Archive | January 2013

The awesome power of peace and pets

In 1989 I moved from the madness and mayhem of New York City to Boston. Honestly, Boston bored me and I needed a distraction so I volunteered for the MSPCA, a non-profit organization which ran a series of animal shelters across the state. That decision changed my life. I’ve been involved in animal rescue ever since except for a two year stretch when I recovered from a serious pedestrian car accident that left me with disabling injuries.

Animals are part of our world. Can you imagine a world without them? I can’t either. Animals also have an awesome power to unite people. Over the years, I’ve met Latinos, African Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and a long list of other people who adopted animals at our off-site events here in Phoenix where I now live. All kinds of people shop at PetSmart and Petco, the two large pet supply retailers. Animal festivals attract hundreds of animal lovers. We are all united by our love of animals.

Social media keeps me in touch with animal lovers around the world in such far flung places as Israel, Iran, Kuwait, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and countless other places. Animal welfare comes first and foremost. Then we find out how much alike we really are. Differences are few. People who are kind to animals are most often kind to others. Compassion and kindness are valuable traits especially in a world torn apart by violence.

The path to world peace starts with kindness to animals. The late Mohandas Gandhi said the greatness of a nation is judged by the way it treats its animals. Kindness is contagious. It spreads easily from one person to the next. If we are a nation of animal lovers we can then be a nation of peaceful passionate people. That would be one heck of a world wouldn’t it?


The Impossible

The current movie, the Impossible, about the devastating tsunami that ripped apart Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004 reminds me of a lesson in compassion I tried to impart to homeless children I visited in Mesa AZ. I was a pet therapist at the time with my adopted dog Luke. The unimaginable devastation stunned and saddened me. I asked the children if they had talked about it in school. They had. Although these children were homeless, our community was intact. Schools, businesses, public services operated as they always had.

I asked the children to write letters to the Asian children in the flooded countries. I said use your imagination. Say whatever you want. Tell them who you are and express your feelings. I would mail the letters to the ambassadors of each country with a letter from me. The kids thought it was a good idea.

The children wrote compassionate kind and caring letters. I’m sorry I didn’t keep copies. Silly me. I wrote a cover letter to the ambassadors of the most severely affected countries – Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and I’m not sure who else. I explained the nature of our program and what my role was.

About a month later I lay in bed with a nagging headache and the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer but I did. A woman with a foreign accent asked for me. She represented the ambassador from Sri Lanka. She was extremely touched by the letters I sent. I’m not sure she understood the concept of pet therapy but she promised that as soon as the schools were rebuilt our letters would be read to Sri Lankan children.

Wow, I couldn’t believe it. My headache suddenly disappeared. I was so excited. I could hardly wait to return to the shelter the following week to share the splendid news with the children. We made a difference.


Harriet and Big Bessie

The Cats of 40th Place


“If that fleabag cat steals my snack one more time, I’m moving out,” Big Bessie said, as she nibbled on a salmon flavored treat.

“No you’re not,” the Great Harriet said. “We live in a shelter. You’re not going anywhere.”

“That sneaky cat knows I eat slowly so he takes advantage,” Big Bessie said. “I don’t like that.”

“Calm down, big girl. Harriet will talk to the young brute. He’s new and doesn’t know the ways of the cattery yet. Maybe he didn’t get enough to eat. He could’ve scraped by in the alleys.”

“I was hungry when I was on the streets. I didn’t steal other cat’s food. OK, maybe once but I couldn’t help it.”

“Bessie, you get plenty now. Look at you.”

“Must you insult me?” Big Bessie said as she looked at her full figure.

“Don’t get so touchy,” Harriet said, licking her long whiskers. “Here comes feisty Freddy now.”

Big Bessie trailed behind Harriet but Harriet turned around and said, “Don’t breathe on me. This is a job for a wise and exceptionally smart cat like me.”

“What should I do?” Bessie asked.

“What cats do best – sleep.”

Gray with stringy fur, Harriet sidled next Freddy. At first, the skinny orange boy ignored her but Harriet persisted. Ever so gently, she swatted him on the head. “Are you ignoring me? No one ignores the great Harriet.”

“Leave me alone,” Freddy said, baring fangs.

“Hey fish face,” Harriet said. “About a hundred cats share this space until we find a home. In fact, there’s a trio of stuck up tabby’s I don’t care for but we have to respect each other. That applies to you.”

“Says who,” Freddy said.

“Says me.”

“Ah, go choke on a mouse.”

“Listen here. No more stealing food from Big Bessie,” the Great Harriet said, puffing out her bony chest. “Don’t take advantage of old cats.”

Freddy brushed by Harriet. “Out of my way.”

“I’m queen of the cattery,” Harriet said. “Show respect.”

“Judging by your scrawny looks, you’re queen of the trash box.”

“Those are fighting words,” Harriet said with raised hackles. “But I’m a lady so I won’t claw your eyes out. My cats will figure out a way to deal with you without fighting.”

“Jeez, I’m scared,” Freddy said.

“There’s no room for bad attitudes in here.”

Harriet watched the cat scramble through the kitty door to the screened-in porch, a place few cats gathered during the blistering summer heat. Cats preferred the inside where cool air caressed their whiskers. Harriet motioned at Bessie to join her by a large bowl of kibble.

“Will he stop picking on me?” Big Bessie asked.

“Probably not,” Harriet said. “He’s got the attitude of a hairball.”

“What’d the other cats say?”

“They’ll protect you,” Harriet said. “I don’t think he’ll cause trouble.”

“So he gets away with picking on me?”

“Not at all,” Harriet said. “I’m working on a solution.”

“Such as?”

“In a minute or two,” Harriet said. “A brilliant cat like me needs time to think.”

“I love your lion-sized attitude Harriet. If you can’t tame that bad cat, then no one can.”

Visitors started trickling into the cattery so Harriet decided a confrontation with Freddy would wait until closing. Potential owners may not want persnickety cats although some people adopted fussy felines before. Maybe someone would adopt Freddy and remove the prickly puss. Order would then be restored to the cattery.

As she had for the past six months, Harriet checked people out as they ambled around the cattery. Not just any owner would do, of course, for the most regal and royal cats like her. She had high expectations for her next home.

For seven years, Harriet had led a charmed life in a comfortable, spacious adobe house on the edge of the Sonoran desert. She perched herself on windowsills and watched birds as they nibbled seeds in the feeders. For rest, she snuggled on fluffy pillows scattered about. Twice a day, she ate premium cat food. Every Sunday Candice broiled fresh fish for her. And she eliminated on no clump cat litter only. She always had a new scratching post. Nothing but the best. Then suddenly her cozy world came crashing down. An intoxicated driver slammed into Candice as she waited at a traffic signal. Death was instant. Two older brothers, Candice’s only living relatives, picked through her belongings like they were at a yard sale. Harriet wondered what would become of her. A surprise came when Candice’s attorney read her will. Candice left her entire estate worth at least $100,000 to a Phoenix animal shelter. They had to care for her beloved cat until they found her an ideal home. So Harriet remained in the cattery until the right owner came along.


In that time, Harriet learned to co-exist with the feline persuasion, something she never did before as an only cat. Candice would have wanted her to behave so she stepped up and took a leadership role. Newly arrived cats that scratched out a living on the streets for months or years had little or no idea about congregate cat life. Harriet showed them how. When semi-feral kittens needed taming, Harriet’s patience turned them into respectable cats worthy of adoption. If a cat had room clearing gas, she urged them to stay on the patio until the fart fest cleared. She earned her position as head of the cattery. And that Freddy would accept his place too without a fur flying fiasco.

Five cats scored big that day, landing in new homes. Harriet would miss them but she was pleased they had someone to own. Big Bessie remained. That old plump puss had been at the shelter for a long time. No one seemed to want Bessie. Now that the employees locked up and the visitors were gone, it was time to face Freddy. Harriet found him sleeping inside a carpet lined cat tree.

“Wake up Freddy, we need to talk,” Harriet said. He didn’t open eyes or even twitch. “You hear me.”


Harriet stretched her paw and gently poked Freddy’s head. “There’s rules around here you aren’t following.”

“Get lost, you old hag.” Freddy hissed and started to move away.

“We get good food here. It’s cleaned every day and there’s plenty of volunteers who dote on us so get over your mood.”

Freddy relaxed a bit as he said, “My mother was an alley cat. A nice girl named Rhoda just entered high school when she found me. Her mother said it was OK but her father wanted me out. So I had to live in the yard.”

“Must’ve been hot,” Harriet said.

“Rhonda tried to make it comfy for me, but every time her father saw her, she got whipped. So did her mom. So did I.”

“How awful,” Harriet said. “My Candice was so sweet. She fussed over me all the time, as she should have.”

“Rhonda’s mom got tired of her husband’s rages so she packed up her bags, took the kids and left.”

“And you?”

“I understood why they took off but I felt bad they stranded me,” Freddy said. “The last time Rhonda filled my dish with kibble, she had tears in her eyes. I knew something was wrong.”

“I’m sorry,” Harriet said.

“When her father came home and read the note, he got drunk. He started banging pots and pans in the kitchen so I scrambled over the fence and ran away. I lived in the alleys for a few weeks until a strange lady brought me here.”

“Why the lousy attitude?”

“I want a nice home,” Freddy said. “I don’t want to be hit again.”

“That’s what we all want,” Harriet said. “Start acting like a proper feline.”

“No one taught me catly behavior.”

“I’m teaching you.”

“I guess it’s OK to be friends. Not great friends, just friends.”

“Apologize to Big Bessie. She’s a very forgiving cat.” Freddy moved slowly. “Get going. Come back and tell me you’ve apologized.”

“Do I have to?”

“I knew you’d see things my way. That’s why I’m the Great Harriet.”



The end.




Hooked on animal rescue

Hooked on Animal Rescue

By Debra J. White


I’m hooked on animal rescue. I can’t save all unwanted animals but each day I act as if I can. Dream big I say. You never know what’ll happen.


On Wednesday mornings, I let rescue dogs out for exercise. They’re safe at a boarding kennel until either a temporary foster home is found or they’re adopted. The flow of unwanted dogs and cats into our shelters is never ending despite what the no-kill warriors proclaim. Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in the US and around the world. Spay and neuter even when offered for free hasn’t solved the American crisis. I avoid reading about the problems in Third World countries. There, many people care about animals but they often lack the resources for rescue.


Some days I am so overwhelmed by pet overpopulation that I just cry. I don’t know what else to do. Crying however doesn’t remove a dog from a dangerous situation or find a home for a homeless cat. I dry off my tears and resume my volunteer work. That’s what I do best.


I use a motorized scooter, the result of a 1994 car accident. The boarding kennel has a fenced in back yard. So I let out each dog one at a time and watch as they romp around, sniff, and maybe take a dump. I play a small but important role in the rescue’s operations. I am thankful for my second chance and make the most out of each day and each dog.


There are only a few dogs in boarding now. Although the cost is minimal, the rescue still has to pay. Foster homes are best for the dog and the rescue. As a volunteer, though, I develop a relationship with the dogs. Destiny the collie mix yaps constantly for the attention I of course shower on her. Melody is a strong gal who likes to be greeted with snacks. Max the pit bull mix just wants to be loved. Annie was abused. She cowered in her cage for weeks before allowing anyone to come near. She ventures out slowly, grabs a snack, and returns quickly. I feel anger at the brute who kicked around such a sweet dog. I hope he doesn’t have children.


Pet overpopulation is a complicated personal, social, economic and political problem for which there is no one-size fits all solution. As long as there are homeless dogs and cats in Arizona (where I live), I will always be married to the rescue movement. Always. I love animal rescue and the many rewards it offers.