Going to the dogs … and cats

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The Empire State Building in the rain. Photo JH.

Monday, November 25, 2019. It was a sunny Saturday til the clouds rolled in and the rain began late in the afternoon. It went from light to hard and into the late evening, bringing us a wet, dull-grey, Sunday morning. A perfect late November day heading for the Big Holiday on Thursday. With temps in the low-40s.

In this house, the good news was the dogs could be walked without everybody getting sopped. By mid-morning the rain had stopped.When the rain is steady, heavy or torrents, the quadrupeds use the wee-wee pads or the terrace which can be washed down with hot water immediately. However, they always prefer the great outdoors, and all that sniffin’ around.

Little David, aged two, 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.

Going to the dogs … and cats. I’ve had dogs and cats all my life. When I lived outside the city (in Connecticut, or Los Angeles or growing up), animal care was easier. You opened the door to let them out, and opened the door to let them in. They always knew when, and you knew they knew. Those differences between country and city living are more constrictive for them and those who live with them.

At this time in my life, I also have a closer relationship with them, and their personalities. One of them, for example, insisted on sitting on my lap as I type out this Diary. He’s the premier pup, having come from Bideawee about eight years ago, a pup mix — probably part Shih Tzu — via a new litter in a kill-shelter in Alabama.

He gets along with his housemates but he likes an occasional “special” attention moment. Lap sitting fills the bill for him. I’ll be at my desk working and he’ll get on his hind legs, extand a paw and pull on my arm. That means “lift me up.” I do. After first checking out the surface of my desk for any possible leftover treats, he then relaxes and snoozes and stays that way until I put him back down.

I have closer relationships to my housemates then with their fore-dogs earlier in my life. This is possibly because I live alone, people-wise, and the D’s are present in my solo domestic dramas such as deadlines, obligations and offhand rants when nobody’s around. Their individual personalities are much clearer to me.

I wrote about a book called “Soul Dog” a few months ago, and I learned even more about these guys (and girls) that I never considered. People often remark on how “loving” their dogs are (or can be). I tend to think we’re the ones who are “loving,” believe it or not, and it is that pleasure that is so personally gratifying.

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.

The other side of the story of animals’ lives is the hard one. Two weeks ago this week I went to the ASPCA’s annual luncheon which is held at Cipriani 42nd Street. It been an annual affair for quite a few years but the first one I attended. I used to attend their annual Bergh Ball but it was painful for me to see the little creatures all needing a home. I finally adopted a Shih Tzu named Jenny who was nine or ten. 

Whatever her background, she was a very withdrawn lady. She did not socialize but stay on her little bed at all times except for her meals — which she ate enthusiastically, or her walks when she took care of business. She did not respond to any gestures of comfort and affection. Although she did not withdraw. I had the feeling she was one of those breeder dogs; she’d had no life and knew nothing outside of the parameters I described. She was also not used to any kind of affection — petting or even talking to. She lived for almost four years. I was glad she was safe with me. That was her gift.

That’s Jenny in the middle, flanked by Missy/Madam and Byrone. Jenny died four years after this picture was taken at age 16. Missy and Byrone, both dearly missed, were two of the sweetest.

I’d avoided the ASPCA’s luncheon because the stories get to me and I am unable to take care of it. (It sounds like an ego problem but nevertheless…). However this past year I was introduced to Arriana Boardman who is on the board of the organization. She wanted to award me the annual Bergh Ball Award. I was so charmed by her and also flattered, that I agreed. You may have read about it here, at the time. Then she invited me to the Luncheon.

So I went. A Thursday in a heavy week of events. Luncheons start at noon and go to 2. That’s a chunk out of the day when you factor in the travel time back and forth. And there’s evening commitments following.  I got there at noon on the dot. Get to the table, get to work. I was surprised to see the huge crowd. Packed with supporters; filled the room to the walls. Several hundred.

The full room at Cipriani 42nd Street.

Chuck Scarborough was emcee. He and his wife Ellen are big big supporters of animal charities. They are so active you know it’s more than a favor. 

He gave us the program for the affair. Then he introduced Matthew Bershadker, who is president of the ASPCA. He talked about what they do: RESCUE animals from all kinds of situations —  almost all the result of how we humanoids abuse our furry friends. The point of his stories was to show how much progress the ASPCA’s activities had improved situations for thousands and thousands of animals.

WNBC anchor Chuck Scarborough returned as host.
Matt Bershadker and Isaac Mizrahi (Presidential Service Award Recipient).

Then Chuck Scarborough moved the program to the Awardees. These were not celebrity honors — well known names to draw the crowd to buy the ticket. These were individuals who were being recognized for Making a Difference in the welfare and safety of dog, cats, horses, kittens. It sounds nice, right? Kind, thoughtful. Uh-huh. But it’s something else which is what this luncheon makes you very aware of. It’s caring for life. All life.

Each Awardee was preceded by a video showing us their work. Tinia Creamer received the Equine Welfare Award. Tina is from West Virginia, who as a young woman accidentally rescued an abandoned starving horse. She had been a rider as a young woman but this rescue was, to her, automatic with anyone or any animal. However, in rehabilitating the horse and finding a home for it, she learned of many other horses, aging, in similar situations. It’s a story of heroism. With the good news of restoring the lives of these creatures.

Tinia Creamer accepting the ASPCA Equine Welfare Award.
Chuck Scarborough bestowing the APSCA Public Service Award to Sully’s mom, Valerie Cramer, who accepted it on behalf of Sully.
Sully of America’s VetDogs was awarded the Public Service Award for his outstanding dedication in his service to President Bush and the veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Sully with his award.

Abby Smith and her partner Kelly Thompson received the Henry Bergh Award on behalf of the Felines & Canines’ Hunter Stephenson Rescue Center – which has the highest number percentage-wise of abused and abandoned animals. These two women and their rescue staff have moved and rescued thousands of animals. They were awarded the Henry Bergh Award for effectively addressing a life-threatening challenge for homeless animals in Alabama.

Ten-year-old Brady Snakovsky was awarded ASPCA Kid of the Year. Out of personal childhood self-interest in police dogs, amazingly, he created a fund-raising project that purchases ballistic vests for local police dogs.

Kid of the Year Award Recipient Brady Snakovsky with his mom and NYPD officers.
Hannah Shaw (Cat Advocate of the Year Recipient).

Kathy McGuire is a woman from South Jersey who rescued a Pit Bull pup that had been given up for dead after being rejected by some dogfight creep for not being vicious enough. The Dog of the Year Award recipient, Sweet Pea, was a pup with big open wounds on its neck and legs when this woman saw him at a dog shelter. She nursed Sweet Pea back to healing and to life. Pitt Bulls are the device that dogfight creeps use. Their criminal activities are overlooked in many communities. People like watching these poor animals kill each other. The luncheon’s awardees was motivated by Sweet Pea to defend the breed which is not preternaturally violent. 

Every awardee represented the goodness that is the ASPCA in America today. The luncheon was a fundraiser, obviously. I don’t know how much they raised but they need every bit of it to protect the animals from all pitfalls of the witless world of rage and violence surrounding us. I left the luncheon I’d been avoiding feeling renewed with the evidence of what some of our brothers and sisters are doing to care for the creatures in our lives (and ourselves). I recommend anyone attending this annual meeting. It is restorative for the mind as well as the animals.

Left to Right: John Miller, Valerie Cramer, Sully (Public Service Award Recipient), Isaac Mizrahi (Presidential Service Award Recipient), Matt Bershadker, Abby Smith, Brady Snakovsky (Kid of the Year Award Recipient), Kelly Thompson, Tinia Creamer (Equine Welfare Award Recipient), Hannah Shaw (Cat Advocate of the Year Recipient), guest, Kathy McGuire, Gary McGuire and Sweet Pea (Dog of the Year Award Recipient).

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