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Friday, January 20, 2012

Be the Change You Want to See...

(Siberian Husky Jackson, about to be sprung from the pound to enter Nor Sled Rescue)

It happened again. I was checking Facebook early this morning and confronted by a graphic, horrific photograph of a tortured dog. The intent of those who post this sort of image is admirable, but ultimately misguided. That particular photograph was probably taken as evidence in a criminal case; the parties involved (and their parents) are facing trial. The animal was quickly and humanely euthanized. I’m not sure why the photo ended up on the net, and I’m sure it was never intended to be released to the public.
We post those images out of outrage, not considering the effectiveness or consequences of sharing. The first time I saw that picture I had nightmares. Now imagine if my 12-year-old niece saw it. When I see photos like this, I always ask the poster not to share such images. This is obscene and X-rated, and not in a good way. Sometimes they unfriend me, and that’s ok. You see, I save animals...for real. I’ve taken in many fosters and rescues and have been involved in the re-homing of literally hundreds of dogs. My friends do the same, one runs a cutting edge Siberian rescue that runs out of the Bay Area. Women like her are today's true saints.
We always have a rescue in our house; at the moment it’s Fancy, an older border collie cross that was on death row. Before that was Hannah, an abandoned pit bull cross left tied to a pole outside a grocery store in blazing heat. When a large-scale breeder began neglecting her animals due to her age and health, a small group of us intervened; over a three-year period, we re-homed well over one hundred puppies and retired show dogs. Several dogs were unadoptable; my friend Barb kept most of those, giving them a stable, safe home. She also rescues horses and cats. We’ve dealt with abuse, abandonment, neglect and just plain stupidity. My life isn’t completely dedicated to rescue, but many people have devoted their existence to helping animals.

I want you to consider these two quotes when you are outraged and want to do something...really do something:

• Be the change you want to see in the world. (Ghandi)
• Think globally, act locally.

Both are quotes we see on the bumper stickers of battered vans and upscale hybrids. In this case, there are ways that you can effectively assist our pet population. Posting your outrage on Facebook is a good way of sharing your sentiments, but a poor way of actually being effective. Do you want to make matters better for animals? Then visit your local animal shelter and check on volunteer opportunities. Some animals need grooming and socialization; our shelter has people come in specifically to walk and pet animals. But be aware, unless you’re in a no-kill shelter, many of the animals are destined for euthanasia. It takes a certain type of strength and compassion to give animals love in what might be their last days. Those people are truly amazing.

Other ways you can help:

• Foster an animal. Many rescue organizations will put a ‘hold’ on an animal, sparing its life until a volunteer can remove the animal to a temporary foster home.
• If you can’t foster, network. Attend adoption fairs, volunteer your computer skills, help with fundraisers, or post lists of adoptable animals to your regional social networks.
• Can you take a quick, unplanned trip? Many rescue organizations need volunteers to pull animals from shelters and transport them to rescue or veterinary care.
• Donate money and goods. Some shelters are associated with local governments and donations are absorbed into general funds, which may not benefit the shelter at all. In that case, look into the shelter’s wish list. They often need collars, bandanas, pet beds, food and so forth.
• Think Locally: Beware of where you send your money. For example, PETA’s primary focus is on eliminating the use of animals for food and clothing. Their basic philosophy rejects animals as pets. Thus, their official animal shelter has an absurdly high kill rate, over 90% annually. The Humane Society of the United States has no shelters at all; they primarily deal in money and political lobbying, and very little actually goes to animals. Most money goes to salaries and advertising. Neither cause is a good use of your funds.
• Shop for a cause: many rescues have Amazon affiliation or host annual auctions.
• Write for a cause: Delilah Devlin and the Diamond State Romance Writers are accepting submissions for an anthology that benefits the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. http://www.delilahdevlin.com/blog/2012/01/13/call-for-submissions-wild-at-heart/
• Are you outraged by Michael Vick and his dog-fighting ring? Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a no kill shelter that gave sanctuary to some of Vick’s dogs. Dubbed the Vicktory Dogs, they can still use your sponsorship: http://network.bestfriends.org/groups/pitbullspecialfeature/news/archive/2011/01/31/pittie-city-meet-some-of-the-rescued-dogs-at-best-friends.aspx
• Adopt an older or ‘special’ animal. Some special needs animals need a high amount of dedication. For example, Skky is a Siberian Husky who lost both her eyes to disease. Her foster mom trained this sweet girl to negotiate her new world, and ended up keeping her permanently. Can you overlook a missing ear, leg or tail? Are you willing to forego a puppy for a grateful adult? If so, you will be saving a life. Your local shelter has many adoptable animals. If you want a purebred dog, there are literally thousands of breed rescue organizations. You can also contact a reputable breeder (contact local kennel clubs for referrals) who might be looking for homes for show dogs that didn’t make the cut, or for retired champions. These dogs who know there’s more to life than living in kennels. They’re also usually well trained. :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

From Real Life: A Heroine


Missy was the sort of woman I really wanted to hate. After all, she’d landed the position I’d applied for at work. She was a brand new graduate, about 25 years old, with a new baby and an uber-macho fire-fighter husband in tow. And her looks...wide brown eyes, bee-stung lips and long, velvety brown hair. I wound up in a position subordinate to her and had to listen to her endlessly cheerful gossip every day at lunch. Damn, it was hard not to like her!

And yes, she was a gossip. She shared fun gossip, malicious gossip and mundane gossip. She had a wild sense of humor and a solid sense of personal ethics. She had her ups and downs in her job and in time, I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t get the position. Turned out her boss was a nightmare and the position itself was pretty miserable. Eventually, I was promoted and sent to an early brain development program and didn’t see her for quite some time.

After a year or so, I was transferred to another position; one I didn’t want. This one was in preschool fitness and nutrition. I’d loved working in most of my positions within Public Health but this one didn’t hold much promise. Aside from working directly with preschoolers and their parents, I was assigned to work closely with Missy. While I liked her, I wasn't quite prepared to work with her full-time.

Turns out we got along great. By this time, the shine had rubbed off the department for both of us. She’d been labeled a gossip and troublemaker. I’d sent up red flags when the department had briefly placed me in a position at Children's Protective Services, in a building infected with toxic black mold. I had the nerve to go to the doctor to have the mold levels in my blood checked. (they were high, and I'm allergic to black mold) As a result, management monitored us both as troublemakers. Our contacts with other staff members were limited, we were “discouraged” from taking breaks with others. Needless to say, this was a terribly hostile work environment.

We wound up traveling to jobs together, taking breaks and lunches together and generally getting pretty close. She was pregnant with her second child, and to my horror, management requested that she work right up until her due date. When she came to work cramping and sick at the beginning of her 9th month, our supervisor and manager pressured her to do a preschool visit. Instead, I covered for her while she visited her doctor. She was in trouble with her pregnancy and spent her final weeks at home resting. I missed her greatly during the months that she was away.

When she returned to work, she had another worry. Her best friend was sick. I’d known about this from the start, but now the woman was dying of kidney failure. Missy agonized over her friend’s illness; no compatible kidney donor could be found and the woman’s family refused to test. One day we were talking and Missy said that if she could do it, she’d donate her own kidney. Clearly, she meant it because she went in and tested. She was not 100% compatible, but was close enough to give the doctors some hope.

Everyone tried to talk her out of it. Work was not supportive at all; they threw up every roadblock they could. Her husband backed her. I backed her. That was pretty much it. As her friend grew progressively closer to death, Missy made arrangements to donate to her best friend.

The surgery was a success. Within days, her friend’s health turned around completely. Within a year, the woman had married her boyfriend and was pregnant. Missy saved the life of her best friend. She gave her a future.

And at work, they gave Missy hell. She was scrutinized, lectured and pressured on a daily basis. The department had fallen on hard times due to the state budget, and clearly, they were headhunting...just not in a good way. Missy was at the top of their list. In spite of physical fatigue and the constant pressure, she kept on and bore the pressure gracefully.

Somehow, the story Missy’s donation to her friend reached the local press and their story appeared in the paper. At work, they planned to fire her for taking the time away for the surgery. Suddenly, the Department had a bona fide heroine on their hands. To no one's surprise the disciplinary action never materialized. After I finally quit, she continued with the department as she had a third child, and then returned to college part-time, earning her teaching credential.

My friend did something that was amazing. Heroic. She put her own life on the line for that of her friend. She risked her job on the line and she strained relations with her family and friends. She did this out of love but also because to her, it was the right thing to do. She had to do it. Missy is not a perfect person. But in her way, she’s larger than life. So yeah, she gossips a bit too much, but heck, she saved a life. She inspired me to change the donor status on my driver’s license and to go to the local blood center to sign up as a platelet and marrow donor. And I know darn well I’ve made a difference. And if it hadn’t been for Missy, I might never have made that commitment. If not for Missy, a young mother would have died tragically young.

She is a heroine worthy of her own story.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From Real Life: The Walker


We called him The Walker.

He was a young man when we first noticed him, maybe 17 or so. He lived midway down Lake Boulevard in an area studded with tiny ramshackle houses and ratty, single-wide trailers. At the time, I was in my mid-twenties and having gone through a divorce, the loss of my beloved grandfather, a schism between myself and my father, and a severe health crisis, I felt ancient. Cynical. I was only five or six years older than him. When we first noticed the Walker on Lake Blvd., we laughed at him.

He was tall and awkwardly thin, and walked with an exaggerated, swinging stride, one arm dropped straight to the side, the other swinging in a precise arc, cigarette between two fingers. His posture was perfectly upright, as though he’d been trained to keep his spine straight and shoulders back. As he walked, his bearing nearly screamed, “I’m scared to death, but you’ll never know.” His curly hair was brassy blonde and he wore clothing that was a fusion of cheap fad and thrift store drek. In the blazing summer, he wore denim cut-offs and flip flops on his tanned feet. In the spring and fall, he walked barefoot, disguising his pain behind a false front. In the winter, he wore a cheap vinyl jacket, similar to something Michael Jackson popularized in his videos. He wore his hair in a mullet.

And he walked.

We’d see him out in our more rural neck of the woods, covering miles in that loping stride. We’d see him downtown or at the bottom of Sulpher Creek Hill, where the hotels had degenerated into ratty flophouses. Sometimes he hitchhiked. Most of the time he just walked. From morning till night, he walked.

Over the years, his appearance evolved. Sometimes his hair was short and bleached; other times it grew longer and back to its normal dishwater blonde. He grew taller, though never heavier. His blue eyes grew progressively more glazed and dazed, leading us to believe that he was falling into drug addiction; at that time, crack was the drug of choice in our area. Sometimes he vanished for weeks at a time and in an odd way I missed him. Eventually, I came to see him as more than part of the landscape.

It never occurred to me that the Walker was a working boy. Late one night I was driving up Market Street and saw him leaving one of the sleazy motels along there. He staggered, his face bloody and battered. I didn’t offer him a ride, nor did I call the police. Somehow, I didn’t think he’d appreciate that. The next day, he was walking the boulevard again, moving with a slight limp, his face swollen and bruised.Years later, I found that he lived within walking distance of a wooded area where men met to hook up.

After that night, his bizarre clothing made sense. He often strolled along in old tank tops that were cut to bare his gaunt belly, and he wore smudged guyliner long before it was a fad. I came to realize that one of the reasons he intrigued me was his similarity to an ex-boyfriend, though he was far seedier and debauched than my ex would ever appear.

He vanished again, and this time didn’t come back for a very long time. A year or more passed while I wrestled with going to school, working and raising two little girls. I didn’t really think often of the Walker or why he had vanished. But when he showed up again, it was like seeing an old friend. His posture was as upright and perfect as ever, and he still walked with that awkwardly casual stride. His eyes though...they were tired. Weary. His hair was darkening and his skin was pale, leading me to believe been somewhere without sunshine.

One day, I saw him walking with a young boy; they were heading into a convenience store. On impulse, I turned into the parking lot and went in. I'd never actually seen him in person before. He was there at the counter, buying the boy a wrapped hamburger and a soda. I assumed the kid was a nephew and that the Walker had a new gig...babysitting. I never found out.

I stood behind them in line and listened as the ravaged young man babbled on about nothing. He talked about someone who’d crossed him and how he planned to kick their ass. He looked at me and the insanity in his eyes was painful to witness. It scared me that he was alone with a child. It scared me to be close to him. He smelled bad, a combination of body odor, tobacco and the biting scent of something else that was not pot or alcohol. His eyes were reddened and glassy; the skin underneath dark and bruised looking. He’d gone from skinny to gaunt.

I paid and hurried from the store, and I never saw the Walker again. He vanished one last time.

I watched for him on Lake Blvd, but he never walked there anymore. I never again saw him haunting the Market St. motels, nor did I see him around the bus stop or convenience store. He might have overdosed, been arrested or lapsed into insanity. Maybe he fell to AIDS. I don’t know and never will.

The Walker was a part of my life for nearly a decade. Barely a day went by that I didn’t see him somewhere. Sometimes we laughed at his clothing and walk. Other times Mom and I would look at him and sadly look away. Regardless of who he was or what he did, he was a person with a life. At one point, he must have had dreams and goals. I look back now and wonder if he was a victim of schizophrenia. Years later I spoke with a public health nurse who remembered him as a mental health patient, but she wasn’t completely sure.

I think someday I’ll write a story for him. And in that story, I’ll give him a happy ending. How could I not?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Big Winner is....

Rhonda Wolf! Rhonda, I'll email you with details on the drawing.

I want to thank each and every one of you who visited my blog this month and shared a little about yourself. It truly means a lot to me and I enjoy each and every one of you.

So for now, I wish you the happiest and most productive New Year ever! Lets make 2012 the best it can be.

Tune in soon for my next blog entry; haven't quite decided what to write about but I'm sure it will have something to do with Resolutions...

Love muchly,

Belinda