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I didn’t mean to fall hard for Captain Jack. It just happened. One of those crazy, beyond-your-control, heart-pounding love connections you read about in romance novels. Yes, he was short and shaggy with a flat face and a raspy growl. But that isn’t what did it for me. What did it for me was the fact he only had one eye.
One perfectly round, perfectly trusting, chocolate-drop-adorable eyeball that tugged at my heartstrings and made me weak in the knees. According to Captain Jack’s back story, a bulldog had taken out his other eye long before I met him at a Belleville Area Humane Society Adoption event five years ago.
“Get ready ‘cause I’m about to beg you,” I texted my husband, who was reeling in bass somewhere in Kentucky. “There’s this dog I really want to foster. Before you say no, let me tell you about him.”
Jack now shares our bed. He snorts. I snore. And Mark, well, he talks about getting earplugs.
“It was supposed to be temporary,” he reminded me as Jack begged for carrots at the kitchen table.
Did I mention Jack could go vegan in a heartbeat? He prefers mangoes and watermelon to chicken and steak. Not sure why he has a weight problem, though it may have something to do with all the peanut butter.
“I love him,” I told my husband. “But don’t worry. I love you, too.”
“Maybe if I winked all the time you’d love me more.”
“Are you making fun of Jack’s condition?”
“Nothing funny about it,” he said. “That dog has you wrapped around his paw.”
This was never more evident than the day I brought home Lola, a 7-pound chihuahua who took on a Rottweiler before I rescued her from the shelter.
Lola barked at Jack. She pushed him away from his food bowl. She glared into his lone eye and snarled.
Ever the sensitive Shih Tzu, Jack stopped eating his mangoes. I couldn’t stand to watch his self-esteem plummet. So I did my best to embolden him.
“You’re spoiling him, Mom,” observed my son Sam, as I rocked Jack in my arms like a baby while dropping strips of cantaloupe into his mouth. “I know you’re trying to make up for Lola bullying him — but you’ve taken it too far.”
He was right. All that doting had gone to Jack’s head.
My once well-behaved Shih Tzu made me chase him in the yard. He also refused to eat his dog food unless it was garnished with cheese. Not just any cheese. Sharp cheddar with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top.
Last Halloween, I dressed Jack as a pirate with a little patch over his missing eye. He should have worn a black, leather motorcycle jacket. That’s the kind of bad boy he’s become.
These days, Lola and Jack get along fairly well. If they don’t share a mutual respect, they do share a throw on the couch. And though Lola still scarfs down Jack’s dog food, she leaves his watermelon alone.
Yes, for a one-eyed Jack, he’s got it made in the shade.
Well, actually the central air. Jack doesn’t go outside much in the summer.
By Michelle Meehan Schrader
The card attached to the blue-grey feline’s cage states the basics: Name: Little Girl. Age: 4 years. Spayed and up-to-date on shots. There is no room on the card for Little Girl’s backstory. But Nelson Barazza, aka The Cat Whisperer, knows it by heart.
“I have pictures of her the first day she came here,” says Nelson, whipping out his cellphone. “Look. You can see in her eyes how stressed she was. She just lay in her litter box, peering out, so afraid.”
What a difference a few weeks makes. When Little Girl hears Nelson’s voice, she looks up with big yellow eyes. The Cat Whisperer opens her cage and rubs her furry head. She purrs and leans into his hand.
“I’ve been working with her,” Nelson, 68, a retired Marriott Hotel banquet captain from Belleville, explains. “She is such a good girl. I know she will find a home soon.”
Like the cat, Nelson has a backstory: A former political prisoner, he fled to the United States from Chile in 1977 with the help of Human Rights International and the Lutheran Church.
“I don’t talk much about those days,” says Nelson, who quietly volunteers at the shelter three days a week. “There were people in the concentration camp with me who were killed or disappeared. I was one of the lucky ones. I believe I survived for a reason.”
More often than not, that reason purrs and walks on four legs.
“See, here are the kittens I rescued from the woods in my backyard,” he says, thumbing through more photos on his cellphone. “I kept the mother cat, Lola, and I brought the kittens here.”
Nelson’s pal wound up adopting one of the kittens – a chubby boy named Bear. Another kitten, Lulu, also found a home.
“Buddy was the last one left of the litter,” Nelson remembers. “I would come to the shelter and visit him. I could tell from looking in his eyes, he was depressed. I took a picture of him and sent it to my wife. She let me bring him back home.”
Nelson’s ability to connect with felines is what earned him the nickname The Cat Whisperer.
“The cats that come in that are tense, or scared or aggressive ― the ones that are afraid and just don’t want you to touch them – he works with them,” shelter employee Amanda Graham explains. “He is wonderful. He’s just a very kind, gentle man.”
Not to mention patient.
“When I process the cats, if they’re too scared, I talk to them, so they hear my voice,” Nelson explains. “After a while ― when they’re ready to let me ― I put my hand in and pet them. Lots of times when they’re here, they might be coming from a bad situation. I don’t know what kind of trauma they went through.”
But he knows he can help calm their fears.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to find my calling,” Nelson says, as Little Girl peers out of her cage. “I believe strongly in a higher power. I believe I was meant to be here to help these cats. It’s not about me. It’s about them.
“We humans have the ability to help each other and to help the animals. I think that’s why God put us here. To help the ones that can’t help themselves.”
Nelson Barazza discusses his philosophy about cats.
By Michelle Meehan Schrader
When Ronea Diekemper was down with a cold, her four-legged nursemaid – a rescued Australian shepherd mix named Gideon – bounded over to her bedside every time she coughed.
“He was worried about me,” Ronea, 37, of Belleville, recalled. “When I got up to eat, he followed me into the kitchen. He was being quiet. Just keeping an eye on me.”
Till being quiet was no longer an option. “A few minutes into my meal, I started choking. I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t breathe. There was no way I could talk. That’s when Gideon went crazy.”
Sensing his master was in trouble, the 80-pound pooch began barking and howling at the top of his lungs. The racket prompted a woman in a nearby apartment to check on Ronea – an act that likely saved her life.
“My neighbor performed the Heimlich maneuver on me,” Ronea said. “But she never would have known to help me if it hadn’t been for Gideon. Someone at church told me that, when translated, the name Gideon means ‘Man of Valor.’ It fits him to a tee.”
As does his new life with Ronea. Rescued by BAHS from St. Clair County Animal Control last spring, Gideon tested heartworm positive and had to undergo treatment to save his life. A BAHS volunteer, Ronea offered to foster the dog, bringing him home to convalesce.
“I suffer from PTSD, depression and major anxiety disorder,” Ronea explained, “and my therapist suggested I volunteer at the shelter as part of my therapy. It’s hard for me to trust people. But not animals. I’ve always loved animals.
“Then I fostered Gideon and within two days of him being here, I knew he had the gifts to help me with my disabilities. He seems to know exactly when an anxiety attack, or a flashback or a night terror is going to happen. He jumps up and gives me a Gideon-type hug. Or he’ll lick my face and paw at me.”
Though her apartment complex doesn’t allow dogs, an exception was made for Gideon, who presently is taking classes to earn service dog certification.
On a recent fall afternoon, the heroic pooch laid on Ronea’s living room floor, next to two laundry baskets overflowing with dog toys. He chewed on a purple sock monkey, stretching out his hind legs in what Ronea calls “his frog position.”
“He makes me feel better just being around him,” she said, proudly patting his furry grey head.
“I helped save him but then he helped save me. It’s really a question of who rescued whom.”
Ronea Diekemper poses with her hero, Gideon.
Dobie was very timid beagle mix. We thought he was shy and just wouldn’t come but now we think he was physically and mentally abused. You couldn’t touch him. You couldn’t pick him up. You couldn’t put a leash on him. But we saw the look on his face and we just fell in love.
At the time we met Dobie, there were already two applications on him at the shelter. We thought, ‘There’s no way we’ll get him.’ But both of those applications fell though. We brought him home and it took a lot of time and patience but he’s doing great now. He’s a lover. He just loves to lay on you. The more you say, ‘Good boy!’ the more his tail just wags.
He wasn’t responding when we called him Dobie so we changed his name to Copper. He responds to his new name just fine. Our other dog is a boxer-terrier mix named Harley. Copper has become Harley’s shadow. They play together constantly. We feel like we are so lucky to have them in our lives.
Jeff Gulans, 49, Belleville
My cats Artie and Chantilly have their own You Tube video. I haven’t updated it in a while but you can type in their names on You Tube and it’s there. Artie was kind of challenged when I got him. He had a bad adoption before me and he wound up out-of-state at Animal Control. They were going to put him to sleep and two BAHS workers drove out-of-state to rescue him.
They showed me Artie and right away he came to me. Then I brought him home and he didn’t come upstairs for a month. After a while, he’d climb up on me. He was really lonely for another cat. That’s how Chantilly came in the picture – as a companion for him. They’re really good with each other. They love playing with laser lights and cat toys. And I love having them around.
Raenita Wallace, 52, Belleville
As soon as I got out of my car, I heard him bark.
With the thermometer soaring 90 degrees in the shade, the Benji-like dog peered up at me from the driver’s seat of a blue Toyota. Sticking his nose out the 3-inch crack atop the window, he barked again: A cry for help.
If I have one super power, it’s parking next to dogs in hot cars. I don’t do it on purpose. It ruins my day. Whether I’m at the mall or Walmart or the grocery store, wherever I go, there they are.
On this particular day, tar bubbled on the cracks of the parking lot at St. Clair Square. I told my then 12-year-old son to get in our car and turn on the air conditioner. It was way too hot for him to stand outside in the full sun.
I pulled out my cell phone and called the Fairview Heights police.
A bicycle patrol officer pedaled up about five minutes later, wiping his sweaty forehead with a Kleenex. Soon after, the dog’s owner moseyed up eating a hamburger.
What happened next was not pretty. Though no citation was issued, I assure you Mr. Burger got the point.
And the point is: Don’t lock your dog in a hot car.
To be generous, some “hot car” offenders love their pets, which is why they take them along on errands. They think, “I’m just running into the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk. Fluffy will be OK for a few minutes.”
“A few minutes” often turns into 10 or 15. Even if it didn’t, a few minutes is way too long.
Fact: It doesn’t have to be hot outside for it to be dangerous inside a car. Temperature spikes happen quickly and cracking the window doesn’t help. On a mild, sunny day of 73 degrees, the interior of an SUV can heat up to 100 degrees in just 10 minutes. Multiply that by the fact dogs don’t sweat and they’re wearing fur coats … Well, you do the math.
A 2005 Stanford University School of Medicine study showed that a car’s interior can heat up by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour — regardless of the ambient temperature. This means, on a sunny day, even 60 degrees can be too warm to leave a dog in the car.
Yet people do it all the time.
So what do you do if you see a dog locked in a hot car? Well, I’ll tell you what you don’t do. You don’t think, “Isn’t that terrible?” and walk on by like it’s not your problem. You saw it, which means you are that dog’s super hero. Don’t assume the next passerby will don the cape.
“It’s just so confusing,” said Erica Lee-Glover, 34, of Cahokia, who recently spotted a small Shih Tzu locked inside a hot car on the Belleville Walmart parking lot.
“What do you do? Who do you call?”
Lee-Glover, who works at Cato Fashions, spied the little dog on her lunch break. She had intended to run inside Walmart to grab a small salad, but instead, she jotted down the car’s license plate and hurried to the store’s customer service desk.
“They said they would page the license number,” she remembered. “I went back and waited by the car but nobody came. It was over 90 degrees outside. I had to leave and clock back into work with that poor little dog still in that car. I still worry about what happened to him. Now I think maybe I should have called the police.”
She should have. Faced with a similar dilemma, so should you.
“We’ll go out and try to find the owner,” said Sergeant Gary Becker of the Belleville Police Department. “If we think the dog is in distress we’ll try to open the vehicle. We’ll try to educate the owner and look to see if there’s any history of them doing this before. It’s up to the officer’s discretion whether or not to ticket the owner.”
Fairview Heights Police Lt. Mike Hoguet, a former police K-9 handler, said his department also comes to the aid of dogs locked in hot cars.
“Common sense would dictate to call the police if a dog is in a hot car and in distress,” he said.
The sooner the dog gets help, the better. And the sooner the dog’s owner gets a wake-up call, the better, too.
“You wouldn’t leave a baby in a hot car. So you shouldn’t leave a dog,” said Lee-Glover, who still wishes she could have done more for that Shih Tzu. “I know some people will say, ‘Dogs aren’t human, so it doesn’t matter.’ But to a lot of us, our dogs are like our children. And even if they aren’t, you don’t let them bake in a hot car.”
Michelle Meehan Schrader is a writer and animal welfare advocate who sits on the board of the Belleville Area Humane Society.
In case “Because it’s the right thing to do” isn’t enough
Pet lovers know: Adoption is the snuggliest option. Photo by iStockphoto
Thinking of adding a pet to your family? Here are ten reasons to adopt your new best friend.
1. Because you’ll save a life
A shelter pet is more than one in a million—she’s one in 2.7 million. That’s the number of adoptable dogs and cats who are still euthanized each year in the United States, simply because too many pets come into shelters and too few people adopt.
The number of euthanized animals could be reduced dramatically if more people adopted pets instead of buying them. When you adopt, you save your animal and open up shelter space for another animal who might need it.
2. Because you’ll get a great animal.
Animal shelters and rescue groups are brimming with happy, healthy pets just waiting for someone to take them home. Most shelter pets ended up there because of a human problem like a move or a divorce, not because the animal did anything wrong.
3. Because you’ll get a great bargain.
When you adopt a pet, the cost of spay/neuter, first vaccinations and sometimes microchipping is usually included in the adoption price, which means you’ve scored a major deal—a fuzzy deal who will thank you with kisses or purrs for years to come.
4. Because of the bragging rights.
No one needs to see another selfie—unless it’s a selfie of you with the adorable cat you just adopted, like the hero you are! Adopt a pet, post the pictures and let the love (likes) roll in.
5. Because it’s one way to fight puppy mills.
You’re too smart to get a dog from a pet store or online seller—you might as well buy direct from a puppy mill.Puppy mills are “factory style” breeding facilities that put profit above the welfare of dogs. Animals from puppy mills are housed in shockingly poor conditions with improper medical care, and are often very sick and behaviorally troubled as a result. The moms of the puppies are kept in cages to be bred over and over for years, without human companionship and with little hope of ever joining a family. And after they’re no longer profitable, breeding dogs are simply discarded—either killed, abandoned or sold at auction.
Most puppies in pet stores and sold online come from puppy mills. The dogs are sold to unsuspecting consumers in pet stores, over the Internet and through classified ads. Puppy mills will continue to operate until people stop supporting them. By adopting a pet, you can be certain you aren’t giving them a dime.
6. Because your decor will thank you.
Many of the pets from shelters and rescues are already housetrained, which means you’re not only saving a pet’s life, you may be saving your rug.
7. Because all pets are good for your health, but an adopted pet is good for your self-esteem.
Not only do animals give you unconditional love, but they have been shown to be psychologically, emotionally and physically beneficial. Caring for a companion animal can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation in all age groups. And when you adopt, you can also feel proud about helping an animal in need.
8. Because you’re environmentally responsible.
You recycle your paper and plastic so it doesn’t end up in landfills, and you know that recycled materials make all sorts of things. A “recycled” pet can make something even better: She can make you happy.
9. Because The Shelter Pet Project will make it super-easy.
We like easy. Go to the Shelter Pet Project to find pets near you, of every size, color, temperament and breed. You want an orange cat who likes ear-scratches on alternate Tuesdays? You can probably find one.
10. Because you’ll change a homeless animal’s whole world.
And get a new best friend in the bargain. Seriously, what could be better than that?
Tell your friends why pet adoption rocks.
Paws and think about it…
- For every person born, 15 dogs and 45 cats are also born. There are not enough homes for even a fraction of these animals – even if EVERY person in EACH household took in a pet.
- Theoretically, a female cat can give birth to up to three litters a year throughout her lifetime. Female cats do not go into menopause like humans do. Assuming a cat lives 15 years, this could result in approximately 180 kittens.
- A typical dog produces one litter per year with an average number of six puppies per litter. This means, an unspayed dog could result in the birth of 60 or more puppies over her lifetime.
- Assuming all these kittens and puppies multiply – which they likely will if left unsterilized — the result will be thousands more homeless dogs and cats.
- Unneutered male dogs and cats are half the equation of these conceptions.
Between six and eight million dogs and cats enter US shelters EACH YEAR.
Please spay and neuter your pets!