What Justine Damond’s Shooting Death Tells us About America

The dark side of American policing once again became an international story late on July 15, when Minneapolis police shot dead Justine Damond outside of her own home, after she called 911 for police help.

The 40-year-old Australian woman and Minneapolis resident became an unlikely victim in a pattern of civilian shootings that are unheard of in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.

Australian citizen Justine Damond was killed by Minneapolis Police on July 15, 2017. Her shooting has sparked international concern about the number of police shootings and prevalence of gun violence in the United States. (Source: website of the deceased.)

The intense global coverage of Damond’s killing was inevitable given the unlikely profiles of the deceased and the trigger man.

A Victim and a Cop—How Both Defied the Uncomfortable Normal

Damond ultimately shared a fate of African-American men killed by law enforcement in recent years. Such men are easily categorized as a potential threat or criminals to police or to the public who fear them.

No one could claim Damond had any resemblance to Ferguson resident Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African-American man who was gunned down by white police officer Darren Wilson, 28, in August 2014.

Damond was white woman. She had blonde hair. She was unarmed and dressed in pajamas outside of her own house, on the eve of her marriage. Damond had called 911 as a good Samaritan, in response to sounds of a possible sexual assault she reportedly heard outside of her residence.

Damond was exactly the type of person all of want as a neighbor because of her concerns for others.

Damond also was a former vet and yoga instructor who moved to the United States in 2015 and was engaged to American businessman and Minneapolis resident Don Damond.

More importantly, she emigrated from Australia, where police seldom use deadly force and where there are strict gun control laws, first implemented two decades earlier.

The officer who killed her because of his alleged fear an ambush did not fit the profile of other officer-involved killings as well.

The policeman, Mohamed Noor, 32, is of Somali descent and a Moslem. Less than two years on the job, he was recruited by the Minneapolis police from the immigrant Somali community, where some young Somali-American men have been connected to the Islamic terror group al-Shabab in Somalia.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune provided detailed coverage of the killing and of the shooter, officer Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American recently hired two years ago by the Minneapolis Police Department.

Noor represented a model for others to follow and to bridge cultural divides.

In other words, a black man of Somali descent and Moslem American from a community that already was in the media crosshairs shot and killed an obviously attractive, white, middle-class, and foreign woman in a major American city.

Many observers were stunned the killing could have occurred to an innocent civilian who had called for police help to investigate a possible sexual assault—actions that police encourage every citizen to do in nearly every city in the United States.

Damond’s Killing: A Rorschach and Rashomon Study of Officer-Involved Shootings

The shooting death is already a Hollywood movie before all of the facts and fogs of conflicting stories will ever be known.

What little we know are the likely time of Damond’s death after her 911 call and that Noor, sitting in the patrol car’s passenger seat, shot her to death from the driver’s side window.

A witness reportedly has come forward saying he was biking home and filmed the effort to resuscitate her by Noor and officer Matthew Harrity. She was shot at nearly point-blank range in the abdomen, and the chances of survival would have been slim, even with the best medical help, were she even alive.

The more murky “facts” surrounding Damond’s death also call into question police accountability through the use of body cameras—an issue that has been hotly debated in the wake of repeated “officer-involved” shootings of minorities nationwide.

In this case, the two officers dispatched to Damond’s 911 call had turned off their body cameras, in violation of the city’s official and controversial video policy implemented a year earlier. To date, no explanation has been provided why the pair had not followed mandatory procedures to record their actions with body and dashboard cameras precisely to avoid the cloudy circumstances that now surround this killing. Police departments nationally have bristled at civilian demands for police-worn body cameras for years.

Officer Noor’s claim of being startled by a loud pop at the sight of a woman in pajamas has been lambasted by many who have voiced outrage.

Many minority activists demanding policy accountability for shootings of civilians allege non-white victims of police shootings often say they posed no threats before they were gunned down, like former Ferguson resident Brown. No jury has sided with the victims since Brown’s death.

The shooting had other ingredients for becoming an international incident:

  • The officer’s status as a Moslem man from an immigrant community potentially will attract the interest of Moslems globally. Many in that community are fearful and resentful of stereotyping, and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Moslems in the United States and his recent travel ban of Moslems from six Moslem-majority nations have alarmed many in the Moslem world.
  • Inside the United States, more white Americans, notably those who live in the suburbs and who are supposedly immune from heavy-handed, militarized policing, might become more alarmed that they too could be killed for engaging law enforcement for help. The shooting creates a PR barrier even among the police’s large and ready-built fan base.
  • Women in particular might be more fearful of ever calling any police officer for assistance, given the violence on display in Damond’s death. It would be fascinating to do a poll how many American woman who self-identify as middle-class and educated feel safe contacting local police for assistance, particularly in cases of domestic violence.
  • Foreign nationals, particularly international students and more affluent Asians and Europeans, might reconsider travel to the United States for travel, study, or business, given the racial dynamics of the shooting showing starkly that, yes, even white, blonde yoga instructors with charming Aussie accents are not safe in a secure area, from the local authorities.

Damond’s Death: Black, White, and Somewhere in Between

Within days after the shooting, troll commentaries in media stories on sites like Yahoo News were swift to describe the shooter’s ethnicity and religion as likely reasons why Noor killed Damond.

Other commentators on many news web sites mocked the irony that police thought the blonde female victim was accidentally mistaken for a large, scary black man.

Writing about the irony of the killing, The Root wryly noted, “Why is it that the one shooting that suddenly has white people fearing the cops is the shooting that takes one of their own? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they finally found their ‘perfect’ victim. She was white and blonde and rescued ducks out of sewers. She was the antithesis of the ‘superpredator’ image they want you to believe represents blackness. She didn’t deserve to die. But neither did any of the others.”

In Minneapolis, the response has defied some expected outcomes of those quick to frame the issue as black and white. Some who joined in protests a day after Damond’s death were African-American activists, who had protested the shooting of unarmed black motorist Philando Castile, 32, just outside of St. Paul by a Hispanic police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, on June 6, 2016.

Only a month earlier, on June 6, 2017, a jury acquited Janez. The story drew heated debates and national coverage and framed the public response to the Damond shooting from the start.

Castile was gunned down reaching for his wallet—a killing caught on the police dashboard camera. It is profoundly troubling footage to observe. His killing at the hands of a uniformed police officer—Hispanic, not white—was just another in a series of high-profile shootings of African-American men in the past three years that helped to launch the national Black Lives Matter movement.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune covered the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief, Janeé Harteau, who stepped down on July 21 following the firestorm that erupted less than a week after the shooting of Justine Damond by a police officer at point-blank range.

Following Damond’s slaying, nearly 300 people attended Damond’s vigil. They included Cathy Jones, an African-American woman who had marched at protests with Black Lives Matter and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She told The Guardian newspaper, “I think it’s important because these are things that affect our community every single day. It’s never been about race. It’s been about police accountability.”

Many of protesters on July 20 in Damond’s neighborhood connected Damond’s death with Castile’s. His mother, Valerie Castile, was shown hugging the widowed fiancé, Dom Damond.

On July 21, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau resigned under pressure. The same day, protesters disrupted Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ press conference.

The two female leaders, both white women, had long been at odds. Harteau had publicly battled city and state officials, and in October 2013, she rejected proposals for body cameras by Hodges and other city council members—a month before Hodges was elected mayor.

Why Damond Stands Out Beyond Her Race

Damond, 40, also fetched a striking image, in the photographs of her that splashed on the internet and airwaves soon after her death.

She was by all measures athletic and very attractive, with blonde hair and a winning smile. She had been a vet, who then became a yoga and meditation instructor. She was the type of middle-class woman you might spot in yoga tights, carrying a yoga pad in a gentrified neighborhood, like my own, where I daily see many women who match this demographic profile take classes at two local yoga studios.

Damond’s shooting generated intense interest from the Australian media and its leaders. The level of interest was larger than what Americans might see of shooting victims in their own country.

In Damond’s native country, news of the meditation teacher’s baffling death has dominated the airwaves, newspapers and websites for days, feeding into Australians’ long-held fears about America’s notorious culture of gun violence. Philip Alpers at the University of Sydney, who has studied U.S. gun issues, said, “The country is infested with possibly more guns than people. We see America as a very risky place in terms of gun violence—and so does the rest of the world.”

The Daily Telegraph of Australia ran a banner headline and photo of Australian shooting victim Justine Damond that captured how many view the prevalence of gun violence in the United States outside of the country.

A front-page headline in her hometown Sydney newspaper summarized Australia’s reaction in blunt terms: “American Nightmare.”

Days after the killing, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball told Australia’s Today Show what many Australians were also saying publicly about the case and violence in the United States: “How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing. We are demanding answers on behalf of her family. And our hearts go out to her family and all of her friends and loved ones. It’s a truly tragic, tragic killing there in Minneapolis.”

Shortly after the Minneapolis shooting, the Washington Post reported that more than 520 people had been shot and killed by police officers in the United States in the calendar year, well on pace to surpass 963 shooting deaths by police during 2016.

Deadly shootings by police are exceedingly rare in Australia, even though the police carry firearms. Only a handful are reported each year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. By comparison, the United States has by policy prevented the creation of national database of deadly police-involved shootings. The body count has come from independent media monitors.

An AP story from July 18 also noted Austalians’ bewilderment with U.S. gun laws. By comparison, Australia implemented vigorous tough gun ownership laws in 1996 following a deadly mass shooting on the island of Tasmania that killed 36 people.

At the time, then-Prime Minister John Howard—a conservative—warned Australians against following America’s lead on gun control, saying: “We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.”

What my Reaction Tells me as Well:

Until this essay, I had not written any articles about the deaths of African-American and minority victims from encounters with the police. I have professional ties that now limit what I talk about on this blog. Also, I exhausted my energy writing and talking about gun violence in the United States, following the mass shootings in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, which took 12 lives, and in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed 26 victims.

My efforts to frame that story through a public health lens left me feeling powerless and that I could not make a difference. I ultimately stopped writing and talking about gun violence and focused this blog and my energies in more positive directions.

Yet again I am drawn into the discussion of an issue that I feel I cannot change. This time, however, many more affluent white Americans now know such random violence by gunfire can happen to any of them, even those who are most privileged by every measure, at the hands of police they call on for protection in supposedly safe, secure neighborhoods. Perhaps now there might be some momentum to reduce gun violence in the United States—something I longed for and then abandoned five years ago after the Newtown massacre.

Rally to ban assault weapons lays out strategy for Washington State activists

I attended a rally today (Jan. 13, 2013) in Seattle that included a march through downtown to the Seattle Center. The event called for an immediate ban on assault weapons and better laws to require background checks on all weapons sales. The march was organized by the non-profit called Washington Ceasefire, a state-based group founded in 1983 and dedicated to reducing violence from guns in the United States. (See my photo essay below.)

The event attracted somewhat lukewarm media coverage as of this evening, with stories picked up by most of Seattle’s major broadcast media, including the major TV news stations. The event was competing with the story that mattered most to Seattle–the playoff game that saw the Seattle Seahawks fall in a heart-breaker to the Atlanta Falcons. Still, approximately 400-500 participants attended the rally that marched about a half mile from Westlake Center to the Seattle Center.

The event began with a speech by mayoral candidate and current City Councilman Tim Burgess, a former Seattle police officer who called for attendees to focus their advocacy on immediate actions that could be taken by the Washington State Legislature. No specific state-level legislation or bills were identified, and Burgess’ rallying cry noticeably did not call for any specific federal action, perhaps because such proposals are still being formulated by the Obama White House.

Nor were any of the state’s congressional members referenced in public remarks or acknowledged in any event promotional material I am aware of. (Note I left the rally before it ended.) To my knowledge, no member of the state’s congressional delegation officially participated in the speaking activities, nor did their staff. I found that omission intentional and noteworthy. I am sure many attending noticed this also.

Washington Ceasefire President Ralph Fascitelli specifically called on an outright ban on assault weapons and sensible gun legislation. The web site created to promote the event quoted the group’s executive director, Beth Flynn: “We want to send a clear message to our legislators that we want to ban semi-automatic assault weapons.”

It was refreshing to me, as a public health professional, to hear Councilman Burgess make reference to the public health threat posed by firearms in his remarks. I spotted at least one retired University of Washington School of Public Health faculty member in attendance and holding a sign, which was very encouraging. I also met other public health professionals in the audience. Again, nice to see.

A list of the dignitaries who were invited to speak can be found here. I spied Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Councilman Nick Lacata, Councilmember Jean GoddenState Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), and other civic and religious leaders on the Mural Amphitheater stage at the Seattle Center, where remarks were made.

Also noteworthy was the presence of gun-rights activists. I saw two men wearing handguns in their holsters at the Westlake Center. So, I took their photographs. No doubt groups opposed to firearms legislation were monitoring the event and were mixing with the crowd. I observed very peaceful exchanges between those for greater legislation and those opposed to it. I included a photograph of the two men who were armed below to highlight how they communicated their views–at least through a visible display of their guns for the TV cameras and for those seeking legislation to control firearms violence.

Photographs of the StandUp Washington rally, January 13, 2013 (click on each thumbnail for a larger image)

The Newtown massacre and musings on guns, morality, and public health

The brutal massacre of 20 young children and six public school employees in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, brought to mind one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history, President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. On March 4, 1865, well into the fifth year of the bloodiest U.S. conflict, to resolve the criminal institution of slavery, Lincoln evoked unusually strong biblical and moral language that he normally avoided.

This FaceBook Post generated comments that said, this is why this country is so great and also why it is is so “f’d up” (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=314047015290064&set=o.113895238664965&type=1&theater)

This facebook post generated comments that said, this is why this country is so great and also why it is so “f’d up” (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=314047015290064&set=o.113895238664965&type=1&theater)

He first stated that the continuing expansion of slavery was the goal of the South. “All knew that [slavery] was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union … .” Then Lincoln, in language well understood by his countrymen, further noted the sins and injustice of slavery had brought the wrath of an Old Testament God upon the nation: “Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

A moral issue?

In short, Lincoln held his country morally accountable for that “peculiar institution.” He used moral language, much the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a century later, used similar language to address the injustices of discrimination and racism in the Jim Crow South and throughout the country. Such language by elected officials, however, has been mostly absent from the national debate over firearms violence that is involved in the death of more than 11,000 U.S. residents annually (homicides alone).

But the debate over the regulation or expansion of guns and automatic weaponry on the open market may have turned a page with Newtown shooter Adam Lanza’s killing spree. He used at least three guns (Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm handguns and a Bushmaster .223-caliber) that were first obtained legally. He stole all of them from his well-to-do mother after killing her.

This Bushmaster .223, as of Dec. 16, was being advertised for sale on the Internet.

This Bushmaster .223, as of Dec. 16, was being advertised for sale on the Internet.

The availability of such lethal weaponry is far from an aberration. The Bushmaster .223 can easily be purchased now. Here’s one ad I found on Dec. 16; the weapon is described as intended for military combat.

In response to this mass murder of mostly kids, Peter Drier, professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, posted a piece on Dec. 15, on the Alternet web site titled “The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Has Blood on His Hands: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a 62-page list of mass shootings in America since 2005. It is Wayne LaPierre’s resume.” Drier asserts that “the long list of killings is due in large measure to the political influence of the [National Rifle Association] NRA—and the campaign finance system that allows the gun lobby to exercise so much power.” In short, the NRA, the gun industry it lobbies for,  the NRA’s alleged 4 million members, and officials in elected office are all morally accountable for downstream effects of firearms proliferation.

Who is morally accountable for mass gun shootings like Newtown's? Just the shooter or weapons industry promoters like NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre,

Who is morally accountable for mass gun shootings like Newtown’s? Just the shooter or weapons industry promoters like NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

The NRA’s influence

The NRA, of course, alleges that the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights gives individual Americans the right to possess guns, even combat weapons designed for the mass killing of people. The NRA also, in my opinion, falsely alleges that regulating gun sales and ownership is an attack on our constitutional freedoms–even our “civil rights.” Such language is devoid of both logic and rationality, and absent any moral foundation. I continue to find “literalist” interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, which also legitimized slavery for decades, as irrelevant to the complexities of a public health crisis that weapons-related violence has become in this country.

But, the NRA is more than a gun lobby. Its annual budget exceeds more than $250 million. It donates generously to political campaigns. It runs a non-profit foundation that boasts having raised $160 million. It runs a multimedia operation to promote its extremist views. It is, at the state level, aggressively promoting gun rights such as “stand your ground” laws. In the U.S. Senate, John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a measure that would force all states that issue concealed carry permits to recognize the permits from other states. More importantly, the NRA promotes both the culture of weapons proliferation and a social media ecosystem that enables extremist views to proliferate, both inside its ecosystem and in the blogosphere, where many NRA talking points pepper the comments section of news stories on gun violence.

Using a public health lens to debate gun violence

In addition to embracing moral language, the national debate should also use a public health lens and the widely available data at all times to bury the completely false NRA propaganda that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” For example, the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Injury Control Research Center examined peer-reviewed research and reported three main findings that point to the association between gun proliferation and homicides, including in the United States:

1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide.
2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
3. Across states, more guns = more homicide.

A public health approach involves looking at the data, having a population focus (rather than focusing on the motives of a mentally disturbed killer), examining the policies and systems that enable guns to continue impacting the public’s health, and focusing on forces that develop dangerous personal behaviors—even the embracing of ideas that promote harmful activities such as owning guns. The conservative-leaning Seattle Times, which has not called for any legislative action to address firearms violence this past week (following two mass killings), pulled together some data from public sources on Dec. 15, regarding mass murders involving firearms (my comments in italics):

  • Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States.
  • Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years took place in the United States.
  • Of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States, six have happened from 2007 onward.
  • America is an unusually violent country. But we’re not as violent as we used to be. (See the graph below.)
  • The South is the most violent region in the United States.
  • Gun ownership in the United States is declining overall. (However, we have more than 300 million guns in the U.S.–a staggering figure.)
  • States with stricter gun-control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.
  • Gun control, in general, has not been politically popular. (This fact  overlooks how campaign funding impacts local and national races.)
  • But particular policies to control guns often are.
  • Shootings don’t tend to substantially affect views on gun control.
Duke University sociology professor Kieran Healy complied OECD data on violence in developed countries (excluding Estonia and Mexico) and concluded “America is a violent country.” Such data points to both a pathology toward violence and how aassults in the U.S. end up with lethal consequences (his data does not distinguish cause of death from say guns to knives.) Go to: http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2012/07/20/america-is-a-violent-country/

Duke University sociology professor Kieran Healy compiled OECD data on violence in developed countries (excluding Estonia and Mexico) and concluded “America is a violent country.” Such data points to both a pathology toward violence and how assaults in the U.S. end up with lethal consequences (his data do not distinguish cause of death from say guns to knives). Go to: http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2012/07/20/america-is-a-violent-country/

A 2003 study by EG Richardson and D Hemenway  (called “Homicide, suicide, and unintentional firearm fatality: comparing the United States with other high-income countries, 2003”) found that he United States has “far higher rates of firearm deaths-firearm homicides, firearm suicides, and unintentional firearm deaths compared with other high-income countries” and that the “United States is an outlier in terms of our overall homicide rate.”

Referencing this study, the Brady Campaign concludes that “the United States has more firearms per capita than the other countries, more handguns per capita, and has the most permissive gun control laws of all the countries.” The Brady Campaign further notes that “of the 23 countries studied, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States; 86% of women killed by firearms were U.S. women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were U.S. children.”

More blood from the sword … for the lash?

What remains to be seen is if the preponderance of data and the moral outrage that may have been generated by the Newtown shootings will create change.

President Obama, the day of the shootings, held a press conference and said, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Gun control advocate and billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed such talk immediately:  “Not enough,” Bloomberg said. “We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.” To date Obama has not used his office to promote any national legislation or even national dialogue on gun policy.

One thing is certain: there will be more mass murders in the United States involving legally obtained and legally sold firearms. And I am left paraphrasing Lincoln and wondering: how much more blood from such gun-related killings will have to be spilled to atone for our nation’s continued shortcomings to control what other developed nations have managed to do, and do for decades?

Dogs and pets provide meaningful therapeutic benefits

A smile and a wag — the universal language of happiness.

Today I read yet another article on the healing power that dogs have for humans who have experienced trauma, in this case sexual abuse. According to a Sept. 23, 2012, story in the Seattle Times (Courthouse dogs calm victims’ fears about testifying), King County Washington’s seven-year-old practice of using assistance dogs to provide comfort to victims in a courthouse setting has been deemed legal in an appeals court ruling. I have previously written about how pets are used in prison settings, leading to better outcomes for both the state and prisoners (see my May 3, 2012, post: Cats behind bars — more proof of how pets bring out our best). I do not think it is a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the value of using therapy dogs that dogs could and should be used to assist young persons who are crime victims. They are commonly used by many people with illnesses and disabilities, like this instance with a college student who has spina bifida.

The powerful bond between humans and dogs is well-known and about as old as civilization itself.

In this particular case reported by the Seattle Times, a lab-retriever mix named Jeeter helped two female victims of molestation heal and also testify in trial, as a means to alleviate their reported fear and discomfort. The decision deemed the dog to be a neutral agent, not siding with either party in the legal process and being an equal opportunity dispenser of affection. As one of the two females victims told the Seattle Times, “What we want people to know is that they can have a dog to help them, too. We’re not ashamed about what happened. We didn’t do anything wrong.” In fact, the Seattle Times reported the National District Attorneys Association passed a resolution last year supporting the use of courthouse dogs.

Another famous instance of therapy dogs being used to assist crime victims was at the campus of Northern Illinois University, where a murderous gunman killed five students and injured nearly two dozen others in 2008.

As the final report on that gun-related massacre from NIU highlighted, in addition to more than 500 counselors who assisted victims and the campus community, there were dozens of volunteers who assisted by bringing “comfort dogs” to the NIU campus in DeKalb, Ill., after the shootings. The report noted, “many of our students hugged those wonderful dogs and wept openly, some for the first time since the tragedy.”

A wonderful book that I read this summer on the powerful bond between humans and other species called Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans and Animals Can Change the Way We Live, by DMV Allen Schoen, highlights how powerful this connection is, including on the health of humans and the species with whom they interact. Schoen has attracted attention for research and efforts exploring the ways science and larger culture understand how humans interact with their many animal friends. His description of his former golden retriever, who he rescued and who then became his assistant caring for his animal patients, is wonderfully touching. He eventually had to put his beloved assistant down. When I shared this book with a member of my family, she broke down into tears, thinking about her former dog.

My former grad school experience vastly improved when I moved into my new apartment and made friends my always cheery neighbor, Balloo.

Schoen has his own web site and a blog here: http://www.drschoen.com/. His web site notes that he continues to practice what he calls integrative veterinary healthcare, which brings together holistic and natural techniques such as acupuncture and homeopathy along with the best of conventional veterinary medicine to provide animal healthcare services.

There are peer-reviewed journal articles being published about the power of animals, including in the work setting, where an abundance of anecdotal reporting and research has occurred. An Associated Press story from Feb. 9, 2012, described the “growing phenomenon” of dogs in the workplace in America, according to Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Columbia. “People are realizing we need to do things to reduce stress in the workplace,” Johnson told the AP. She said dogs can build connections among co-workers and create healthy diversions from work. People interacting with dogs have a hormonal reaction that causes them to “feel more relaxed and more positive.”

All I can say is that nothing beats a dog or purr on a bad day. Even the worst day improves the moment there is that amazing interspecies contact.