Trial Balloon

Antidote to Melancholy

Posted at 5:30 AM on November 9, 2009 by Radio Heartlander (22 Comments)
Filed under: Guest Bloggers

From the desks of the Heartlanders
Guest Blog by Kay in Utah

rh.jpgThis summer, in an exuberance of midlife liberation, I gave myself permission to do what I really wanted to do: quit my job, move to the sunny Southwest, and spend more of my time on what matters to me: caring for animals. I picked Kanab, Utah, because of the proximity of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where each day about 2000 animals are treated, healed, trained, loved, and readied for adoption by a staff of 400 and myriad volunteers.

Last Thursday I drove the five miles to volunteer there for the day. On Wednesday I'd spent 4 hours on work-related conference calls, so it was with a sense of relief and freedom that I awoke that morning to blue sky, fresh air, powerful sunshine, and a break from sitting at the computer.

The day started the honor and responsibility of cleaning a small indoor room and its attached screened porch where about 20 cats live. My friends would be surprised at the joy with which I enter with my mop bucket, rags, and bottled biofriendly cleaners. The joy is not for the cleaning--although there is satisfaction in the shiny floors and fresh scent upon completion--but for the greetings. The cats hear the door and gather quickly around me, gray and black and tuxedo cats, tabbies and torties and calicos. After I get the more physical work done (litterboxes and bedding), I wipe off all the cat shelves and make up soft new beds, receiving head rubs and leg rubs and little meows all the while.

Then I bring in brushes and combs and the kitties literally line up, according to their respective levels of shyness. In no time I have one purring on my lap, one on each side, and several circling or pressing a soft body against my back, a gentle reminder of one waiting patiently for his or her turn. Despite the volume of cat hair up my nose, I'm happy when the cats show their trademark appreciation for this sensual grooming.

For the afternoon I head to Dogtown There I pick up a water bowl, a bottle of water, and a bag of dog treats, and the "okay" to take Jenny for an outing.

I'm almost in love with Jenny, I confess. She is a tall, slender, velvety black Lab who came to the sanctuary from Salt Lake City. One of the "leftovers" from an adoption event, she was slated for likely euthanasia because the shelter there had no room for this "unadoptable" dog. Her "sins" include being female, black, and a big dog; she is perfectly healthy, genially playful, and full of low-key affection.

I've visited with Jenny several times before, and this time, gratifyingly, she clearly recognizes me and comes running to get her leash on. She leaps into the backseat and immediately settles down to be my afternoon companion. I drive to a natural red-rock amphitheater nearby and give her a chance to walk, play on grass, and sniff and sniff and sniff. The gloss of her black coat in the sunlight is rich and deep and irresistible; I stop several times to sit on the ground and wrap my arms around her and revel in the touch of that warm, soft fur and wriggly body. The time goes quickly, and I have to leave visits with the pot-bellied pigs, horses, parrots, and bunnies for another day.

On the way home, I sigh contentedly. Yes, there are bills to pay and chores to do and various concerns awaiting me at home. But I feel uplifted. There is a pure and redemptive quality to spending a day giving care to fellow creatures who, through no fault of their own, have been neglected, mistreated, injured, or abandoned. In return, I experience their honesty, their affection, and the gift of their presence.

Anyone else have a tale of giving and receiving friendship with our fellow creatures?

Comments (22)

well, Kay - after i finish weeping from the beauty of your writing i'll think of something to say. but right now, just thanks so much. not just for the message but for your stunningly gorgeous descriptions of these lucky animals and your day with them.
out to milk my lucky animals
good morning, All!

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | November 9, 2009 6:18 AM

Good Morning Heartlanders!

Dale has asked me to tell the Trial Balloon bloggers that he is taking a few days off to attend a memorial service in California for his brother, Lee.

While he is gone, we'll be running some programs out of the archive from 7 to 9 am and 11 to 1pm. JASPER will take care of the remaining hours.

And Dale and I would both like to thank the five guest bloggers who accepted our request that they fill in for Dale this week. Kay, Don, Joanne, Anna and Tim now join Barb, Donna, Barbara, Elinor, That Guy In The Hat and Mike in the growing ranks of Heartlanders who will occasionally take the lead.

Thanks for the assist, everyone!

Posted by Mike Pengra | November 9, 2009 6:41 AM

Good Morning RH,

Kay - your story renders, even me, speechless and thoughtful. I propose a field trip to Best Friends so that we might all share the experience, not to mention hugs!

About animals - I can think of nothing so therapeutic, next to music, that we humans can immerse ourselves in.

Looking forward to reading today's comments.

Thanks for the thanks, Mike.

Posted by Donna | November 9, 2009 7:07 AM

Kay...what fun to hear what your life is doing these days. I have too many stories of animals who have kept me going, uplifted my spirits and fed me, literally and figuratively to sort through and figure out which one to share. But currently, to give back a bit, I am looking forward to a neutering gathering for the dozen or so feral cats I am feeding these days....

thanks for the good work yu are doing for our fellow creatures. and good mornng all -- happy new work week!

Mike, might Jasper remember that tomorrow is the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald with Gordon Lightfoot's tribute....?

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | November 9, 2009 7:29 AM

Kay, it is great to hear about your efforts to take care of cats, dogs, and other animals in need of care and your relationship with the cats and dog that live with you. I have had a few cats and dogs as pets over the years and have very much enjoyed their company.

Your efforts remind me of work done to protect old breeds of live stock. Some people, whose names I don't remember, told me that they prevented some goats from being destroyed that had lived for a very long time on an island in the Pacific. They said that they would tell the press about plans to kill the goats if these plans were not changed.

A big thank you to Dale for interviewing Project Trio. I heard their concert on Sunday and it was amazing.

Posted by Jim | November 9, 2009 7:30 AM

thanks, donna and barb; it is an awesome place to visit...So, give us a goat story, barb, when you get back from milking, eh? i'm sure you and many of our other regulars can tell a good animal story this morning.

Posted by kay in utah | November 9, 2009 7:33 AM

kay, thanks for being on the planet. the idea of moving to the sight of your drug of choice and that drug is animal love is great.

i have a house full of animals who acknowledge but have thus far gotten by without adoration. 3 dogs, a wolf/husky, a basset and a little yip lap dog a couple of cats and fistful of fish tanks along with the bird feeders make life go round.
the cats are there for petting if you and they happen to connect at the same time. they are not real needy along the way. the dogs a a variety of personalities, zeke the stoic gentleman alpha is kind patient and vigilant waiting for acknowledgment and also enjoying the opportunity to chase a squirrel, paws the long eared gallut who is a never ending need bag wanting food petting her favorite chair and your undivided attention , louis the little yip who is happy to be here in a shiverry sort of way. we adopted him a month or two ago from a pet farm life where he was a less happy camper. a true lap dog who will sit for 3 hours without moving on a warm lap if you will rub his ears.

ernest and hemmingway our 6 toed cats are like having a sub plot going on in our lives. they are totally disconnected from anything else in the universe. they exist on their own plane. the fish are interesting. they vary a bunch. and with fish you are talking many personalities and needs. salt water is one deal, fresh another and if you screw up the water or the feeding ritual watch out.

i guess i do spend a little time and energy on the animals. thank you for your making me realize how i do enjoy it and bless you for your good work and the nice blog to start the day.

Posted by tim | November 9, 2009 7:34 AM

We recently took in a rescued basset named Barney. Barney walked into our house and hearts pretty quickly (and then sat on my foot in sort of an "I'm your dog now" maneuver). He's blind in one eye - which mostly just means when it's dark outside he follows the perimeter of the yard so he doesn't get lost (and he doesn't like night time walks much). He's an absolute dear, and loves being a lap dog. Yesterday afternoon my daughter, Barney and I had some quiet time on the couch. Hard to be tense about anything when you have a dog and a kid curled up on your lap together.

Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the furry critters Kay! (Though in our house with Barney around, it's hard to avoid - he'll remind you.)

Posted by Anna | November 9, 2009 7:39 AM

Kay - you are my hero! Spending all day volunteering at the zoo or the humane society or somewhere else sounds too marvelous. I'm thinking that when my daughter goes off to college, that will be on my list! Thank you for your delicate descriptions.

All of my current animals are rescues (one tuxedo cat, one Samoyed and one Irish Setter). Like Jenny, the Lab, their "sins" must be well hidden. Even after all these years, I can't find them! I have even been thinking recently that maybe the number three should be even... there's a "free kittens available 11/23" sign in a yard near my house... hmmmmm.

Posted by sherrilee | November 9, 2009 8:01 AM

goat story, Kay? i don't like to talk about my goats much. HAAAAAAAA!
ok. Niblet (Dodger's wether - a castrated male) has the most difficult job on the farm right now. he keeps Majority company in the Gentlemens' Club and most months that is pretty easy. they sit out in the sun, close together and usually Nibby rests his chin on T's back. but the last two months T has morphed into a raging sex maniac - stinky and pacing the fenceline. and when he can't be with a doe, he heads for Niblet. Nibby spends many hours of his days at the top of the stump pile in their loafing area to avoid T's amorous advances. so when i take a doe to T, i let Nibby out of the pen; i sit in my lawn chair and we two watch the proceedings. Niblet (all 150 pounds of him) usually tries to climb into my lap. he thinks he's still my little guy and i love that..
safe travels, Dale. and thanks for holding down the fort, Mike and guest bloggers.

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | November 9, 2009 8:03 AM

Greetings! Kay, that is a lovely piece and almost makes me want to run out and adopt a pet! While I enjoy animals, I confess to not having any pets. We lived for a long time in apartment buildings -- although we've been in a house for 10 years now -- my excuse has always been allergies.

We had a snake for a while and some mice (the entire ecosystem), and while they're not cuddly, they're low maintenance and interesting.

Kay, we are proud of you for making such an empowered decision, doing what you love and honoring all the creatures on this earch.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | November 9, 2009 8:11 AM

aw, see, i KNEW you good people were animal rescuers and adopters :-)

some great verbal images, people---
the little dog who is "happy to be here in a shivery sort of way"
the other dog who "then sat on my foot in sort of an 'I'm your dog now' maneuver."
barb and niblet, "we two watch the proceedings" (?!)
cynthia caring for a dozen feral kitties...

go for it, sherrilee--there's nothing sweeter than a baby kitty :-)

Posted by kay in utah | November 9, 2009 8:19 AM

I absolutely love animals. My wife prefers cats, so Violet and Indigo tolerate us as long as pettins', lovins', kibble, and litter are forthcoming. But I grew up with a dog that we treated like a little person and learned that very quickly.

He was a true Minnesota dog (despite being an English Springer Spaniel) in the sense that if he didn't get his way, he'd just keep doing what he wanted until we came to some kind of compromise. For example, he wouldn't stay in the yard because he loved to go and play with the other dogs in the neighborhood. Of course, his idea of 'playing' was to go into their yards, wait patiently until they came barking and chasing at him and he would keep his tail about two inches in front of their noses. Anyway, to avoid being hit, I had to teach him how to cross the street properly. I taught him to stop at the edge, look both ways, wait if there was a car coming, then cross. He did this was our 'deal.'

We also couldn't keep him off of the couch after we all went to bed. So, we started putting an old bedspread over the couch every night. It rapidly got to where he'd put his head on the couch. That was his way of asking for the bedspread so that he could go to bed.

So many other things...I taught him to whisper and ask for things politely before barking loud... he liked genuine Oreos, but not Hydrox cookies...he hated to eat alone... I still miss him. He really was my little brother.

Posted by That Guy in the Hat | November 9, 2009 8:38 AM

First, thanks Kay for what you do to care for the animals there. I can see how you'd get a lot of satisfaction, and appreciation from the cats, dogs and other critters.

We have three cats, all adopted from either our local Humane Society or city animal shelter, Ruby, Billy and Lydia. I'll always remember going to see Ruby at the shelter the first time, and knew we wanted her to come home with us but had to wait the prescribed number of days in case someone claimed her. I can still see her in the cage looking at me.

We are currently fostering a dog named Bacon from the Humane Society, a 7-year old Rat Terrier. He gives us very appreciative welcomes home. He does not like to be alone, but he hasn't figured out yet that cats can be good company.

Posted by Mike in Albert Lea | November 9, 2009 8:56 AM

Great story AND photos, Kay, thanks. A friend of mine is trying to find a home for an abandoned kitty. She knows of a "no kill" shelter in Winona, and thinks there might be something similar in St. Paul. Anyone aware of this?

Lately I've been on the RECEIVING end of the animal interactions. Since our son died a couple of years ago, we've had unusual visits from first the deer, then herons started flying over our yard, and lately it's been unusual and dramatic eagle sightings, and a hawk that seems to come for a visit. I may be just looking for "signs", but it's very comforting to have these reminders of my son.

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | November 9, 2009 9:23 AM

Hi, Barbara--

I know the Animal Ark in Hudson is a no-kill shelter (as is Best Friends, which is one important reason I support BF).

Other ideas for your friend would be to create some posters for leaving at vet offices and on neighbors' doors, and to post at appropriate Websites. I've had the best luck with finding adopters that way.

Especially lately, many shelters are just too full to take on additional animals, so seeking someone to adopt is likely the best solution for the cat.


Posted by kay in utah | November 9, 2009 10:05 AM

Barb in R. Long hair or short hair kitty? Boy or girl? Still actually a kitty, kitty?

Posted by sherrilee | November 9, 2009 10:52 AM

Hey Cynthia,

(and everyone else wondering if JASPER would play "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" Tuesday - the anniversary of the famous disaster...)

Yes, JASPER has found the song in question and will play it tomorrow morning just before 7am.

Posted by Mike Pengra | November 9, 2009 11:05 AM

Kay and all,
Let me add a late note to the conversation to congratulate Kay on her choice - and eloquent writing - and to say that I, too, am envious of what you do. I first heard of Best Friends after Katrina and have been a strong supporter ever since.
And for everyone else, as another member of the "rescued animals rule my life" club, I'm impressed how many of the bloggers here are like-minded. I don't often have an opportunity to join in the blog during the important morning hours but truly enjoy keeping up with all of your comments.

Posted by Connie in Lester Prairie | November 9, 2009 1:42 PM

Sherilee -- I believe it's an orange tabby, and probably an adult. I will find out more details ...

Kay -- thanks for the info about Hudson shelter, I"ll pass that on.

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | November 9, 2009 4:36 PM

Sherilee -- more information: he's 3-4 years old, neutered, at the moment he is "at large" in the neighborhood from where his owners moved out and left him, being fed by a few neighbors. The woman I spoke to says when he came in to her place for food, he was trained, well behaved, a little feisty when being played with.

Do you know someone who would be interested?

Posted by Barbara from Robbinsdale | November 9, 2009 6:39 PM

Kay, thanks for sharing your writing and experiences. Jenny sounds like a sweetheart.

Barb, you could also check with Gentle Touch Animal Sanctuary in Brooklyn Park. They are a no-kill shelter.

Posted by Rachel | November 9, 2009 6:46 PM

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