Texas Shows Harvey a Thing or Two

It’s been said that the worst brings out the best in people. The past few days has shown this to be true in the Lonestar state of Texas. When Hurricane Harvey hit, no one could foresee the devastation that would hit the coastal areas. No one could fathom the massive flooding that would turn the region into one big bayou. In other low-lying states where similar devastation has hit, the residential response has been, how should I say it, less than eloquent. But Texas is not like other places. Texas takes care of its own. Texas did what Texas does, the state and its residents ran to the aid of their friends, neighbors, and people they didn’t know, regardless of their own safety. In countless cases people didn’t wait for the authorities to rescue them or rescue their neighbors. They took matters into their own hands. They pulled out their canoes and boats and dinghies and anything that would float and paddled to the aid of anyone who needed help. They became emergency workers and rescuers. Never mind that no one asked them to do what they’ve done. They stepped up even though no one asked them to.

I have family in Texas whose roots go back to the 19th century. However, it is not just my family connection that makes me proud to be “part” Texan. With all the political and societal divisiveness of late that seems to be splitting our country apart, I have taken great pride in witnessing how when the going gets tough, as it has in Texas, all those things that have pitted people against one another has dissolved. All that mattered was that people came together to help each other out, just as they should.  As a friend said to me, “it was not about politics or color, it was about humanity and compassion, people helping one another.”

God bless all the police, fire, coast guard, sheriff, swat teams and other first responders who have worked tirelessly to save thousands of lives. And not just those in Texas, but also first responders who came from all over the country. And then there are companies, like Anheuser-Busch that shut down beer production at their Georgia plant and switched to filling cans with water to ship to Texas.

However, it’s been the unsung heroes who stepped up and did the right thing that formed lump after lump in my throat. People like the Houston pastor who waded through chest deep water checking submerged vehicles looking for people who needed rescuing. A man named Aaron Jack who stopped for gas and when a lost, wet dog jumped into his vehicle, he set out to find the dog’s owner, and did. John Griggs, who used his kayak to ferry 22 people to higher ground out of harm’s way. One of the most dramatic rescues I saw on Facebook was of two men riding horseback through the flood waters to save livestock left behind to fend for themselves. The clip showed the men freeing a penned-in horse standing in water up to its neck. Then there are the stories of the news media, who had to step away from reporting the news and become a part of it like KHOU reporter Brandi Smith who flagged down a sheriff’s boat to rescue a man stuck in the cab of his truck that was rapidly filling with water. And a news photographer who freed a dog tied to a pole who was going to drown in the rising water and took him to shelter. How about the group of teens in Meyerland that weren’t old enough to drive but they used a boat to help people in their neighborhood? And the boat owner who was asked by a reporter what he was going to do and answered, “try to save some lives.” The stories of heroism are endless, and beyond heartwarming. They renew one’s faith in humankind.

And then there are the celebrities who can always be counted on to chip in, especially when the disaster hits home. You don’t realize how many of them are Texas natives until disaster strikes. They didn’t disappoint. I can’t possibly keep up with all the donations; here’s a small sampling of what I found as of this writing:

JJ Watt – set up the Houston Flood Relief Fund to raise $1,000,000. It quickly reached the goal and kept going. As of this writing it’s at $4,796,074, with a goal of $5 million. I suspect it will top that too.

Sandra Bullock donated $1,000,000 to Harvey Red Cross relief

Country music star, Chris Young: $100,000

Jim Crane and the ownership group of the Houston Astros: $4,000,000

The Kardashians: $500,000 to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross

Kevin Hart: $50,000 and then challenged fellow celebrities to follow suit

The Rock, Dwayne Johnson:  $25,000

The Houston Texans pledged $1,000,000 to the United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund.

Until the end of September, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame are donating 100% of the proceeds of their “Texas Forever” shirts toward restoring homes and lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Just after that announcement posted I went on to order a shirt and they were already sold out. The website said they would be restocking soon.

This list would be the length of an encyclopedia if I tried to include all the many donations celebrities are making to the relief effort. God bless them too. I just hope that when the waters recede and the cleanup begins that they come to Texas and pitch in however they can. Texas is going to need a whole lot more than money. I know in every part of my being that the Lonestar state will come out stronger than ever. Why? Because that’s what Texans do. Texas Strong!

Making It Through The Night

Chris Meyer is not having a good night. Tossing and turning, reliving nightmarish flashes, sometimes even uncomfortable night sweats—all a part of the PTSD which accompanies so many returning service men and women. If left unchecked, an alarming number fall into a depression which, tragically, ends for far too many in suicide.

But Chris is fortunate. Not only is he receiving good medical attention, but he has the constant attention of Jade, his partner, confidant, and safe to say, his love. When Chris is having another debilitating nightmare, Jade is right there to wake him from his torture, to assure him everything is all right and he is safe.

MITTN ChrisYou may be wondering what would be the best way to wake a PTSD suffering person without compounding their fright. Jade has perfected the process—first she nudges Chris a few times with her nose, then her long tongue starts bathing his face. Chris wakes up quickly; the terror abated.

You see, Jade is a service dog—a loving Golden Retriever/Shepherd mix, who was painstakingly trained by Graham Bloem, founder of Shelter to Soldier. But providing care-giving dogs to veterans is only part of the Shelter to Soldier story.

MITTN Jade at the park

Graham scours the many local shelters looking for 40 – 50 pound dogs who he can determine have the temperament and intelligence to respond to training as a service dog. MITTN GrahamAfter checking them for optimal health and getting a head x-ray, many of the dogs he tests don’t make the cut. Many of those who do test well were precariously existing on the euthanasia list because no one wanted to adopt them. Graham then saves them and begins their training.

You may rightly say that this process saves two lives at once: the dog’s and the veteran’s. Win-win! But there’s more to the story.

This isn’t one of those places that just finds a dog, then a veteran, and says “Here you go!” No, Shelter to Soldier spends several thousand dollars per dog for medical care and housing during the 12 to 18 months it takes to thoroughly train them as service dogs.

The veterans go through a careful screening process as well, starting with a doctor’s recommendation to the initial telephone interviews. Then the veteran visits the training facility to see how they interact with dogs—and vice versa. When Graham makes a suitable match, he trains the dog to be sensitive to those issues which plague the veteran.

According to 1st Sgt. Tomas Mondares, his dog Sandy (a female Shepherd/Labrador mix), senses when he gets anxious from seeing shadows after dark. Sometimes he gets easily irritated. That’s when she will side up next to him, ‘herding’ him away from the stimulus and de-escalating the situation. It’s like a friend reminding him that “it’s OK Tomas —just chill”.

MITTN Tomas & Sandy gradBut the training isn’t just for the dogs. No, Graham requires that the veteran actively participate in the training a couple of times a week over a period of months. That way the veteran becomes certified as a dog handler, and the dog intuitively learns about the needs of the veteran. At the end of training there is a graduation ceremony for each veteran and dog, concluding with certificates of completion and competency.

For Chris Meyer, knowing that Jade senses when he is in dire need, and has been taught to push a button to administer medication provides great peace of mind. For Tomas Mondares, who received severe injuries to his back and hip during a deployment, having Sandy help him get up when he can’t on his own is crucial.

Graham served a stint in a pet nutrition store, and then as a dog trainer at a large animal shelter. That’s when he discovered his innate talent for connecting with dogs and training them to be caregivers, and Shelter to Soldier began as a non-profit 2012. To date they have placed nine dogs with veterans, with eight more dogs now in training.

According to Graham’s wife, Kyrie, who takes care of the operating details of the organization, their objective is to train 20 dogs at a time. Clearly there’s a huge need; in fact there’s so many veterans in need of service dogs that they can’t keep up. Until they can get into a larger facility they can’t reach that twenty-in-training goal.

MITTN Jade Chris GradShelter to Soldier calls San Diego County home, where 1.2 million active duty, veterans and families of veterans live. Of the active and veteran ranks, a vast number suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) due to their time in combat zones. Shelter to Soldier does not to treat the veterans—that’s left to the medical institutions. Graham’s approach focuses on preparing the dogs to perform care-giving functions that aid each veteran. He understands that dogs are non-judgmental and give unconditional love; the perfect candidates for the job.

After each dog has been trained and goes home with the veteran, the veteran can call Graham anytime with questions and give him an update on how they’re doing. Shelter to Soldier holds events and get-togethers for the veterans and dogs, as well as refresher courses and further training anytime a need arises.

MITTN Sandy & Tomas 2Does it work? Before he entered the program Tomas Mondares felt he was in a dark place, and just wanted to stay shut in by himself. Now with Sandy he feels so much better that they go out more often, enjoying life together. In fact, he claims that without Graham and Sandy, he would be in a much darker place—or maybe not here at all.

Chris Meyer looked into getting  a service dog from five other programs before settling on Shelter to Soldier. He found StS to be the only one that completely vetted each veteran and each dog’s capabilities to provide the best possible fit. As Chris continues in his rehabilitation, he says he wants to give back to Graham and do some volunteer work with the organization.

How did Graham Bloem decide on this path? Is he a veteran? Is he from a military family? Neither. He was born in South Africa, and immigrated to the US through Canada, later becoming a US citizen. He has never been in the military. He did, however, come to realize that he was really good at training dogs. With all the current and former military in the county having needs, his destiny was obvious.

Graham also runs West Coast K9, a professional dog training business to pay some bills, but the non-profit Shelter to Soldier operation is a labor of love and charity. The challenge to the Board of Directors is how to expand the operation to train more dogs, necessitating a larger facility.

Saving dogs, helping veterans, by someone who immigrated here—how’s that for goodness personified?

MITTN Jade

Tomas says that “family” is defined by love, not necessarily by blood. Using that criteria, then it is safe to say that Sandy is definitely family to Tomas, as Jade is to Chris. The unconditional love these family members give to their human counterparts is their own Goodness Principle.

You can learn more about Shelter to Soldier here.

Home Sweet Home

An 11-month-old Siberian Husky named Kiera and her two puppies suffered unfathomable cruelty that no animal should endure. It was remarkable that she was found on the brink of death and even more remarkable that she survived. Clearly she possessed a powerful will to live.

Local police in Oceanside, California found Kiera in a backyard, tethered to a steel ladder by a bike lock cable with less than 12” slack. She had no access to shelter, to food or to water. Furthermore someone had tightly bound her muzzle with duct tape for who knows how long, preventing her from eating, drinking or attending to her two 12-week old puppies. When found she was underweight and her fur severely matted. Law enforcement found her puppies confined to a garage, dehydrated, but otherwise in good condition.

Steve MacKinnon, Chief of Humane Law Enforcement for the San Diego Humane Society said that the condition of the duct tape, and her emaciated frame, suggested that she had been suffering for a long time. They could not figure out how she survived as long as she did, or how she was able to care for her puppies. What kind of monster does that to innocent animals?

After a thorough investigation, the law enforcement division determined that the cruelty was committed by people living in the household, but there was not enough evidence to establish who actually committed the acts of cruelty. All residents in the house had some level of knowledge of the cruelty, and everyone failed to act to protect Kiera. Without substantial evidence they could not press cruelty charges. Damn. Those people deserved to have the book thrown at them! Had the Oceanside Police Department not contacted the Humane Society Law Enforcement division when they did Kiera would likely not have survived.

Upon arrival at their facilities San Diego Humane Society veterinarians conducted thorough medical exams on Kiera and her puppies. Over the following weeks, given proper nutrition and a safe, warm place to recuperate, Kiera and her pups recovered to the point of being cleared to find their furrever homes. And find those homes they did.

All three dogs went home with their new families on January 26th.  Eric Vanaselja adopted Kiera and he says that she has been a great addition to the family.

“She lives with my grandfather and I,” he says, “and though she’s still a puppy at heart and can be a handful, she listens and follows directions very well. She gets a lot of love from both friends and strangers. It’s hard to resist that face of hers, and she receives it well–she loves the attention, no matter who it is.” He adds that when he first took her home she was very malnourished, thin, and shedding heavily. “Since then, the shedding has slowed a lot, and she’s back up to a healthy weight. Overall she seems to be a happy pup!” Absolutely remarkable for a dog abused as she was who stood at death’s door.

Shannon Gearing and her boyfriend, Yuri, adopted the puppy Johnny, who they renamed Brewski. She says he’s completely healthy now. He had a kennel cough and a bad stomach when they adopted him, but medication cleared up those issues. He’s been fully vaccinated and is growing fast, recently weighing in at 25.4 lbs at 19 weeks old.

“He’s very sweet and social and always wants to stop to say hi to people and other dogs,” she says. “Fear is not really in this guy’s personality.” Considering the horror this puppy experienced in the first three months of his life it’s really incredible that fear has not marred him. At the time of this writing Brewski was returning to the Humane Society to begin puppy training.

Brewski’s sister, June, was adopted by a gentleman named Maurice Wrighten, who renamed her Junebug. Cute, huh? Love that name.  She has gained about eight pounds and is undergoing puppy training. Maurice says Junebug is making lots of friends at the park near his house. “She loves the water at the beach but is not crazy about the waves yet.” Ah, Maurice, give her some time. She will be a surfing dog yet. The bug interacts with his 12-year-old daughter Gabriella, his close friends Lily, Dannie and his neighbors. He says that she plays with lots of kids, and  judging from the photo of Junebug, that’s not hard to imagine. Junebug obviously found a great home and great dad.

Animal cruelty stories are tough to write and equally tough to read. But once in a great while they have a happy ending like the one that these sweet dogs found. Thank goodness for the Oceanside police officers who rescued these innocent dogs and the San Diego Humane Society who cared for them and found them new homes with kind, loving pet parents, Eric, Shannon and Maurice. Talk about finding a furrever home and a happily ever after. I love stories like this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Romeo Gave Lee Her Spirit Back

A happy, talkative boy
A happy, talkative boy

Lee Fulbright suffered a double whammy in 2012. She lost both her husband and her sister in one year. For a long, dark time it took everything she had to get up each day and simply live. It was just her and Baby Rae, her 13 year old cattle dog.

The following year, as she slowly adjusted to a new life she read an article in a small newspaper about a local San Diego physical therapist, Trish Penick, who specialized in physical therapy for dogs. Trish used water therapy to help dogs recover from surgery and stroke paralysis. The swimming pool therapy also provided pain relief to dogs suffering from arthritis whose joints throbbed when they walked on cement or trails. She read how once in the pool those pups were soothed by warm water as they played, weightless in the water; all while getting much-needed exercise. Reading further Lee learned that Trish was losing access to a donated private pool and was looking for another centrally located San Diego pool as soon as possible. Lee vividly remembers the thoughts that raced through her head.

“I was reading this and thinking, I love dogs and I have a pool. I’m in the city, on Point Loma. And it’s just me and Baby Rae now–those babies can yip and play and get worked on all they want– I’ve no problem with dog “singing.” I have a pool with two shallow areas for hands-on procedures, with a decent-sized length in-between for laps.”

She quickly realized that her pool could work. She contacted Trish and invited her to take a look. It turned out that Trish lived just blocks away. Trish and her yellow lab, Tori, came right over. As Lee likes to say, the rest is history. Two plus years later worth of history. Lee says that some weeks she has counted as many as forty dogs in the pool. Dogs whose hind ends have given out, who’ve had strokes, who’ve recently had knee or hip surgeries, or any kind of surgery really, who’re recovering from car accident injuries, who are overweight or whose human parents can’t exercise them for one reason or another, or are debilitated rescue dogs and need to be built back up so they can be adopted out. Good story, right? Oh, but it gets better. Here’s where the silver lining of this story emerges.

The Southern California German Shepherd Rescue has been one of Trish’s charities; she has taken on some of their most hopeless-seeming cases pro bono, Romeo was one of them. Lee recalls the day she met with him with precision clarity.

“He was approximately 10-11years old, a HUGE German shepherd with an un-German shepherd, bear-like head, hair sticking straight out all around, like a halo,” Lee says. “He was funny-looking, oh, but such intelligence in those brown eyes. A very tall dog, but completely emaciated, with a thin, dry coat, and sores all over any visible skin.”

Romeo couldn’t walk on his own; his back legs were paralyzed. He was found in some bushes and taken to Southern California German Shepherd Rescue, who cleaned him up, and got a medical done on him. His hips were deemed “gone”; he needed surgery, but at 30 pounds underweight, he was too debilitated to undergo, much less survive surgery. The veterinarian treated his sores, recommended a special protein diet to put weight on his emaciated frame and physical therapy to rebuild and strengthen muscle. Sounds pretty grim, huh? Seeing him was worse.

“I about died when I first laid eyes on him. He was so, so thin and dependent. His angel of a foster mom managed him with the aid of special rear-end harness that allowed him to move his front legs while she held up his hind end. The second thing, after his shocking condition, that set Romeo apart was his personality. Sweetest, gentlest dog ever. And the most vocal. But he didn’t bark, he “talked.” Almost constantly. He talked even while swimming (Romeo learned to swim in about ten minutes). He loved the warm water. He talked and talked and talked. Eventually, he did wheelies. He fetched toys. He did laps. He stretched those front limbs and paddled like crazy, and he was beautiful–and before we knew it– this was about three sessions out– his back limbs fluttered. And he talked some more. Long story short, because Romeo’s rehab was not an immediate thing– it took a few months– Romeo was ready for his first surgery (a very expensive surgery paid for by German Shepherd Rescue).”

Lee1
Lee says that the surgery was successful, relieving Romeo of pain on dry land, giving him some mobility on the ground, under his own steam. Who could not love a dog like that? His foster mom officially adopted him, and for more than a year he lived the good life, sheltered and pampered, swimming in Lee’s pool for exercise, and, she says, always talking. He was lucky. Instead of dying behind some bush on the side of the road, Romeo died of natural causes in his sleep, loved and pain-free. Lee will never forget him.

“I still get teary-eyed thinking of him. All he’d been through, and yet he never lost his amazingly beautiful spirit. In many ways, because of the journey I’d been on, of recovery from care-giving and loss, it was Romeo who first made my heart soar again. Because he was majestic. And he was magic. And he’d been down, but was starting over, getting a new life, and it seemed he understood he’d been given another chance. I’d watch him and think anything was possible, because the impossible–his healing– was happening right in front of us.”

The very same can be said for Lee Fulbright. From a dark place full of grief, through the selfless, simple act of providing her pool for canine physical therapy, she found healing and a renewed spirit.

To learn more about Trish’s work at Cutting Edge K-9 Rehab, please visit her website http://www.cuttingedgek9.com/about/about.php