THE SEASON OF ANGELS
By: Date: 12/25/2006
NAIA Newsletter: December 25, 2006
Catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina are as overwhelming in their fury as they are in their aftermath. The third strongest hurricane to make U.S. landfall, Katrina cost the lives of at least 1,836 people and wreaked $81.2 billion in damage. The trauma and untold grief suffered by its survivors are incalculable and continue to this day.
Horrific as it was, Katrina also brought out the best in many of us. Who doesn’t know at least one person who went to the Gulf States to provide some small measure of relief and solidarity, whether to humans or animals? People who put their own lives on hold for whatever amount of time in order to help others regain a foothold in hope.
Pat Hastings, an NAIA contributing writer, was one such person. She wanted to do something to help, so she contacted a neighborhood church that put her in touch with a church in Gulfport, Mississippi. She and a friend paid their own travel expenses and took their own provisions and sleeping bags. For a week in December 2005, they helped with repairs to their host church, painted the interior of a damage-repaired house, and provided Christmas for five children.
Purebred Alliance of Writers President Kerrin Winter-Churchill, another NAIA contributing writer, went to New Orleans with her husband to cover animal rescue efforts after Katrina struck and levies failed. She not only reported the story but became part of it. The Churchills ripped the seats out of their motor boat, bolted down a dozen crates, and spent two weeks retrieving dogs and cats from abandoned homes throughout the flooded city.
And, from shortly after Katrina touched down in 2005 until August 2006, Jennifer Rowan worked in Dothan, Alabama where she assisted local animal shelter and rescue workers, primarily at the Dothan Animal Shelter. From Jennifer's perspective, these people were true heroes. Her job was to assist them by coordinating disaster supplies and animal transports. We felt privileged to support their work, if only in a small way, by distributing Jennifer's NAIA Trust CapWiz.
"I’ve been doing disaster relief work with Diane Albers, President of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs (FAKC) and a tremendous hero and mentor of mine, since the 2004 hurricane season," Jennifer explains. "Thanks to Diane, FAKC, the American Kennel Cluband its affiliate organization, AKC Companion Animal Recovery (AKC/CAR), I was sent as a volunteer to Dothan shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005."
One quarter of a trailer isn’t much, but for one year in Dothan, that’s what Jennifer called home. She rolled up her sleeves and helped not only Katrina’s animal survivors but many other shelter animals as well. In 2005 alone, AKC/CAR funded a total of nine airlifts, transporting nearly 2,000 animals (many surrendered by their owners) across the nation to groups wanting to help. Jennifer coordinated the flights and frequently assumed the "glamorous" role of flight attendant.
"We also cared for 923 hurricane-survived animals in Dothan," Jennifer proudly adds, "with FAKC and AKC/CAR funding our every expense. Supplies were shipped in by the truckload. Anything we needed for our work was just a phone call away. On the local level, Dothan's Animal Services is still feeling the ripple effects in fantastic ways, with more resources at their fingertips now than ever before to better care for the animals and the people who love them."
In this holiday season, NAIA extends it warmest regards to all of you, but especially to the angels among us — the people and groups that not only give of themselves, heart and soul, but take on the challenges with gratitude. In that spirit, we would like to share with you scenes from Jennifer Rowan’s year in Dothan:
The Animal Shelter Opera House
One particular night I was on the computer chatting with a friend. It was a cool summer evening. There was no sound coming from the kennels — a rare and interesting phenomenon at an animal shelter that housed upward of 400 animals at any given moment. As I was telling my friend of my yearnings and dreams for the animals, one of the dogs began to howl. It was a slow, sweet melody filled with sadness and hope at the same time. I recall telling my friend that it was not eerie; it sounded more like a song of approval for the very things I was speaking to him about. Tears were streaming down my face at the very beauty of the animal's song, and then another dog joined in — and another and another. The shelter became an opera house that evening, with an unforgettable show meant only for me. It reinforced for me that by listening to the animals, sometimes literally, I would know if I was on the right track.
The Magically Amazing Light Show
Another night, I waited alone (well, without human companions) for veterinary friends of mine to arrive so we could set up a spay/neuter clinic for the weekend. It was quite dark, but for the stars that overtook a seemingly endless sky. I felt drawn to the outdoors, so I sat down in the midst of the parking lot, on pavement still warm from the day's sun, wrapped in a blanket to keep off the chill of the night air. I was wishing my friends safe travel and hoping for an incredible weekend ahead, when the stars seemed to drift down onto the trees, like white twinkle lights put into place one by one. They glittered through the branches and I was awed, having just moments before noticed the trees were all that seemed to stop the stars from blanketing the world. And then they were within the trees.
I tried to stave off logic as long as possible, thinking only of the momentary enchantment and how fortunate I was to have sparkling fairies descend from the heavens to deliver a forest awash with stars. Suddenly, one of the stars came closer to me — close enough to touch. I could hear its wings fluttering, and I realized I was in the middle of a light show unlike any I'd ever seen: The fireflies had come to dance for me. A huge shimmering ballet engulfed me for a few moments and reminded me of how small I was, yet how great it is to be a part of this life.
My Christmas Angel
Though I cannot recall right now where we were returning from or going to, Renee (the shelter manager) and I were in a vehicle when she got a call from one of our volunteers at a veterinary clinic with a seriously ill Rottweiler that someone had dropped off. When we arrived, the vet recommended euthanasia. Renee and I just looked at each other, and I said I'd love for the dog to be my special guest for Christmas. I had visions of she and I snuggled up in the trailer, listening to the chorus of dogs on the property, watching old movies on my computer, and slurping chicken soup. The dog was very ill, so as usual, "mother Renee" had to give me the lecture that with even as much love as I had to give, the dog might not make it.
This Rottweiler had never seen steps. Although she was too weak to scale the four steps leading into my little trailer haven, I had long serious talks with her about what they were and that she mustn't be scared, because there would likely be steps in her new home, once we got her well enough to get adopted. She also apparently had never seen a dog bed. I found a great huge snuggly one (that looked in some ways more comfortable than my little twin bed, in fact), but she preferred to lie next to it on the floor. With only her head resting on the dog bed, she gazed up at me as if to say: "Whew, getting better is HARD WORK, Aunt Jenn." She had no desire to eat, until I finally discovered that she was agreeable to being hand-fed canned cat food — a starting place from which to rebuild her strength.
The morning after Christmas, I fed her again and then went to wash my hands. When I returned to our room, Her Highness had taken down a can of dog food and was greedily licking out the remaining morsels. It was then that I realized we might just be pulling this lovely lady through the worst of her troubles.
Now I mentioned that she didn't know about dog beds, but I didn't tell you about her tendency to turn into a sprawled-out, humongous bed hog on MY bed. It was with great excitement that I introduced her to a family that would come to dearly love her — a family that didn’t mind at all adopting a bed hog the size of southeastern Alabama.
Months later, after a particularly challenging week, Renee knocked on my door. Each knock that week had brought with it either bad or difficult news, so I wasn't entirely motivated to respond to Renee’s tap-tap-tapping. But I took a deep breath and opened the door. There she stood with this gorgeous, shiny-coated, prim, proper, proud dog — as regal as any queen. The sight alone made me happy. From deep in the dog’s eyes, though, I began to see she was smiling, as if to say: "See, Aunt Jenn, I told you I was a princess." It was the one Christmas gift I received that keeps on giving and teaching and filling me with hope — Her Highness restored to life in every way.
I left Alabama in August 2006, but think often on all that I was taught by the incredible creatures I came to know in Dothan and how that learning has enriched me. My gratitude runs as deep as the smile I saw in that Rottweiler’s eyes. My appreciation — for the experience and for the animals that got out and into loving hands and homes — is indelible and gives me so much more to offer other animals in need.
Jennifer Rowan lives by a beautiful lake in Northern Michigan, with a feline named Whisper who, according to Jennifer, has many of the breed traits of a Schnauzer. She is an animal welfare consultant working with various shelters, rescue groups and organizations on public relations, marketing, resource networking, transport coordination, management of volunteers, and outreach programs.
NAIA has only the deepest appreciation and respect for ordinary people who give so extraordinarily. They make this time of year — indeed, any time of year — the season of angels, and all of us are a little restored by their presence in our lives.
Happy holidays, everyone!