Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Animal rescuer shot in the face

She has always been spellbound by animals.

Even as a little girl.

Her love for creatures was so intense that she changed her name when she was in high school. Her nickname had to describe a girl who hopped around with enthusiasm. From then on, she was Bunny.

Now 60 years old, the New Orleans-area woman is devoted to rescuing orphaned baby wildlife. Gently and patiently, she nurses them back to health.

But a week ago, she was the one who needed to be rescued.

Like most people in the hurricane-ravaged region, the road back to self-sufficiency has been long and hard for gregarious, rambunctious Bunny. She lost her house to Katrina’s devastating blow.

Then it happened again.

In September, Gustav swept through the Gulf Coast, destroying her trailer. In a left-for-dead city plagued by skyrocketing crime and rampant homelessness, Bunny had finally found a temporary place for herself and her 14-year-old daughter in a motel room.

But none of that compares to what happened to Bunny on January 3rd.

In a quest to find better accommodations, she rented the bottom half of a house from a man who placed a Craigslist ad seeking a renter. For several weeks, she had been moving her possessions into the house. Then, on the day she was scheduled to make his home hers, the 57-year-old man lured her into a strip mall parking lot and shot her in the face. One 25-calibre bullet lodged there, shattering her jaw. The second pierced her cheekbone, settling in her sinus cavity. A third tore into her shoulder. The fourth grazed her back and landed in the car seat.

If she hadn’t slumped over her steering wheel and played possum, she wouldn’t be here to tell the story.

Bunny’s passion for animals isn’t the only reason I feel kinship for this gutsy woman. She’s the sister-in-law of Louisiana SPCA staffer Shelly Patton. Besides being a dear friend, Shelly is a frequent contributor to this blog. She wrote to me about the shooting.

“When she opened her eyes, his car was gone,” Shelly said. “She started the van and drove back to the strip mall, parking behind the stores. After trying to reach her oldest daughter twice by cell phone, she called 911.”

Bunny is unable to speak. But being a bubbly chatterbox, she’s still fighting to tell the story in her own words. For now, she’s communicating by madly scribbling in a notebook. Fittingly, given how she saved herself, she’s also using a possum puppet as a prop and a book on ventriloquism.

Despite her troubles, Bunny hasn’t forgotten about the animals.

“All she wants to do is get home with her ferrets,” Shelly said. “Bunny focuses so much love and attention on her animals.”

Even in her excruciating pain, Bunny made a courageous decision. She’s stopped taking pain medications. The drowsy feeling makes her feel helpless, and that’s when memories of the shooting creep in.

“She would rather deal with the pain than lose her sharpness of mind,” Shelly said. “Her face is torn up inside. The piece of bone that hinges her jaw to her skull is gone. Her nose is broken, her sinuses pressurized by blood. And she stops her pain meds. I knew she was tough, but I had no idea. I have a whole new respect for that woman.”

The physical pain doesn’t compare to the mental torture her attacker has inflicted.

“Bunny’s greatest suffering right now is from terror,” Shelly said. “I don’t know if Bunny has ever really been afraid. She cries when she talks of being afraid. Thankfully, she is talking of being afraid.”

Shelly has been visiting Bunny in the hospital, where doctors are determined to piece her back together again.

“She looks like a human, Goth god hybrid,” Shelly said. “Black lips, black shading under and around the eyes, deep purple patterns painted along the left cheekbone, chin, and down the neck, a blank facial expression caused by the drooping left side. But the eyes are so bright. There is life in the eyes. It is very eerie.”

Not everyone has been a source of comfort for Bunny. As is typical, many bloggers have been cruel. These sanctimonious cowards saw an opportunity to kick a woman named Bunny after she was taken down. From the anonymity of their computer screens, dozens of bloggers weighed in with their high and mighty opinions, blaming Bunny for what happened because she answered an Internet ad.

Saying that she deserved what she got.

Their righteous, heartless attitude churns my stomach. It’s easy for them to point fingers from the comfort of their safe homes. Bunny is a woman just trying to survive in a wasteland, a dark place that tried to waste her.

But from what I hear, the courageous, indefatigable spirit that defines Bunny won’t be dimmed by their ugly words.

“Bunny is the most perpetually happy person I have ever met,” Shelly said. “She lost her home in Katrina. She continued to smile. She lost her trailer in Gustav. She continued to smile. She has lost so much through her life, starting with her innocence in childhood. She has always smiled.

“I hope I see Bunny smile again.”

More details of this baffling crime are available in The Times-Picayune newspaper article.

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