Archive | December 2011

Bits and pieces of shelter life

Acting as Mother Theresa to Denver’s homeless dogs in 1991 almost got me killed once. I chased a pint-sized white mutt with protruding nipples down a side street in the Five Points neighborhood, a run down section. The dog’s alleged owner, a shabbily dressed man with a long unkempt beard, lashed out at me, accusing me of trying to steal his dog. I thought the new mom was a stray.

“I didn’t see any tags on your dog,” I said. “She was running loose onLawrence Streetand almost got hit by a car.”

“Stupid dog,” the owner said.

Stupid owner, I thought.

“She looks like she recently had a litter.”

“The puppies under that house on the corner,” he said, acting a bit calmer. “She was probably on her way to feed them. You interfered.”

“I thought I was saving her.”

“You want her?” the man said.

“Yes, I do,” I said. He picked up the scruffy dog and handed her to me. I put her in my car.

“What about the puppies?” he said. “They’re in that abandoned house.”

I was surprised he even cared.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The narrow two story house was run down. Garbage cluttered the alley. The yard was overgrown with weeds. Windows were shattered. I tried to open the front door but it was locked. Instead, I poked my head inside an open window and listened for whimpers but heard nothing. I went back to the man’s house.

“That house seems abandoned,” I said as I stood on his front steps. “I listened through a window and didn’t hear any puppies.”

“They’re in there. Mama feeds them all the time.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, nervous about entering an unstable unoccupied building. Besides, I’m sure it was illegal.

“Want me to show you?”

“No, that’s OK.”

I kept dog dried food and bottled water in my car. I shoved supplies for the puppies beneath an opening in the ratty looking building, just in case they were inside. Noticing the time, I’d be late for work unless I got back to the clinic. Not that I had work piled up but Deborah my boss would crawl up my ass if I staid out any longer. I drove to the clinic, left the little white dog in my car and called Denver animal control. They picked her up about an hour later. That was the best I could do.

I called the Denver Dumb Friends League and told them about the allegedly abandoned puppies. They dispatched an investigator who called me a few days later.

“I see what you mean about that building,” the DDFL investigator said. “It looks like it might collapse. I couldn’t get inside.”

“Did you hear anything?” I asked.

“Not a sound,” she said. “I left out food and water. I also taped an official abandonment notice on the door. Not that anyone will read it. If the owners don’t show up, we can legally break into the house. I’m just not sure how someone can get in. That house is dangerous. We love animals at the DDFL but I don’t want any of our people getting hurt.”

“Let me know what happens.”

I fretted that the puppies, if they were inside, might starve or freeze in the middle of winter. I drove back the next day and studied the building. To get inside, I would have slide through a first floor broken window in the back of the house. And even if I got in, the interior was trashed. Finding the tiny puppies would be risky. I worried about taking a chance but I always had a bit of daredevil in me. Because I was in the backyard, no one saw me, or at least I didn’t think they did. As I shimmied through a wobbly window frame, I slipped and fell to the pavement below. I escaped serious harm, save for bruises, bumps, cuts and scrapes. My heart pounded thinking that if I had become lodged inside the building no one would have heard my cries for help. The homes in the immediate area were abandoned too. That ended any further rescue attempts. I called my contact at the DDFL and told her what I did.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she said. “You’re not trained for animal rescue. We are. Please leave this to the professionals.”

“After what happened today, I swear I’ll never do something so stupid again.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I don’t know you, but I believe you have a good heart. If you died doing something foolish, think of all the animals that won’t be helped.”

“I nearly dropped dead from fear. I’ve learned my lesson.”

“We’ll investigate again, but I can’t send someone inside such an unstable building. We’ll try to lure the puppies, if they’re inside, out with food.”

I don’t know if those puppies were really in that building. Maybe that scuzzball wanted to see me die. Who knows? I never risked my life like that again. My arm full of cuts, bruises and scrapes scared me away from that building. If a rescue was possible the DDFL took action. As for me, it’s 2011 and I’m still involved in animal rescue.

 

Emmy’s Angel

Chapter Four

        Harriet woke up, sniffed around then stared at the sky. Nose twitching, she said, “I don’t like the smell of this. A bad storm is brewing and it’s headed our way.”

“As soon as I nibble on grass, I’ll be ready,” Angel said.

“Forget about food,” Harriet said in a huff. “If I’m wrong about the weather, which of course is highly unlikely, then we’re in trouble. Harriet doesn’t like trouble.”

With Angel trotting behind, Harriet scrambled along a narrow rutted trail that swooped and curved until it emerged from the forest. The animals followed the pathway as it skirted along the river. Way atop the steep embankment, Harriet stopped and told the horse to wait.

“I’ll check for a way to cross. If not, Harriet has to think of something else.”

“Stay here by myself?”

“A brave horse like you can handle it.”

“I know, the great Harriet will be back in an instant,” Angel said.

“Well stated my girl,” Harriet said as she scampered away.  “Remember, stay put.”

A growling stomach overshadowed Harriet’s orders. On the bumpy trail leading to the river, Angel remembered splotches of luscious-looking green grass. The horse figured she’d have time steal away for a few minutes, enjoy a bite to eat, and then return. If she was crafty enough, Harriet would never know she was gone.

Before leaving, Angel glanced over her shoulders to make sure Harriet hadn’t returned. Not seeing her friend, she trotted off for a mouth-watering snack. Finding the grassy spots took longer than Angel expected so when she finally found the grass, she made it snappy. She chomped down as much grass as she could when she heard a nasty, hissing sound. Such luck, she thought, Harriet’s back and on the warpath. Angel prepared herself for a stern lecture. She expected Harriet to begin with a litany of admonitions about disobeying orders. Whatever commands Harriet barked out were to be followed. At times, Angel thought of confronting the prickly pussycat, but why bother? Harriet was usually right, even if she was annoying. Cooperation seemed more prudent than confrontation.

The hissing grew louder but there was no sign of Harriet. Something was out there. Angel snorted but Harriet wasn’t around to calm her down. What would she do?

Then Angel spotted the trouble. Slithering in and around ankle-high rocks, its tongue reaching out like a weapon, the bull snake readied to attack. The horse whinnied as though she’d heard a loud zap of thunder. Rearing back, she broke into a frenzied gallop, fleeing with no particular place in mind. She just wanted to escape the danger posed by snakes, whose venom could knock a horse off its tracks. “Why me?” Angel fretted, as she blasted down the trail. There was only one problem – she ran in the opposite direction from her meeting place with Harriet.

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The NYC Marathon

“Take my number and run?” Nancy said over lunch of veggie burgers and yam fries.

The New York City marathon was less than two weeks away, always the first Sunday in November.

“No way,” I said. “I haven’t trained. Besides taking your number violates club policy.”

“What else do you have planned that day?” Nancy asked.

“Nothing, really besides reading the Times,” I said.

“Then go for it.”

I woke up around 5 a.m. on marathon morning in 1986 after a jittery night. What was I thinking? Most runners trained months for the big day. I trained barely two weeks. Ah, what the heck. Even though I was unprepared for long distance running, I was determined to finish. I slipped a subway token into my running bra just in case I fizzled.

The race started at 10:40 a.m. but preparations for the huge race began in the wee hours. Runners assembled at the main branch of the New York City public library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue where several hundred city buses ushered the nearly 25,000 eager runners to the starting line at the foot of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Staten Island. The race touched all five boroughs. I arrived at the staging area with my friend Leonora and other running buddies by 7 a.m. We passed the time huddled in one of the hundreds of tents set up for the runners. We stretched, drank coffee and joshed about the 26.2 miles that lay ahead.

Excitement built around 10 a.m. when the massive sea of runners swarmed to the starting line. Not only was I surrounded by athletes from across the US but there were people from across the globe. I met runners fromIreland,France,Albania,Kenya,Egypt and Haiti. As the clock ticked away, the mood was electrifying. For people like me it was their first marathon. Seasoned runners like Leonora were about to run their fourth or even fifth marathon. One man was on his tenth. As news helicopters hovered overhead, nervous bodies jammed together and removed their sweat suits anticipating the start. It was only about 40 degrees so runners jumped up and down to keep warm. A canon boomed and off we went. The elite runners started first. Leonora and I hung in the back.

As throngs of lean bodies darted across the huge suspension bridge, it swayed back and forth. Always terrified of heights, I picked up my pace, worried that the bridge might cave in. I wanted to reach Brooklyn as quickly as possible. When my small group rounded the curve and jogged off the bridge onto Fourth Avenue, a main drag, thousands of fans greeted us with cheers and well wishes. This was show time, one of New York City’s most celebrated events and I was in it. School bands played uplifting music, such as the theme from the movie Rocky along the way. People handed out water and orange slices to thirsty runners. Medical stations were set up to heal the wounded warriors. Almost everyone applauded runners. Whenever a spectator called out my number and said, “Go F214,” I rejoiced. Fellow runners encouraged me to keeping going. At 24 miles people said, “Looking good.” They lied. How could narcolepsy gray skin look good?

Competing in my first marathon should’ve been one of the most thrilling days of my life. It was not. By the time I reached the 20th mile, my legs were like wet sponges. Even my eyelashes ached but quitting wasn’t an option. How I crossed the finish line still conscious was a miracle. My official time was six hours and nineteen minutes. By then, the winner was probably home, taken a nap, eaten dinner and was ready for the disco the Road Runners Club sponsored for all the marathon runners. I don’t remember how I got home but when I opened the door, I said to myself, oh no. My dog Scottie needed a walk. Make it quick boy. Scottie must’ve known I was almost in a coma. He took care of business right away. I rested on my couch after soaking in a warm relaxing bath. I skipped dinner. My friends asked me to meet them at the runner’s disco but I conked out by 7 p.m.

The next morning my body barely moved. My knees were so sore it was like they’d been beaten with jackhammers. But I smiled, knowing that I completed every mile of the marathon, even if it was under someone else’s name and it was almost dark when I finished.

In 1987, I started training in May when I submitted my marathon application. Chicken pox at the age of 33 crimped my weekly miles. That summer, I had volunteered in a homeless family shelter. There was an outbreak of chicken pox among the children. I assumed I had the disease in grade school. I did not. Adults weren’t meant to contract childhood diseases, which can make them violently ill. The viral disease ravaged my body with a high fever, an uncontrollable itchy rash and pock marks covering most of my skin. For nearly a week, I was miserable. Neighbors walked my dog. I barely ate. Then the itch faded. The fever broke. Pock marks lingered as if I had a paint by number face but I felt well enough to resume training. I finished the marathon in 1987 just over five hours, a vast improvement over the year before. Again, I faded after soaking in the tub and never made it to the runner’s disco. Maybe next time.

In 1989 I did the unthinkable. I gave up my rent-stabilized Upper West Side apartment and moved to Boston. No great loss. The studio was infested with cockroaches, huge flecks of paint peeled off the ceiling, and without air-conditioning it was like a sauna during the summer.

The marathon bug bit me again in 1990. Entrants to the Boston race had to qualify with fast times from previous races. Unless there was divine intervention or a significant bending of the rules, I would never qualify for the Boston Marathon. So I set my sights onNew Yorkagain. I trained hard all summer with a combination of running and biking. By November I was pumped up and ready.

The weather was less than ideal. Mother Nature sent us sunny warm temperatures for early November. Maybe it was the start of global warming or just an unusual day. I drank so much water that my official time was bogged down by frequent port-a-potty use along the route. I stepped the finish line in a tad under six hours, smiling and not reeling in pain.

The challenge of triathlons, a race composed of swimming, biking and running, always tempted me. I wanted to complete one just for the heck of it but I only got as far as a biathlon. There would be no more biking up mountains or long distance running because a careless driver plowed into me on January 6, 1994, leaving me with disabling injuries. I’m stuck with rubbery legs and a painful spine for life. That mishap squashed my love affair with jogging. No more rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in a few miles before work with whatever faithful canine companion I adopted or sailing around the park at night to unwind knotty nerves.

Since then, I’ve pushed myself through several short races in a wheelchair. Pushing is rougher than running because I don’t have a light-weight racing chair. Just the fact that I competed in races gratified me, even though part of me wanted to rip through the course like everyone else with sweat dripping down my face and neck.

Years of smoking plus hereditary factors caught up to me when I was diagnosed with pulmonary disease. During the 2007 Race for the Cure I huffed through the one mile portion of the race, down from the usual three miles I’d done for the past five years. A few bumps broke my stride but as long as I still have a stride, I’ll move ahead. How can failure be an option?