Celebrating the animals in our lives

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This photo was taken in the early '80s and it still looks like the height of the luxury of affection. I was dog-sitting for a friend who traveled frequently and who also had a great fondness for Jack Russells. The guy on the left with his left paw on my reclined shoulder was Sparky, who was the leader of his pack, a tough little guy who was an excellent ratter in the landscape of Beverly Hills where the vermin population rivals NYC. The little one under my left arm is Sweet Pea, who was every bit as tough as Mr. Sparky but demure in gait and gentleness when not playing with the boys. The Shih Tzu on my lap was Polo (whom I nicknamed Po Po), who showed up at my door one rainy day in Los Angeles complete with collar and identity. When I finally got in touch with his master (who lived around the corner from me) and took him to his home, the “master” — a talent agent — met me at the door still in his bathrobe, and said to me: “You wanna dog?” And that was that. Polo was 8 years old at the time. And underneath my right foot was the shy and sweet little Rum Rum who was Sweet Pea’s boyfriend and constant companion and came to live with me and Polo after his mistress had been away long enough.

Monday October 17, 2022. The weather and predictions of wintry cold. The air has been “cooler” despite temps in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes sunny but not enough for warmer days. There are reports of really cold weather coming this way this week — of 30 to 40 degrees at night.

This is little David, age two years, sitting on the lap of his beloved Aunt Natnie with his first family dog, a gentle mutt named Brownie. Natnie and Brownie were my introduction in life to unconditional love.

Buster. Last week’s Diary about my little (rescued) dog Buster’s passing touched many readers who responded with sympathy and understanding. I was inspired to publish after attending last week’s ASPCA annual Humane Awards Luncheon at Cipriani 42nd Street. It’s an annual I love because it’s about the importance of the animals in our lives.

The Luncheon. I’ve been attending this event for a number of years. Because it feels like home. When you think about the lives of cats and dogs and whatever else we like to join us — there is likely a lot of pleasure and affection in your thoughts. They are, after all, the closest creatures, human or otherwise, in our lives. You invite them, include them and possess them. And in their own way, they possess you. True love.

It’s an award luncheon and it’s my guess that most attending are animal lovers. This year’s version was hosted by ASPCA supporter and NBC New York’s Chuck Scarborough (who has two dogs, including one rescue).

Matt Bershadker, president and CEO, explained that the award winners “demonstrate the impact of combining compassion and commitment to assist animals in need, as well as the power of the human-animal bond.”

ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker and luncheon host Chuck Scarborough.

The Awards.

ASPCA KID OF THE YEAR — In 2019 Delanie Dennis of Tampa, Florida, at the age of seven, founded Delanie’s Lemonade Stand in her parents’ restaurant, Cafe Delanie. She was inspired by an animal welfare organization commercial that moved her, as well as a book about a girl who ran a lemonade stand to benefit pediatric cancer patients. Delanie decided to do the same and help animals in her community.

That was three years ago. Each month, she chooses a new local animal rescue organization to receive 100% of the sales of designated items at the stand and restaurant. In those three years, Delanie, now ten, has helped raise and donate more than $43,000 to these rescues!

Delanie Dennis, ASPCA Kid of the Year.
Delanie with proud parents Julie and Andy Dennis.

Last year she went further by hosting her first adoption fair, featuring 29 local animal rescues that resulted in the adoption of more than 30 animals. She also frequently volunteers at rescue organizations caring for a range of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and exotic animals.

Delanie believes — and proves — that there’s no limit to what a kid can do to support animals in need.

Delanie’s Lemonade Stand. Go Delanie!

Then there’s the CAT ADVOCATE AWARD, which was given to The Feline and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation, and Dedication (F.O.R.W.A.R.D.) This program was established in 2015 by former Pendleton Correctional Facility employee Michelle Rains in coordination with the Animal Protection League (APL) of Indiana.

Cats of various ages, colors, and personalities—some with behavioral and medical challenges—travel from the APL to customized living spaces at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, a medium-maximum security prison. The cats are cared for by selected incarcerated individuals who provide daily care as well as medical care and companionship to the cats.

Chuck Scarborough with Jennifer Rinehart and Chloe Wargny of F.O.R.W.A.R.D., Cat Advocate of the Year Honorees.

The caretakers also learn responsibility and pet care skills in the process. In the cat-caretaker relationships, each gains a new companion to appreciate, assist, learn from, and enjoy. Since the program began, approximately 60 cats and kittens have spent time at the facility. Many were later adopted into safe and loving homes, thanks in part to the love and socialization experiences they received at the facility.

Each Award was accompanied by a brief video. The facilities prisoners interviewed talked about the process and you could see how the exercise deeply affected both cat and man.

The Feline and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation and Dedication (FORWARD) program in action at the Pendleton Correctional Facility.

Then there was DOG OF THE YEAR, which was Clementine from Cedar Hill, Texas. Clem is a 3-year-old Catahoula/hound mix dropped off at an animal shelter in May 2021 in SE Louisiana. She was one of many animals relocated by the ASPCA Animal Relocation team in Texas when Hurricane Ida was heading toward the Louisiana coast. She was adopted and returned twice due to her challenges adapting to her adopted families’ lifestyles and other pets.

Captain Robert Moree with daughter Tiffany and Dog of the Year, Clementine.

Coincidentally at the same time, Capt. Robert Moree of the Cedar Hill Fire Department had written a letter to his Fire Chief proposing they adopt a dog to help firefighters cope with the stress of their jobs. That October, Clem was adopted by the Cedar Hill Fire Department’s Fire Station #212. They all hit it off. Clementine is not only a beloved pet but also often travels with them on traumatic calls in which she becomes a valuable source of therapeutic support and comfort for not only the firefighters but the victims as well.

Clementine, the beautiful three-year-old Catahoula/hound mix, up close.

Clementine back at home at the Cedar Hill Fire Station.

As the award was given to Captain Moree, along with Clementine present, we saw a video of the Heroine in the fire department garage as well as en route in the truck and also on the scene.

And then there was the Equine Welfare Award to Detroit Horse Power. It was founded in 2015 by David Silver, a local elementary school teacher and horse enthusiast, who has connected hundreds of Detroit students with horse barns outside the city for free summer camp and after-school experiences.

The students learn about the horses, learn to ride and care for the animal. It was very moving to see in the video how beautifully these city kids were transported by valuable lessons around the horses about perseverance, empathy, responsible risk-taking, confidence and self-control.

Chuck Scarborough with David Silver and Shelly Watts, Detroit House Power, Equine Welfare Award Honorees.

Detroit Horse Power has acquired 14 acres of vacant land inside Detroit which they are turning into an urban equestrian center for its programs for young people, and to help revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Then there was the PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD bestowed upon the Islip Fire Departments. On the morning of July 17th, 2022, firefighters from Islip Terrace Fire Department, Islip Fire Department, and East Islip Fire Department rescued three trapped dogs — two Siberian Huskies and an Alaskan Malamute, and a 19-year-old woman from a house fire in Long Island.

One of the dogs receiving medical care from members of the Islip Fire department.

Two of the dogs were unconscious and barely breathing when they were discovered. The firefighters immediately began chest compressions while cooling off the dogs with a fire hose. The dramatic rescue was captured on video.

Brutus and Luna, and Theo are all alive and well thanks to the Islip Fire Departments. (Michaila Dattero)

The rescued woman and all three dogs survived thanks to these heroic firefighters’ skill and quick thinking. The collaborating departments — who serve more than 14,000 residents combined — acted not only on their duty but also on their deep compassion for people and animals in need. Two of the officers were on hand to accept the award.

Chuck Scarborough with Anton Nadvornik and Ryan Lowe of Islip Terrace FD.

HENRY BERGH AWARD. Henry Bergh was a New Yorker who founded the ASPCA in 1866. This was back in the days before the automobile when horses were the primary means of transportation. Mr. Bergh was struck and affected by the terrible conditions that the animals underwent, taken for granted by one and all.

This year’s award was given to Dr. Jon Geller of Fort Collins, Colorado. Last March Dr. Geller, an emergency veterinary clinician in Colorado for 20 years, was alarmed by the number of Ukrainians he saw fleeing the country with their pets due to the war with Russia. He was inspired to volunteer his skills and resources, and traveled to Romania and spent weeks there setting up and operating a veterinary clinic at the Romanian-Ukraine border that provided veterinary care and pet passport services to the pets of Ukraine refugees.

Dr. Jon Geller with Croatian vet students at the Romanian-Ukraine border. Dr. Geller’s team of volunteer student veterinarians from across Europe also supports local animal welfare organizations operating at or near the border.
A Ukrainian woman holds her dog and pet passport.

The doctor’s Ukrainian clinic is an extension of The Street Dog Coalition, an organization he founded in 2015 to provide free veterinary care to pets of people with housing challenges in nearly 50 U.S. cities.

Named Veterinarian of the Year by the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association in 2019, Geller says he will immediately return to the war-torn area if he is needed.

ASPCA Henry Bergh Award recipient Dr. Jon Geller.

The audience at this luncheon sat spellbound by the Awards and the Awardees. First of all the animals present reminded all of the beauty of loving these four-legged friends who add so much to our lives and attitudes. The Awardees were all without exception interesting, often funny, like good neighbors as well as serious people committed to improving and maintain love and stability in the lives of all these animals and therefore in the lives of all of us.

With all the bad news we’re presented with daily in this world of ours, this luncheon was like a haven of inner joy, and one that can always be depended upon by our furry friends.

Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) was the first animal welfare organization to be established in North America and today serves as the nation’s leading voice for vulnerable and victimized animals. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation with more than two million supporters nationwide, the ASPCA is committed to preventing cruelty to dogs, cats, equines, and farm animals throughout the United States.

The ASPCA assists animals in need through on-the-ground disaster and cruelty interventions, behavioral rehabilitation, animal placement, legal and legislative advocacy, and the advancement of the sheltering and veterinary community through research, training, and resources.

For more information, visit www.ASPCA.org, and follow the ASPCA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Matt Bershadker, Honorees Dr. Jon Geller, Shelly Watts, David Silver, Delanie Dennis, Captain Robert Moree, Clementine the Dog, Chloe Wargny, Jennifer Rinehart, Anton Nadvornik, and Ryan Lowe.
Eliza Bolen, Arriana Boardman, and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia.
Dixon Boardman, Hilary Geary Ross, David Patrick Columbia, and Jennifer Creel.
Linda Lambert and Paul Arnhold.
Eleanor Gibson and friends.
Roz Schaefer, second from right, and friends.
Ellen Ward Scarborough, Mark Gilbertson, and Katie Ridder.
Sally Spooner, left, and friends.
Chris Gorog, Kathy Taggares, and Matt Bershadker.
Matt Bershadker and Barbara Dauphin-Duthuit.
Suzy Bancroft, Margo Langenberg, Mark Gilbertson, Karen Klopp, and Ashley Bernhard.
Matt Bershadker and Nancy Silverman.
Laura Z. Barket and Clementine.

Photographs by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

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