By Dana Grae Kane
Feeling our love for animals well up while petting some cute, cuddly creature requires no effort on our part whatsoever. In fact, it’s uncontrollable. However, actually putting our love into action by providing care and funding for animals, especially those in need of rescue and rehabilitation, is harder work than most of us can imagine. The wonderful people who dedicate their time and treasure to helping animals in need know this requires the ultimate in commitment and determination. While all attest to the boundless rewards, many of the situations confronting professionals and volunteers alike are heart-breaking, and all of them are expensive.
In my personal work on behalf of animals throughout my life, it has been my great privilege to have known several splendid animal advocates and caretakers. One of these was my late husband, who as a young man in New York witnessed a neighbor, who could well-afford to pay a vet, consciously run over a dog and drive on, leaving the dog in agony. My Guy-To-Be (MGTB) scooped up the dog and rushed it to a vet, who could do nothing but put the dog out of its misery. MGTB then bought a full-page ad in The New York Times (not an inexpensive thing to do), showing a graphic photo of the mangled dog, quoting the testimony of the vet in gruesome detail, and listing the name, address and license number of the murderer, whose social and business connections instantly disappeared. Satisfying, indeed, but, my future husband wasn’t finished yet. He took the callous criminal to court, winning a large financial contribution to the local Humane Society. You can see why MGTB became my husband...
Many years later, my husband and I were on our front porch in West Los Angeles, he dressed in his only good suit, garnered from our favorite thrift shop, on his way to a crucial job interview. At that moment, two very good neighbors happened to meet on the sidewalk while walking their dogs. The dogs, one very large and one very small, were friendly and familiar with each other. The bigger dog extended a paw to play when an errant nail snagged and scooped out the right eye of the little dog. The eye was suspended by a single strand of tissue just below the socket, blood poured out, the little dog went into shock and the young owner of the little dog was screaming hysterically, as was the horrified owner of the large dog. My husband instantly picked up the bloody dog, buttoned it inside his suit jacket, thumbed the eye back in the socket, held the lid closed with one hand and scooped up the trembling owner under his other arm. Off we raced to the vet, who was not able to save the eye, but was able to save the rest of the dog. The owner of the large dog happily paid the vet bill and the owner of the little dog was immeasurably grateful. As to the little dog, thereafter she fashionably sported a wardrobe of decorative eye patches, including one we made for her in the shape of a Purple Heart, just like the one my husband received when he lost his right eye. The suit died in a good cause.
Another such compassionate person was Phil, our neighbor in San Francisco, who rescued two greatly undernourished cats, as small as kittens, cruelly tied to a storm grating. Phil had been very badly injured when the power steering system of the truck he drove professionally suddenly failed, forcing him to use all his strength to steer it away from a group of children, tearing his back to bits. Thus, he walked slowly and painfully, supported by two golf club canes, and wore massive steel-toed work boots to help maintain his balance. Phil could not bend over to pet or pick up his beloved adoptees, christened Striper and Peanut, and they were damaged such that despite all his good care, they remained weak, able to climb, but not walk far. However, the ingenious adoptees knew just what do. Each boarded a toe of Phil’s boots, facing his ankles, claws hooked into his pant legs, riding along as he lumbered about the house and yard. When important matters such as food, treats and naps arose, they would climb up the clothing ladder to Phil’s shoulders and screech simultaneously into his ears, possibly the world’s only stereophonic feline headphones.
Another animal-befriending person, one of the true gentle giants of the earth, was my friend, Big Rich, who recently passed away. In his lifetime he adopted, nursed back to health and cared for several abandoned dogs. During some difficult years, his home was his old Toyota, where he and successive dogs lived by the fish he expertly caught, trading them for other foodstuffs and supplies. When meal times came around the dog always ate first and well, and Rich last or not at all. One of Big Rich’s rescues was PeeWee, an adult Chihuahua the size of a runt-of-the-litter pup, starved when young just as Striper and Peanut above had been. Big Rich, at 6’8” and about 280 lbs., wore a shirt of some infinite number of XXXXXXLLLLLLs, the front pocket of which accommodated itty-bitty PeeWee, who spent many happy years viewing the world over the edge of her cozy high-rise condo. Big Rich’s last rescue, Peaches, also a Chihuahua, is safe in the loving arms of Rich’s beloved, my good friend, Rose. Rest in peace, Big Rich; job well done.
At the opposite end of the physical spectrum was a thin, frail San Francisco animal advocate, my friend Jane, who helped every animal ever to cross her path. Jane had had polio as a child and from her 50s on suffered from the muscular wasting of post-polio syndrome. Always in great pain, and additionally burdened with panic disorder, Jane was able to leave her home only for short periods of time, finding all motion of her legs excruciating and exhausting, and all ventures outside terrifying.
Consequently, a huge undertaking for her was a brief visit the nearby Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park where we watched the beautiful koi, as long as two feet and beefy, competing avidly for tourist-tossed treats. On one occasion, Jane spotted a tiny, thin koi about four inches long, off in the backwater away from the roiling behemoths, trying desperately to suck in food and for some reason being unable to do it, even though the food was right about three inches from its mouth. Jane, who normally could not walk more than 10 feet without sitting down to rest and could not traverse even small pebbles steadily, climbed over the large boulders lining the pond, lay down on her stomach on the one closest to the water, dragged the floating food over to the little fish using her cane and with the rubber tip gently shoved the goodies into the gaping maw.
For whatever reason, this did the trick. The mini-mite was able after that to slurp up all the leftovers that drifted within range. As we left, we looked back and saw that the little finster was sucking down crumbs a mile a minute, a veritable piscine vacuum cleaner on his way to fat-fishdom. This monumental effort cost Jane not merely several days of intense pain and exhaustion, but the permanent loss of some of her little remaining muscle power. She was fully aware this would be the price of her kindness before she took this selfless action and never afterward felt it was not entirely worthwhile.
We, too, can do our part, this Christmas and all year long. We can adopt a rescue, saving a life and striking a blow against puppy and kitten mills in one fell swoop. We can volunteer at a profit-dedicated thrift shop and join the foster parents who socialize young animals to make them more adoptable. We can assist cash-strapped seniors, who desperately need animal companions but often cannot afford to maintain them, with pet supplies and transportation to the vet, and by donating to the MAX Fund, which helps with vet expenses. We can offer to watch the pets of people who must be away from home for serious medical appointments, thus relieving at least some of their stress. We can give a meaningful holiday gift by donating to any and all of the organizations listed above in honor or memory of a beloved person or pet. In these ways we create and become part of the “shelter of compassion and pity,” in the true Spirit of Christmas.