Friday, December 21, 2007

"The Present"


created by Mike Payne


Charlie's Ark "The Present" was sent to me by a very dear friend who lives in the UK and who wanted to share the touching story of The Present with her friends here in the United States. I have decided to share Charlie's Ark "The Present" with you because it is a beautiful presentation that has so much meaning especially at this time of year... when we give from the heart, we do understand that it is truly better to give than to receive.

Merry Christmas Mandy, thank you for sharing Mike's powerful message with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Life and Death, Angel's Wings and everything in Between

Originally posted Christmas of 2006


"One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole" Clarence the Angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”


Last night, as I slowly began to settle in for this Christmas Eve night, I was, for the very first time breaking with tradition, a Christmas Eve tradition which I have kept for the past twenty-five years. This year, I made the decision to forego my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Frank Capra classic, a movie like no other and a movie which I have loved for more than those twenty-five years, each year, more than the last. And so, addiction being addiction, albeit it one to a warm fuzzy ending, after twenty-five years, I couldn’t just quit this habit cold turkey; truth be told, I did have the television on in the next room and my husband grew tired of yelling at me over the audio-only version. How do you completely toss out a time-honored tradition when it is one that just feels so darned good? Well, I couldn’t, and so, as in every year before, my ears were finely tuned to the next line, every line of the movie and I know them so well, but this year, as I said the lines nearly as perfectly as Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed did, the video portion of the evening’s entertainment was not the black and white film starring two Hollywood icons. No, the video portion this year, and it was in high-definition and in living color too, the video portion of It’s a Wonderful Life was the year-long reel-to-reel playing in my head....the movie? It’s a Wonderful Life, of course! It is a wonderful life, only, it’s my wonderful life.If you have seen this holiday classic once, or if you have watched it over and over and over again like me, then surely you must know why it is so beloved. But, if you haven’t, I will tell you that the movie, at its very core, drives home the message that each one of us matters to the world around us, regardless of whether or not we know it. Because each one of us influences the lives of others, and often in ways that we will never know, our own life’s success, any honorable and “good” man’s life success, is ultimately measured by all the lives we enrich, others’ lives, and not by the dollars which we collect in our bank accounts. Money, it turned out in the movie, really couldn’t bring Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, happiness, nevertheless, it was George’s wealth that did eventually change his perspective...his wealth of friendships. It is after years of living honorably and seemingly getting nowhere, that George finally questions his own existence, a question which many of us have grappled with at some point in our own lives, and only with the assistance of an angel, Clarence, does George come to realize that his really was a wonderful life. In his darkest hour, as he contemplates his life and possible death if he doesn’t screw that up too, he commits one more selfless act when he saves a man from drowning. Little did he know that the man he saved was really Clarence, sent to show George just why it is that his life matters so much. And of course, good triumphs and Clarence is able to earn his wings when George realizes that no matter what the future holds for him, he wants that future, he wants his life, for he has indeed had a wonderful life. If I live to be a hundred, I will always get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, I will always get goose-bumps on my skin, and I will always wipe away more than one tear, when as George’s life crisis is nearing a resolution, his brother Harry offers a toast to, “the richest man in town”.......George may not have amassed a fortune, instead he acquired a lifetime of friends because of how he effected their lives. It’s corny, It’s sappy, and it’s a happy ending; it’s the way life is meant to be and I must have always known that somehow, after all, I have seen the movie a few times. But, it’s this new version, my version of It’s a Wonderful Life that holds my interest this Christmas Eve.....who did I make a difference for this past year? Did I miss the little opportunities that don’t always announce themselves with bells and whistles? Did I fail miserably having made no difference at all, to anyone, this past year? Although it was never my intention to share any of the three following stories that are central to my version, as I keep hitting the rewind button of this past year, these are the three stories, the three people who are the only ones who can tell this version of Life and Death, Angels’ Wings and Everything in Between, because these are the three people that play on the screen of my mind of my wonderful life.Tony, I like to think, is someone who I made a difference for this past year, albeit a very small difference, a difference nevertheless It was last spring, nearly eight months into the long-term animal rescue efforts of which I was still taking part in, that I came across a scruffy man and his beagle. He was standing near an intersection, holding a sign, a sign I couldn’t bring myself to read because I was sure of what his message was: this man was homeless and I will not deny that the extra tug at my heart that day came because the homeless man shared his begging space with a small dog, a beagle. I have always believed that any homeless person who is traveling with or caring for an animal, has just got to have the biggest heart if he or she is willing to share such a meager life with another creature. So yes, I will admit that my U-turn that day was guaranteed by the sight of that beagle huddled up against that man. But, what unfolded that day was more than that, for the man I returned to offer money to, and for me as well.By the time I was able to complete the u-turn and return to the spot in which I had spotted the pair, both the man and his dog were gone. Fortunately, I saw them traveling along the highway and was able to catch up to them both as they turned into a parking lot of a small convenience store and headed toward the back. Tony, as it turned out, is a fifty-four year old Vietnam Veteran who has been homeless for twenty years. The beagle, obviously much younger, was a dog he came across, and rescued, following Katrina. I listened to his story about saving the dog and upon closer examination of the beagle, I was certain that this dog had no prior family and that the very best place for him was in fact with Tony, a man who so clearly loved him. Tony and I talked for some time that afternoon and although he never lifted his head completely enough to look me in the eyes, I think I saw him smile a time or two, and I am positive that I saw tears when I was able to give him the one thing he told me he was saving up his cash to buy: a tent. The bridge under which he and his pup slept at night was a great spot, he told me, but when it rained, the walls did leak and so he was going to buy a tent someday but he could only save a dollar or two at a time. I didn’t need any sign from up above, I didn’t need any bell to go off, I knew in an instant just why it was that I had come across Tony that day, a very unusual day for me because I was driving my husband’s truck instead of my own. So as I walked around the back of the truck and lifted the hatch, I’m not exactly sure what Tony expected when I told him that I had something for him, but I swear he nearly fainted on the spot when I pulled out and handed to him a brand new Coleman tent, my husband’s newest camping gear. After a few moments of wiping his face, he slowly walked over to me and told me that if he wasn’t so filthy, he would shake my hand and give me a proper thank you. It was my turn to fight back the tears and to fight back the enormous lump in my throat when I held out my hand and told him that I would be honored to shake his hand but no thanks were needed for the tent.........Tony took my hand and told me that the proper thanks he needed to give me were not for the tent. Although the tent was the best thing he could have ever imagined being given, he told me that the proper thanks he needed to give, the thanks that he felt a duty to give, were for my conversation, it had been so long since Tony had enjoyed a conversation.Bryan, I hope and pray, is a young man who will one day, someday, remember me and the time we spent together, but only for a brief second of time it will take for him to make the right call about a stranger he meets, a stranger who is different than he isIt was sometime near the end of summer, maybe around Labor Day, that I became aware of people, real live people, who had moved onto, or back onto S. Miro Street. S. Miro Street, as you may recall, is a street on which I spend much of my time trapping and feeding and trapping some more, but it is a deserted street, a lonely street, near the Charity Hospital off of Tulane Avenue in New Orleans. It had been so many months of time on S. Miro Street and then one day, a family appeared, an older black woman, a young black woman, and two children.Bryan was only twelve but already as tall as any adult and after noticing that he was the one watching me every evening, with an obvious look of “what the heck is she doing on my street?” I decided to just tell him, tell his mother and aunt and sister, and so I did. I introduced myself, told them what I was doing, why I was doing it and sure enough, it was Bryan who threw out question after question. “What do you do with the cats after you trap them?” “Why can’t you release the babies?” “What if you catch a dog or a racoon?”And so it went, for nearly six weeks. Bryan would meet me every night it seemed to help lay out traps, to take some packs of wet food on the nights we spotted baby kittens but were not quick enough to catch, to talk about his sixth grade class at Sophie B. Wright, to talk about Katrina and his friends he missed. Bryan and I never once talked about black or white, young or old, rich or poor, we just talked and his mom would wave to me every now and then and then one day they were gone. I pulled up one evening and a man was almost finished loading a U-Haul trailer with items he carried from the house in which I knew Bryan and his family lived. Finally, I got to meet Bryan’s father, a man who drove an 18 wheeler for a living and wasn’t home as much as he would like, but he was moving his family closer to him so that would change. I would miss Bryan but I knew that this was a good thing for him and for his family. I wondered if Bryan would miss his trapping adventures and it wasn’t long before I got my answer.It was nearly a month after Bryan and his family moved away, a sunny Saturday morning, during a solitary trapping session on S. Miro Street, I got word from Bryan, sort of. I was hunkered down on the side of a vacant glass factory warehouse, waiting silently for that tabby cat to make his appearance right into my trap, when a pickup truck driven by a middle-aged black man pulled up and ruined that trapping session, for the morning anyway. As I got up and walked over, ready to yet again explain who I was, just what I was doing there, and finally offer my rear bumper as all the credentials one would need (my Animal Rescue New Orleans bumper sticker, of course) I was slightly taken aback when this man, a man I had never met before, never seen before, rolled down his window and yelled out that he had something for me. This is going to be good, I thought, or really bad. When it became clear to the man that I intended to walk no further, he stepped out of his truck and completed the distance between us. “Hold out your hand” he commanded and what else could I do? As I held out my hand, determined that it would not shake, he held out his, and in my hand he placed 3 small sealed packets of Meow Mix, wet cat food. I looked at him, half expecting him to say that he saw them fall out of my truck, but instead, he told me that they were from Bryan, and he pointed to the house where Bryan used to live. He told me that Bryan told him to keep an eye out for that “crazy white lady” but then he leaned in toward me and told me that Bryan told him that he had a secret, he said Bryan told him I really wasn’t crazy at all, I was a hero. As I looked down at my hand, through the tears that I didn’t even try to hold back, the man told me that Bryan wanted him to be sure to get these packets to me and that I would know exactly what to do with them. I sure do know what to do with them Bryan, I’m going to save them for the next person who gives me a chance, the next person who doesn’t care that I am different, the next person who, like you did, judges me by my insides instead of the color of my outside. If the day ever comes that Bryan questions his own existence, if his Angel is determined to earn his own wings, he had better allow Bryan to revisit our time together, because Bryan made a difference for me, and I can only hope that ultimately, I made a difference for him.I am a person, still making every effort to keep this newly found heart open to the world and all, and who it has to offer, but I know that I have made a difference to me, the person I am, different than who I wasThe third person of my replayed movie of my mind, is me. And while Tony and Bryan required background information so that you might fully understand why they appear in my version of It’s a Wonderful Life, I will not. You already know me through my writings here and you know to an extent, who I am. But, you never knew who I was, as I didn’t begin sharing my thoughts with the rest of the world until I made that decision last Christmas that my heart was different and different it would stay. So, instead of background information, I will share with you a very brief but oh so significant exchange that recently took place between myself and someone who knows me well, my husband.On a recent evening, my husband and I were talking about another individual, someone who we both know through one of our employment situations. We were speaking about this individual when my husband suddenly made a comment about this person that caused me to have flashbacks and feelings of deja vu: my husband commented upon this person’s negativity and that he is just a negative person. I immediately lost all train of thought regarding our conversation and instead had all these memories come flooding back....you see, my husband has always told me how negative a person I am, but in that instant, I realized I hadn’t heard him say that recently. So, I stopped him mid sentence and I asked him for the reason....why didn’t he say that anymore to me? I asked him why he stopped telling me that I was one of the most negative people he knew........he laughed before he answered. My husband, my husband of seven years, a person who does know me well, better than most you would think, laughed and then looked at me and said “Because you’re not like that anymore, that’s not who you are anymore.”So this Christmas Eve, I will not be looking for Clarence to show me just how wonderful life really is, but I suspect he will have every opportunity to earn his wings right here in New Orleans, so many are still hurting so much.... I lost a friend this year who needed Clarence badly. Please God, send an army of Clarences to this city, only not to me. You see God, this year, after nearly forty of them, I no longer question my existence, in fact, it is one of the very few things that I am certain of and although it is difficult to define in concrete terms the answer to that question that many of us eventually face, for me, I do in fact have my answer and no longer question why I am here.I know why I am here and because of that, I face the world so differently than I did a year ago. Whereas I have always had a strength of my convictions to change the world, what I lacked in the past was the clarity of vision as to why to change that world, and as I have learned this past year, that clarity can only be obtained as part of an on-the-job training. It was my own conscious decision this time last year, when I resolved to open my heart to others, when I traded my tunnel vision for a pair of rose-colored glasses, it was that decision that, although unbeknownst to me at the time, was my fork in the road, and as I look back at the path, I can clearly see that I didn’t change direction, rather, the direction I took changed me. Shakespeare himself decided the world was his oyster, and I have never doubted that the world is in fact, my oyster. However, I also never counted on the strength of the heart being the strength that would dwarf all my convictions: to paraphrase Ghandi, Why change the world when I can be the change in the world? Until I opened my heart, I didn’t understand that the world is not here for me, I am here for the world, and that is the answer which Clarence might have helped me see with my eyes, but this Christmas I feel it with my heart. Why accept the world as my oyster, if instead, I can be its pearl? Clarence, if you are watching, keep going buddy, someone else earned his wings on me, and if you see him, tell him I said Thank You, and oh yes, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bully Breeds

"I like that shade of orange on you, it goes well with your skin tone and your hair" she said that morning, and as I looked down at the shrimp-colored blazer, I smiled because, well because the color did look good on me. Today was a sunny day, and now it felt that way.

Was it squash? Maybe some sort of casserole? It was pumpkin, spiced pumpkin, the kind that you find in a pie and it was gloppy and goopy and it smelled bad right there on my shoulder. I hadn’t seen it coming, why would I? It was never intended for me, still, it hit me before it even got close to HIS target, the sniveling weak kid that he constantly picked on. Funny, pumpkin is orange colored isn’t it? Why was the only color I saw then, red?

"Do you have anything sharp in your pockets?" he asked and as I looked down through my tears, I could see that the orange blazer had no pockets. On the ride there, I wondered if I had made a mistake in not telling them about the machete in my truck, the one I carry to cut down vegetation on my dog-tracking efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans. I decided against it but with every effort to keep my voice from shaking, I heard the words "Can you check my bag? I sometimes carry a pocket-knife for protection and I don’t want to be in any more trouble once we get there" It was so dark outside the windows, was the tint that dark? I wondered if the world could see me in the back of that car?

I don’t even remember his name, only that he was the wormy kid, the one that Tommy Lathn mercilessly tortured and tormented. He was starting to cry, quietly, like he always did, he knew he was going to bleed today and he was trying to shrug it off, but, like he always did, he couldn’t, and so he cried, and he waited.....

I heard the commotion but my mind didn’t register what it was because I was watching the drunk out of the corner of my eye as I waited to be "intaked" that night, intaked into the jail, the prison, the penal system, Orleans Parish Prison, OPP. Your body reacts sometimes before your mind has time to tell it not to and so I turned but only for an instant because an instant was all I needed to see what I knew I wasn’t supposed to be seeing and so I turned back, yeah, that quick, but not quick enough.

He was half-way to rounding the corner of the cafeteria table, he was going to get him no matter what and if the pumpkin pie didn’t get there, than there were other ways to make that little kid cry today, only he never saw me in the way of his mission

He was about seven or eight feet tall and he was berating the man in front of him, the one shaking out his socks and shoes, for what I don’t know, nor did I care. The words he uttered weren’t enough I suppose, they didn’t quite evoke the humiliation factor that he was going for and so in the instant I saw it, all within the instant, he reached over and in one sleek movement, snapped him up by his waistband and hurled him to the brick floor below. And so I turned quickly away, but not quickly enough.

He didn’t even notice me, why would he? He was intent on making that kid cry more and cry harder and so he shrugged me off as I got closer, like an insect, just like an afterthought, but he should have thought about it first

It was an instant and it was a lifetime. As my legs buckled out from under me, presumably the result of the other prisoner’s flailing legs or arms, it seemed as if my knees hit the bricks at the same time my face hit the pavement but I don’t think that is possible, but, the thud of my heart in my chest and then the same thud in my mouth wasn’t possible either. With my hands still cuffed behind my back, I closed my eyes on the way down this surreal fall. Had I tried to get up? I don’t think I could have, I had nothing to brace myself with but I must have made the effort because the boot snapped my head back down as I watched the man with the socks and shoes through my tears and mouthed to him "shut up, just shut up" He would have to stop kicking him then wouldn’t he? He couldn’t step on his back anymore, "Get up you piece of shit" if he just shut up, right? "Just shut up, just shut up" I could hear it myself now so I know it was more than my words mouthed in silence and I couldn’t see him anymore because the salt of the tears forced me to squint so all I could see was the orange OPP jumpsuit so close, nearly touching my orange blazer, but I could feel his breath on my face, inches from mine as he incredibly defied the person who continued to kicked him in the groin "Get the fuck up you shitty mother-fucking piece of shit" And all the man with the shoes and socks would say, would keep saying was "You like that, do you?" and he was kicked and stomped I could barely make out the words but he refused to give up, he refused to shut up as I pleaded with him, silently, quietly and then only in my head to just shut up, but he wouldn’t he wouldn’t give up.....yes, the tall officer liked it, he liked it a hell of a lot, and so the kicks continued until a pinch snapped my eyes open and then instantly I was up in the air, moving, cartwheeling. Someone had grabbed me under the arm and in a whirl I was planted back on earth, pavement, bricks, the filthy prison floor. My eyes faced forward without fail but I heard it as he kicked him down the corridor and I still hear it, in my sleep..... when I sleep.

He never saw it coming, why would he? I was quicker than he was or than he expected me to be and as my hand clasped around his throat and the back of his head hit the cafeteria wall, his eyes told the story of a deer caught in the headlights, and for a moment, it was silent except for the wormy kid’s crying. But then it was all a roar as the sound of bone crunching on bone as my clenched up fist skidded off the end of his nose, and as my heart made the leap from my chest to my mouth, "son-of-a-bitch" could be heard streaming from somewhere in my gut, "you rotten son-of-a-bitch, you are never going to lay another finger on him, you got that you piece of shit" and the blood was hot and it was bright and it was about as pretty as the buds on my mother’s prized rosebushes. I was in a world of hurt and I knew it as the cafeteria monitor’s talons wrapped around my shirt collar and I swallowed the tears that were about to burst from my brain any moment "Do not cry, do not cry, do not cry" if Tommy Lathan sees me crying he beat me, and that’s not happening for all the trouble I’ve gotten myself into now. And so, it was silent, but only for a moment and then the roar was back, slow at first, quick and then quicker and as I was dragged off to face the principal, my fourth-grade teacher and eventually my parents, all I could hear was the roar, all I could smell was the roar, all I could taste was the roar and it was deafening and it was silent and it was maddening and it was validating and it was my roar "Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise....." and the forks, the knives, the spoons, every tool they had at their disposal, all banging on those lunch tables in unison, and it was unreal that it was mine, my chant, my name, my victory and I knew there was going to be hell to pay but for this one moment in time, I could have cared less because as those tears finally fell and those war chants grew dimmer and dimmer, I knew, noone was going to pick on the wormy kid again.

They say that there are only a few defining moments in a person’s life, the few instances that without a thought, without a hesitation, without a plan, a process, a blueprint, wrong or right, a person’s life is changed, the person for that matter is changed. Recently, I have thought about one of my moments, one of my defining and life-changing moments, I think about it when sleep won’t come. Tommy Lathan was the fourth-grade bully of Wolcott Street School, a lifetime ago, but some people stay with you and Tommy has ultimately been one of those people. He wreaked havoc wherever and whenever he wanted and for the most part, I escaped his tirades. Until I had seen enough, heard enough, been there for enough and I didn’t like pumpkin pie, not on my shoulder anyway. The funny thing is, I don’t remember the punishment, the world of hurt, I only remember the details of Tommy’s life that I soon learned and the details weren’t pretty. Tommy was your typical neglected and abused child and because of his crummy life, he was making everyone else’s life crummy. Maybe he forgot his pain by inflicting his own pain but at any rate my task was clear, I was to make friends with the fourth-grade bully and post-haste and so I did and Tommy and I came to an understanding, for awhile anyway. I don’t remember the specific details I only remember that eventually, Tommy went back to his bullying ways, that’s what bullys do, only he never missed a target again, or at least he never missed a target near me again. But truthfully, it wasn’t Tommy that stuck with me that day, it was the roar, and not the roar of the blood and the bone and the profanities I heard come up from my gut, it was instead the roar of right, the roar of agreement, the roar of get him, for doing the right thing and no matter how much trouble I got into, I knew that defending a wormy weakly kid against the fourth-grade bully had to be the right thing even if the pumpkin pie started it.

So now, thirty years later, I am the wormy weakly kid and my bully? the system. The ineffective NOPD, the New Orleans Police Department who in their noble efforts to fight a post-Katrina crime wave in this city have put nobility aside and instead work on their stats. Every article I have read, I have scoured, following my September 20, 2007 arrest for failure to provide proof of insurance, failure to provide proof of registration and failure to provide a driver’s license, how could I? when I wasn’t allowed to remove my hands from the steering wheel, all those articles showcasing what it’s like to be "locked-up" in New Orleans seems to point to a police force who are working toward numbers and sacrificing good arrests along the way. So looking back I no longer feel that wave of shock, shock that emanates from a handcuffed citizen who only moments before was looking for a lost dog, a dog that she had breathed, slept and dreamed for three full weeks since first losing him, emanates as she tells the officers over and over that noone else is hiding in her vehicle, emanate as she begs the officer to just look at her "Lost Dog" poster, emanates as she sobs in the back of the squad car, cuffed from behind because they had no cage, emanates as she tells herself to suck it up because where she is going is a place that will not tolerate wormy weakly kids, a jail, Orleans Parish Prison, OPP, or one of the worst jails in this country and emanate as she mutters "I just want my dog back" the whole ride there.....that shock no longer emanate from me and instead there is an icy coldness. And that coldness brings with it the full acceptance of my responsibility to carry everything I was asked for that night, everything that was in fact in my vehicle, only not in my dash box, the broken dash box, I reject the notion that a police "force" has blanket authority to make arrests to get those stats up and to make those arrests however they sit fit.

So while I have spent the past few weeks sleepless and worn out, and yes, afraid, no longer afraid of the criminals who do in fact continue to plague this already downtrodden city, but newly afraid of "the man" the men in blue, the ones who I thought were duty-bound to protect and serve...me, I have also spent time revisiting that cafeteria of my childhood and I can still hear those chants, "Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise, Lise...." and I know that the only difference that time has made is that it won’t be a fist that I wield this time, instead I am armed only with the knowledge that as an American citizen in addition to positive rights, I also have negative rights as well, I have the right to be left alone, the right to remain un-oppressed. So, I await my November court date with very little sleep, with the deep down knowledge that this is not over, and still with the unshakeable belief that someone just has to stand up for the wormy, weakly kid....in all of us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thank You, Michael Vick

Whereas many of us, you know, the animal people, we understand the levels of cruelty that truly exist in the world, particularly as it rears its ugly head in the animal world, we also understand that every battle against such cruelty has been uphill, every victory has been so difficult to achieve. We live in a world where so many see the obvious cruelty in starving a dog but don't know, don't care or don't have the time to worry about the seals who are clubbed for their fur, ultimately to be used as a fashion accessory, a world which might love their own precious cats but doesn't see the inhumanity in seeking to eradicate ferals in their neighborhood and these juxtapositions that seem to exist never cease to amaze me, but the Michael Vick case has managed to amaze me even more so.

Finally, the levels of cruelty, inhumanity, depravity, viciousness, brutality and heinous acts that all of us know exists and goes on everyday as humans neglect, outright hurt, or look the other way as animals become their victims, finally, all of these horrible characteristics have been delivered, up close and personal, to the world and more importantly, mainstream America, and delivered in what so many thought to be a beautifully wrapped package....Michael Vick. Now, finally, mainstream America has the opportunity to just get it.....the levels of cruelty, inhumanity, depravity, viciousness, brutality and heinous acts aren't really just a problem for those animal people to fight and they aren't really just things that go on in the darkest corners of the ghettos, slums, projects, you know, the bad part of town. No, now, and finally, mainstream America gets to see what we already knew, that these horrible crimes, these horrible acts and these horrible ways of thinking are everywhere and that includes mainstream America in all its middle-class, two door garage neighborhoods. There might not be a Bad Newz Kennels on your block, but if you pay attention, you can bet that somewhere and anywhere and everywhere on your own block, there are in fact shades of gray which exist as to what each and every one us considers cruelty and inhumanity to be. Now and finally, mainstream America has the opportunity to just get it..... a man with a gift, a gift that allows him to sign his name to a piece of paper and to collect $130 million dollars to show up on Sundays and throw a ball down the field, a gift that makes so many corporate pots of gold his for the taking and in exchange for only his name, a man with gift trades it all away, all of it except for that gift, which ironically remains, he trades it all away and just so that he can watch living breathing creatures who have no choice, creatures he has made life and death decisions for, watch them as they draw blood and end life.
And the shiny bow on top of that pretty little gift package?....the man with such a gift, the one who is willing to trade all of his pots of gold away, needed more than that blood and that death, he had to have more of it, and so manufactured it, death that is, and he took his own primal and perverse satisfaction in finding novel ways to manufacture that death......a man with such a gift had to have more than an injection or even a bullet, he needed electricity and nooses and blunt trauma, and those are only the highs, rather the lows, of depravity and cruelty and inhumanity that we know about.

Now and finally, and thanks to that gift-wrapped package, there seems to be, and historically so, a consensus, a universal thinking as to what mainstream America will not turn their heads from and not turn their channels from and what they will not tolerate and accept and will not allow, and now and finally, it does my own heart some good to see that mainstream America seems to have drawn its line in the sand, seems to have said, "Enough" There can be no mistaking the irony of the setting in which that line in the sand was drawn........mainstream America seems to have found and stated its universal "Enough" even at the expense of losing one of the most beautifully wrapped gift-packages it has, even at the expense of altering the course of one its most enduring past-times, Sunday with the NFL ...........so, for what this gift-wrapped package has delivered to mainstream America, and ultimately, for what that package has delivered for us, you know, the ones who have been trying to get mainstream America to just get it, I want to say, Thank You, Michael Vick....I think that they finally get it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

New Orleans, 2007



"Not too Far from Here"
Pam Leavy's video footage of New Orleans and surrounding parishes between January 2007 and June 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Moment of Grace

The soul never thinks without a picture
Aristotle


Photograph by Marsha Steckling



Billy was one I agonized over
I agonized the first time I saw him frolicking with his brothers across the street from where Magnolia Sammy lived...would they hurt Sammy? This was, after all, a very much and still abandoned area of New Orleans and how would these dogs, a feral trio, have any way of knowing just how much effort I had put into Magnolia Sammy’s careSo, I agonized when I reported them and asked the local animal control to trap them and I agonized some more until ARNO’s Executive Director personally requested that the trio be released to ARNO if and when it was determined that no further progress could be made with these feral dogs. And I again agonized when Billy and his brothers Jesse and James joined us at ARNO last November because they hid from us and the world around them, all three, crammed skillfully into one Igloo doghouse to avoid the big bad world around them.

And so the time passed and the three brothers progressed, Jesse more than the others and unfortunately we lost James while he was undergoing treatment for heartworms and then there was Billy or Billy the Kid. Billy was the nervous one, the shy one, the frightful one who clutched your leg with both front paws as you tried to take him for an afternoon walk.
Billy is the only dog who can run across the street while crawling on his belly, maybe he thought if he crouched down really low, nothing could get him. It is probably all these qualities in Billy that were the reason I love him, he is vulnerability and sweetness and complete innocence and anyone who met Billy could see he was special.

And so that time finally came, the day someone else would meet Billy and fall head over heels in love with this child-like creature, a day that I often thought would never come. Yes, I agonized over that as well, what if Jesse goes first? Jesse is what others might perceive as a more adjusted, a more normal dog and I worried that noone would ever see the Billy we see, the Billy we love if Jesse was adopted first because Jesse is Billy’s brother and their bond is a joy to watch but also my own personal albatross. Billy and Jesse, as feral dogs born on the streets of New Orleans after Katrina, would never be those small fluffy litter-mates that are separated every day, in every corner of the world, as new puppies are adopted into loving homes.....Billy and Jesse were each other’s safety zone for nearly two years and together, they could face anything, together, they faced everything. And so I carried that albatross around my neck, never once imagining that someone, somebody would love Billy for just exactly who he was and I’ll never understand why that never occurred to me because those of us who knew Billy better than anyone loved him because he was Billy. And so the day came when someone else did too.

Maybe it is because she is a professional photographer, or maybe it is because she loves him just as much as we do, or maybe it is because the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, that my favorite photograph of Billy was taken by a woman who came to help us for a week in May, she came from Colorado and she must have fallen hard. And so when I heard the news a month later that she wanted Billy, she wanted us to send him home to Colorado, I wondered how I could make the world see Billy’s soul in that photo, make them see the Billy we knew. But then I realized I didn’t know if Billy or any animal has a soul and so I decided to find out.

And so the days passed and I spent as much time as I could with Billy and Jesse but could not find a way to explain Billy’s soul and soon put the thought away. I played with both brothers, I walked them, I sat with them, I watched them run across the small hills in the canine pool area and I agonized again, I agonized because Billy was free and happy and fun and dog-like when he was chasing Jesse or running away from Jesse, and how they liked to run. Would Billy ever be this creature we loved, this child-like boy who came alive when Jesse was near? I agonized and played and agonized some more and on our last night together, Jesse and Billy played until they dropped right there in the dirt they had dug holes in for hours and although I took many photos that night, the images of their last frolic together is burned into my memory forever

And so the morning finally came and after one last and very long walk together, I made up some excuse for Tom, ARNO’s on-site and long-term volunteer, to put Jesse back into his kennel but the truth was that I didn’t want to put Jesse away and look at his face and then walk away from only Jesse, no Jesse and Billy. And so I sat next to Billy in the pre-dawn darkness and hugged him and cried and was finally convinced by Tom’s words that this is why we do this and Billy had a family waiting for him, so I had better get going. And so, after Tom said goodbye to Billy, Billy said goodbye to ARNO, his home for the past nine months. And it was so hard to say goodbye to him at the airport, it was so hard not to change my mind and let him stay, not with a family the way he should spend his life, but here with Jesse so that once a day he could come out and be with Jesse and be that “normal” dog who plays and jumps and runs and loves life, but I sent him on his way, and only because I knew that the person on the other end already loved Billy, he was already a loved dog and I held onto that love as the hope that Billy would eventually be that normal dog there, too.


As I left ARNO later that afternoon, I felt hopeful, we had gotten word that Billy was with his family on the way from the airport to his new home, his new life, and he was sniffing her fingers, his new mom’s hand, and I was hopeful that he remembered her and that she loved him. And as I drove through the pouring rain toward New Orleans, toward other dogs, other Billy’s, I was hopeful but melancholy, happy but sad and then it was all washed away in one single moment, one single moment of Grace.

As I drove through the downpour, it began to slow and there it was directly and gloriously in front of my eyes and I knew in an instant, it was his, it was Billy’s. Stretched magnificently across the horizon in front of my eyes, not somewhere off in the distance out of the corner of my eyes, but right there, big and bright and beautiful, it was a rainbow. And there was no thought process, it was so much quicker than that, it was an instantaneous recognition of that rainbow that bluebirds fly over, so why oh why can’t I, oh why oh why can’t Billy? And so I knew that I would no longer agonize about Billy being a normal dog, because right there in front of me was the message I had really needed to receive, Billy flew over that rainbow, he had landed, he had made it, and he was the dog he was meant to be, the Billy I loved, the Billy we loved, the Billy that she will now love.



But this moment, this rainbow, this message was not cause for the tears that rolled freely down my face because it was the moment that the albatross was lifted from my neck for Billy, this moment, this rainbow, this message was cause for tears and goose-bumps and hairs that stood up on my neck and deeper breathing, this rainbow was cause for all of this because it was the moment in my life that rang clear for me, a moment that was significant because if my recognition of that rainbow was as instant as it had been, then there could be only one explanation. The person who for most of her life never questioned whether God exists, and for most of her younger life believed that God in fact did not exist, now, immediately recognizes when her questions, her prayers, her worries are being answered. Whereas I was always a doubter, a non-believer, a non-religious person, I can no longer deny that I am a very spiritual person. I may not go to church, but I see God’s church all around me, everyday.

I don’t believe that I found God in the past two years, God was always there. I don’t believe that these animals I have worked with were messengers sent from God either. What I do believe is that my efforts to help the animals in post-Katrina New Orleans has brought me full circle.
And so when I go back and read my own writings from these past two years, I see the transformation in my words, I can see when the questioning began for me, I can see when the realization of purpose took place, the realization that I have a purpose and what I believe is that in all my years in many chosen vocations, office manger, student, paralegal, in all those years and during all that work, work that I enjoy immensely, I never began questioning, I never began reflecting, and subsequently, I never began writing about those thoughts, those reflections, those self-searching moments....but now I do. And so I believe that while these animals, these creatures, no, they have not been my own personal line to a higher power, they are innocent creatures who I have helped, but it was during those two years, that time in my life when I was giving my heart and soul to helping those creatures, that I was also opening my heart to others.
I was opening my heart to children, to elderly, to homeless, to poor, to people so unlike who I was or who I appeared to be to others who only looked at me but without an open heart may not have truly seen me. And so I believe that a deeper message was received when I saw that rainbow, I saw that rainbow and instantly knew what it was and now I know that while I spent a week or so trying to determine if animals have souls, it wasn’t until that rainbow that I truly understood, finally, that I have a soul.

And so I have no information, no research, no deep thoughts on whether animals and my beloved Billy has a soul, but then, that moment of Grace, that realization of my own soul, where did that journey begin? I only have to look into the eyes in that photo, my new favorite photo of Billy, Billy at his home, and I know that I already have the answer that I couldn’t find.
Photograph by Marsha Steckling

Monday, June 04, 2007

God, grant me.......

F i n d i n g S e r e n i t y


I had been on this street a thousand and one times since Katrina but I had never seen her before, she appeared and I still have no idea from where or even which direction. She foraged in the shells of an empty lot, looking for food or so I thought. I quietly placed my trapping gear into my truck so that she would not be startled but even the sound of an approaching vehicle was too overwhelming and I was able to see only that she, he, was a shepherd, a German Shepherd and “it” was frightened. Immediately, and nearly reflex-like, I followed slowly behind as my mind began the plans for what lied ahead. Would she take food or would she run? Would she allow me to approach her or would she warn against it? Would she be able to be quickly trapped or would she prove to be elusive and in need of patience?

For nearly thirty minutes I tried everything possible to get her to take any of the small “pre-bait” portions of food I placed around the Tulane/Gravier section of New Orleans, all in locations that she had wandered through as I followed her haphazard movements along what seemed to be a path she was completely unfamiliar with. She had the look of the newly lost, the recently dumped, confused, disoriented, scared and nose to the ground. Each time I placed food down, she either ignored it or ran away if she spotted me, this was beginning to look hopeless....how could I help her if I couldn’t get her to stay in one area, even for food? As my mind subconsciously rewrote those plans, I climbed back into the truck to start the drive home, knowing that I would be back in less than an hour but also knowing that the odds were not good that I would easily find her. I wondered, what are the odds of trapping her if I can’t find her again? As I neared the end of the street, S. Miro Street, the street I have driven one thousand and one times, I caught a glimpse of her heading back toward me as she trotted along the sidewalk on Tulane Avenue and again, almost as if reflex, I threw my truck into reverse so she wouldn’t see me and run, and planned one final food drop......surely, she would have to cross directly over this food and this is where I would return with a trap.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.....

Although it must have been a sound first before anything else, in the seconds it unfolded it was a feeling first as my heart sunk in my chest and then a processed thought as my mind registered it and finally, a sound, this one audible and registered and I will never forget that sequence with its’ time-lapse quality and I will never forget what flesh and bone sounds like as an automobile speeds into a life. I know that I will often recall the sound of skin as it is dragged across asphalt, the thud of a body as it finally comes to rest only ten feet in front of me and I will do my best to never again wonder about a place, a destination that must be important, too important for a human being who just ended a life to postpone his arrival there because he is checking to see if anything can be done to help her, or at least getting out of his car, or possibly just stopping for a brief second......wherever that important place is, it’s nowhere I want to go.

the Courage to Change the things I can.....................
She couldn’t possibly be alive, I saw her as she cartwheeled underneath the metal that dragged her down but, and again almost as if reflex, I ran the ten feet and was shocked to see she was still breathing...barely. Prayer is evidently more reflexive than tears as all emotion placed themselves on hold...but I remember the prayers and I remember trying to broker a deal with God to help me pick her up without causing more pain and I remember the deal where I asked for green lights and no potholes and I particularly remember the deal where I begged to please just let me find a veterinarian who hadn’t gone home yet on a Friday evening and who would be willing to help end her pain. The crunch, the drag, the thud, I knew she couldn’t be saved but all my deals were for the end of her pain and ironically, what I remember the most is that I never offered anything in return so I guess that makes me a pretty poor deal broker, doesn’t it?

And the Wisdom to know the Difference

They weren’t really deals if nothing was offered in return, they were truly, prayers. Prayers are made to a higher power, to God and every prayer I uttered was for her, so that she could find peace without more pain. I think my prayers were heard because along the fifteen minute drive to the veterinarian clinic, somewhere around twelve minutes into her dying, her pain ended and my began. I drove with only my left hand so that my right hand could hold a bloody paw, a paw that let me know she was still alive and I knew she was still alive, barely, until those gasps that came all in a row and quickly and then her paw in my hand let me know that her pain was over, Thank God. My prayers stopped at that point and the emotions checked began as I drove the rest of the way to the clinic through blurred clumps of mascara. She, yes she, was about six to seven years old, she was without identification, no tags, no chip but someone, somewhere used to be hers and they left their mark with a spay scar. She left her mark on the back seat of my truck where her life bled out from her broken body, and her blood was red like yours and mine and her blood was warm like yours and mine and her blood was real, just like yours, mine and that human on his way to an important place. She left her mark elsewhere as well.

ACCEPTANCE

The Serenity Prayer is relevant for anyone who struggles and I struggle often. My struggle is not with the courage part or the part about changing things, and its not the Wisdom part either.....my struggle is with accepting the things I cannot change and so Serenity has been a lifelong unattainable. I have never been able to do enough, help as many as I should, be good enough at, and that is par for the course with any individual who works to help others....rescue, relief, shelter, workers in fields or industries where another’s pain and suffering is always right around the corner. With no skills or ability at accepting that I cannot change everything, Serenity or inner peace with myself has always escaped me, consistently and constantly replaced by plans.

Serenity, or at least the head of the path toward that end finally found me, I didn’t find it, she found me. She looked and felt and lived and breathed and died as a German Shepherd, a shepherd who I call Serenity and what she brought to me is what I have been unable to find on my own, Acceptance. It took some time even after Serenity found me, it took until three o’clock the next morning when I found myself just sitting in the park on my street, looking at that weird dust that seemed to be floating in the even weirder fuzzy circle which encircled a full moon.
As I sat there just transfixed with a strange looking moon, my tears had stopped hours before, a strange thought occurred to me, one which I had never contemplated before and that was the realization that plans have always substituted for acceptance but ultimately, it is not my plans that are the Master Plan, that was written by another.

Maybe it wasn’t the plan for me to “save” the shepherd that had appeared out of nowhere, maybe I was there for something else. No, I really can’t save them all, I can’t do everything, be everywhere and I can’t end all the suffering in this world, and if I can truly accept that, maybe I can understand what my real role in the shepherd’s world was.....maybe it was my job to help her die instead. Serenity found me, I hope in some small way, in the back of my truck, with her bloody paw in my hand, I hope Serenity finally found some peace.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Socialization of a Feral Dog Pack

Socialization, Capture and Rehabilitation of a Feral Dog Pack
in Post-Katrina New Orleans


For Shannon

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Dog Named James....I left him to ARNO


ARNO's Shelter Director, Robin Beaulieu, "Mr. Shivers"
and a Dog named James

photo by Jackie Quick


A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of our more dedicated volunteers, Auntie Karen, to put down into words what working with ARNO has meant to me and since I am not one to shirk a writing challenge, I agreed. When I tried to put a multitude of feelings into words, it was surprisingly difficult and so I put the task on the back burner and nearly forgot it, nearly.
Until James. Yesterday morning, I was hit square in the face with just what ARNO, working with, alongside and for ARNO has meant to me, and the reason is a dog named James.

James was only about four months old when I spotted him last summer, along with his two brothers, frolicking happily on the front yard, the yard directly across from where I cared for Magnolia Sammy and that was going to be a problem. Yes, I was going to have to bust up this happy-go-lucky family because after everything I had invested into Sammy and his feline friends, how on earth was I going to let these feral dogs, these wild creatures, take that all away? So, I did the unthinkable, I snitched on them, I gave up their location to the local animal control and within days, all three were taken from their own little paradise.

In my own opinion, one can’t be an “animal person” and be a “dog person” or a “cat person”.....if you care about other living, breathing creatures, that feeling extends to all God’s creatures and although my protective side is what forced me to confront this situation head on, admittedly, there was a comfort zone. ARNO’s Executive Director lived up to every expectation I had of her when she personally contacted the shelter which these three dogs now called home and stated unequivocally that if and when the trio would reach a point where nothing further could be offered and adoption chances might be slim, then she wanted ARNO to be contacted and the organization would accept these three dogs. I don’t know that I have ever properly thanked Charlotte Bass-Lilly for that huge undertaking....feral dogs, true feral dogs, born under the house at which they frolicked that day, is not an easy responsibility to face and I know that as much as she did it for the dogs she works to save, she did it for me, ARNO did it for me.

And so they arrived, last fall, after spending the time at the local shelter, the time in rehab, the time allotted when space is scarce and funds even scarcer, they came to ARNO, all three, all feral but beautiful creatures, and they hid. The trio was given their own run and because most of my time is spent away from the facility, I only saw glimpses of them, well, two of them anyway.
I saw the black and white one and I saw the leader, the alpha, if you could call him alpha, the brown one with the freckly face, and I tried but a minute here and a minute there, that’s not enough with feral dogs....and so I left them, I left them to ARNO.

As fall turned into winter, the trio became more visible, they were now each in their own kennel and what made me notice them more than anything was the fact that finally, the third one, the one I knew to exist but never saw, he had a face, finally, and it was just as beautiful as his brothers. The third one, the most timid of the bunch, was beautiful brown all over, like the color of honey, and he had the most soulful deep brown eyes which never left sight of you if you were near him. Although I was thrilled to finally see the third dog who I knew to exist, I had seen him playing way back when, before I gave them up, I worried....did I do the wrong thing? And then the thought was gone, I know, after enough of these on the streets, still lurking, still popping up when and where I least expect to see them, sometimes five miles from where I saw them last, I know, I did the right thing and as I observed Jackie walk him or his brothers as time went by, I knew, I had done the right thing and so would leave them and all the others, any others, the ones brought in and the ones I didn’t bring in or turn in, I left them, I left them to ARNO.

Christmas passed and I watched as three young girls, teenagers, pre-teens really, they climbed in and out of the trio’s kennels. Three young ladies who ARNO is lucky enough to have as part of its family, Victoria, Kaitlyn and Taylor, all spending their Saturday morning in the individual kennels of Jessie, the leader of this pack, Billy the Kid, the black and white ball of nerves, and James, the honey-colored meek one of the bunch. These girls would just love these three “wild” dogs and I would hear an occasional squeal from their area and then I heard one really big squeal one of those Saturday mornings...... “James licked her, he licked her!” I am still not sure which one of those three young ladies was graced with a kiss from James that day, I only know that from the delight I could hear emanating from somewhere over there that finally, the meek one, James, he had truly opened up, and so I left them that day, just another Saturday, I left them to ARNO.

It wasn’t until after Cora, Mia Corazon, my beautiful chow, it was after she became the newest addition to ARNO just recently, that I began consciously spending more time with the dogs at ARNO and getting to know their individual personalities. Cora was a windfall for me, a cat trapping enthusiast, and so my time now had to be spread around, getting to know the canines of ARNO’s world and I will tell you that is a job all by itself. Recently, when Tom, our long-term out-of-town volunteer, made the long-haul to Arizona with forty or so felines, I showed up at ARNO, one Saturday, but one Saturday evening this time and somehow, my sense of guilt wouldn’t let me head home knowing that Jackie and Robin, our shelter director, a/k/a “solver of every problem” had to finish up the day’s chores and walk all the dogs without that third set of hands, Tom’s. So, instead of leaving them to ARNO, I stayed and I helped walk those dogs, and how I crawled out of bed the next day is still a mystery to me......those dogs, whether they love the open air and the freedom of a walk, or, as in the case of Billy the Kid, their feralness takes over and they just run, with you flailing behind them, those dogs work every muscle you didn’t know you had. But it was an invigorating kind of hurt the next day and I do like a challenge, so I went back, I went back to ARNO and I walked Billy the Kid again, and again and each day brought new progress, in my eyes anyway, and progress is an addictive thing and so I came back, I came back to ARNO.

Although Jessie has gone into a wonderful foster home, James and Billy are still with ARNO and earlier this week I caught on to something, something the real experts at ARNO probably already knew......when I sat with James in my lap, scratching his ears, whispering secrets in those ears and all the while watching to see if his tail would uncurl from that terrified coil, I noticed Billy the Kid, he actually wagged his tail and it wasn’t coiled up. You see, I forgot to latch his kennel after his walk and he saw me as I made efforts with his brother James, and so he came forward and he acted like a real live dog, a happy dog, as he licked my hand first and then sniffed James’ face and I saw it, that happy dog light in James’ soulful eyes....they would always be brothers no matter what, no matter where they were and no matter who they loved, they truly loved each other, their brothers. The next evening, after thinking that I might possibly be crazy, I decided to walk James and Billy together and oh what a wonderful walk we had!

I can’t begin to properly put into words just what I saw on that walk, just three nights ago, so I will not even attempt to do so......it was magical and those are the moments that you live for and the ones that come not nearly as often as you know that they should. Magical is an addictive thing too, and as I came running behind these two joyful creatures that night, I managed to blurt out questions and orders all at the same time: “Did you see that? They skipped, I’m certain of it!” “ Jackie, Tom, did you see them? They wagged their tails.....wagged, wagged them, I swear it!” And finally, “Okay, guys, now even when I ‘m not here, you walk them together, okay, they loved it!” Looking back, I think that the smiles on the faces that night were as much about me as they were about Billy and James.......Jackie, Tom, Robin, they know what each of these creatures has inside of them and I think they enjoyed the sight of me learning as well.....they know each one’s likes, dislikes, each one’s scars from street fights, each one’s favorite chew treat and each one’s comb or brush that gets just the right spot........I envy these miracle workers, but, as one who spends so much time outside, I think that my special reward is never losing the total awestruck amazement as each and everyone of those miracles unfold, as each one sheds a little more of their street life and learns to tolerate, accept and eventually look for what these miracle workers called ARNO offers to each and every single one....love.

Sometimes the plans we lay, the dreams we build, the hopes we imagine, sometimes they aren’t to be, and James, the meek one, the honey-colored soulful boy that existed as part of my memory for too long, only to emerge as one of those miracles, he left ARNO, but not as we had hoped he would, not with a family......James left ARNO on the morning of April 4, 2007 when he lost the battle of heart worm treatment and suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically died from a side-effect, a known risk of heart worm treatment, the worms themselves. When heart worms die they basically become embolisms which can lead to complications of blocked vessels, clotting and death. I am not a veterinarian and don’t know enough about heart worms or the treatment to make any factual statements but I know many people who have put their dogs into treatment and those dogs survived. James did not and that is the risk of the treatment, you don’t know who and you don’t know when. James was alive one minute and gone the next and his life was way too short, I know because I remember that first sighting when they were puppies and I know the possibilities that we all hoped for, still hope for with Billy and Jessie, and I am so sad that James is gone before the miracle was complete.

I will miss James, I already miss James and all those possibilities and I have cried many times since I first got the news yesterday, but I have also searched my heart to figure out why it is that upon first hearing the news, the very first initial shock, why it was that my strongest emotion was one that brought a smile to my face first, before the tears came.....I didn’t have to search to far.....I smiled for James, I smiled about James and I will always smile when I think of James because James left from the same place that I resigned his fate would take him last fall when I spotted him and his brothers....James left his brothers, he left his family, he left from ARNO, and he left them behind, he left them to ARNO.

A Dog named James is why ARNO is special to me..........James was special to it, them. ARNO is special to me because ARNO is not an it, it is not an organization, it is a couple of miracle workers here, a few dedicated die hards over there, and an amazing level of energy and can do dedication and driven determination all in between. ARNO is special to me because its Executive Director accepted the challenge of three feral, born feral, true feral dogs, accepted them on their behalf and accept them on mine. ARNO is special to me because its’ dedicated volunteers, the ones who give their blood, sweat, tears, and then some, the Jackie’s, the Tom’s, the Anabel’s, the Isabelle’s, the Anastasia’s, the Joe Nobodies.....they are all the most amazing somebodies, and they welcome each James, each Billy, each Jessie and they just work their magic, no matter how long it takes, no matter that money is what will be needed for each one and who has money? ARNO is special to me because they don’t have the funding to pull them in fast, intake them, route them, hold them and then.....well, then.... that is the thing with ARNO, the then at the end of the road. It comes, it always comes, the then, the what now, the what do we do now for this one or that one........it’s always an unknown but yet a known at ARNO, the then will just be, will surely be, will only be, a happy ending for the single, solitary, one at a time creature that ARNO is dedicated to saving, each one, one at a time, slowly, short-term, long-term, always different, but always permanently, each one is going to have his or her happy ending. Sometimes, though, those miracle workers, fate intervenes and I remember that they are humans, humans who love all the James that come to them.

ARNO is special and I knew that when I had to tell Robin, the Shelter Director to slow down and tell me again who, what happened, and I had to make out through her sobs that James was gone. I wish I could take the pain Robin felt away, but, somewhere deep inside, her pain is why ARNO is special......Robin loves each one and not one more than the other, and although that is pretty miraculous in itself, Robin is just a human and she hurts too. ARNO is special because of Robin, its Shelter Director, a person in pain, who thought about the pain I would feel and who had to be the one to deliver the news and to be so sorry about the pain......and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

ARNO is special because Jackie, the resident dog guru, do it all, fix it all, and always with a smile....... he couldn’t look me in the eyes or not so easily, when I drove up to ARNO yesterday to walk Billy......ARNO is special because Jackie loves each one, he does it with knee–pads sometimes because they wear him out, but he loves each one and he still manages to see the other side, the ones like me who get attached or feel responsible or whatever it is, he knew I was either hurting or going to hurt and I could see that was hard for him....and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

ARNO is special because of Melinda, one of those right hand man/woman miracle workers........I don’t know all of Melinda’s duties, I just know she helps Robin and she helps Jackie and she helps whomever or whatever get done and she helps make those miracles happen too.....Melinda is good at the slow ones, like Nick, a dog with another story for another day, but a miracle nonetheless. ARNO is special because Melinda, I was told, took James and buried him......Melinda is special because James was special and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

There are so many, one like Darla, she lives somewhere else, I don’t know, but I know she took the time to make me feel better today when I had so many questions and part of the feeling better part was knowing that Darla cared enough about James to honor his memory with the truth and facts and without sugarcoating it.......I feel better knowing that Darla was one of the last humans that James spent time with. So many, but too few ......all with names that should go here but for a lack of time, for blurred vision as I type through tears, and for the animals who yes, still await help.....a small puppy pack that I am certain is the next generation in James’ family is waiting for my help......these miracle workers, no, these humans, they are the reasons that ARNO is special and as long as there are those who understand that and continue to support ARNO, I know that more miracles are around the corner, maybe frolicking right this very minute and when I spot them, I know I will hesitate for that one moment and wonder what I should do, but it will only be for that one moment because I will think of James and I will know what I need to do, I will leave them to ARNO, ARNO with the young girls who see only the love that three wild dogs have to give, and to receive, the same young girls who give four-legged numbers their names, ARNO with the shelter director who has way to big of a heart to be a real director so the rest of us have to settle for miracles she concocts rather than directing, the ARNO with the Executive Director who has enough faith for all of us to keep this mission on track, the ARNO with the miracle workers who I have come to believe in and to love..... the same ARNO that I left James and his brothers to, the ARNO in the picture above, the one which James apparently came to love as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Make a Wish, Blow out the Candles

“It was ten years ago last night when I first decided how I would spend this day, March 21, 2007. It was after the initial free fall, but before the first bounce was completed when I decided that it was going to have to be something big, something even more crazy than that night. It was my 30th birthday and I wanted to do something to make me feel alive, so, along with 4 other friends, friends with names I can't recall, we marked the occasion with a birthday bungee jump...well, I jumped, they watched. And then we returned from Florida and I returned to my independent and solitary lifestyle. There were very few things I needed back then and people, well I needed even fewer of them. But that was then and what I didn't count on was a disaster which altered my 10-year and 20-year plans, and what I didn't count on was you people to complicate those plans.”

The excerpt above is from a letter I sent two nights ago, March 20, 2007, to my fellow volunteers with Animal Rescue New Orleans, or ARNO. My letter was one of gratitude that had to be expressed to them because within a few short hours I would be reaching yet another milestone in my life.....I would turn 40 the very next day, and it was because of them that I would face that monumental day very differently than I had originally planned, on a crazy night, ten years ago, a lifetime and just yesterday.

Although my animal rescue efforts began 18 months ago in order to help the animals impacted by Katrina, there is no doubt in my mind that my work, specifically my work with ARNO, has forever changed the way that I am and the person that others know. Because ARNO continues to focus on the animals which remain on the streets of this region, including feeding when needed, trapping, rehabilitation and adoption, my own work with the group as a feeder/trapper has literally forced me to become a people person and my perspective, my outlook on life are so different because of it. And two nights ago, when I thought of the birthday still to come, I couldn’t help but think about the turn my life had taken: ten years ago, I needed adrenalin and action to feel alive, now, I need only the friendships I have been honored with, friendships because my life itself had become action. So as I sent my words of appreciation and crawled into bed, it was with a sense of peaceful satisfaction that I realized that I wouldn’t have to jump out of that airplane after all because the only thing that surpasses the rush of a manufactured adventure, is a shared adventure with a new friend.



"Carver Louis"




A GIFT FOR MEREDITH

I first met Carver Louis on the afternoon of my 40th birthday, right where I knew I would find him, curled up in the parking lot next to a youth center in a very poor section of this city, New Orleans. I went to this parking lot to find Carver Louis, well, I went to this parking lot to find a skinny white cat with gray patches because he was special and because he was waiting for me.


My 40th was filled with friends and happiness. My law firm friends threw a birthday “funeral” for me and I was overwhelmed at the efforts they went to in order to make me feel special. As you might expect, I received gifts, but what took me by surprise was just how many of those had the word “Friend” somewhere on the gift......angel, a flower pot, a conglomeration, all declaring friendship. You see I’m certain that my work in the animal world, my work with ARNO, has carried over into my real-life world, you know the one where I am forced to spend time so that I can pay the bills....and the payoff? More friends. My life is no longer filled with co-workers, bosses, secretaries, my life is filled and fulfilled with friends. My animal rescue friends left me in tears as I read there precious words of how they feel about me and my 40th is one I will cherish because of who it was shared with and not because of what I did to mark the day. When I looked back at the day last night, I knew that I was blessed because finally, people fill my life and I felt even more blessed because I made a new friend on this birthday, although, she doesn’t know it yet. Her name is Meredith and when I blew out the candles at the end of the day, the thing I wished for, the ONLY thing I wished for was that I could find a way to get a very special gift to Meredith, I wished for some way, somehow, please let me find a way for me to get Carver Louis to Meredith.

It was through two other friends, one in London, one in California, that I first learned about Meredith and how she wanted desperately to help a cat in New Orleans. Meredith, as it turned out, lives in St. Louis but she had been here, to my city, at some point in the recent past and although I was not sure what it was that she actually did while she was here, I learned that she was here as a volunteer, one of hundreds, thousands, that have graced this city with their selflessness and their time and their efforts to help it, us, recover from Katrina, the disaster like no other. I learned that while Meredith was here, she fell completely in love with a skinny white cat with gray patches who lived in the parking lot of the youth center she stayed at. I learned that Meredith fed this cat and because he was friendly, and because the neighborhood children were cruel to the cat, I learned that she contacted the local humane society/animal control with a request for this cat to be taken to safety. And then, as she had to, as they all have to, she returned to her life, far from this city, but somewhere along her trip back to normalcy, I learned that she got the call that regretfully informed her that no, there was no room for another stray cat.
You don’t really need the detailed specifics to figure out that a woman who cared enough to befriend and care for this lonely cat, as well as, make efforts to have him removed from this situation, was now willing to do anything to give this cat a home herself.

After his third can of food, all wolfed down in record speed, after I pulled him out of my truck which he willingly jumped in, I placed the skinny white cat with gray patches into a carrier and talked to people in the neighborhood.....I had no intention of stealing a beloved pet, but after those conversations, some of which contained the phrase “damn cat” I was confident that this little guy was nobody’s friend....nobody’s friend except for Meredith. It was halfway during the drive to ARNO that I named him Carver Louis.....Carver for the name of the center at which he has spent his entire life curled up in its parking lot, and Louis because I knew right then that no matter what I had to do, no matter who I had to beg, I would find a way to get him to St. Louis.....Carver Louis, you’re going to be with your friend, Meredith, and nobody is going to throw rocks at you again, I promise.

I have already mentioned that Meredith is my new friend, and hopefully, when she reads this, she will consider me her friend as well. Meredith was my friend before I met Carver Louis, before I even knew he existed, but she was nameless, she was one of many who I feel compelled to express thanks, awe, wonder, emotions I am not entirely sure of, but they are there and I don’t often get to express them because these nameless volunteers, these people that amazingly continue to pass in and out of this city in which time has seemingly stood still, these are my city’s heroes, its guardian angels, its reason for those of us who call this place home to continue to keep their precious gift to us alive, their gift of Hope.

I will do whatever I have to do so that Carver Louis can join Meredith in a place I’ve never been. Animal Rescue New Orleans, ARNO, has already taken that first step to make my wish a reality and given Carver his very own condo. I will check on Carver Louis late tonight at its shelter, after trapping, to make sure he is safe and warm in his bed, or maybe resting in the hammock he seemed to love so much yesterday and although I didn’t know it when I scooped him up, I guess I did know that ARNO would not let Carver Louis down and so he will take a trip to the veterinarian, likely his first, to be neutered, vaccinated, the works. I knew that ARNO would help this boy out, that is what they do.

If you would like to help my 40th Birthday wish come true, and help send a very special gift to Meredith, please visit www.animalrescueneworleans.org or go to the link to the right and make a donation today to Animal Rescue New Orleans, through PayPal. Be sure to mark the donation for Carver Louis, or Meredith and I know that ARNO will use every penny to care for Carver and then to send him to his forever, and rightful home with Meredith after every possibility is checked and rechecked to make sure that he is not missed by another.

And for Meredith.... I, nor my city, will ever be able to repay you for your efforts here, so I “Hope” that once I find a way to send you this special gift wrapped in a purring ball of fur, you will accept my thanks, and, my friendship too......and thank you for my 40th.....spending the day trying to help friends in California and London in their efforts to help you and a skinny white cat with gray patches, that trumps an airplane jump....on any birthday.

UPDATE ON LOUIS THE CAT



An update on Louis the Cat, from his first rescuer, Meredith

Hello All,

I am so sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. I am a busy student
and it is finals season, but my semester was turned around for the best
thanks to a wonderful new addition to my life.

Since he arrived in Saint Louis, Louis has had an amazing influence on all
those lucky enough to get to know him. He arrived on April 1st in a very
sickly state. He was skinny, smelly and sneezy. The smelly issue I cleared
up the next day by taking him to Groomingdales for a luxurious bath and
massage. I then brought him to the vet who diagnosed him with feline
herpes. He was put on an extreme round of medicine. I was told that he
would need to gain significant weight, get lots of sleep and tons of yummy
food in order to recover.

I changed my whole life and got literally no sleep for 2 weeks (thats why
I couldnt get back to you right away . . . forgive me, Carol). In between
classes, I kept rushing back to the apartment to care for Louis. I
discovered his love for gefilte fish and stonyfield yogurt. He got plenty
of steam showers, lots of attention and cuddly blankets to sleep in.
Right away he figured out which pillows were the most expensive and chose
those to sleep on. He has great taste.

After the first week, Louis was already in much better shape.
Unfortunately, my brother, who I currently reside with, was not. We
discovered that my brother is severely allergic to cats. Louis got a
hypo-allergenic bath and my brother got allergy medication, but his
allergy only got worse.

My boyfriend (who is slightly less allergic and is not allowed to have
pets in his apartment) took in Louis for a week while we figured out what
to do.

This is where the story gets good . . .

On April 13, my parents came to Saint Louis to visit me and my brother.
They always swore that they were not cat people. However, it was love at
first sight! The second my mom walked into my boyfriend's apartment, Louis
jumped into her arms and wouldn't let go. They became inseperable! My mom
thinks of Louis as her baby. My dad likes to play games with Louis and
spent an entire weekend on the floor chasing felt mice with my beautiful
cat.

To make a long story short . . . Louis is now living a life of luxury with
my parents in Westchester, New York. He has a giant house that he rules
over! He took total command over my 75 pound Collie dog, but they do take
naps together every afternoon.

Louis sleeps in between my parents in their bed every night and follows my
mom everywhere she goes. He especially likes being wrapped in warm towels
that come directly out of the dryer. He has two litter boxes (one on each
floor), tons of toys, a condo, a bed and a large window seat that he
perches on during the morning sunrise.

Louis is the best thing to have happened to my Mom! He gives her constant
company and in two weeks has brought her out of the slight depression she
was suffering. They especially love watching Jeopardy on the sofa at
night.

My dad rushes home from work every night to see Louis. This has brought my
parents much closer together. They spend their nights laughing at his
crazy antics together and their mornings trying to find him in his many
hiding spots.

Louis has gained 4 pounds, a loving home and confidence. I can't wait
until the semester is over so that I can go home and spend time with him.
He is such a dear!


Who would have thought that a wimpy, little stray cat in New Orleans could
have such a huge affect on so many people? Louis is a pleasure and a joy.
He is the best possible asset to my family!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!

I give my deepest gratitude to all of you wonderful souls who helped bring
Louis to my family. You have made such a difference in all of our lives.

I promise that Louis will forever have a happy home with all the love in
the world.

Love always,
Meredith

Friday, March 09, 2007

Would you Feed Her?


Cora's story takes time to tell, but as you start to start to lose focus and your mind wanders, try to imagine reading it over eighteen months....it has been a long journey for us both.

Photograph taken by Jackie Quick




It is early November, 2005, when you first spot her, or when you make that u-turn because you think you spotted something. It is now a full two months since Katrina transformed this place into a wasteland and search and rescue for humans is long over, but these guys, the ones you have been trying to help, they are a different story. You have know way of knowing it now, but in time you will realize that there may have been as many as 600,000 of others just like her.... some were pets, many were on the streets of this city when the storm hit and when the levees broke, you just know that even after a couple of months, there are still a whole bunch out there.

So you make that turn when you spot it because as a resident, a survivor, a person with no job, no home, no city, this is how you pass the days, rescuing animals. Lamar-Dixon has shut down and the HSUS officially ended the efforts by October 1, but that’s not a problem yet because others have stepped up and for you, there are still places to take them, food to give them, people to help them. True, you have recently started to hear the rumors that you may be arrested for feeding an animal but so far you haven’t heard of any arrests and realistically, would anyone really do that? So back you go and there he or she, a large black fluff of something......it looks to be a dog, too big to be anything else, but eye contact doesn’t happen often. Wait, there she goes, it is a she, and a dog, and either she is pregnant or nursing, you think nursing, but no sign of any pups anywhere... and then she’s gone from sight. Which direction? Damn! All you can do is put down some food and water and hope she comes back. Wouldn’t you leave food for her?

It is a week before you can get back because that is how many are still waiting, so many addresses to check, so many stations to fill, but you make it back and she is nowhere to be seen but someone else has been here, there is a water dish cut from a milk jug and you can make out what appears to be red food coloring stains on the cement right next to it.....Gravy Train, it has to be, it’s the only one that is so brightly colored that it leaves stains. If it’s Gravy Train, that means the person who left the food must be working with the same group you are getting your dog and cat food from. Plus, when you look around in all directions, nobody is around, the houses across the street are still empty, the building you feed behind was a restaurant but not anymore. But, things must be starting to get a little better if we are crossing paths now, right? You leave some food on top of the stains since she is eating it. Wouldn’t you put some more food out for her?

For the next two weeks you go there every day, mainly because you want to see who is feeding this dog, but after about a week you start to go for the dog. Some days the water bowl has just an inch of red slushy liquid and you know that means the feeder didn’t make it back the day before, or maybe for a couple days, so you now start to look out for this dog too. And in the past two or three days, she has been there, laying across the paved lot because she knows you can’t get to her, there is too many obstacles....downed wires, piles of brick building now just rubble and that oddly twisted iron fence. You don’t want to run her off anyway so you fill bowls and just let her watch, always from far away. One night, you get lucky and cross paths with the feeder, a woman named Christine...she also lives here and since she is about to start back to work at Tulane, you tell her it won’t be a problem to feed the dog. You both decide to split the week so all the others get help too. I’m sure you would help us make sure she is fed, right?

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and you are still at this and you find it hard to believe all the bickering that is going on between this group and that group and you try not to pay attention, besides, that is a good reason for you to continue your efforts independently as you have been doing. It is nice to have those computer folks, the cyber-space people who try to match up the ones that we still take out of here because this past Thanksgiving was one of your better ones.....you found Luka, well you found a dog who looked like he was just waiting to die on the side of the street, the vacant street. You got lucky on that one because those computer folks sent you a photo of a possible match....how many Shar Pei dogs could possibly be out there? and you knew it the instant you got the email of the photo, it was Luka, there was no way the dog you had fed for two weeks wasn’t Luka. But maybe it wasn’t Luka, after all, his lost poster had April 2005 as his lost date and Katrina was at the end of August, could it really be Luka or did you just want it to be Luka so badly? It was Luka and when Troy, his person called you the day after Thanksgiving to tell you that he came back from California and he listened to the rescue group who was holding Luka and he didn’t show recognition first and it didn’t matter a bit because Luka went nuts when Troy had gone into the room. Luka knew in an instant the smell, the voice, the face of the person who he last saw more than six months ago. Luka was home again and Luka’s amazing second chance against the odds only makes you work harder and faster to find more......yes, there were more.

You start to wrap up your trapping jobs by calling in help to speed the slow ones along. You can’t go back to work at the law firm in January without getting as many of them out and there are three in particular that you worry about, the Miniature Pinscher, the Shepherd and the Chow-like dog. So you call in the experts with the large group that is still here, in fact you don’t call them, you spot them on a side street not far from the Pinscher’s location so you head over and that’s how your relationship with the organized effort began......they took a couple carriers from you for the puppies they were pulling out from under the ruined house, and in return, they followed you over to the building which used to be a Rent-All, but now is just a safe haven for the Pinscher. Safe and dry because she can run really fast up that pile of bricks which used to be the back wall, much faster than you can and so you have to get help on this one. Good call, they trap her within days and not a moment too soon, the wrecking ball takes what is left of that building within the week National business...must have gotten insurance payout with no problem. Oh well, people will start coming back soon and today is a great day because now you only have two that really concern you. So you head to Lakewood South, the area with the multi-million dollar shacks.....the 17th Street Canal broke right into their backyards, not many animals at all, only one in fact that you have been working, the Shepherd and now you are into week 8 with only days to get her. First, you decide to fill the Chow dog’s food pan, she’s on the way and you want out of that area by dark if possible, the activity that has recently and slowly begun doesn’t look all that legitimate. At any rate, wherever there are really young prostitutes walking the main but empty street, you don’t want to be.

It’s February now, six months since Katrina hit and you have started to get that hopeless feeling.
You got that shepherd out for the New Year, it only took eight weeks, and even though no match could ever be made, she found a wonderful family, or the family found her through her story. Your shepherd gets a family who came looking just for her because they read what you wrote about her....oh, that is your newest way to let some of this out, writing. Not just writing, but sharing it with anyone who wants to stay involved with this ongoing mission, because they’re still out there. You start to write and it is a good way to release all the sadness, and joy, at what this city has become, at what seems like a never-ending tragedy for so many, humans and animals, it is just sad. Writing helps, and this is strange, some people seem to like your stories, strange. Within weeks, you start to feel your spirits lift because this writing has caused some strange things.....people start connected with you and it can’t be helped, you with them. All these years, most of them, you never were a people person, and to think it was because of the animals you are helping that now you think you might actually like people and you start to see that by working with others, you can get more.....but you still can’t get her, the chow. It’s a chow, you are sure, and you search over and over again through every database of Katrina pets you can find, and nothing. So you still bring her food and you adjust as first one building is torn down, and then another, you just adjust and you move her food station as many times as you have to all in the same area so that she can find it, and she does, you see her almost daily now, never close, but not on the run like she was. You would watch out for her wouldn’t you? You would probably ask anyone you see, but they would tell you the same thing, she’s nobody’s dog, she just lives on the street. So you would give her food, right?

As the summer months pass, you try to bring her food and water during the day because it’s going to be getting darker sooner and now you see squatters in the rotten houses, workers who have come to the city to make money during the rebuilding effort. Only the rebuilding effort hasn’t seem to go anywhere and not many are coming back, are they ever going to be back?
The squatters are mostly Hispanic and so you can’t speak to them even if you want to, probably better that way, a woman, alone, in an area where only rotten buildings and squatters who sit and watch, every day, as you leave her food. Thankfully, she has taken to hanging out in a wide grassy lot on the corner and so for months you have been able to keep a neat and dry station by filling a recycling bin and turning it on its side. You know just how much she needs but some days you spot her at the bin, peering into an empty spot where food should be, and you start to wonder if there are other dogs in the area......she is always alone, but since she won’t let you near her, and since the old man down the street told you that nobody can get near her, you have to think she must have at least a dog buddy, she can’t be that alone, right? The day you spot her on the main street, head buried in an empty fast food bag, you decide to leave a bit more food.....after this long, it would really hurt to see her body in the street but since she roams with not many to stop her, you are sure that is how you will find her one day. So you circle back, take the trash out of the street to deter her and then you fill her station.....wouldn’t you fill her station? She obviously is hungry and that old man told you that the only one who used to feed her sometimes never came back after Katrina. He also told you that the animal control had come out two or three times before the storm but that she is too smart and can’t be trapped. You already knew that when you tried in the spring, she wouldn’t go in no matter what you enticed her with, she was a smart one.

Another Christmas gone and you end January with a heavy heart.....the chow is pregnant and you want this to stop for her. You have found one other person who came back and now you know that this litter will be one of several. You think back to when you first spotted her and how you never saw those puppies but you have been told that one or two run the streets with a pack......she probably was never a pack dog because of her breed, she does look full-blooded, you decide this by zooming in on the digital shots you took....she doesn’t get close, but she doesn’t stay at the far edge of the lot either. You fill her station, you see her daily, you know she eats, you take shot afer shot and compare them to photos online but you know in your heart that the two people who gave you all the information they had were right about one thing, she’s nobody’s dog. You decide that you will feed her until you find her dead, but you can’t face more dogs, there are too many now that you just can’t catch, can’t track, can’t help, you need to get her before she has this litter. You’ll bring the trap back next time, she stays in this area now and she used to roam so much more, maybe this year, you can get her, you have to try. The rescue group you work with gives you a high-protein food to give her, she will need it if she has those puppies.

She’s gone, you haven’t seen her in over a week and you think maybe she didn’t make it, which is sad but she never let you into her world so it feels numb too, just one more you couldn’t help, this is never going to end. You can’t help but think that this might be for the best since supporters are fewer and fewer.....so many think this city is back on track, so many think no more animals need help, and there are those who think the ones which are left are strays anyway. As you think about this, she suddenly appears and she is full of milk.....new plan, find the pups. Today, you leave food and fresh water, and start to think of a plan....but you leave the high protein stuff and extra, what else can you do, what else would you do?

No pups, under every house you crawl and nothing so you stop to talk to the older man sitting on a porch down the block. You listen intently as he tells you that when he was taken out of the neighborhood by boat, after the levees broke, the chow, she had three or four pups then but they died in the water. You are amazed that he is teary eyed as he talks about the dog because you can only imagine what he faced himself. You follow him as he points out all her old pup-hiding spots and he confirms that she has been out there for years and animal control couldn’t get her.
He shows you the route she likes to take through his rear yard on her way to the empty grassy lot and so you get an idea....the pups can’t be far, because now you see her every day and shouldn’t she be nursing? He tells you he can’t find them either and what is really strange, he can’t hear them either? Shouldn’t he hear those pups? You know you won’t find them, that they are already dead but you try anyway, and then before you leave empty-handed, you put some food out for her as she watches you.

She isn’t around this morning, but a man is approaching, and he is waving to get your attention. You are not sure that he is talking about the chow, your chow, the one you have been feeding for so long, but he tells you that she will allow a man who lives in the back of that house over there to get close to her, but you know that can’t be and as you listen he all of a sudden shouts out because the man, that man, appears in the rear yard of the house. Yes, it is true, he can touch her, yes, it is no problem, if you want her, you can have her, no it is not his dog, but yes, yes, you can have her, and he will wait for you tomorrow morning to help you. As you drive off, he whistles and she appears, from nowhere, and you stare in utter amazement as this dog runs to greet him, her tail wagging, yes, her tail can really wag, and before you drive off, he gives you a thumbs up sign with one hand and scratches her belly with the other hand. Before you pull off completely, you pull off to the building from where the first man emerged; he stops the demolition work as you pull to the curb and he grins as you thank him profusely, and he knows that he has done a good thing today.

He is carrying her, you can’t believe your eyes, but he is carrying her like a baby to your truck and after she is tucked into the carrier, he tells you her story. His accent is thick but you have tuned out every other sound in the universe so you can know her better. Yes, he lived there before Katrina but he came back only six months ago and he was happy to see you pull up to feed her every day and about two months after he returned he thought maybe she would recognize him or maybe she would like his dog, Gaysto, a pit who was also left behind but who was now his. Two month he says, that is how long before she would trust him, but then she plays with Gaysto and she lets him pet her, but no he can’t take care of her properly, he is poor, he has no regular work, and he wants her to be happy. Where did she come from? She had a man who fed her but he died six months before the storm and then the lady who lived there, she threw her out, so she became the dog who roamed the neighborhood and beyond. He tells you that she got scraps, she got by, but she never came close and when the storm came, the lady moved away and never came back and she never left, only roamed. Why didn’t he tell you? He was so happy that you fed her but he thought you might take her to the “pound” and she might die, and when he could afford it, he would buy an extra pre-cooked chicken and now you know why every couple of weeks you would see the black tray on the ground. You fed her, he fed her, wouldn’t you feed her too? But now he wants more for her, and now you want more for her too.

You know it will be a slow process, she seems so scared, so you leave her to rest, until tomorrow, but then the call comes late that night. On her first leash walk she got away and you start to feel everything close in around you as you cry out and half-expect the next line to be “I’m joking” but that never comes and so you beg them not to chase her, you know how she can run, but she is on the run and they have to go and then you hear a dial tone. As the miles whiz past your thoughts race and you are going to the only place you know you should, to find him, and you pray over and over and over that he is there tonight. Although it seems like forever, within minutes, you have two thumbs up as he tries to keep up with your speedy English but yes, yes, of course, he will come.

You will never be the same and you know that you will no longer be able to do this, you can’t, you took her away, she had a meal, she had a territory, but you changed that and now as the others, all six of them, search through the “Batcher” a heavily wooded and swampy area which lies above the levee top right along the Mississippi River’s edge, and it runs forever, as long as the River, and you know that you will never see her again and you hate what you have done.
And when the others refuse to let you sleep in this area, a coyote haven as of late, you feel numb from the cold, yes it is cold tonight and you hope she is okay, and you feel numb because of how this one is going to end, and you agree to wait and hope she hunkers down and you will all try again at daybreak. Wait, can you leave some food for her, one last time? Her friend, the young man from Honduras, the one that you know must be special, he tells you no, no food, and because he knows her best, you listen......wouldn’t you?

He only gives one thumb up this morning but since it is before daybreak, you will take it and you prepare for the ride over, you, him, your husband again, all in the front of the pick-up truck, but you know you had better calm Gaysto, the pit down if he is going along for the ride. You give him a bone, and because he is so well trained, he takes the bone but then looks at Melvin, the man who he adores, and he gets the all clear to eat the treat. You hope, you hope so very hard and he tells you not to worry, because if he sees her, he will get her. He tells your husband he will do anything for “this lady” Because his English is broken, he emphasizes everything with his hands so you will know he will get her. All you can do is hope, so you do and then you feel yourself losing it after almost two hours back in the “Batcher” It is long past daybreak and you think she is gone forever and you are almost too far down in the sand-pit to hear it, but it is faint and then you hear it again, they are yelling for you to move, now, to hurry up and you run faster than you have ever run and you don’t know why you are running, you just know that you are supposed to. Your lungs are on fire as you see them, only your husband is waiting with the truck and you see the others racing down the levee in the school-bus the shelter uses for transport, and you try not to hope as your husband tells you that she has been spotted, very near the shelter where she broke free the night before.

You see her, you see her and you break down in racking sobs because you know he will keep his promise, he will see her and he will get her. Through your tears of exhaustion and joy, you tell your husband to wait, just wait, no, do not open the door and jump out. All of you and her are on the main highway, a US highway, and she is running down the road but you know how this will end so you tell him to wait and then you watch it and it is magic. You watch as the school-bus makes the wide turn and the young man jumps out with his Gaysto, and then you can’t hear him, but you know he is instructing Gaysto in Spanish and the dog knows every word, and then finally, Gaysto is off his leash and you watch as he becomes the speed of light heading toward her, it is almost over now. She must feel him bearing down on her and she turns and then it is finally over. You watch as the two race toward each other for one final romp together and for one last time, you watch this young man who has befriended this dog as he carries her to the kennel in the back of the truck. You have her again and you have a new friend too.

You think about the past week and you remember every detail so clearly and you anticipate the end of the work-day because you can’t wait to visit her. You know, all of you know by now just who you are working with and she sports a harness for walks now and you know that she will need time and effort but you know that this will be a good ending because extra safeguards are in place and you now know that is to be expected because of the breed: she is a full-blooded chow and she is magnificent. You are amazed each night as she shows new progress and you are thrilled at each new face she accepts and you know who they are because days ago, she accepted you first, you fed her for a long time, and so she accepts you, and now as she watches you interact with each one, one at a time, she accepts them in turn and she can wag that tail like no other dog. She will be okay, you know it, and you know that she has an entire team of dedicated individuals at this shelter who will help you see to that. She will love and she will be loved, forever, and you and the others will find that match for her, she is counting on that.

As you think about this last phase of your journey with this dog, you know why it is that you felt compelled to name her that first morning when you had her, before you lost her. You couldn’t explain why at the time, but you felt sure her name should be Corazon, or Cora for short, and now you understand. Mia Corazon, my heart..... she is all “heart” and she is what you just know must be the mirror image of your own heart, you have worked longer with her than any other out there, and you have put your heart into her care, and the others’ too. And somewhere in the middle of this past amazing week, as you did the one thing she has expected you to do this entire time, feed her, you know that you would have continued to feed her no matter what, be it risk to your own safety, threat of arrest for violations of some code unearthed by whomever, no matter if there was donated food or not, you would have bought it yourself, and you would have fed her feral or friend, and now as you look down into two pools of cocoa colored liquid velvet, you give thanks for whatever it was that guided you to keep feeding a dog that you were certain was feral, you give thanks for Melvin and Gaysto who offered her a second chance to trust, you give thanks for a man who saw this and did something about it, you give thanks for Christine, a woman who you met long ago, you give thanks for six wonderfully unique individuals who were willing to search for the needle in the haystack in the cold and in the dark so that your heart wouldn't have to break, and for a brief second you wonder if feeding her helped her to stay close and you wonder if it might have helped a tiny bit for Melvin to work with her, but you know that you don’t really care, you would have fed her anyway. But now you know, you know that you will never know the uniqueness of each one, none of them can be defined with a status and maybe the next one is a stray, maybe lost, maybe born on the street, maybe pampered in some prior life, but as you look back into those eyes and for the first time, she licks your hand, you know that whatever each story was, what matters is now, and that you are the one who crossed the path they are on, and so it is you who can ultimately change the ending.

Would you have fed her? Would you have stopped two months after the storm when the authorities issued a press release to do so? Sixteen months later, would you bring her food if it all looked the same around her world, if the houses were still boarded up, or falling off the foundation, still spray-painted with the statistics of life and death on her street? Would you give a second or third thought to the one phone call you would be allowed if they catch you and enforce the law you might be breaking, or would you think more about the pups who may have lived from prior litters and how this is a hard thing to fix, especially when you have to do it one at a time. And if you fed her too, and finally, finally, you got her too, would you think about all of it when you spot a skinny one traveling with one who is swollen with milk? Will you feed them too?

Food for thought, isn’t it?




Note:
I wish to express my gratitude to an organization which has earned my dedication, respect and my time, Animal Rescue New Orleans.
Because the leaders of this organization know that there are still more Coras out there, I was able to feed this girl, with their complete support, until she could finally be given the opportunity to have more than just a meal. Charlotte and Robin, thank you for everything you are doing.
With love, Lise