This is what happened for me when I met Luna, the Incredible Recycling Dog. I wrote a feature about Luna and her master, a dear friend of mine, Jim Kleinwachter, in my newly published book, "Gardening Nude." Tragically, Luna died this week from liver complications, and I find myself saddened and in tears over her death. She was wonderful.
It is a coincidence that just last week, my dog, Harry the Pug, and I wrote a review on " Remembering Ruby," a book about pet loss and bringing family together. Pets bring much love and enhance community. If you are able to live with pets and do not have allergy problems, I highly recommend it - reducing stress, isolation, and depression are just a few benefits of owning a pet.
Please read the below excerpt from my book, " Gardening Nude," in salute to Luna, and help me to remember an amazing dog's life. My family will miss you sweet Luna; you touched our lives with your special love.
Mr. Answerman and the Incredible Recycling Dog
Recently, I had the distinct privilege of meeting Luna, the Incredible Recycling Dog. Her owner, Jim Kleinwachter, testifies to Luna’s amazing ability and invited me over one morning to show me how wonderful she truly is. When I came over to meet Luna, an English Springer Spaniel, Kleinwachter told me his strong belief that animals can improve a person’s health. Luna and he often go hunting together and share time walking and exercising outdoors. Kleinwachter feels Luna has encouraged him to be healthier. After seeing Luna’s exuberant enthusiasm for walking, running, and recycling, I agree.
Luna adores her master and excitedly runs in front of him wherever he walks. If he changes direction, she does too, anxiously jumping in front of him to protect him on his travels. We walked his expansive nature-filled backyard with Luna happily wagging and turning to check that we were safe every few minutes. The grounds are beautiful, yet Kleinwachter uses no fertilizers or excessive chemical weed killers on the property to help keep Luna and the other native plants and animals which live there safe.
There is something else that makes Luna particularly special. Luna is “off color” according to her breeder. Springer Spaniels are supposed to have dark patches over the eyes and ears with a white stripe down the nose: if they do not, they cannot be shown at dog shows. Many breeders put these mis-colored dogs down, killing them for no other reason than they have poor coloring. Luna was lucky—the Kleinwachter family found her before that happened. Kleinwachter and his family are eternally grateful for the love of their dog Luna and feel she has contributed to the family’s health and emotional connection with nature. Kleinwachter grins and says, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”
Kleinwachter stopped, plopped down a recycling bin and said, “Now watch this!” In astonishment, I watch as Luna repeatedly picks up plastic bottles and deposits them in the recycle bin. She excitedly runs in circles wagging her tail and waiting for more recycling duty. She repeated it dozens of times and Kleinwachter said she would do it all day if he let her. Luna IS the Incredible Recycling Dog!
Jim Kleinwachter is a conservationist, and is as unique and special as his dog Luna. He is tall, at 6’4”, and I have found many people look up to him, not because of his height, but because he has dedicated his life to educating people about conservation and making a difference in his community. While Luna helps him with the basics, Kleinwachter has truly expanded on this and become a special part of his local community.
Kleinwachter and friends on one of his infamous river sweeps.
Kleinwachter has become a mentor for me in relationship to environmental education. I met Kleinwachter over nine years ago. I remember the exact day. He managed his family owned hardware store in the local community. Little did I know then how my life would be changed because of his influence and on-going mentoring of my conservation and environmental knowledge.
That particular summer day I was going to the hardware store to consider paint. My husband and I had recently been married and I had moved into Kleinwachter’s small community. Standing in front of the large paint display, I frowned and thought about color. Kleinwachter asked if I wanted help and I told him I could not afford any of his paint. “No problem! There’s a paint recycling center nearby. Maybe you can find some free paint there.” Paint recycling. The beginning of my conservation education—I had never thought of it before.
Over that first year in my new community I often went into Kleinwachter’s hardware store. He was the answer guru—always teaching, guiding and mentoring me in ways to improve my household. Almost all of his suggestions were the most economical and were distinctly conservation minded. The hardware store was sold and I did not hear from him for many years.
Then one day a few years ago I joined a community organization and met Kleinwachter again. I squinted at him from across the room. Suddenly it dawned on me, “Hey! I know where I know you from!” He raised his eyebrows. “You’re the hardware manager who always helped me!” That was the beginning of a great friendship with a man I have come to know as “Mr. Answerman”—my personal environmental encyclopedia.
Kleinwachter’s knowledge of ecological and conservation issues comes from a life-long concern for nature and the environment. It makes sense that he taught his best bud, Luna, how to recycle! Kleinwachter is a Land Protection Specialist and works tirelessly through The Conservation Foundation in Illinois to educate individual homeowners on how they can make a difference by practicing conservation. Kleinwachter has created and heads a division of The Conservation Foundation called Conservation @ Home which has pulled over 400 residents from Illinois to practice better home conservation. He co-founded and coordinated the DuPage River Sweep Program, which has extended into three counties in Illinois and has been responsible for removing over fifty tons of debris from local rivers. His dream has been to bring the scientifically based and sometimes complicated environmental issues and translate them so the average homeowner can understand and participate in conservation more easily.
The remarkable thing about Kleinwachter is that no matter the question I throw at him, and believe me, I have thrown hundreds of environmental questions at the poor man, he always knows the answer. Soon our emails jokingly shared subject lines with the title, “Mr. Answerman To The Rescue.” He has certainly become my personal mentor in the conservation world and has helped me learn more than I ever imagined. This is also what I recommend for you. If you feel daunted by the overwhelming issues related to greening and conservation, one of the best things to do is find a friend who can be a mentor and help guide you with home conservation much as Kleinwachter has helped guide me. Even if your friend knows very little about greening and conservation, perhaps you can learn more together. This book is a start of course, but caring for your property and the environment is an on-going process. Finding a friend who can help you learn more to expand your conservation plan will help you both, and remember the ultimate benefit will be that you will get healthier when exposed to less chemicals and practice better environmental care.
Kleinwachter, of course, has devoted his life to this. Recently, I asked him why he is so tirelessly dedicated to conservation. His reply, “My philosophy is that we all have a responsibility to leave this planet in better shape than we found it. Typically, people think government will take care of these things—everything will be fine—and they need not contribute. They say, ‘What will my efforts matter?’ I try to change that attitude: it DOES matter!”
He is able to educate people through The Conservation Foundation. To begin with, he has developed a long list of conservation Fact Sheets which he has made available on the Conservation @ Home website. The fact sheet link is located at the back of this book. More importantly, he has developed a way for interested homeowners to be linked with friends in conservation by participating in the Conservation @ Home Program. Some of the goals of the program include encouraging water conservation by promoting native landscaping, encouraging the “think global, act local” mindset in communities, rewarding landowners for using good conservation practices, educating landowners on how to create wildlife habitat’s in their own gardens, and creating a group of united homeowners who can get to know one another and build a conservation community. Each homeowner receives a Conservation @ Home sign which they proudly display on their property when they have achieved a Conservation @ Home status.
Another benefit of educating the public for Kleinwachter and his lovely dog, Luna, is they have made friends in the community. Working with the public, learning more about and helping care for the people and nature within his community has contributed to Kleinwachter’s overall health. He looks good, feels good, and is living a satisfied lifestyle. I asked him about why he participates in all the organizations he does which help the community. Kleinwachter said, “It makes me feel good to get out and make a difference. I meet people and get to know them; I help them. It’s an exhilarating feeling to know that I have a purpose in life and that purpose is to help others live a better and healthier lifestyle.”