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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The ball and chain

Check out the 60-pound weight attached to the groom's ankle. That's the full weight of commitment.

Just because I mean well doesn't mean my efforts are always appreciated.

Last night I was blogging from a restaurant bar when in rolled a party of 15. The young men were celebrating. One of them was getting married, and this was his bachelor party.

I asked permission to take photos of the joyous event, and started snapping away. When the pop of my flashbulb finally died down and I returned to my booth to start writing, I figured that was the end of the story.

But that's when she attacked.

The battleax landed at my table like a bat out of hell. She's married to one of the men, and she was raging angry, demanding to know where my photos--which were tame, by the way--were going to end up.

When I didn't back down, her mouth started spewing bitter venom.

"Do you even have a husband of your own?" she mocked, just before asking if I wanted to fight.

There are those who will criticize me for not defusing the situation and backing down. But in my experience, there's only one way to tame a bully. Stand up to her.

I ordered her to step off. I told her the men had consented to the photographs being taken. And then I called her a "mean mommy" trying to control everybody.

That did it.

She stormed off, and peace was restored.

Holy matrimony.

The little shelter that could

This goat named Marty was a lobby greeter for the RAPS shelter until her mischief-making and counter-jumping caused so much ruckus that she had to be closed into a kennel in the dog area.

I stopped by one of my favorite shelters late last week.

The Richmond Animal Protection Society isn't nearly one of the largest shelters I have formed a relationship with. Nor is it the oldest, or the best financed.

But it does have something going for it.

A giant heart.

Executive director Carol Reichert provides the capable and compassionate leadership that makes it all possible for this little shelter that could.

Richmond Animal Protection Society executive director Carol Reichert cuddles a puppy picked up as a wandering stray two days ago.

Helen Savkovic and Bluey the cat work the intake desk together.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dogma rules

Photo taken by Steven Kennedy.

Unexpected meetings with kind souls. That's the food that feeds my soul. Tonight I met Jen Larson, a 23-year-old who is tender and sweet. She already knows she wants a family, but more importantly to me, she wants a rescue dog.

"It completes the whole family picture," Jen said. "When no one else is around, you have the dog."

Jen Larson already sees family dogs in her future.

Veg out

Erica Epperson's art show opened today in Bellingham, Wash. at award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery.

One of the best parts of my job is mixing business with pleasure. Scouting scintillating stories for you to read draws me to people I like mingling with, even when I'm tempted to seclude from society. Check out the earthy stylings from my friend Erica Epperson. She makes a simple vegetable into a masterpiece. Here's the story I helped write for her bio. It reveals the source of her inspiration.

* * * * *

The relationship between human beings and their Earth is one of sustenance and dependence.

My acrylic and oil paintings are created to honor this connection. I see beauty in the so-called ordinary around me, particularly food items. Food that appears simple and uneventful at first blush. My work usually portrays food I have grown and eaten myself.

Each piece of an artist’s work has its own spirit. That makes it an object of power, providing inspiration, healing and meaning to people who are receptive to its beauty.

That power has led the artwork of others to influence my own style. My most profound influences are the art deco painters of the 1930s and 40s, and the Works Progress Administration murals created in the 1930s during the Great Depression. These paintings funded by the New Deal are tangible testaments to the hearty dreams of the American people. Aspirations that couldn’t be stolen, not even in the face of large-scale economic disaster.

During the Great Depression, communities gained strength by nurturing hope and working together. With our modern society facing its own struggles, the WPA paintings are a historical and inspirational example of triumph.

From my early years as a kid growing up in rural Northern California, I knew I was meant to paint, and taught myself. Art stayed a consistent and vibrant theme in my daily life. When I moved to Santa Cruz, then San Jose Bay, I operated businesses doing sign-making, mural painting, even a tattoo studio. I’ve since settled in Bellingham with my family, in this region that provides me with deep and rich fodder for my work.

A nod to the papoose

You say tomaaaaato I say tomooooto...

Hot little persimmon

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Almost catch of the day

I told you about the cats living outside Akroteri Cafe. Two female gray cats were spayed years ago, but a recent addition to the colony still needs to be fixed. I tried to trap him this week, but he outsmarted me. He waited for the friendlier cats to step inside the trap first, foiling my efforts.

Read more about this trapping mission by going to Compassion is on the menu.

Prep cook Jim Clift loves all animals, and can't stand to see them suffer.

The wily orange cat waited for the gray cats to feed first, testing the danger.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Woke up with wood

Living in the forest is peaceful. Blissfully uneventful most days. Until the wind picks up. Then the trees around the house tremble and creak and threaten to come crashing down on me. When the first one goes, it sets off a chain reaction. The trees are woven together like fabric, and pulling a thread unravels the web.

This time I got off pretty easy. Here’s what I encountered when I ventured out to survey the fallout on my driveway this morning between bouts of heavy rain.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fruit of the loam

This is the most beautiful and complex artichoke I've ever seen.

I admit it, I'm uncouth. I didn't grow up visiting museums. Never taken an art history class. I'm mildly embarrassed to admit it took the popular culture book Da Vinci Code for me to comprehend how art relates to the world.

Now that I'm finally starting to get it, I'm growing addicted to something I don't understand.

The fodder that's feeding my addiction this week is coming from Erica Epperson. The self-trained art deco-inspired artist opened her show at one of my favorite spots, the Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Wash.

I'm enamored with her work, probably because she shows fruits and vegetables in such gorgeous light.

Erica Epperson brings sunshine wherever she goes.

There's something magical about rhubarb. On the Prairies, rhubarb grows wild all over the place. Little kids pull it out, pour sugar on it and suck on the sour stalks. Rhubarb and strawberry pies are pure heaven. Perfect blend of sour and sweet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crossing the line

It was a dark and stormy night at Peace Arch.

I got to the U.S.-Canada border last night with something to declare, but it wasn’t anything I had purchased.

It was my mission. Animal rescue.

That was relevant because of what I’d just seen. I had been driving down the lanes towards the checkpoint booths around dinnertime when I noticed a thin dog resembling a yellow Labrador trotting along the grassy shoulder. I was headed home to the United States. But the dog was going in the opposite direction, north towards Canada, with her nose traveling close to the ground.

I wasn’t sure if her guardian was nearby, maybe on foot enjoying the lush Peace Arch Park. Perhaps waiting for her in a car.

Peace Arch Park—named for a giant white arch that declares peace between the two nations—surrounds the border crossing connecting British Columbia to Washington State, and Canada to the United States. It's a popular park, and the busiest crossing west of Detroit.

When it was my turn to pull up to the booth, I asked the officer if he knew about the dog.

It turns out I wasn’t the only animal rescuer on the premises. Not only had border officers spotted her, but they had started feeding her too. And had tried to get close enough to catch her.

But so far, the dog had eluded them.

I asked the guard for permission to try. He sent me to park my vehicle in the area usually reserved for searching cars, and into the office to speak to the supervisor. I grabbed a leash from my rescue kit and set off.

The supervisor was kind, expressing concern for the dog and for me. He warned me to be careful amid the traffic. It was stormy, and hail had started pelting little round pellets the size of peppercorns. I trudged along through the slush and searched. My pink skirt wasn’t the best attire for the job, but the galoshes I was wearing were perfect for the task.

Unfortunately the dog had vanished for the time being.

But still I drove off feeling peace. She will resurface again, and I'm sure the guards will help her when she does. When I returned to the building empty-handed, several officers promised to look out for the border-running canine.

Because at Peace Arch, humanity is international.

I was soaked to the skin after my fruitless search for the border-dashing dog.

I recently became a dual citizen. You can read about the citizenship ceremony by going to Not Born in the USA.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Working like a dog to make it work

Kristina Van Vorst is worried she won't be able to afford to keep her dogs, so she hit the streets with her handmade sign to plead for help.

As the American economy continues its steady collapse into itself, people’s livelihoods are being swallowed by the implosion.

Each day, jobs are being cut, houses foreclosed, bankruptcies filed. Shelters and makeshift tent cities are overwhelmed with trying to house the homeless.

And that includes animal shelters, where donation dollars are dropping as intake numbers are climbing. Animal guardians are surrendering their beloved pets because they can’t even afford to house themselves.

So when I saw 35-year-old Kristina Van Vorst on the street clutching a cardboard sign begging for services—not money—so she can afford to keep her two dogs, I had to stop and inquire further.

Kristina moved to Bellingham, Wash. three years ago, and at first she scraped by working as a nanny. But by the time the family’s children grew out of needing her services anymore, the economy had already began its plummet. Now she picks up odd jobs: landscaping, tutoring, cleaning. Kristina’s live-in boyfriend is lucky if he makes $30 working half-days for a temporary day labor employment agency.

To add to their financial strains, her boyfriend’s father also lives with them, and he’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

Kristina needs money to license her two rescue dogs. Three-year-old Calla is a Rottweiler-pit mix who had been beaten with a skateboard in Nebraska. Two-year-old Solonas is a pit hound mix who was relegated to a backyard before Kristina adopted her. Calla also needs to be spayed to reduce her licensing fees, and both dogs need vaccinations and special food.

By the time I encountered her, Kristina’s panhandling hadn’t panned out. She had only collected $5 and a turkey sandwich. But I put the call out to rescue groups I know in the area, and they are already working to help these girls stay together.

Calla is well-behaved and friendly.

An animal by any other name is just a human

I'm sure this pup wouldn't appreciate being associated with the neighborhood playboy when he's labeled a "dog".

When a man leers at a girl, he gets called a pig. If he’s stepping out on his woman, he’s a dog. Someone who finks out his friends is a rat. A shifty character might be labeled a snake in the grass. If he’s gutless, he’s a chicken.

As for someone being called an animal in general, that could be used to describe rapists, murderers, pretty much any person lacking moral fiber and good character.

Why are animals getting all the blame for our unsavory human characteristics?

I’m not taking a writerly sanctimonious stand against society here. I’m guilty of it too. I catch myself pinning ugly human traits on unsuspecting animals, although much less lately since I decided enough was enough. Now I make an out-loud correction to try to reprogram my mental descriptive go-to phrase, and possibly the listener’s too.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we stopped bagging on the animals for our shortcomings. That would be the humane—and human—thing to do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baying at the new moon

We took pages and pages of notes on relationships.

Tonight I heard a cry for help.

It came from a pizza parlor 20 minutes away.

I had snuggled in for the night with my cats and my laptop, fully resolved to increase my daily word count.

And then a friend called with a problem.

Actually it wasn’t really his problem. He was counseling his best friend, whose wife had just confessed she had strayed with another man.

I knew his advice would be solid. But there’s no substitute for a woman’s touch.

I hit the road, and once I got there, it wasn’t long before the elephant in the room was on the table. The friend shared the details. We communed. We talked about the past. The mistakes, the regrets. Miniscule and significant. The range of events that led to this catastrophic confession.

He talked and I took notes, drew pictures, made charts that mapped out the breakdown of a love affair. This event was the crash, but the derailment and communication breakdown had happened long ago.

In the end, friendship superseded heartbreak, and good times were had by all.

Now that’s true romance.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Ray of sunshine

Barely a day goes by that I don't feel compelled to write.

It balances my mood, resets my counter, and puts the world back in order.

So when I read this passage by Ray Bradbury, I couldn't help but feel kinship with a writer I've never known. A writer who has achieved success beyond my wildest wordsmith dreams. I feel humble and filled with gratitude for what his words have done for me today.

* * *

To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.

May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

- Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest authors America has ever known

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where there's smoke, there's fire

A photographer from the Long Beach Press Telegram captured the moment on camera as a firefighter gently brought Ellen back to life with an oxygen mask.

For years, I harbored a fear that I knew was irrational: that my home would burst into flames in my absence.

The phobia wasn’t fostered because I own items with great monetary value. It’s my animals I worry about—that they will end up as tiny charred bodies in a closet, suffocating to death, wondering where I was when they needed saving.

At least, I used to think it was a completely irrational fear. Until I met my friend Danny Parizek in Los Angeles.

Shortly before we became acquainted, Danny was on a day trip to San Diego on Christmas Eve 1999 when he got the phone call that plays in my worst nightmares. His brother was on the line with bad news. The apartment occupied by him and his partner was on fire.

“We raced back,” Danny said.

The apartment building had been constructed in the 1920s to house naval officers. The suspected cause of the fire was faulty wiring going to a hallway closet light.

Danny remembers that when they got inside their place that night, the Christmas tree stood in the living room, its melted ornaments still attached. All possessions were destroyed. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Their two cats had been trapped inside during the fire. Jack, a three-month-old kitten, had sought refuge under the bed. He was dead.

“We were devastated, we were heartbroken,” Danny said. “We wouldn’t wish a fire on our worst enemy.”

But this horrible tragedy was wrapped in a miracle.

Three-year-old Ellen was more savvy than baby Jack, and stationed herself at the only open window. There in the front room, she managed to breathe in clean air and survived until firefighters arrived to douse the flames.

As for me, I'm like a mother with children. Not truly relaxed unless I see my babies are safe in front of my eyes. But for now, I'm trying to let my fear of fire go up in flames.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Compassion is on the menu

I'm not the only restaurant patron who's inquired about cat sisters Kentucky and West Virginia. They preen themselves while on display, right in front of the bar's windows that look onto the alley.

Just like the mining states they are named after, Kentucky and West Virginia know what it’s like to hit the mother lode.

Rather than finding an ore vein, these cats have struck gold of another sort: a steady food source. Four years ago, the cat sisters were born underneath a Greek restaurant in downtown Bellingham.

“I thought they’re kind of like coal miners, living underground most of the time,” said Café Akroteri’s prep cook Jim Clift, the cats’ primary caregiver. “You have to respect coal miners. It’s one of the toughest jobs.”

People patronize restaurants because they’re famished. Hungry cats are no different. It’s common to find stray cats eking out an existence behind restaurant and hotel kitchens, scrounging for discarded food scraps that go out the back door as garbage.

But what’s not nearly so common is finding restaurant staffers willing to take responsibility for these feral cats. Many are too wild to be petted and cuddled. Yet they aren't wild enough to survive without human kindness.

Jim, who has worked at Café Akroteri for 16 years, couldn’t turn away from these creatures in need. He took the lead and started feeding the cats first, but his example has been followed by other Akroteri staff, a resident living upstairs, even the restaurant’s patrons, who bring food for the cats.

“They're pretty spoiled,” said 38-year-old Jim. “They’ve got a lot of fans.”

Jim knows the cats don’t lead an ideal existence. But he also realizes feral cats don’t have many options. Because they are closer to wild animals than domesticated pets, shelters usually have no option but to euthanize them.

“I’m kind of prepared for something to happen to them. I know they live a hard life. People go racing down this alley sometimes.”

Letting the cats stay isn’t just a humane decision. It’s a smart one, too. They ensure mice and rats stay away. And removing these ones from the premises just leaves space for more to come in. There’s an abundance of stray cats trying to survive life on the streets, so where there’s food, there will be cats.

The cats got their names because Jim respects miners risking their lives. But he cares for the cats because he respects life.

And that makes it a kindness all around. I’m sure Kentucky and West Virginia would agree.

* * *

Stay with me on the kitty trail, because this story isn’t over…
Jim’s been a responsible guardian. A rescue group helped him trap and spay Kentucky and West Virginia. Now that a third cat’s joined the group, he wants to fix that one too. The other rescue group isn’t operating anymore, so I’ve agreed to help. Early tomorrow, I’ll bring my traps to Akroteri and attempt to snag the orange tabby. Then I’ll drive him to Ferndale to be fixed on the WeSnip van. I’ve been wanting to cover the important work being done on WeSnip by Patricia Maas and her crew for ages now, so this will be the perfect opportunity to do that. Story to follow.

Jim Clift has both two-legged and four-legged clientele showing up for his meals.

Fresh water is always on the menu at the Akroteri Kitty Cafe.

Alley cats need a hand from humans to survive life on the streets.