gate of the facility, which was closed. A woman got out of the car, slipped through the gap in the gate and approached the front of the building, disappearing from my sight.  Audi’s are not common here, but someone entering this way is not in itself odd, we came through the closed gate as well.  So I paid it no mind: must be someone the staff knows.

A few moments later Carol, the facilities vet tech and person in charge that day, led the woman around the corner toward us.  The woman said, “Oh, are you Doug Bittinger?” but she said my name in a manner that caused me much confusion.  She said it as though it meant something: someone of importance that she was excited to meet.  What unfolded over the next few minutes was astounding.

A man joined us and it turned out these were Marcie and Bob D., who had adopted a dog named Drake almost 5 years ago (Oct 2014). We had fostered Drake.  But, they adopted him from Eleventh Hour Rescue in New Jersey.  What were they doing here in Newport TN?  That’s the astounding part.

They have since moved from their apartment in New Jersey to an acreage in Kentucky and were on their way to Asheville today.  As they drove, they saw a sign indicating that Newport was ahead and Marcie said, “I’m sure Newport is where Eli is from (Drake is now named Eli, after their son’s favorite football player), let’s see if we can find that shelter.”  So they pulled off the interstate and poked around until they found what was, 5 years ago, known as the Newport Animal Shelter.  And they just happened to arrive during the one moment of eternity that Marie and I also happened to be there.

I am not a statistician, but I’m pretty sure the odds of something like this just happening is astronomical!

We remember Drake because he was a particularly bright, well behaved dog, and because he was one of the few dogs who was adopted the same day he arrived at the facility Steele Away Home – Canine Foster and Rescue sent him to.  Marcie has kept in touch over the years by sending occasional photos and updates (something we really appreciate, by the way). They gave us the story behind his rapid adoption and caught us up on their lives and the ways Eli has enriched it. It was wonderful meeting them in person and hearing all about Eli’s new life in the country.

But I’m still marveling at the way our paths crossed, from such distances, at that one place, in that one moment, to form that experience.  God does work in mysterious ways!

Bob, Marcie, Marie



Sofa Sleeping

I’ve been sleeping on the sofa the past couple of nights because Lil Blue (a dog Marie and I rescued from a bad situation – ) NEEDS to be able to see someone all the time or he howls like a banshee and no one gets any sleep.

He is doing better already, but he does get anxious if I leave him for more than a couple of minutes.  And since we’ve already got 5 dogs sleeping in the bedroom with us, there is no room for one in a crate.  So I sleep on the sofa with Blue’s crate nearby.

Last night he only fussed at me twice, once at 11:30 and once around 3:00.  Both times he seemed to be in need so I took him outside.  He “produced” both times then went back to the door, into his crate, and back to sleep.

Blaze has only recently earned the privilege of free-range sleeping and has been reveling in being able to sack out on a cushy dog bed on my side of the people bed to sleep.  But last night my big brown buddy Blaze decided to forego sleeping in the air-conditioned comfort of the bedroom and curled up on the dog bed in the living room with Blue and me.  Blaze is such a lovey, dedicated fellow.  I love that boy!

So it is with mixed emotions that I read the Facebook post this morning that listed the dogs going on the next Steele Away Home rescue run and found Blazes name on the list – along with two others of my pack, Sable and Cinnamon.  I’m thrilled that Blaze will be going out to find his forever home, but I will miss him terribly.  He’s such a sweet boy.

But, this is how rescue works.  We save their lives, heal them, train them, then send them to live with someone else.  Sometimes that’s painful.  But far less painful than knowing we left them where they were to die.  In the end it is rewarding work, we just have to deal with the occasional heart ache when one steals our heart.  And before you ask, no I can’t adopt them all.  We’ve kept four.  But if we kept all of those to we absolutely fell in love with we’d have about 20 dogs (out of the 93 we have fostered at this point in time) and animal control would, no doubt, be out here pulling the dogs and calling us a “hoarding situation” because there is no way we can properly care for 20 dogs.

So we do our part, then let those loves go on to homes that can and do care for them very well.  And I take comfort in that.  Even if I am sleeping on the sofa for a while.


Drinking Coffee Through a Straw

Yesterday I was treated to a new experience. I tried flying. Unfortunately I had no wings and the landing was poor. Let me explain…

Luna the Large Lab

We have a foster dog named Luna, who is a Black Lab-Great Dane mix.  She’s almost 70 pounds now (will be 80 to 85 at proper body weight) and quite strong.  I’ve been taking Luna out of the yard and along the edges of the woods to cater to her “need” to potty in the underbrush. Someone (probably someone with children) has trained her not to defile the family play yard.  But the increasing number of Feral cats around here has made that problematic because her need to chase cats has smashed me into more than one tree as she takes off suddenly after spotting a fur-blur in the woods.

She spent Friday in her kennel because every time I took her out to potty she got distracted by tracking a cat and forgot why we were out there. Having done nothing towards emptying out made her dangerous to take in the house. Although she did nothing in her kennel, either: this girl can really hold it!  But she had to be getting uncomfortable.

Saturday I resolved that we would stay in the yard and she would learn to use that, like all the other dogs. Late in the morning I had her out on her 20 foot lead – believing that if I wasn’t hovering over her on a 6 foot lead, she’d be more likely to avail herself of the grass. We walked around and around the yard with no results. At one point we were standing on the walkway beside the house, looking out over the play yard and the other dogs playing in the yard.  Something (probably one of those Feral cats) aroused the attentions of the other dogs and they went charging across the yard to investigate.

Luna decided to join them.

Had I had her on a 6’ lead I’d probably have been able to stop that charge with nothing more than a painful jerk to my arm. But because she was on a 20 foot lead and I was unprepared, she hit the ground running and had both traction and momentum on her side. She jerked me clean off the walkway, I went heels over head crashing to the slope below the walkway, landing on my right shoulder and the back of my neck. I did at least one complete rolling somersault down that slope before thinking to flatten out to stop that roll. Had I not thought to do that I might have continued rolling down the slope like an old tire.  I came to rest flat on my back about 25 feet from my starting position, Luna still trying to tow me out into the yard.

I laid there for a few moments, unable to move at first, then slowly, carefully wiggled things to be sure all the parts were still connected and nothing was broken. There was a good deal of pain, but everything seemed to be in working order, so I slowly got to my feet and put Luna in her kennel.

My right shoulder and neck hurt A LOT, and continued to do so that whole day. In fact I could not move the shoulder of my coffee drinking arm at all without intense pain. Everything I did the rest of the day was done via elbow and wrist alone.

Normally day two and day three of an injury are actually MORE painful than day one, so I was not looking forward to Sunday. But, probably because I launched into an aggressive campaign of anti-inflammatory pain killers immediately after the injury, I’m actually feeling better this morning. I am able to get my arm up on my desk to type, at least. So I think I’m going to be okay. And I am really grateful that I didn’t land any more on my neck than I did, because that could have resulted in life altering injury. They say God watches over saints and fools, so “Thank you God for watching out for this old fool.”

Oh, and Luna and I wandered the yard (on a SHORT lead) for a looong time last night, with her going from gate, to gate, to gate, until she finally relented and “did her business” in the yard. There is hope I’ll get that penchant worked out of her yet.


Vitascope Donation Box

The Liberty Church Arts Fellowship (LCAF) is a fund that pays for a number if artistic entertainment venues each year.  Among them is a professional grade short film.  Last year I was privileged to work on the crew of that film (Special Election) and enjoyed the experience.  Special Election won an Excellence Award at the Faith Based Film Festival in Atlanta Georgia last month.

The annual banquet and auction which is the main fundraiser for the LCAF is coming up and Marie came up with a clever idea for a donation box, themed to the short film project.

We presented it to church Pastor and film Producer today and we was quite taken with it.

Want to know more about the LCAF film project?

That’s Riveting

We use a spring clip device to attach our PMFC dog tags to foster dog’s collars so it’s easy to remove the tag when we deliver the dog to transport, so we can let the dog keep the collar.  But if I attach the tag to the clip with an S hook, the whole assembly gets to be awfully long and dangly.  This is bothersome to the dog and a tempting target for other dogs when they’re playing.  I lose a lot of tags that way, and they’re kind of pricey.

While cleaning out a drawer in my workshop I came across my old pop rivet tool and decided to try riveting the tag straight to the spring clip (as shown).  The result was about 30% reduction in overall length, and because the aluminum tag is sandwiched tightly between the steel clip and a steel washer, it is less likely to be torn loose during play with another dog.

But I don’t have many rivets of that size left, so I added “pop rivets” to my shopping list for Saturday.

Then I saw the price on the box of the tool I have.  I wonder how old that tool is!  I can’t say I’ve seen a pop riveter in the hardware stores lately.  I wonder if they still make pop rivets.

Curiosity just got the better of me and I searched the Ace Hardware web site (The store I plan to shop at on Saturday) for pop rivets – no result found.  I went into Amazon (because Amazon has EVERYTHING) and did a search for pop rivets.  I got a listing of riveted dog collars, shoes, and bracelets.  No fastenings.  I tried Lowe’s web site and found a snazzier version of the tool I have and an assortment of rivets.  So they’re still available, I’m just limited on my sources.  And a box of 100 rivets alone costs twice what my whole kit cost when I got it.  But I guess that’s just the way things are.  What can ya do?

Totin’ Tools

When I was a child I had a tool box.  It was just a cheap plastic box containing a pair of pliers, a couple of screw drivers and a light-weight hammer.  All real tools passed along by my Dad so I could help “fix things” around the house.  But it was my very own tool box and I was proud of it.  As I grew older, my tool collection expanded and I got a proper metal tool box for them.

When I grew to manhood I set my sights on sailing around the world in a 28 foot long Bristol Channel Cutter, earning my way by doing woodworking and writing about my adventures.  My tool box became an oilskin tool roll, about the size of a duffel bag,  and a knock-down work bench.  I practiced my woodworking by building furniture in the yard using just these hand tools.

But then I became infatuated with a young woman who had no intention of bobbing around the world in a boat.  She wanted a grand home filled with fine furnishings, and carpet, and air conditioning.  So I sold the boat and built a wood shop.

In this shop, tools were neatly laid out in labeled drawers or hung in cabinets.  For many decades that’s how I worked.  I rarely did any “in the field” work, so my tools did not need to be portable.  I upgraded through four different workshops, but never made my tool collection mobile.

When I’d do work around the home or property, I’d put the tools I needed in a box or bag.  And I tended to lay them down where I was and have to look for them when I need that tool again.  At the end of the day I had to take inventory and be sure I’d recovered all my tools before I headed in for the night.

When I retired and closed the wood shop, I kept all my tools.  With more time on my hands, I started doing things for friends and neighbors, and it became clear that tossing what I thought I’d need in a cardboard box when heading off to a job was not going to be sufficient in the long term.  So I bought a good tool chest.  Now my most commonly used tools were portable: hoist the chest into the truck and I’d have most anything I’d need.

When working on something outside, I could tote the chest out there and set it someplace convenient to where I was working.  Still, to juggle multiple tools I ended up poking things into pants pockets or laying them down and having trouble finding them again.

I recently began work on a major upgrade to our dog kennels.  In planning for this job I also applied a measuring eye to the logistics of tool management.  I would likely find myself up on a roof, and running around a construction site doing things.  Snagging tools from my tool chest may not be convenient if I have to go down a ladder to get the tool I need, and moving around with my pockets stuffed with pliers, wrenches, and a hammer would be unwieldy as well.  So I splurged and bought some proper “workman” accessories.

One is this tool pouch.  It hangs on a belt and offers multiple pockets for various pliers type tools or a multi-tip screwdriver as well as loops for a socket wrench, pencil/marker, and a clip for a tape measure.

I must admit it took a while for me to learn to use this … the habit of just laying a tool down when I was done with it for a moment (and needed to use that hand for something else) was ingrained.  But once I retrained myself I am now able to keep my tools at the ready.  As the tasks change I go to the tool chest to swap out the tools in the pouch.

I also bought a holster for my cordless drill that has small storage pockets for various bits and drivers I may be needing.  Using an Insty Bit chuck, bits, and drivers makes swapping one for another really quick.  I also got a couple of nail/screw pouches and a padded work belt to hang them all on.  Unfortunately, only the drill holster really fits on the padded belt, the others need to hang off a standard leather belt.

But it’s all good.  I may look like a lineman stumping around with 30 pounds of tools and supplies hung around my waist, but I’m really feeling efficient.  And even if it’s just the tool pouch I’m using, it makes these outside projects so much less frustrating because the tool I need is always right where I can find it when I need it.  No more, “Argh!  Where did I put it down THIS time?”

These new dog kennels were a MAJOR undertaking for me.  Having the proper tool accessories (and helpful friends for volunteer labor) was a big help. More Info

Creating A Berry Trellis From Reclaimed Material

We had a right pleasant day today.  Morristown (about 20 miles down the road from us) is flooded, but I have no idea where the rain came from.  It was sunny all day here.  And unseasonably warm: there is a rumor about that we set a record for high temperature in February for our area.  We’ve had a couple of similar days this week, so it seemed a good opportunity to do some work in the garden.  This week my main yard-work task was to erect a set of trellises on which to grow berries.

I have boysenberries, blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries established and producing.  I also have blueberries and strawberries but they don’t require trellises.

The trellis for the boysenberries is the separate unit on the left end of the photo. For the two previous years I’d used four tomato cages in a row as the trellis here – that did not work well.  Boysenberries are viciously thorny and having to reach inside a bush that covers both sides of the bulky trellis tended to leave my arm torn and bloody.  And I let the canes get out of hand and they got all twisted up and tangled together.  It’s hard to prune out the old canes when they are like that.

Thornless blackberries are along the long leg of the L and black raspberries on the short leg. Blueberry bushes are in the box on the far side of this grouping.  Red raspberries are in a separate row on the right hand edge of the photo.  They already have a trellis I made from steel fence posts and wire mesh fencing.  It’s ugly but it works.

For this one I used T posts, which I had, and 1 3/8” fence rails, which I had, and some multi-strand wire, which I had, so all I bought was  6 rail end clamps, 6 eye bolts, and a small spool of 17 gauge galvanized steel wire (because I didn’t have enough multi-strand wire to do the whole thing).  Less than $20 cash outlay for this project.  All the rest of the materials were salvaged from past projects – not all of them my own.  I’m such a scrounger.

The fence rails were rusty in spots, so I sanded those and hit them with a coat of silver Rustoleum spray paint (which I had on hand).  That won’t stop rust, but it will slow it down and make it look nicer for a while.

In the past, the blackberries grew on a length of wire mesh fencing hung on three wooden posts.  A wooden beam across these supported PVC hoops, which supported bird netting to form my Berry House.  But two of those posts rotted off, as did the support beam.  So I dismantled that last fall and pruned the berry canes back over the winter.

With construction complete I took a break, then went back out to tie up the berry canes to the wires with hemp twine.  Where I had clumps of canes that would be too dense, I cut out the older ones – probably bore fruit last year anyway and will not bear again.  This is kind of a start-over scenario since I pretty much let it go wild last year.  This year I need to be more diligent in my vine husbandry.

I do not, at this point, have plans to erect a structure for bird netting again.  The PVC was too flimsy (snow on the netting collapsed it, crushing the blueberries.  Who’d a thunk that snow would build up on bird netting!) and I’m not sure I want to go to the trouble of building one out or treated wood.  It did not seem that the birds were attacking my berry house, so it may not be needed.  We’ll see,  for now the trellises will give me the chance to start over and keep things properly pruned for a better yield.

Ground-shaking News

In the news feeds this morning is a report of another earthquake here in East Tennessee.  This time a 3.0 magnitude quake centered in Knoxville.  That’s not far from us.  I didn’t feel anything, but it gets me to wondering about the frequent earthquake reports I’ve been seeing:  is Tennessee about to tear itself to pieces or is this normal and we just haven’t noticed it before?   Let’s ask the experts. says East Tennessee has had: (Mag. 1.5 or greater) Continue reading “Ground-shaking News”


Have you ever noticed how sometimes even simple tasks can snowball out of control with complications?  I was taking something to my workshop and I noticed that the right-front tire on my pick-up truck looked low on air pressure.  I made a note to check that when I was done with what I was doing at the time.

When I got to it I took an air pressure gauge out of the truck glove box and checked the tire pressure.  22 pounds: yep, that’s low.  I checked what I could see of the tire to see if I could find any damage or foreign objects embedded in the tire and found nothing obvious.

I have an air compressor.  It’s not a great compressor: it’s probably an antique, although I recently bought a new hose for it because the old one dry rotted and crumbled, but it will fill up a car tire.  Eventually. Continue reading “Complications”

Canine Street Gangs

Yesterday evening I heard what sounded like a small pack of coyotes moving through the area, yapping and cutting up like a canine street gang making their presence known and threatening to hurt anyone who got in their way.

When I let my dogs out for their bed time potty run I made sure all the floodlights were on and I went out with them carrying a strong flashlight.  I hoped that lights and a human presence would be enough deterrent if, indeed, one or more coyotes were in the immediate area.  My yard is fenced, but most fences mean little to coyotes.

Later, as I was sitting in bed reading, I heard a single blast of what sounded like a shot gun.  Very near by.  Then it got real quiet. I was cautious again this morning, but it sounded like that pack of punks learned a little respect for humanity.

Is This Even Possible?

Is it possible that coyotes are in our area?  We’ve not had them before.

Oh yes!  I know people who have personally told me of their own encounters with coyotes.  These people live along O’Neil Road: just to the north west of us, and in Bridgeport: just to the north east of us.  My neighbor says he saw one walking up our driveway towards the woods one morning a while back.  So, yes: this is a real threat and a grave concern to me.

Dealing With Coyotes

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, this is how to deal with coyotes:

  • Do not feed coyotes!!  When coyotes begin associating humans with food they loose their natural fears and may become dangerous.
  • Eliminate water sources.  These areas attract rodents, birds, and snakes which the coyote will prey upon.
  • Position bird feeders so coyotes can not get to the feed.  Coyotes may also be attracted to birds and small mammals that have been lured in by the feeder.
  • Do not discard edible garbage. Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat any table scraps.
  • Secure garbage containers.  Use trash barrels with lids that clamp down tight even when tipped over.
  • Do not place trash cans out the night before scheduled pick-up.  Placing cans out in the morning before pick-up will give coyotes less time to scavenge. They will not have cover of darkness.
  • Do not leave barbecue grill outside and uncovered. The smell of the grill and the contents of the grills drip pan attracts coyotes.
  • Feed pets indoors whenever possible.  Remove any leftovers if feeding outdoors.   Store pet food in areas not accessible to other animals.
  • Clear brush and weeds from around property.  This deprives the coyote’s prey (small mammals and birds) of protective cover and deters coyote from hunting around your property.
  • A fenced yard may deter coyotes.  The fence must be at least 6 feet high.  Preferably the bottom of the fence should extend 6 inches below ground level.
  • Do not leave small children outside alone if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
  • Do not allow pets to run free.  Provide secure housing especially at night.  Small pets (cats, rabbits, small dogs) are favorite prey of coyotes.
  • Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area.  Harass them by throwing rocks, shouting, and making loud noises when one is seen. [shotguns work too!]
  • Learn more here: Coyote Control