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Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
Rescued by Love
On most days you could find him sitting on the wall in front of Saint Mary's Church next to the sign that read "Saint Mary's—A Church for Everyone." No doubt the pastor had meant to attract a larger membership with this billboard invitation, but I'm not sure he was prepared for Bobby. A towering six-footer, weighing in at over two hundred pounds, Bobby was, at twenty-something, a very large child. He spent most of his time waving and smiling at the people driving by, and shouting, "Hey, pal!" to those he recognized.
Bobby called me Goldilocks. He knew me because, as the police department's Animal Control Officer, I was as visible around town as he was. My regular duties were to uphold the leash law, patrol for loose dogs and issue tickets. Bobby had appointed himself my unpaid assistant, and he took his job seriously. Once he waved me down in traffic, ran over to the patrol car and banged on the hood.
"Goldilocks, there's a big dog up the street gonna get hit by a car! You gotta go get 'im now!"
Another time he found a litter of newborn kittens in a garbage can and made it his job to find a home for all of them—including the last one which, at his insistence, I ended up taking home myself!
At first I had loved being the "dog catcher," but as time went by, the job began to get me down. It wasn't the animals—it was the people. I dreaded having to deal with negligent owners. Especially those who no longer wanted their dogs.
In our town the city provided a dog-surrender service with the local SPCA. For a ten-dollar fee, I'd pick up a dog whose owner could no longer keep him, and, more importantly, I'd collect information about him (good with children, medical history, favorite toys, etc.) that would make it easier for him to be adopted.
Unbelievably, sometimes the people most capable of paying this fee chose not to, and abandoned the dog to be picked up as a stray instead. They gave up their best opportunity to increase the dog's chances of finding another home—just to save a measly ten dollars. At first I felt crushed by this kind of behavior, but as time passed I toughened up. Lately, I felt so cynical I was afraid of what was happening to me.
One October when the nights were already dropping below freezing, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Bobby for a while. He usually spent his nights at the Salvation Army in the winter, so I stopped by and asked about him. No one had seen him. I looked at the phone call log at headquarters to see if he had been making his usual calls to report animals—or just talk. No calls were recorded.
A week later I got a call at headquarters. "Goldilocks," he rasped, "I need you to come." He had a bad cold.
"Bobby! Where are you? Everyone's been looking for you!"
"I'm okay. I'm out in back of the chair factory."
Within a few minutes, I was turning the car off the main street onto a gravel road behind the old chair factory. All at once the road stopped and I was in a large field strewn with debris. In the middle of the field, a rusting station wagon sat on cement blocks.
I approached the car, bent over and knocked lightly on the passenger window. Bobby was curled up tightly in the front seat with his windbreaker thrown over him. Lying next to him was a chocolate Labrador puppy with long gangly legs and ears that he had yet to grow into.
The dog looked up at my knock with bright eyes and a thumping tail. I peered in to get a closer look. The front of the car was filled with empty Styrofoam cups and potatochip bags. The back of the wagon was covered in soft blankets. Neatly stacked boxes of dog biscuits and a bag of dog food were lined up next to two jugs of bottled water and two chewed rubber balls.
"Bobby, are you okay?" His eyes fluttered open.
"Goldilocks," he croaked. He struggled to sit up and get his bearings. He looked at me and I could see his nose was red and his eyes bleary. He untangled himself and climbed from the car, wincing as he stood.
"Come on with me, Bobby. Get in the patrol car and I'll bring you to the Salvation Army, or the medical center. Okay? It's warm there." I urged.
"No, I'm okay. Social Service says I'm gonna lose my check if I don't go into housing. You gotta take Brownie."
It was true. I couldn't think of a single facility that would allow him to keep his dog. He was only out here in the cold because the Salvation Army didn't allow pets. He started unloading the puppy's supplies and carrying them over to the patrol car. Brownie watched every move he made with adoring eyes. I grabbed a jug of water out of the car and started to help, feeling helpless all the same.
Everything was packed up, except for Brownie. Bobby knelt down and put his hands on each side of the puppy's head. They looked at each other for a long moment and then Brownie started to lick Bobby's face. In one quick movement, the man picked him up and placed him gently in the front seat of the patrol car. He turned to me, his eyes even redder than before.
"Here," he said, handing me a ten-dollar bill. "For the dog pound." I stared open-mouthed at the money. I couldn't believe it. Bobby was paying the surrender fee, though it was probably all the money he had in the world.
I put out my hand and grabbed his arm, "Bobby, don't worry about any fee. They'll understand."
He looked at me. "No, Goldilocks. You told me ten dollars to get a good home, 'member? A home with a kid to play with would be good for Brownie."
He turned from me suddenly and started to walk back toward the rusty station wagon. I knew better than to try to convince him to come with me. He had a mind of his own and treasured his independence, often at the expense of his health and safety.
"Bobby! I'll find him a great home," I called after him, my voice catching in my throat.
He made a noise, but didn't turn around.
As I drove away, Brownie put his muzzle on my lap and fell asleep. There were times I couldn't see the road through my tears.
Brownie was taken home that evening by a police officer who fell in love with him the moment he saw me carry him into the precinct. A year later his Christmas photos showed his little boy and Brownie sitting together in front of a fireplace.
I tried to return Bobby's money, but the station wagon was always empty. Later, I heard that he had gone to a group home in another city and was doing fine. I dropped the ten-dollar bill into the Salvation Army donation box.
I missed my assistant and wished I could have told Bobby what a wonderful job he'd done. He had rescued cats and dogs—and my faith in people, too.
There is indeed, no single quality of the cat that man could not emulate to his advantage.
Carl Van Vechten
The big, Maine–coon-type cat was found by firefighters on Father's Day 1996, his long orange fur matted and scorched. He lay, barely alive, in the charred remains of the wildfires that plagued Alaska that year. Even though he must have been in great pain, the cat purred the moment he was touched. When the vet first saw the badly burned cat, he began to cry. He had never seen a living animal with such extensive injuries. The fire had claimed his rear feet and all his front toes. The vet was afraid this latest fire victim might not live long.
But the cat was a survivor. Bumpus, as he came to be called, seemed unaware of the odds against him. Once he began to heal, Bumpus struggled persistently to learn to walk again. Eventually, to everyone's astonishment, the cat succeeded.
Bumpus became a favorite with the rescue volunteers who helped the clinic staff care for him. After facing so much ruin, devastation and death left in the wake of the fires, the presence of this friendly, spirited cat boosted morale and helped the rescuers continue their work.
One of the volunteers, a woman named Sharon, fell in love with the big orange cat. When she was finished in Alaska, she couldn't face leaving him behind, so when Bumpus was well enough to travel, he came home to live with her in Missouri.
Besides doing emergency rescue work, Sharon volunteered at her local humane society. Her specialty was fostering sick or injured kittens in her home and nursing them back to health.
Not long after Bumpus came to live with her, Sharon took in a litter of badly wounded kittens who required special medical attention—two of them eventually needed to have a leg amputated. After the surgery, one of the two-month-old kittens, a female named Minus, came home from the vet, charged out of her carrier and jumped right up on the bed. She didn't even seem to notice she was missing a front leg.
But her brother, Cheerio, named for the circular patterns on his solid orange coat, was traumatized by the operation. Unlike other amputees Sharon had fostered, Cheerio seemed depressed at having lost a limb. He cried constantly, and when he tried to walk, Cheerio always fell and ended up doing a somersault. He took his frustration out on the carpeting, biting and growling at anything around him. At other times, he hid under the bed, refusing to come out.
When Sharon sawhowdepressed Cheeriowas—even his eyes were dull—she worried he might sicken and die. She had to do something, but what? Her eyes fell on Bumpus, serenely grooming himself in a sunny spot on the floor. He's been through this, she thought. Maybe he could help.
Sharon had isolated the injured kittens in one room in an attempt to keep them less active. When she opened the door to the kittens' room for Bumpus, he made a beeline for the crying kitten, quietly talking to him the whole way. He walked right up to the kitten and, wrapping his furry front paws around Cheerio's damaged little body, held him like a child holds a doll. Then Bumpus began rubbing his head against Cheerio's head and licking the kitten's face. Immediately the crying stopped—and the purring began. The little three-legged kitten, who could not warm to the love of a human, immediately responded to the love of another orange cat—a larger version of himself— who had suffered in this way, too.
Over the next few days, Cheerio and Bumpus became inseparable. Though Cheerio didn't want his littermates around, he stuck close to Bumpus. Often when Sharon looked in on them, she found Bumpus and the kitten curled up together on the bed—the same bed that Cheerio had refused to jump on, hiding under it instead.
Thanks to Bumpus's therapy, Cheerio regained his cheerful disposition and eventually went to live with a devoted new family.
Since then, Bumpus has become Sharon's secret weapon. Any time she has a problem with a kitten, she sends the big cat in and waits for the inevitable miracle.
Bumpus works his magic on people as well. Sharon often takes him to visit children in the pediatric oncology ward at a local hospital. The children are deeply affected when they see what the fire did to Bumpus and witness how his strong will to live has helped him. They reach out eagerly to pet the big, brave cat. And his purring presence seems to quiet their fears.
Sharon doesn't wonder how Bumpus does it, because she's always known. This wonderful cat possesses an enormous quantity of the healing spirit—more than enough to share.
Agnes and Mattie
The heart that loves is always young.
In her ninety-third summer, Agnes, her mind still sharp as an eagle's eye, was wheeled down the dim hall of the nursing home to the last room on the left. Number 109.
"It's a good room, Auntie," her niece, one of two living relatives, said softly. "Nice and clean."
Agnes took in the white walls, the gray linoleum floor and was silent. That night, as she lay on the strange bed, trying to shut out the sounds of the TV from the room next door, she felt as if her real life had ended in that careless moment when she'd tripped over a tree root, shattering her hip and her freedom.
She hung her wooden crucifix above the metal nightstand. Into the top drawer she stuffed old letters, pictures, a box of candy and a broken old dog biscuit she found in the bottom of her purse. In her real life, she'd walked every day, and the neighborhood dogs greeted her eagerly, just as her own dog Rusty used to. She couldn't bear to throw out the biscuit.
Agnes refused to leave her room. She refused to make this place home.
This is not my home, she thought fiercely. This is nothing like my home.
She read. She napped. She traveled a worn path in memory back over the years to the big yellow house at the end of the street. Rusty always trotted at her heels as she strolled. She saw the towering shade trees that her beloved Papa had planted as saplings for her and her husband Jack when they first got married.
She and Jack had enjoyed a good marriage. There'd been no children. Just the dogs. The last was Rusty, a tall, proud mutt, who was with her when Jack died of pneumonia. Rusty had slept on the floor by her side of the bed, and every morning she'd reach down first thing to pet him. Now, curled in her bed, she hung an arm over the mattress; for a heart-stopping second, she thought she felt Rusty's mink-soft head and heard the thump of his long, fringed tail. Then the clanging of the meal carts and the bland smell of institutional food brought her back to reality. She cried into her pillow.
The activities director of the nursing home, a woman named Ronnie, was concerned about Agnes. There must be a way to reach her, she thought. Every day Ronnie came to Number 109, pulled up a chair and showed Agnes the activities schedule.
"Look at this," Ronnie would say, her finger sliding down the list. "We have current events, bingo, women's issues, music, sweet memories. Won't you just try one? Or maybe you'd like to go down the hall and meet some people?"
But the elderly lady with the girlish bangs shook her head. "I'm fine," she said, her eyes cloudy with sadness.
One day, in late autumn, Ronnie walked into Agnes's room and spied a dog calendar on top of the nightstand.
"What a handsome dog," Ronnie said, tapping the picture. For the first time she saw a spark in the faded blue eyes.
"I love dogs," Agnes said.
Ronnie's mind started racing. She'd tried in the past to arrange for a dog to visit the nursing home, but it had never worked out. Now it was time to try again. Back in her office, she dialed the number of a local shelter and talked to the shelter director, a woman named Mimi. Halfway through Ronnie's story, Mimi broke in and said, "We have the perfect dog. Her name is Mattie."
For weeks Mimi had been wondering what to do about Mattie. She thought back to the blustery winter night when Mattie, a large black mutt, had been brought in as a stray. She shivered in the doorway, her coat mud-caked and wet. Despite her appearance, she was dignified, like a lady who'd fallen on hard times.
"Here, girl," Mimi called. Shyly the dog came, placing a dirty paw on Mimi's knee, then removing it, as if to say, "I'm sorry. I forgot about the mud."
They bathed her and combed out the mats, from which they took her name—Mattie. No one claimed her. She lived in a kennel run with four to five other dogs, waiting to be adopted. Months turned to years. Each time people came to look, competing canines raced to the gate, barking and furiously wagging their tails. Mattie trailed modestly behind, shyly raising trusting brown eyes. Like a gem that doesn't shine, she was passed over. She became a lonely, institutional survivor. Like Agnes.
Now, Mimi walked down the long, noisy kennel aisle to a large run. "Mattie," she called into the maze of barking, wriggling canines. The big, long-haired mutt padded to the gate, calmly easing herself through the crush of younger, excitable dogs. She pressed her setter-type nose into the wire mesh.
"Hey, old girl," Mimi said, getting down to eye level. "A lady named Agnes needs you." Mattie's ears perked.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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Posted April 9, 2013
Posted April 8, 2013