Alvin sticks out his tongue when he is nervous

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What Makes People so Good?

I wrote this tonight about my experience today with taking Alvin's foster sister, Stevie to get her cataract surgery.  I thought I would share it here too.  Forgive the grammatical errors.  I had to be up at 4:15 AM and drove seven hours and so my writing suffered. 

What Makes People so Good?

by Camp Cocker Rescue on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 8:30pm
I took my Camp Cocker foster dog, Stevie to get cataract surgery today. Stevie came into the rescue completely blind with cataracts that the first eye specialist said were inoperable. On a fluke, we found out that they were indeed operable but that it would be a complicated surgery. All anyone seemed to hear was that Stevie could see again. Today I learned one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned and it took over 20 people to teach me the lesson.

It is so easy to hear about mistreated, abandoned, abused animals and to feel outrage towards human beings, while asking that one question that always comes to mind, what is wrong with people? I learned today that there is a lot, not only right about people, but that most people are tremendously caring, generous, compassionate beings. It is easy to get discouraged and think you are one of the only ones who care about animals or other helpless beings, but I have found that each one of us are not alone and that there are masses of people who also care.

There must have been a person who carelessly bred Stevie's mom and I say carelessly because Stevie has the signs of a dog of very poor breeding. She is nearly deaf from chronic ear infections and up until today she has been blind due to untreated cataracts. These are both cocker traits that commonly occur in poor bred dogs. Whether it was the same person or someone else, she was let down by someone trying a rope around her neck that was left there to embedded in her skin, leaving a pronounced scar around her entire neck. Obviously she was left outside, tied to something that tore deep into her skin. Her cataracts were left untreated and she probably endured a great deal of pain from untreated ear infections. She was then found roaming the streets of LA, blind, skinny, and afraid. Reading this, one could easily ask, what is wrong with people? But I am about to tell you what is right about people and how they outnumber the one, two, or three people who let Stevie down.

Stevie came into a very over-crowded shelter where dogs simply don't live but a few days there because of the need to "make space" for the never ending revolving door of stray dogs and cats that come in, often in the hundreds. I can only imagine how hard one has to become to survive working in such an environment and yet, the people who worked there did not have the heart to put Stevie to sleep. I can't imagine how difficult it is to have to choose who lives and who dies, but I do know that they choose Stevie to live. Stevie ended up staying in the shelter for two unbelievably long time for any dog but for one that was estimated to be nine-year-old, blind, with chronic ear infections and nearly deaf? Why did they choose to save her, I often wonder? On paper it makes no sense. People started to try to save Stevie. A man by the name of Robert Cabral went to the shelter, spent time with Stevie, filmed her and made a video in hopes of getting her saved. A woman by the name of Vilma Giulia took time to contact countless people asking if someone would save her. No one came but they didn't give up. Then a woman named Carolyn who owns a boarding facility in Romoland, California told Camp Cocker that she would donate a free space in her boarding facility for a blind, older cocker. Why would she do that, I have wondered? Camp Cocker chose Stevie, knowing that she would be nearly impossible to find a home for because there just aren't too many people that will adopt an old, blind, deaf dog. And Carolyn must have known that Stevie would be at her boarding facility for a long time and yet, she made the offer. Stevie did indeed stay for quite a long time at the boarding facility. A woman by the name of Tracey Kuhlin fostered Stevie in her home even though she had three other dogs. Unfortunately, because Stevie was deaf and blind, she would wait out in the cold and the rain for Tracey when she was at work and so it was decided that she could be kept warmer and dryer at the boarding facility. This wasn't bad news for Stevie because she had a boyfriend waiting back at the boarding facility, named Black Buddy who was also a blind, old cocker spaniel that Carolyn also donated a space for at her boarding facility. Finally, Stevie came to me to foster. I can't say that there was anything particulary generous about my offer to foster Stevie because the truth is that I had already had a blind, deaf, old cocker and after losing him at the age of nearly 15, I thought that fostering Stevie would help me over my grief of losing Maury. I thought it was the best way to pay tribute to Maury, and selfishly, I knew that blind, older dogs are the easiest to care for because they like to lay around a lot, just like me.

Right after Stevie was rescued by Camp Cocker they took her to an eye specialist to see if her cataracts could be removed. Because Stevie was an older dog, there are a lot of rescues who wouldn't be willing to go to such an expense but Camp Cocker was willing to pay for an expensive surgery if she would be able to see again. When I say, pay for, this would mean fundrasing dollar by dollar and it's really hard work. The eye specialist did not recommend cataract surgery because her cataracts were hyper mature. So, Stevie came to me without hope of seeing again. It was a fluke that she was seen by a second eye specialist who said that he was willing to do the very laborious, complicated surgery to allow Stevie to see again. Not only was he willing to do it, but he was willing to comp the exams and the medicine, not to mention that he charges far less than most eye specialists. And then began the journey of finding out just how many people there are out there that were willing to help one little, old, blind, deaf dog. I started asking for money. My pride issues immediately surfaced and I didn't want to ask anyone for money but I also couldn't be another person who let Stevie down. And what happened next let me know how much is right in the world and how many people there are out there who will help one little dog whom most will never meet. Money started coming in from all over the country. Very few had ever even met Stevie, most heard about her for the first time while writing out their checks for her. Over 20 people gave money for Stevie's surgery, many I suspect stretched themselves a bit thin. I found that I was incredibly touched by the small donations, especially when they came with a note of saying that the person wished they could give more. I believed them and knew that for some, the small amount was a sacrifice. I was also very touched by the larger donations, and again, I wondered how many had sacrificed to help one little dog. I had one very generous donation come from a man trying to buy a house, while raising three kids, and paying for a wedding in a couple months. This man made it clear that he doesn't even like dogs, but he loves me (my brother) and so he gave more than I could have ever dreamed. Many people I don't know at all, while others are people who already have four, five, or six rescue dogs in their homes that they are paying for. I got donations from people who are unemployed. One woman donated a limited edition piece of artwork. And there were people who could not give but took their time to pass the word along about Stevie.

And then I got a message from a woman I had never met, who owns a jewelry store, Jeweltrain in Fremont, California and wanted to host a day at her store for Stevie to help fundraise for her surgery. This came at exactly the right time because the donations had stopped and we were still short quite a bit of money. Business hadn't been great, she explained, but she really wanted to do this for Stevie. She had once adopted a blind, deaf, old dog (Camp Cocker Benny) and she thought it would be a nice way to pay tribute to him. She enlisted the help of her family and friends. She went to considerable expense and time to make the day perfect, plus she was donating 25% of the sales to Stevie. Days before the event, her store was burglarized, meaning that quite a bit of her stock was gone at the most crucial time of the year. I really wanted to cancel the event because it didn't seem right for her to have the extra burden of giving 25% of her sales to Stevie, when she would need that money herself. She insisted that the event go on and even made her husband wear a Santa suit all day. The sales did not come in as she had hoped. I realized that the amount we had hoped to raise, simply hadn't come it and that was okay with me. I was surrounded by people who had driven considerable distances just to lend support. One woman took the entire day off of work just to help. What more could someone ask for? At the end of the day, the owner of the jewelry store approached me with a check and explained that we hadn't raised nearly the amount she hoped but that she wanted to give Camp Cocker a check for Stevie's surgery. The amount on that check made me cry on the spot. The generosity was overwhelming and it came from a woman who had just had her store burglarized.

Today when I saw Stevie get on her hind legs and look out the window for the first time, I couldn't help but ask, what makes people so good? What makes people care this much? I thought about the one, two, or three people who let Stevie down in her life but that is no longer important and not what anyone should be focusing on (Stevie sure doesn't) because those 1-3 people, were outnumbered by over 20 who cared. The sad reality is that it only takes on thoughtless breeder to produce 5-7 puppies and so it becomes easy to think that there are a countless amount of uncaring, irresponsible people out there but in reality, there are countless amounts of really good, honest, generous people . If dogs could only produce a litter of one, we would have this war won but because they often produce so many offspring, it seems as though the good people are outnumbered, but they aren't!

How I know the good people aren't outnumbered is when I think about Camp Cocker. It was started by one woman, Cathy Stanley who during Hurricane Katrina, didn't sit back watching the news and thinking, oh, how awful. She rented a van, took her own money and her own time and drove to New Orleans...... think about that for a minute. She volunteered to go into homes searching for animals and was confronted with a lot of dead, dying, and horribly ill animals. Every day she got up and spent all day and most of the night pulling dead and alive animals out of homes. She then took her own money and brought some of them back where she paid herself to heal them. Subsequently, she has rescued over 500 dogs, each and everyone of them would have either been put to sleep in really scary, crowded shelters, or another dog would have been put to sleep to "make space". I am sitting beside one of those dogs, a dog that had been hit by a car and his pelvis was crushed. It was very expensive to put him back together and because of that, other rescues had passed him by. Cathy drove three hours each way on Christmas Eve to take him to a vet hospital so that he wouldn't have to wait even another day without pain medication. Some question, why put so much money into one dog? It's ironic because these are the dogs that we see on the news and everyone cries out, oh no! Someone save that dog! But very few actually do go save that dog. Four years later, that dog goes to visit elderly people in nursing homes, adores children, is starting to volunteer to sit next to children while they read through a literacy program. He is the absolute light of my life! He's perfect! There still has not been a day that has gone by that at some point, I don't thank God for the Cathy Stanley's of the world. But how did she save 500 dogs? She saved 500 dogs because 500 people stepped up and were willing to take an often imperfect dog into their homes, only to find out that the dog is perfect for them. Beyond the 500 people who have been the champion in the lives of one dog at a time, have come the countless masses who have donated $3, $5, $20, $100, many times sacrificing in order to help a dog whom they have never met or will meet. And so I ask again, what makes people so good?

So, today I was back at the same eye specialist that I had taken my first dog to, having the same surgery and of course, missing him. It made me think back to how I got my first dog. A woman by the name of Elena Kagan was walking back to her car after a meeting and saw a sign that said that a dog would be put to sleep if the family did not find a home for him by the end of the week. She went to the address and got the dog, not knowing where she was going to put him but she had to know that she would be spending her own money for a dog that wasn't even hers. She spent hundreds of dollars on him and for five weeks endured a dog that went to the bathroom all over her carpet and chased her cats. I stumbled upon Elena and heard the desperation in her voice. I took Maury, not planning on keep him but he ended up living with me for four years, until the age of nearly 15 when he had to be put to sleep due to healthy problems that couldn't be corrected. I took him in for the cataract surgery and I encountered some people who couldn't understand why I would spend that kind of money on a 12-year-old dog. I found that to this day, it was the very best money I have ever spent on anything or anyone. Like Stevie, watching a dog see again is something that moves you to your soul. Maury ended up living another three more years and had he only lived three more months, it still would have been the best money I had ever spent. About a year before he died, Elena made the long drive to see him again. I decided to take a risk and try to show her three tricks I had taught Maury but due to the fact that he was going senile, we hadn't practiced the tricks for over a year. I just had a feeling that he had one more trick left in him. He did all three tricks for her and then lifted his head to the ceiling and let out a very loud, excited wail that was so loud it made Elena jump. It was one of the those moments that you are so glad there is someone else to witness it because no one would believe you otherwise. That is how Maury said good bye and thank you to the savior in his life.

Today watching Stevie with her nose pointed to the sky and basking in the sunshine I was overwhelmed with the question of what makes people so good? The people who carelessly breed or don't provide adequate care for their dogs didn't matter to me today because I learned that the good people far outnumber the bad ones and we get to live in a world where the question of, what is wrong with people gets resoundingly answered by the 20-plus people who gave to one blind dog just because they cared. And so tonight I smile as I wonder, what makes people so good?

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