The Kindness of Strangers

By on November 2, 2012

A plastic bag staggered around curious passerby pulled over to investigate. Inside he found a small brown dog with its eyes gouged out. The skinny dog was full of BBs, obviously target practice for local punks. Horrified, the stranger drove the dog to the county shelter where she underwent life-saving surgery. A local rescue group took over her care.

Since 1989, I’ve been an animal shelter volunteer in several different states. I’ve witnessed the absolute best in people, swelling my heart with endless joy. Incidents of animal cruelty and neglect sickened me to the core. The emotional agony of watching lovely household pets turned in for trivial reasons saddened me. But the kindness of strangers uplifted me enough so I never quit.

An unexpected pedestrian car accident in 1994 left me with disabling brain and spinal injuries. I lost my social work career. Animal rescue became instrumental in my own long- term recovery. I cannot imagine my life without it

Let’s start with the unknown seam- stress with a fondness for felines, who sews cat sized bedding and donates them to the Phoenix shelter where I currently volunteer. Every few months it seems a new supply arrives. Some are made of fluffy material, others of cotton with padded insides. Our resident cats, some of whom led hardscrabble lives on the streets, enjoy the soft touches. Colored material brightens the cattery.

A new adoption center recently opened at our shelter, thanks to a donor who presented it as a gift to celebrate his wife’s 60th birthday. More lives will be saved because of the kindness of a stranger. Donors like this make a difference all around the world, not just in Phoenix. I am in awe of their generosity, spirit and willingness to chip in

A young man in Colorado touched me years ago with his kindness. I met him dropping off dented cans and ripped bags of pet food at the shelter where I volunteered.

“Please hurry and take this from me,” he said as sweat poured down his neck. “Why?” I asked.

“If my boss catches me, I’ll get fired.” “They’re dented cans and ripped bags. He can’t sell them.” “He throws them out. He scolded me for suggesting we donate them.”

The young man, who didn’t own a pet, had a heart. As a private shelter, we survived on donations, both cash and in-kind. Dented cans and ripped bags stretched our budget. That he risked his job to help homeless animals said much about the kindness of this stranger

People, including children, imperiled their own lives to save stray dogs or cats hit by cars. At the county shelter where I once volunteered, a woman showed up holding a mortally wounded cat in a towel. The Good Samaritan saw the old cat stagger to the road’s edge after a car struck her. The driver sped away; the stranger stopped. That day, animal control trucks unloaded the day’s worth of stray dogs so the entry door was locked for safety reasons. I took the barely breathing cat and thanked the woman for her kindness. Blinking back tears, I carried the bloodied cat back to receiving where a worker would end her suffering. I told the cat I was sorry her life had twisted into such a tragic ending. Within minutes, the cat’s pain ended. Images of the cat’s bony body lingered with me for hours. Before I left, I rubbed her tummy and told her she was special, even if she was nobody’s cat.

Sometimes people intervened in other ways. A social worker monitored a mentally ill client living in his own apartment to ensure compliance with his medication. The patient also owned a black lab mix named Baby. When off his medication regimen, the patient lost self-control and abused Baby. Feeling sorry for the battered dog, the social worker pressed him to relinquish Baby to our shelter but he refused. Somehow, the social worker coaxed Baby away from the mentally disturbed owner and brought him to our shelter. The dog cowered in his cage, fearful of everyone. I brought Baby a cozy blanket and snacks but that barely assuaged his fears. I wondered how many times his owner had whacked him around.

“Animal rescue became instrumental in my own long-term recovery. I cannot imagine my life without it.”

Baby slowly warmed up to the staff. I took him out for walks and showered him with affection to bolster his chances for adoption. Weeks passed and no one wanted Baby. I feared that he’d end up with the dreaded yellow X mark on his cage, a sign he was slated for euthanasia.

To move him into a wonderful home, the shelter named him pet of the week in the local newspaper. A loving family showed up and gave Baby the great home he deserved. Shelter staff, including me, cried when Baby left

“That dog owed his life to the kindness of a stranger and to the brave social worker who saw he was in trouble.”

That dog owed his life to the kindness of a stranger and to the brave social worker who saw he was in trouble.

I volunteer at community adoptions in Phoenix. At a two day event several years ago, a big brown older dog named Lady waited for someone to adopt her. No one did. Fifteen minutes before the event ended on Sunday afternoon, a woman adopted Lady. Volunteers at the information booth, including me, held each other and cried with joy. If Lady hadn’t been adopted, her days were numbered. As part of the county shelter system, she had no guarantee for placement

A volunteer with a Phoenix rescue group has a soft spot for old, decrepit dogs and cats that end up in area shelters. She once took home Louie, a 15-year-old dog. The next day he died. Recently she took in a 19-year- old dog someone turned in because she was too old.

If January 6, 1994 was just like every other day, my life would be dull and boring. A pedestrian car accident changed everything. Brain injuries shook up my mental capacities. My body didn’t work the same way it used to. Not everyone accepted my disability, but among rescued animals. I was top dog, the high priestess of cats. I couldn’t have pulled through recovery from a devastating car accident without my own two adopted dogs as well as animal rescue. I’m still married to the movement and I guess I always will be. The kindness of strangers never lets me down. I hope it never does.


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