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Op-ed, blogs and columns

Progress columnist debates Tolstoy on happiness

A laugh for your week

The essential bad attitude By Alan Gibson

Moscow, 1884. It was obvious from the first vodka that Alexi Tolstoy had little truck with happiness in the American sense. “If you want to be happy, be,” he shrugged in that annoying way fatalists have.

Seeking to enliven the intellectual climate, I smashed my glass on the hearth in what I assumed was a symbolic rite.

Tolstoy groused peevishly that it was his best stemware and how happy would I be if he came to my house and smashed things?

“Gimme a break, Alex,” I told him. “A Russian – the original gloom culture – lecturing an American on happiness. Listen pal, Americans are happy because we know how. It’s a trait we cultivate.”

Alex pointed out that a bowl of potato soup could make a Russian happy, so who was better at it? I told him belligerently that I was 10 times happier than he could ever hope to be and how did he like that! He yawned and said it was fine with him, then, to spite me, told a joke – some vapid bêtise about a walrus from Murmansk.

I responded imprudently that his Uncle Leo’s novel War and Peace was interminable and had too many characters.

“You’ve read it?” he asked.

“Skimmed it. Got the gist.”

“Which is?”

Actually I had no idea. “Don’t invade Russia in the winter?” I looked around for more vodka only to find that Tolstoy’s wife had hidden the glassware forcing me to swig from the bottle. “And one more thing: War and Peace needs a happier ending. Tell your uncle to read Chuck Dickens’ Christmas Carol – now there’s a happy ending.”

Tolstoy shrugged again. “If you want to be happy, be.”

Back on the train, I sulked most of the way to Warsaw. What would make me genuinely happy is to win just one argument with a fatalist.

Gibson contributes each week to the Progress and hosts a weekly discussion group. He can be contacted at 770-893-2578.

The good, the bad and the ugly of pet foods -- Local Vet offers advice for pet owners

By Lyn Lewis, DVM

Wayside Animal Clinic

Is it just me or is there a new food product coming out every day? There are so many out there now. Truth be told that we can attribute a lot of our pet’s longevity to the evolution of pet foods. But there are still a lot of products that are not what they appear; others even can be dangerous for your pet depending on its age or health risks.

Ever since the big food scare about 3 years ago when melamine from China appeared in a few major brands, new boutique brands have been popping up. It is mind numbing all the different foods I am asked about daily. People ask me about wheat free, gluten free, bi-product free or preservative free foods all the time. The truth is there is no law that says a dog food needs to have balanced nutrition. That means that there are potentially many different foods that can be dangerous to our pets over time because they may lack vitamins or even some minerals that are important for our pet. To me that is just as scary as toxins in the food, both lead to diseases eventually.

Basically different foods have merit for different diseases definitely, but some can also be dangerous. Did you know there are some brands of food that claim to help joints and arthritis? While this is true, many of them contain glucosamine and condroitin, which are important for joints, they also contain high amounts of fat. Fat contains Omega 6 and 9 fatty acids but also a lot of calories. When this is fed to your pet over time, yes, they gain some protection and pain relief from arthritis. But, they have also gained significant amounts of weight which is infinitely worse for their joints. So, in the overall sense, these foods are the worst thing you can feed for joint health. Other diets that claim to be helpful for bladder stone or kidney disease actually are only higher in sodium making them drink more thus leading to more urine. It really did nothing more than give the appearance of better health.

On the other side of the coin, there are many great foods out there. Many companies have foods that are very balanced for young animals, adult animals and seniors. There are good foods for animals with sensitive stomachs and other common conditions. On the veterinary side,companies like Purina, Science Diet and Royal Canin make great specialty diets that can be wonderful for many diseases. In some cases they are even better than drug therapies.  Diseases such as kidney failure, liver failure, bladder stones and heart disease I usually treat with special diets first before going on with medications.

I guess the main point for this article is to not put too much stock in many of the over the counter foods. There is no governing body in our country to make sure label claims are accurate or that foods are balanced with the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals, let alone the quality of the ingredients. A final example of this is one of my favorite foods to talk to clients about, Ol’Roy. There was an interesting study a few years ago that compared Ol’Roy to Purina Puppy Chow, both products are over the counter.  They tested both foods on how much the puppies gained over their first 6 months. The conclusion of the study showed it took 2.5 times more Ol’Roy to match the weight gain of the Purina.  So to get the same results, people had to feed 2.5 times more food. That actually made Ol’Roy more expensive than Purina. I could go on and on about examples. I really am not trying to pick on any one food.

In the end, it is all about the AAFCO statement on the bag.  AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are an organization that can certify that a food is balanced in its nutritional content. A certification body to guarantee a foods nutritional content is what’s important.  When people ask for my recommendation or ask if the food they found out from a friend or on the internet is good I simply ask back if it is AAFCO certified. Usually they have to go back and check but I trust all AAFCO foods for balanced nutrition. If you stick with companies that adhere to AAFCO standards you can never go wrong. If you have any other questions about food. Especially foods used to treat various conditions in your pets it may pay to go see your veterinarian first.  They can help guide you in the right direction.


Progress columnist offers tips on handling criticism

By Alan Gibson

Why respect your critics? They don’t respect you.

When someone says, “May I give you some constructive criticism?” I simply respond, “No, but perhaps you’d care to wrestle?”

Seriously, if you want to criticize, give it to me straight from the shoulder and let me decide how constructive it is.

Herewith a few typical criticism with wise guy responses, in case you enjoy being counterproductive.

Criticism: “You’re not giving me 100%.”

Response: “How about 86% plus lunch at Burger King.”


Criticism: “You think you’re better than me!”

Response: “Only by any objective standard ever devised.”


Criticism: A stern critic waggles a finger in your face saying, “Now look here!”

Response: Attempt to bite the offending finger. If you succeed, release. The point is symbolic.


Criticism: “I’m sorry but you may not write your term paper on Bart Simpson. Pick another subject.”

Response: “Ok. Jerk teachers in our schools.”


Criticism: “You should use self-deprecating humor.”

Response: “The trouble with self-deprecation is that it’s always directed at me!”


Responses like these will soon silence your critics. They’ll also drive off your friends and put you on the fast track to alienation from all that’s worthwhile.

One way or another, the critics always win. On the other hand, there may be the odd instance in which critics praise you, which is harder to deal with in some ways than the negative stuff.

[Gibson hosts Pickens County’s Friday Morning Discussion Group. All attitudes are welcome. For info: 770-893-2578.]

Minister’s Column-- What is Lent?


By Rev. Rob Bruce

Pastor at Tate UMC

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. At Tate UMC as well as some other churches we celebrated by the imposition of ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads while hearing the words, “You are dust and to the dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Lent is an important time in the church year. It is the time of year we reflect on our own mortality as we travel to the cross. Just as we cannot have Easter morning without Good Friday, we cannot be prepared for Easter without our time in the wilderness.

Where does the concept of Lent come from?

At Jesus’ baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus hiked into the wilderness. Maybe he needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he was searching for direction and answers. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God, and himself, more clearly. For whatever reason, Jesus retreated into the wilderness for forty days to fast and pray.  Lent is 40 days for us to fast, pray, and reflect as we make our way to the cross and resurrection.

What does Lent have to do with me?

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of work, school, relationships and family. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol or other things. We run from silence because we’re afraid of being alone with God. So, like Jesus, we need to take some serious time to pray and figure out where God is in our lives, and where God is calling us to serve. We need to re-focus our lives to be more in line with God.

How do Christians celebrate Lent?

Normally we give up something. However, this year instead of giving up something (which often becomes self-serving), I ask you to add something. I am asking you to devote some time each day to a quiet time with God. Do not be afraid of being alone with God. It is in the time spent alone with God that we become closer to Him and understand more about ourselves. This is a time that can be transformative. Pick up a copy of the Upper Room or other devotional guide that your church may offer and use it for a time of daily reflection.

National Spay Day USA Feb. 22, Local vet urges responsible pet ownership

By Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Clinic

Tuesday, February 22 is Spay Day USA, which is a program put on by the Humane Society of the United States.  This program is done with the cooperation of local veterinary offices and animal shelters.  The program encourages spaying and neutering through discounts and other incentives.  This is a wonderful opportunity for the citizens of North Georgia to make a difference in the lives of our four legged friends.

Pet overpopulation is a big problem all over the country but in North Georgia I would say it is even worse.  Every day we get 2-3 new pets in our office that were former strays.  People keep telling me, who have moved into our area, about how they have never seen so many strays running around.  Nowhere is a better example of this than our local animal shelters.  I cannot imagine how hard their job is when people call in need of help and animal control’s hands are tied because of lack of space.  Nationally, 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year.  Other groups such as Gateway Pet Rescue, Second Chance, Pickens Animal Rescue, and Homeward Bound also are doing everything within their power to both shelter and adopt out strays.

It is amazing how quickly pets can multiply.  Female dogs can have 2 litters a year and on average have 6-10 puppies per litter.  Female cats on the other hand can have 3 litters a year and usually produce 4-6 kittens at a time.  Being conservative, if I have a female animal and she produces 4 females only once a year and each female has 4 females each year for 7 years we would have over 250,000 female animals.  This would not take into account the total males produced.  So, after just 7 years one animal was responsible for producing over 500,000 total offspring!  Unfortunately, this is a conservative number since I only counted one breeding a year.

Enough with statistics, I think I have made the point.  Now, what can we, as a community, do to be part of the solution?  First off, we need to be responsible for the pets we consider ours.  Please spay and neuter your pets before the age of 8 months.  Most females go into heat at around 9 months to 1 year old.  If you have a pure bred animal or an interesting mix that you really want to breed, that is okay too.  Have the responsibility to have found homes for the puppies you want to produce.  Now I am sorry guys, but we are one of the worst offenders.  We have all heard the term, “It takes two to tango” and that is very true; male animals are just as guilty.  When I talk about spaying and neutering in the rooms with clients men hardly every want to neuter their male animals.  They use the excuse that they are less manly, they will get fat and lazy.  Truth is, if they are neutered before puberty they will never know the difference.  Over 90% of the dogfights, hit by cars, and gunshot wounds I see in our office are un-neutered males.  Also, male dogs have higher incidents of prostate issues than human males do.  The only way to effectively control populations is to reduce the intact roaming males as well.

So in closing, let’s all be responsible, use your local veterinarians to help reduce pet overpopulation.  For people who are dealing with money issues there are many wonderful programs.  At is a list of animal hospitals providing special offers for Spay Day USA on February 22.  There is also a statewide program through veterinary offices called the Dog and Cat Sterilization Program that can provide up to a $60 discount on spays and neuters.  Please spend time and go to the Spay Day website, it has wonderful information and contests to promote this important day.