Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Posts Tagged ‘Desert Companion

Best friends vs. bad guys story ends in tragic twist

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My profile, Best friends taking on the bad guys, in this month’s issue of Desert Companion begins this way: “Imagine patting your trusty canine companion on the head — and then sending him into a situation from which he may not return.” Sadly, that’s just what happened to Las Vegas Metro Police  Officer Jeff Corbett and his K9 partner, Marco, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.

I paraphrased the passage quoted above from a moving part of my interview with the profiled officer, Duwayne Layton. I could, actually, imagine patting my little Cocker Spaniel Aja on the head and then sending her into a room where an armed person had barricaded himself and was waiting to pick off people as they entered. It made me shudder, and then tear up.

I reacted with similar empathy to the news about Marco, which I happened to get the same day I turned in the Layton profile to my editor. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review Journal, on May 14, a Metro officer shot Marco after the dog mistakenly bit the shooter’s partner. Following nine days in intensive care, having lost the use of his limbs, Marco was euthanized, the Friends of the Las Vegas Police K9s reported on their Facebook page.

Internal investigators are looking into the incident. I suppose it strained relationships inside Metro, what with the physical injury of the officer who was attacked and the grief of Corbett and the rest of the K9 unit.

Based on the time I spent with Layton, I believe the loss of a K9 dog strikes unit members with a combination of what devoted pet owners like me feel when their companion dies, and what other law enforcement officers feel when their partner dies. To their handlers, these dogs are much more than just order-following machines.

In this short video of Layton and his retired K9 partner Rico, captured at Marc Kahre Elementary School’s Kahre Honor Day on May 11, Layton’s love for his dog is apparent:

If it weren’t for the uniform, you’d think you were looking at a man and his best friend, like any other.

But it’s deeper than that. K9 dogs live with their handlers, and as Layton explained to me, for the first couple weeks of their partnership, nobody in a household can interact with the dog but his handler. It establishes what Layton described as a bond not unlike that between parent and child.

Layton’s neighbor and Kahre Elementary teacher Sharlyn Reid told me she believes the apparent harmony between man and dog is part of the reason why kids at the school love the regular visits law enforcement pays to give demonstrations and motivational talks.

“They love Officer Layton,” she said, “because they love the partnership he has with his dogs.”

Blame and responsibility notwithstanding, what happened to Marco is tragic for everyone involved. It’s a part of the job that officers like Layton accept when they sign up, but it will no doubt pluck that cord of fear in their hearts the next time they pat their partners on the head and send them into situations from which they may not return.

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Tomatis assignment ends with a question

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Recently, I had one of those assignments that piqued my curiosity so keenly, I wished I had more time to work on it.

I was profiling a local business, Brain Solutions, for Desert Companion and learned that it offered treatment – mainly for kids with learning disabilities – called the Tomatis Method. As I dug into the background on the method, I discovered that I could easily spend weeks or months just on that, before ever getting to a single interview. Then, the interviews themselves complicated matters even more.

The conviction of Tomatis Method practitioners and beneficiaries that it works miracles is almost as compelling as the lack of unbiased, scientifically sound research to back that claim up. Some audiologists swear by it; others are skeptical. I was left wishing I had a few more weeks to read Tomatis’ books and go through the program myself to see what it was like. To locate more people who’d done it with mixed results. I was left with questions.

Does the Tomatis Method really work? Even with more time, I probably wouldn’t be able to say for sure, but hopefully someone is working on a randomized clinical trial that will answer that question for the people to whom it really matters.

Little ‘hood wins journalism award

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I was happy to hear from Desert Companion Editor Andrew Kiraly this week that the magazine grabbed 13 trophies in the Nevada Press Association’s Best of Nevada Journalism 2011 awards – even happier to learn one of them was for a story I contributed, The little ‘hood that could. It took 3rd place for Best Explanatory Journalism in the magazines category. A judge commented, “This illustrates what the strength of a group can do to better a community. A very nice piece.”

Thanks to Andrew for his guidance on the story, which appears to have accomplished what we hoped (exploring the possibility of John S. Park’s success being repeated elsewhere), judging from comments readers posted online.

Marriage and Domestic Partnership Live Together

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OPINION

This morning’s State of Nevada on KNPR covered the one-year anniversary of the enactment of Nevada’s Domestic Partnership Act. Host Luis Hernandez spoke with four guests, two of whom were also sources for my Desert Companion story on the same subject.

The producer of the show, Irene Noguchi, invited me to sit in the production room and watch the discussion live. From that vantage point, I could hear both the aired conversation and Irene’s screening of callers. The behind-the-scenes flurry of calls about marriage and partnership and rights reminded me of things I wanted to say in the magazine article, but couldn’t.

A lot of any story gets left on the cutting room floor or off the air. Readers and listeners will only give journalists so much of their time, and we respect the value of it by giving them what we hope are the most important and relevant points.

Among the parts of this story that had to be cut was one that matters to me (and all my sources) personally: For some couples, a religious marriage is out of the question. Does that mean they don’t deserve the rights afforded to married people?

My boyfriend Peter and I live together, and raise his kids together (part-time, along with their mom) in the house we bought together. Our commitment to each other couldn’t be more apparent. But he’s an atheist and I’m an agnostic. We’re uncomfortable with the idea of being bound by a religious sacrament, which marriage seems to be. (If it isn’t, then why do opponents of same-sex marriage base their arguments on religious concepts, such as the “sanctity of marriage”?)

OK, so Peter and I could become domestic partners. This would definitely make our lives a lot easier. (See the story for more on that.) Still, we would lack the benefits of marriage determined by federal law, because of DOMA. As one of the guests on SON pointed out this morning, we’d be fine as long as we stayed in Nevada, but heaven forbid we get in a car accident in Utah. We would no longer have the right to make life-or-death decisions for each other. That right would go, instead, to next of kin.

In our case, it’s unlikely that either of our sets of parents would deny Peter or me the privilege of caring for one another in a time of need. You never know what can happen, though, and we’re heterosexuals, free from the cultural taboos that further vex the situation for same-sex couples (and prevent even those who do want a religious marriage from having it).

From this example you begin to see that marriage is the elephant in any room where domestic partnership comes up. That’s because the rights and responsibilities bestowed on people by domestic partnership are modeled on those granted to married people, while falling far short of full equality.

Consider the Nevada Domestic Partnership Act, which employs the word “spouse” throughout to describe the relationship – then at the end reminds us it is not to be confused with marriage.

I surmise this is to prevent domestic partners from obtaining the rights that married people have both within and outside their respective states, in the federal jurisdiction, and to keep closed the can of worms that is same-sex marriage.

But why? If marriage is a civil, not a religious, institution, then on what grounds are marriage rights denied? Let me put it another way: If Peter and I choose to live in sin, churches, which define sin, may care, but why should the federal government?

If it doesn’t – and if we fulfill all the other criteria of marriage – then why can’t we get a married couple’s rights without getting a church’s blessing?

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