Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Write On...and on and on

I've been writing and writing, and the words are piling up. Thousands of them so far. So many that I'm dreaming in words now. I'm on 20 or 30 times a day tracking down the words with the exact nuance to express my thought.

Even though all this writing isn't for the blog, that doesn't mean I've abandoned it. I think about Carreen's Rescue Blog every day, especially when some juicy story comes across my desk that I'd love to cover, which happens frequently.

I still get my fix thanks to your emails -- story ideas, comments on old posts, words of encouragement. It's all fuel that feeds my creative fire.

Today, for the purpose of posterity, I've decided to post links here to some of the best-read stories on this blog. The ones that received the most responses. Those that pulled heartstrings and inspired change.

I have a big fat file filled with story ideas ready to go for when I get back to blogging, so please don't stop emailing me your thoughts and story ideas. I'm listening, and I love getting your mail.

I promise this isn't the last you've seen of Carreen's Rescue Blog.

Kids are fascinating to write about, because they all love animals, and they are motivated to rescue them with very little encouragement. When I go into a neighborhood and try to match up a stray animal with a family, the kids always know where a particular pet belongs. The self-starter kids in this story built an unsolicited mock animal shelter after crawling around inside my rescue vehicle.

When a nine-year-old girl living in a drug-addled area of a Prairie town saved a scorched puppy from a dumpster, her act of kindness motivated many others to give. They sent gifts, money and well wishes to a bullied little girl who had asked for nothing for Christmas, but got everything she had ever dreamed of in return. A Christmas miracle for a girl and her dog.

Last year, I wrote ten articles on the Canadian seal hunt, an atrocious event of animal cruelty that has 80 percent of Canadians recoiling in horror at the facts of it. Celebrities, regular citizens, even children have protested the cruel slaughter. Only Canadian politicians have missed the boat. Get the facts on the hunt and see some of the celebrities who have tried to end this bloodbath on ice once and for all. Special thanks to Nigel Barker, who stars in America's Next Top Model. He's a fashion photographer with a heart, and generously allowed me to use his stunning photographs of the seal nursery.

Katrina struck New Orleans and the floodwaters washed the levees away. The city was underwater. Residents tried to save their animals. But when they were shuttled to safety, government officials didn't let them take their pets.

Animal rescuers watched the footage on television in horror, knowing what was coming next. Dogs and cats clinging to trees, baking to death on rooftops in the excruciating summer heat, trapped at the end of chains, in attics. Swimming for their lives.

We had to get in. We risked our lives to penetrate a city locked down. Intruders were threatened with being shot, and we weren't excluded from those orders. Hundreds of us deployed separately from each other, but we joined together in the field to save 20,000 animals from certain, torturous death.

In 2006, the laws changed across the land to allow people to take their pets when they evacuate. And on Katrina's three-year anniversary, a monument was erected at New Orleans' City Hall of a dog and a cat. To honor the animals who died in the storm, and the rescuers who came to save them. I was on the scene, and made it back to document the mission.

As a rescuer, finding the perfect home for an animal is always a challenge. So when an animal uses his eyes to find his own home, it's a relief. Meet Wally, whose picture went from a rescue group in Tennessee all the way to a woman at a photo processing lab in Minnesota.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Taking a time out

I’ve been trying to compose a goodbye post in my head, a final piece to let you know that Carreen’s Rescue Blog is going quiet for a while. Obviously I’ve been procrastinating, because it’s been more than a month since I last wrote here.

In the meantime, I’ve had inquiries from readers wondering why I’ve disappeared, where I’m hiding and if I intend to show my words again.

It’s not that I’ve run out of stories to tell. I’ve got ample material. My file folder marked “Carreen’s Rescue Blog” has expanded like a muscle on steroids. I have boxes and boxes of stuff. So many boxes that I’m losing my living space inch by paper inch.

No, I had planned to sign off for a bit because I’m working on three lengthy writing projects that are occupying most of my mental real estate these days. As the blog grew, it was growing more difficult to manage along with these projects.

Still, I’m sure I won’t be able to resist posting once in a while. I’ve been in blogger withdrawal out here. And while the other writing I’m doing is grabbing my mind’s attention, I’ve never written for this long of a stretch being isolated from feedback. I’m realizing how important reader interaction is to me, and how it feeds my creativity.

I think that’s why I’ve been procrastinating. Because I’ve become attached to wordsmithing for you.

I won’t be going completely silent. There are stories that must be told, particularly those that continue a tale I've already started telling. I can’t stand an unfinished story.

There are already a couple of updates to report. There’s the loss of a man, the partner to my dear friend battling cancer. In an earlier story, you heard about her two cats, who are loyally standing by her through the ordeal. I had planned a follow-up on the love of her life, a man out of prison who has cared for Jewel through her illness. We never got to that interview. He died suddenly and unexpectedly last Sunday.

And there’s an inspiring gain -- a restoration of a family connection. I wrote about a homeless man living in his Ford Fairlane with his two cats. His daughter had been searching for him for years from California, and finally stumbled across his name in Carreen’s Rescue Blog. She emailed me, and I was able to put them in touch.

I hope to report more soon on these and other stories.

Until then, it’s farewell, but not goodbye.

Jewel's battling illness and grieving for her partner Keith at the same time. It feels overwhelming sometimes. She's grateful for the support of her two cats Ricky and Mokie (pictured.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

The world hopes to swim out of troubled waters . Photo of this duck passing under a sun-strewn bridge was taken by Janek Skarzynski at the Royal Baths Park in Warsaw, Poland (AFP/Getty).

Happy New Year!

The roller-coaster ride that defined 2009 leaves many people heaving a sigh of relief that a new decade is upon us. New promise, new hope. And a new beginning.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shedding a dress size

When the shave was done, there were two Oscars on the table.

Oscar went for his annual check-up today. Other than his weight—a whopping 26 pounds—he’s in perfect health.

Besides a wellness exam, he also received the slimming “lion cut”, a trim to eliminate mats from forming in his long fine fur. Torso trimmed flat, while legs, tail and around the face stay fluffy. With January descending, it’s chilly in the Pacific Northwest, so I’ll be cranking up the heat to keep Oscar toasty warm.

I'm appalled that Oscar is so heavy. I feel personally responsible for his unbridled gluttony. Now that my two skinny cats have died, the remaining seven will be going on a diet immediately. No more free-feeding. Oscar’s by far the fattest, but everyone could stand to lose a bit of themselves.

Veterinarian Kim Barron defends Oscar somewhat. Unlike my other cats, she says he's "big boned." Big face, big paws.

As for Oscar, he seems pretty happy with his lighter load. He's got a headstart on his weight loss over the others. We weighed the shorn fur, and he’s already dropped a fifth of a pound just by losing the coat.

One of the many reasons I enjoy visiting veterinarian Dr. Kim Barron is because of her intellectual curiosity. Here she's weighing in Oscar's coat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hat trick

Today was Little Carreen’s turn at the vet, and I'm proud to say she’s officially part of my Good Kitty Club.

Unlike some of my other babies, there are no warnings in the clinic’s computer system about her. No instructions to approach “with gloves only.” No scratching, hissing or spitting to haunt her past.

She was so relaxed that veterinarian Dr. Kim Barron and I had a little fun with the fur that spun beautifully off the flea comb in a woven pattern. It made the perfect toupé, or a cozy winter hat, the kind you find at craft fairs.

Kim decided this would be the perfect time to take a picture of Little C for her file.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bidding goodbye to the best of 2009

Photo by John Moore of Getty Images.

As the final day of calendar 2009 blasts its way to the finish line, the proliferation of “best” lists are in full swing: best gifts, best deals, best party ideas. Best cocktails, best holiday foods.

The bests are also rolled out for those of us practicing journalism—best photos, best stories. I read all the journalism bests I come across. Not because awards are the only opinions that matter. Awards nearly always indicate excellence work, but there are brilliant artists who will remain a lifetime unrecognized. Some of the most talented ones, in fact.

Still I pore over the pictures and devour the stories, because when a particular story or photo begins to gain a following, it has earned value in cultural relevance, no matter what the rest of the people say about it.

The photo above commanded my attention the first time I looked at it many months ago, and it caused me to stop and think. To piece together the story behind it in my mind. I wondered what this young woman was whispering to her fallen fiancé deep in the ground. I thought about how a pledge to marry would remain forever unrealized. It was powerful enough to evoke tears.

I wasn’t the only one galvanized. The photo has been heralded as one of the top picks for this year, a symbol of the humanity behind the machine of war. Of loss, love and grief. Of an almost-widow’s loyalty, respect and honor.

“Some people feel the photo I took at the moment was too intimate, too personal,” said Getty Images photojournalist John Moore. “Like many who have seen the picture, I felt overwhelmed by her grief, and moved by the love she felt for her fallen sweetheart.”

Mary McHugh is the young woman pictured, and she’s mourning the loss of her fiancé, Sgt. James “Jimmy” Regan. The decorated Army Ranger did a fate-tempting four deployments in three years, double tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. But a roadside bomb stole the last of his luck, and he died in Iraq on February 9, 2007.

Moore spent five years photographing war in the same countries Regan was deployed in, but that’s not how he came to hear about this 26-year-old fallen soldier from a New York hamlet called Manhasset. On Memorial weekend last May, Moore decided to wander the famous military cemetery in Virginia, where 300,000 veterans and military casualties are interred.

“I felt I owed the Arlington National Cemetery a little time – and I think I still do. Maybe we all do."

Walking the cemetery evoked different emotions than the ones Moore has grown accustomed to witnessing in battle.

“After so much time covering these wars, I have some difficult memories and have seen some of the worst a person can see – so much hatred and rage, so much despair and sadness. All that destruction, so much killing. And now, one beautiful and terribly sad spring afternoon amongst the rows and rows of marble stones – a young woman’s lost love.”

And by giving us a window to witness the grief for an unknown's lost love, Moore reminds us to hold our loved ones a little closer. In troubled times, and in peace.

Sgt. Jimmy Regan with his parents James and Mary in happier times.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The rewards of rescue...priceless

Nell earned her stripes the hard way. But life has turned around for this lucky survivor.

Witnessing turnarounds is the most gratifying aspect of animal rescue. A skittish, bony creature who arrives terrified and smelling badly can be transformed into an unrecognizable success story.

Gradually, as scared animal eyes look into kind human eyes, they begin to trust again. Or for the first time.

Watching it happen feeds the soul, soothing the frustrations of compassion fatigue. And it inspires tears of pure joy, even for those rescuers with the toughest shells and a career full of experiences.

Animal rescue is not a perfect system. It’s woefully underfunded, unsupported by government, and not organized. It is characterized by loose affiliations and alliances. For example, contrary to popular belief, humane societies aren’t connected to each other. Neither are SPCAs, otherwise known as societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. These names are generic, like “hospital”.

But the places aren’t as important as the people. Whether they land at a shelter, a sanctuary, an independent rescue group, or a foster home, animals blossom after rescue at the hands of people driven to save.

Some come further than others. Some won’t come far enough to make it out alive.

But for those animals who take to the lifestyle—one that requires them to wait patiently until a permanent place can be found—they are given another chance at happiness.

Nell is one such case that makes the heart soar. I met her at Whatcom Humane Society recently. The photo below portrays a frightened dog who had just been rescued after being tied to the train tracks. She was hit by a train, thrust into the path of danger by someone's twisted idea of sport.

The photo above shows Nell now, lounging under the bedcovers at her foster home.

I haven’t spoken to Nell’s foster parents, but I’m sure they are in it for just that moment in time. The one when she gives them those puppy eyes full of hope and trust.

To read previous stories about Nell's rescue, click these links.

Right on track

Already trained

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Staying abreast of health problems

Poor Henry was exhausted after a day at the clinic. He received a thorough teeth cleaning and a daring shave.

When I weather a spate of sick cats as I did recently, I begin to exhibit hypochondria where their health is concerned.

As I was cuddling Henry the other day, I felt a bump on his chest that seemed like some sort of cyst. He was bundled off to Northshore Veterinary Hospital in short order.

Dr. Kim Barron is a kind and patient woman, and always takes me seriously even when my suspicions have no basis in fact.

There was the time I thought Charlie was choking on a piece of salmon. It turned out he was just coughing on a hairball. The salmon I suspected and tried to pull out was actually his tongue. Thankfully it was slippery, so I didn’t get a firm grip.

Kim gave Henry a detailed once-over looking for cysts, even shaving him down in places for a closer examination.

When he was handed back to me with his nipples bare and boldly on display, I realized that must have been the cyst I thought I’d found.

Good thing it isn’t bikini season just yet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Following the pecking order

Photo taken by Jim Rider of the South Bend Tribune in Indiana.

Why did the ducklings cross the road?

In the case of this flock of Mallards, it's because their mother was leading the way. While the little ones struggled to clear the curb, she waited 20 minutes for a clear path across the busy street before heading over with her offspring safely in tow.

Proving that with a little perseverance, even roadblocks in life that seem concretely unsurmountable can be conquered.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Down to a Magnificent Seven

You might think that in a multi-cat household, I would barely notice when I lose one.

That's not true in the least.

When I come home from the veterinary clinic knowing one of my animals will never return, the missing piece of the puzzle is palpable.

It's not just me who feels it. The remaining cats jostle for pecking order, and there's a perceptible hole in the dynamic for a while until the animals adjust to the loss.

Last night I drove through a heavy snowstorm to get Felix to the veterinary hospital before it closed. Felix is an elderly grey tabby cat I rescued dumpster-diving outside a Jack in the Box fast food restaurant in San Diego 13 years ago, and he's currently the oldest cat in the house. Because of the familiar distress signs I noticed before we set off, I knew when I bundled him into the carrier that he might not return to my cat house.

His health had been deteriorating slowly but surely over the past several months, ebbing away his quality of life. The slow decline made the decision to take his life a difficult one.

Day by day, he began to withdraw from the cat clutch, and them away from him, leaving him to nap alone. He stopped playing and appeared to be in pain at times, even though his tests showed all systems normal. He grew thinner, and just recently the bones on his spinal cord felt more pronounced. The wide-faced tomcat cheeks began to hollow. And when he was sitting or lying down, I could tell he wasn't completely comfortable.

My old cat was simply fading away, a little bit at a time.

The surviving pride of cats -- now down to a Magnificent Seven cast of characters -- help ease the pain of loss. But there will never be another Felix, and the holidays will be dimmer without his friendly spirit in the house.

Goodbye to a survivor and a friend.

* * *

This will be a grief-tinged holiday season for me. I lost Opus in October, and now Felix is gone too. The house feels quiet and lonely without them.

To read about the battle to save Opus, click to And then there were eight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A furry fashion plate

Jackson the Chihuahua fancy-foots through fall modeling his too-precious sweater knitted in autumn tones. Notice how the sweater's sage-colored panel on the right complements his eyes perfectly.

Jackson's photo was taken by Los Angeles-based Kim Rodgers of Bark Pet Photography. Kim's passionate about photographing dogs, and she's also a dedicated animal rescuer in her own right.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bits and bites of happiness

American Thanksgiving is rolling into place for 2009. It will be my first year celebrating the holiday as a newly-minted American, and a Canadian too (Not born in the USA, Oct. 21, 2009).

I am grateful for so many blessings. Animal rescue sits at the top of the list. Those entrenched in the field know how rewarding and meaningful this work is. Having purpose nurtures the soul, and makes every day matter. And for me, documenting the heroic feats of rescuers keeps my belief in humanity going strong. I’ll be toasting my Tofurkey drumsticks to that.

In the spirit of giving thanks, here are updates from recent stories with happy endings.

I got him!

Yesterday I trapped Montana, the orange cat living outside Cafe Akroteri. Finally appetite overrode caution. He went on the WeSnip van to be fixed and treated. It was a treat for me too, because I had the chance to watch this crackerjack crew in action. I’ll be posting a story on the WeSnip experience shortly.

Initially I had suspected Montana’s ear injuries were caused by fighting with other animals, but that wasn’t it. It turns out this gentle boy had a terrible case of ear mites. The itching had caused him to kick his poor little ears open himself.

Special thanks to Lisa Weston of Richmond Animal Protection Society, a terrific shelter north of the line. She saw the blog story and worried that wily Montana wouldn’t be caught. She offered to give up her weekend to come down and help me catch the cat. You’re the best, Weston!

Previous blog stories on the Akroteri cats:
Almost catch of the day
Compassion is on the menu

Right on track

I was horrified when I first encountered Nell at Whatcom Humane Society. Some human had tied her to the tracks, and she had been hit by a train. A railroad employee rescued her and the shelter took her in. Soon she was bundled off to a foster home, where she has recuperated marvelously. She’s bouncing around like a new dog, and needs a new home.

Those of you on my Facebook will know there were some nail-biting moments when Nell disappeared from her foster home on Halloween. A storm had struck the region, and the fence enclosing her blew down. Nell was off like a shot. Rescuers put out the word to keep an eye out for her through social networks and more traditional channels too. Sure enough, she jumped into someone’s car at Lake Padden, rescued a second time. You can read more about Nell's progress on the Whatcom Humane Society website.

Previous blog stories about Nell:
On track for recovery
Already trained

Freeway of love

The woman I saw panhandling just off the freeway to raise enough money to keep her dogs will have a less stressful Thanksgiving. Rescue groups stepped up to help her. Her pit-Rottie mix Calla has already been fixed by WeSnip, which greatly reduced her licensing fees. And Alternative Humane Society donated the money to pay for the licensing charges. Then a generous animal rescuer named Belinda Ogley sent money to me on PayPal all the way from Singapore to defray Kristina’s dog food bill for a while. You're a kind soul, Belinda, to care from so far away.

Previous blog story on Kristina:
Working to make it work