Wednesday, October 29, 2008

RESCUED: Dogs of Pet Haven

On July 21st, 2008 I met pet portraiture artist, Jessie, of Stray Dog Arts for the first time. I had reached out to her a month or so prior, by email, in hopes that we could meet for coffee/tea one day to discuss a possible partnership between Stray Dog Arts and Pet Haven. Little did I know how profoundly that day would change the direction of our lives both individually, and in friendship and partnership.

This coming Saturday will be Pet Haven's largest fundraiser of the year, our second annual Fall Benefit. Jessie has graciously donated to our silent auction a painting of Ode who was rescued from horrific abuse in July and taken into Pet Haven's foster program - Ode continues to touch and inspire so many of us.

Jessie is currently working on her latest series of paintings for an upcoming exhibition, RESCUED: Dogs of Pet Haven. The opening reception will be on November 13th at 7:30 PM at Cuppa Java, 400 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN. I am lucky to catch glimpses of an artist at work, to be a part of her process while she prepares for this exhibition, and to "introduce" her to Pet Haven dogs she has chosen to paint. I am grateful she has chosen to partner with Pet Haven and to join us in being a voice for homeless animals.

She is an incredibly talented artist and her paintings reflect the spirit and essence of the dog she paints. As I get sneak previews of her paintings of Pet Haven dogs, I find myself moved beyond words -- my dream of having their stories told has come to fruition - not only through words, but through visual art. Through her paintings, Jessie is telling the stories of Koda, of Ode, of Jasper, Mandy, Spice Girl, and Peanut - her images capture and tell their story in a profound, powerful way, where words fall short.

Thank you Jessie for giving so much of yourself to the animals.

Thank you walking through a door that many choose not to walk through - there's a shadow side to the work of animal rescue, and there are also some harsh realities - i thank you for being brave. More importantly though, there is an incredibly joyful side to animal rescue [these Happy Tails will warm your heart].

Thank you Jessie for immersing your heart and soul into work that truly matters.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gratitude and sadness

For some reason there's a slight sadness in my heart tonight. It's been a long day, and a busy day. I didn't get my run along the Mississippi River in today. The sadness could be that my pace today has been rushed and chaotic (a sense of panic erupting as we are now less than one week away from Pet Haven's Fall Benefit) -- too much going on and my spirit calling out to me that I need to slow down.

I notice Missy and Mister tonight. They are peaceful. Their eyes are telling me something. I want to feel the peace I see in their eyes. I am grateful for them.

Tonight I had to give a presentation -- in my presentation I incorporated William Stafford's poem "Ask Me":

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

I feel an undercurrent in my gut tonight.

How often do we get swept up in the current of the river, and before we realize it, we have arrived somewhere and we don't even remember the journey?

I want to remember my journey.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The dream of now...

What led me to Pet Haven, what led me to truly discover what makes me feel alive was the loss of Shen. Shen means "spirit of fire". I believe there is a spirit of fire, a spirit of passion, in each and every one of us. Shen is in me. I believe there is a Shen in each and every one of us.

In my grief, Shen led me out of the darkness. The work I do now on behalf of abandoned, abused and neglected animals is fueled by her...

I used to dream of doing the work I am doing now.

Today, I live my dream. I am grateful.

The Dream of Now

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.

- William Stafford

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Journey

In March 2006, my journal entry began with "What makes you feel alive?". How many of us are fortunate to know, to really truly know, what makes us feel alive.

My journey since then has been filled with sorrow, joy, hope, fear, love, friendship, dreams. It has been filled with new paths, and more than anything, a realization of what truly makes me feel alive. I have received more gifts from connections I've made with people and animals along my path. What I have come to relish about this journey I am on, is that I don't know where it will lead me and what doors will open up. I've come to cherish the mystery of life, and when the fear of the unknown rears its ugly head, I nudge myself to simply bask in the uncertainty of the unknown.

I have been drawn to poetry lately - the compactness and metaphorical nature of poetry speaking to me in a profound way. This morning I share with you William Stafford's poem "The Journey" - may it speak to you in a way that inspires you to open more doors.

Through many doors it's been - through
that first into light, afraid, crying
for fear, for air, no going back.
Then other doors: the one where shadows
waited like night, the one nobody
opened when I knocked, and the one where somebody
did. (It was over a cliff and I fell.)

One time there wasn't any door; I turned to look
where I had been - only that? Only
those meaningless windows leading down one
by one to the faint small beginning?
Past the middle of life, and nothing
done - but a voice came on: "I am
the door," someone said. I closed my eyes;
whatever I touched led on.

I ask myself this morning, "what doors in my life need opening?"

We simply need to close our eyes and touch the door.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Needing to slow down

This morning i realized how my mind is spinning, non-stop, and how I feel like i'm on a treadmill trying desperately to keep up and feeling off balance. Yes, I have a million things going on right now. I must, however, never lose sight of the importance of pausing, slowing down and reflecting. I was at a workshop the other night, and the speaker shared a story of how his teacher instilled in him the importance of nurturing his roots. The more grounded we are, the deeper our roots - the more we are able to soar. Without strengthening our roots and returning to our core/our seed, we will not be able to reach outward and upwards. For the past week I have stopped watering my roots. I feel the drought in my spirit this morning. I acknowledge my need to water my roots, and only then will I be able to fly.

I find myself often dreaming of all that is possible, of imagining a world full of love, compassion, forgiveness -- a world where animals no longer suffer and where people find healing through the beauty of all living creatures. Then I find myself working myself into a tizzy as I worry about all that needs to be done.

I need to take time to pause. This morning as i noticed an unsettling feeling in my gut, i looked out my window, and i felt tears well up ... i realized i am running too fast and risk losing myself.

This morning, Mary Oliver's poem "Mindful" speaks to me:

Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in a haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for --
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world --
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant --
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teaching
as these --
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trying to make sense of messages

My partner and I returned Saturday late morning from a mini-vacation in Wabasha - on the drive we soaked in the breathcatching vibrant colors of leaves and enjoyed the sight of gulls gathering around Lake Pepin. We visited the National Eagle Center and met Angel. Our lives had gotten so busy, we needed to stop and take some time for ourselves. While we were gone our pups Mister and Missy got to be pampered at Pampered Pooch Playground.

This morning i find myself reflecting back on the happenings of yesterday. In a seven hour period after our return, three events happen that have caused me jolt, pay attention and pause ...

At 2:35 pm on my drive back home after picking up Mister and Missy from Pampered Pooch, I am coasting along highway 62 heading east. As I approach the Bloomington Ave exit in Richfield I hear a loud noise. I turn around and simultaneously notice Missy in a panicked state and the rear passenger window of my partner's Honda CRV on the verge of shattering - what was once a smooth clear window now looks like a network of nerves and veins and the mere touch would cause the entire window to crumble. In the top right hand corner I see the entry point of a pellet. My partner later points out that the trajectory and angle of the gun shot pointed right to my head. In the hour that follows, I pull over on Bloomington Ave and calm the pups down and settle them in the front seat and floor and make my way home -- the window crumbles and all that remains is the small section in the top right hand corner where the pellet attempts to enter. I am guessing some kids are shooting at passing cars - entertainment in some sick sense.

At 7:20 pm on our way to the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, I am driving my Honda Element on Cleveland Ave in St. Paul heading north. Out of nowhere a white sedan flies out onto Cleveland from a side street. My partner screams. Time freezes for me. I'm driving 35 mph as the white sedan is coming at us at a 90 degree angle at an accelerating speed. A collision is imminent. I don't know what happens. I sensed a protective barrier come down around my car and somehow, my hands, which no longer feel like they are mine, take control of the steering wheel and what should've been a collision resulting in severe injury or death, is now a moment in time i will simply remember, not truly understanding what happened, or more accurately, why something didn't happen .. a "lucky" escape?

My partner and I discuss turning back. What's going on? Hours earlier, I had been shot at - another "lucky" incident where neither the dogs or myself were hurt. Now this?

At 9:30 we're heading home from the State Theatre, driving on 6th street in downtown Minneapolis, after hearing Khaled Housseini , author of "The Kite Runner", speak. My partner and I are engaged in conversation. Next to me on my right is a red Mazda pickup truck. Out of the blue, he swerves attempting to turn onto Chicago (a young man from Wisconsin claims he did not see us) and rams right into the passenger side. This time - not so "lucky" i guess; however, maybe lucky in that no one was seriously injured. Amazingly, there is no outside damage to my car - just some internal damage causing my passenger door to no longer be able to open.

This morning i reflect on yesterday. The BB gun brings back memories of how my first dog, Splat, a black cocker spaniel was shot and killed in my backyard on July 20, 2000 less than one month after moving to Minnesota. One week prior, a hate note taped to our front door - police in Eagan saying they couldn't do anything until "something happened." My mind flashes back to Shadow (our lab mix who crossed Rainbow Bridge in July 2007) whom I rescued from the streets of Owasso, Oklahoma in 1998 a victim of a gunshot wound to his head - a "lucky" survivor. My mind flashes back to how on Saturday night, while in Wabasha, I am deeply impacted by a comment made by a friend who challenges me on the changing of a dog's name from a simple english name to an ojibway name (my wish to reflect the heritage of where the dog is coming from). The comment strikes a sensitive nerve in me and pierces my heart... at first i don't know why. After hours of conversation with my partner I realize it's personal for me. My father had to change his name when he came to the United States for schooling because his name was too hard to pronounce... from Banharn to Bob ... my mom's name changed from Araceli to Sally because it was too hard to pronounce. Our culture, our heritage dismissed and discounted in light of a more dominant culture. And last night, interestingly, Khaled speaks about cultural oppression that is happening in Afghanistan. What struck a nerve in me Saturday night regarding a simple name change of dog ... while yes, it is personal for me, i realize is not so personal. I believe many don't intend to offend ... a simple name change, however, brings with it an entire history and cultural heritage. Maybe it's not a big deal for a dominant culture; it is, however, for those of us who come from an non-dominant culture.

Somehow, i know there is a thread in the events of the past 24 hours; there is a message in all of this. There is something I need to hear. There is something I will be called to do.

I am not clear yet on what it is, not at this very moment. I trust clarity will come to me when the time is right.

For now, I am especially grateful, to be here today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Mother Theresa of Animals at Red Lake

This past weekend a fellow Pet Haven volunteer, Laura, and myself headed up north to Red Lake - a trip both of us have dreamed about for over a year. Immersed in animal rescue with Pet Haven we have taken in dogs from Red Lake Rosie's Rescue and have communicated with the founder of Red Lake, Karen Good, by email. Many describe Karen as the Mother Theresa of animals -- i know i have felt that and believed that. My trip up north has confirmed what an incredible spirit Karen is, and what a visionary she is -- other words that come to mind ... compassionate, gentle, humble, determined, selfless...and the list goes on.
I feel honored and blessed to have had the chance to meet and spend the weekend in Karen's home. Despite the constant rain and cold weather, it truly was a weekend that touched the core of my soul. We woke up early Saturday morning and helped Karen with shelter morning chores. The dogs were waiting for us as we pulled up in our vehicles. Clover, a feral dog, would greet us .. not far behind would be Cheyenne (husky mix), Miguel, (rottie mix), Little Ann (black lab/shepherd mix), Rufus (shepherd mix) and Yeller (yellow lab). The sun barely rising over the horizon.

Karen gave us a tour of the shelter when we arrived on Friday night -- we had our first introductions to the dogs, puppies, cats and kittens currently in her care. Those who have made it to her rescue are the lucky ones .... some were caught as strays, many are dumpster dogs and cats, and many rescued from abusive situations.

The night we arrived they had recently found a young pup, Nika (a white fluffy pup who looks like a bear) on the side of a highway. She survived, however, she had to have her back leg amputated. That night, a volunteer picked her up and Nika spent the night with us at Karen's. Another brave, resilient spirit. I am constantly in awe at how animals are able to recover and bounce back... let go, and live in the moment. Nika cried a very high pitch cry - we don't think it was pain because as long as she had some contact with a human she settled down.

Nika was adopted by the vet who performed her amputation. A happy ending. This past weekend Karen's phone rings off the hook as she gets pleas for help - a litter of kittens found by a dumpster - "bring them to the rescue. I'll be here," she says. She never turns an animal in need down. She rescued a dog who had been trapped under a house for a week. The dog was taken to a vet .. unfortunately, this story may not have a happy ending. Karen says to the vet "if his spine has been damaged and he is paralyzed, we must let him go."

I am in awe as i witness a woman who gives so much of herself and possesses limitless love. It's as if she draws love from a well that never goes dry and with gentle and kind reassurance, she lets go of animals she has cared for and loved for over a year - with a hug and kiss (as she did with Little Ann who came back with us and into Pet Haven's foster program) she says goodbye and whispers "now go have a good life." I think of myself, and how my heart would feel like it had been tossed into a paper shredder, yet am reminded of how the deepest love is when I can love with all my soul, and let go.

On Sunday, we returned to the cities transporting 8 dogs and meeting volunteers from other rescues who, like Pet Haven, will find homes for these precious beings. For Pet Haven we took in Little Ann and Sadie. For Karen it is a good day, a happy day.

Her ability to let go, shows me an even deeper love ... her belief that she wants each and every one of these animals that make it to her shelter to have the wonderful, pampered life they deserve .. and for her to continue helping the many abandoned, abused and neglected animals on the reservation she must make room for the next needy animal.

Immersed in such beautiful serene landscape, surrounded by animals who have truly been given a second chance, and witnessing the love and compassion of a woman who selflessly gives her life to the rescuing and re-homing of Red Lake reservation dogs ... i find myself with my soul exposed and feeling raw, my head spinning with ideas on how to help Karen, and my heart ready to burst.

I met Ahnung (ojibway word for "star"), a black and white boxer/pit mix, who had a litter of 8 puppies. She captured my heart. Laura and I both feel there is something extra special about this girl. Karen tells us, "she reminds me of Spice Girl" - a boxer mix who also had a litter of pups and was taken into Pet Haven's foster program [you can read Spice Girl's story in the Pet Haven August 2008 issue]. I have committed to Karen that when Ahnung is ready to be transferred to a rescue, that I will return for her. Somehow, we will find a foster for this gentle soul.

I left Red Lake Rosie's Sunday morning, re-energized and re-committed to continue the work we are doing to be a voice and an advocate for these innocent creatures. And as i sit at home tonight, in St. Paul, with Missy and Mister sprawled on our red couch, I hope that a small piece of Karen's spirit has been infused into my being, so i may continue to work alongside of her to make her vision, and my vision, a reality. I am grateful our paths have converged.

To view more photos from the weekend visit my flickr site.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The sun shines through...

It has been an incredible few days.... the cloud of uncertainty is still there (i have another appointment this Wednesday for another mammogram and ultrasound), however, i am truly okay with the uncertainty. I have been deepening my meditation practice, running regularly (and it has been perfect running weather lately... i feel blessed to live by the river and savor the beautiful fall colors. I am convinced our street has trees with the most vibrant fall colors in St. Paul!). And on Saturday, I had the good fortune of welcoming three dogs (Andy - black lab/shepherd mix; Butterscotch - brindle mix; Foster - black lab/newfie pup) after their long journey from the Sioux City animal control in Iowa. All three were destined for euthanasia. All three have been taken into Pet Haven's foster program and have been given a new leash on life!

How often can one say, they are a part of making a difference and saving lives - lives of beautiful, innocent, trusting furry souls. Yes, I am blessed and I am fully aware of that :)

I am grateful today, of feeling so alive and willingly embracing what scares me and that which is uncertain; i am grateful for my partner who has been standing by my side, loving me unconditionally; i am grateful for my friendships (new and old) and for what Pet Haven has given to me through my volunteer work; and of course, I am grateful for our precious animals ... Missy, Mister and Henry.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Moving through the cloud of uncertainty...

Once again, this morning I find myself experiencing an entire spectrum of emotions. My appointment with the surgeon the other day did not provide me with any closure ... in fact, more uncertainty, more waiting. The cloud of cancer continuing to loom above. The truth is, there is a part of me that is afraid and scared - dare i say even attached to a life i am loving as my life feels so full and my heart feels so open. My trip up north to Ely at the end of July was the beginning of a major shift in my life. I write about the wolves who touched a part of soul that had been dormant for so long. I am reading Pema Chodron's book "Comfortable with Uncertainty" .. she shares: "what everyone on this path shares is the inspiration to rest in uncertainty - cheerfully. The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.... what we call uncertainty is actually the open quality of any given moment. When we can be present for this openness - as it is always present for us - we discover that our capacity to love and care for others is limitless."

As full as my life feels, as exciting as possibilities of tomorrow hold... i ask myself again, this morning, in meditation ... to simply be okay with uncertainty, with the unknown, and to simply trust. My journey will unfold in the way it is meant to unfold. This morning, however, it has been a struggle. I remind myself, it's okay ... and to be gentle with myself.

In mid July I was blessed to meet Ode, an abused puppy from up north in Red Lake, who has been an incredible teacher to me on loving, living, hope and forgiveness. I had the chance to see her again yesterday, and as I struggle with moving through the cloud of uncertainty, she reminds me with her piercing, soulful eyes that yes, the sun is shining brightly behind the clouds.

Ode, thank you for all you have given to me and for the lessons you continue to teach me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Celebrating 20 years

Twenty years ago today, i made a decision to give up drinking. It was my second time to do so ... a relapse of a two year period where I had convinced myself i could handle the occasional drink and be a social drinker like some people i saw at restaurants who could leave a glass of wine half finished! Who in their right mind would leave a drink unfinished??!! Hmmm ... could be why i'm a recovering alcoholic?? :)

In September of 1988 I welcomed into my life a tiny, 6 week old black cocker spaniel whom I named Splat (after a racquetball shot ... i was playing competitive racquetball at that time). She was the runt of the litter and when she crawled into my lap, curled up and went to sleep, i just knew she was meant to be with me. What I didn't know was that she was going to help me heal on more levels than I could imagine. What I didn't know was that she was going to lead me down a path of healing - giving me the strength, courage and reason to get my life together. On October 1st, 1988 I walked back into an AA meeting, acknowledged I was an alcoholic and pledged to take care of my sweet, helpless little Splat.

For a long time it was a struggle. For a long time i was filled with shame and with a sense of "i'm weak." Years later, I came to the realization that I was grateful to be a recovering alcoholic, and grateful to have the courage and strength to look into the eyes of the lion i had been running from. Today I am friends with that lion, and as I venture into new and unexplored territories, I am filled with gratitude because I can feel everything (joy and sadness, hope and heartbreak), and i no longer have to hide behind the bottle and numb the pain.

As I look out into the horizon today, I see mountains - i see peaks and i see valleys. Life is a journey. Life is an adventure. And today, as I celebrate 20 years of sobriety, I feel ready to embark on the next leg of my journey. And I am ready to immerse myself in life and in loving.

Today, I have an appointment with a surgeon for an evaluation and to schedule a biopsy -- the cloud of cancer looming over the mountains. For whatever reason, I am okay with whatever the outcome is and where my journey takes me, and where my journey ends. Because today, I am surrounded by so much joy, so much love, so much beauty, and so much support.

Peace for me has come from a place of gratitude.