The recent letters concerning California’s tethering law and Mammoth Dog Teams (MDT) has me confused. Where did this sudden concern regarding the humane care and welfare of dogs at MDT come from? I too have concern on this issue, like why is it even an issue? Given the current political climate surrounding MDT, I also question the timing and real intention of this issue and those involved.
I can only comment on this from 15 or so years of direct observation, having been a fan of these dogs since moving to Mammoth in 1994. Anyone who has spent time with these dogs recognizes they are happy, healthy, and well cared for. All their needs are met. This is obvious by their playful, friendly demeanors. Time and time again, I have seen toddlers, elderly, handicapped, sick children, wounded warriors and ordinary adults approach these dogs and be received with genuine affection. There is truly a reciprocal therapeutic interaction between the dogs and the people they encounter. All winter I see these dogs bringing excitement and smiles to people from all walks of life. Summers they rest, play, howl, and greet visitors in their same genuine and affectionate way … all from their tether. In addition, many of these dogs are taken for hikes during their summer sabbatical.
These dogs are part of a pack. To understand this mentality is to understand their own social network, way of entertaining each other, and the safety concerns that are inherent with a pack. The dog’s general behavior leads me to believe they are humanely cared for. It’s crystal clear to me that the dog’s behavior is a direct reflection of their care and living conditions.
My best friend and companion Yogi is from MDT. It’s his family. During extended travels, I have often left Yogi at MDT for up to six weeks without any concern for his well fare. I know he is humanely cared for in my absence. When I return for Yogi, he is usually sitting contentedly on top of his house or playing with one of the dogs next to him. I find Yogi to be far more adjusted after a stay at MDT than when I’ve left him with friends or family.
I am an Eastern Sierran and have no doubt that the dogs at MDT are humanely cared for. I strongly recommend anyone who isn’t sure about this to visit with the dogs in order to make their own educated opinion.
Marijuana and the teenage brain
In June, Mammoth voters will decide to either permit or prohibit the establishment of marijuana dispensaries in Mammoth Lakes.
During my career as a high school teacher, my students would periodically try to put me on the spot by asking me if I’d ever smoked marijuana.
If I answered “Yes,” my students would rationalize that if their teacher smoked, why couldn’t they?
If I answered “No,” my students would shrug their shoulders and think that I was either lying or a dork.
Without ever giving a direct answer, I tried to explain to my students that smoking marijuana would change them. Teenagers who are heavy users become disengaged; it distorts that wonderful, embarrassing, awkward rite-of-passage from adolescence to adulthood, without which a person doesn’t learn how to experience life in real terms, to feel good and bad normally.
During Steve’s high school alcohol and drug experimental years (not his real name), he started using marijuana frequently. His grades dropped, he stopped playing sports, and at the beginning of his senior year, when he turned in homework, it would be copied from one of his friends. Most of the time Steve’s friend hadn’t done his homework either, so Steve would walk down the hallway begging other students to copy their homework. By the end of Steve’s senior year, most students told Steve and his friends to f&#!-off.
If a teenager asked me today if I ever smoked it, my answer would be much the same only backed up with all the new brain research. First, I would tell a teenager that the parts of his brain that are responsible for expressing emotions, taking unconsidered risks and seeking gratification, develop sooner than the logical parts of his brain that control impulses and oversee careful decision making. As one expert put it, a teenager’s brain “has a well-developed accelerator but only a partly developed brake.”
Second, I would also tell a teenager that his brain is not hardwired; it is neuroplastic and can be wired and rewired. Neuro meaning the nerve cells in his brain and plastic meaning “changeable, malleable, modifiable.” A few of the rules of neuroplasticity are: neurons that fire together wire together; neurons that fire apart wire apart. In one sense, we are the center of designing and redesigning ourselves. And of course the same neuroplastic properties that allow us to wire our brains and produce positive behaviors and skills can also allow us to develop destructive or addictive behavior.
A single joint is not going to turn a teenager into an addict. But having a joint in the company of one’s peers, whose brains are also not fully developed, is more than a single joint. Now add to this the fact that some high schoolers are bringing pot to school legally. It’s their medication prescribed by some doctors for anxiety, pain, depression and ADHD. The message: “How can Marijuana be bad? It’s a medicine.” (Google: “Prescription for Trouble: Students with Medical Pot Cards”)
In response to the growing number of teenagers given medical permission slips to smoke pot, some psychologists recommend that in addition to the current prohibitions against driving under the influence, dope smoking high schoolers’ driver licenses should be withheld until the age of 25, around the time their brain matures.
Much of the information students are fed today about marijuana is framed in the form of fear, “Scared Straight,” and intimidation: smoke dope and you are at greater risk of becoming a high school dropout, or becoming pregnant, or contracting a STD, and, of course, marijuana is a gateway drug. Yes, students need to know the facts about the risks. But according to Michael Bradley, a psychologist specializing in teenagers, kids will sign pledges, but when they are at a party on a Friday night with their friends, that pledge is nowhere to be found in their brain structure. They’re missing the neurologic brakes that adults have.
For parents, knowing how a teenager’s brain develops and that it is subtly being wired and rewired by the decisions their child makes, puts more responsibility on parents to be
parents, which includes saying “No.”
Our neuro-malleability is a gift and a defining human trait, that provides hope and opportunities. We can build on our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses. We can develop a greater sense of self.
We also need to acknowledge that with the blessing of neuroplasticity there are risks. We can let our culture overly shape us or, like Steve and his peers, we can wire ourselves into an addiction dead end.
One final message to the clever teenager who rationalizes that if his brain isn’t fully developed, then he’s not responsible for his behavior. No one is saying that your emotional accelerator is stuck on the floor or that the only one who has a foot on the brake is you mother.
P.S. If voters are going to vote “Yes” Nov. 2010, I really, really think that any ordinance that permits marijuana dispensaries should prohibit teenagers and young adults from having access to these stores.
“The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge, M.D. is an excellent introduction for the young and old to the neuroplasticity of the brain … for the young, how to shape your brain and for the old, how not to lose those aging synaptic connections.
Kirk Stapp is a former teacher and Mayor of Mammoth Lakes. He is also the author of “Teaching Iraq.”