A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bouncing Back

(Right: Louie, Leslie and Chocolate Bunny. Below: Oliver 12 days after rescue.)

Oliver the kitten was only three weeks old when he was rescued from LaPreda Thomas' house. Both his front legs were broken, and he was suffering from pneumonia and severe malnutrition.
"He was near death," said Merry Bates, president of Island Cat Resources and Adoption. "His life was touch and go for a number of weeks after we rescued him. X-rays found kitty litter in his stomach, which meant he had been eating the litter to fend off starvation."
Oliver, a tiny orange tabby, was one of seven felines rescued from Thomas' home in Oakland over the last four months. Their injuries ranged from multiple broken limbs to huge puncture wounds, police said. Many of the cats also had their claws crudely cut off, sometimes with portions of their toes removed.
On Oct. 9 Thomas was charged with felony animal abuse, accused of severely injuring more than 15 cats and kittens in incidents dating back to 2006.
Choco, a black kitten about the same age as Oliver, suffered a gouged-out right eye. Dr. Devin Johnsen, a veterinarian at VCA Bay Area Animal Hospital in Oakland, was shocked when she first saw him.
"That kind of injury is very unusual because of the shape of a cat's head," she said. "You usually see it only when there's been a lot of trauma, such as a cat getting hit by a car."
The damage to Choco's spirit was considerable, too.
"His gaze was an empty stare," said Bates. "When held close in your arms, he was still, almost as though he was trying to be 'good' and hoping for the best."
After they got out of the hospital, the kittens were placed in the care of ICRA volunteers - Oliver to Peggy Harding of Oakland and Choco to Leslie and Louie Hernandez of San Leandro.
So how are they doing now?
"Oliver's legs were so weak after they took the casts off. He wanted so desperately to walk. It was hard for him, and hard to watch," said Harding. "But now it's like night and day. He's just a little bundle of energy and playfulness and curiosity and love."
Oliver lives with two other foster kittens - not abuse cases - named Dudley and Duncan, and he's decided they're his foster brothers.
"He loves his little brothers. They chase each other up and down the cat trees and race all around the house. He loves them, and they love him."
Surprisingly, given the abuse he suffered, Oliver also loves people.
"He loves to lie on his back and purr while I hold him in my arms," said Harding. "And he loves to curl up with me when I'm lying in bed reading."
Choco, has bounced back amazingly, too, although his name isn't Choco anymore.
"We call him Chocolate Bunny," said Leslie Hernandez. "It seems to fit his personality better. He has an amazing spirit of playfulness, he's always purring, and he never has a negative reaction to a loving touch.
"But I keep wondering: Did he do that for her, too? Did he purr and act like his wonderful little self? I have no reason to think he didn't. And that breaks your heart even more."
Not all the rescued kitties are recovering as quickly as Oliver and Chocolate Bunny, but all are showing remarkable improvement. They can be viewed on ICRA's website, www.icraeastbay.org. Several are available for adoption now, and the rest will be available soon.
All except Chocolate Bunny, that is.
"He's so sweet, we've decided to keep him," Hernandez said.
This story has many heroes, including Megan Webb, director of Oakland Animal Services; the veterinarians and staff at VCA; Bates and her fellow volunteers at ICRA; and Dr. Gary Richter of Montclair Veterinary Hospital, who X-rayed the cats free of charge.
The money for the X-rays came from the Montclair Veterinary Hospital Pet & Wildlife Fund, which is funded by private donations. To contribute, send a tax-deductible check to 1961 Mountain Blvd., Oakland CA 94611.
The money for all the other medical expenses was furnished by ICRA. Oliver's medical bills came to $2,876, and Coco's medical bills cost $1,287. To contribute, send a tax-deductible check to ICRA, P.O. Box 1093, Alameda CA 94501.
Thomas, who is being held without bail, will appear in court on Thursday to enter a plea.

(Picture of Oliver courtesy of ICRA. Photo of Chocolate Bunny courtesy of Bay Area News Group)

Monday, October 19, 2009

To Life!

(Above: a Coach purse)

When 2-year-old Paula Baker drowned in a freak swimming pool accident in 2001, it devastated her whole family - her two brothers, her father and, especially, her mother, Marian Baker.
"Marian was non-functional, in a fog," says her husband, Michael, a trauma surgeon at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. "A lot of days, she didn't come out of her bedroom. She couldn't deal with the overwhelming pain."
But somehow, Marian found the strength to call the Contra Costa Crisis Center. They hooked her up with other parents who had lost children. And that made all the difference.
"It saved our marriage, for one thing," says Michael. "I never understood before that men and women have different ways of grieving."
Grateful for the help, Marian threw herself into raising funds for the Crisis Center. She wanted to make sure it could help other people the way it helped her family.
Things got so much better, four years ago Marian and Michael adopted a little girl and named her Joy.
But a few weeks later, Marian was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But even while she was undergoing chemotherapy, she always more worried about others - especially the little kids who were also getting chemo at the oncology center - than about herself.
She would bake cookies to bring to the kids, and that was just the beginning.
"One child wanted a Sony Xbox, but they weren't available on the market yet," Michael recalls. "So she personally tracked down a Sony vice-president in New York and arranged to pay for one and have it delivered to the kid. She used to say, 'If chemo sucks for me, it's ten times worse for a 14-year-old.'"
Her passion was expensive purses, especially Coach purses, which she would buy on the Internet and donate to the Crisis Center for its fundraising auctions.
But her own battle with cancer came to an end on June 14. Heartbroken, Michael buried her with a Coach purse by her side.
But her good works live on. On Nov. 7 the Crisis Center will hold its annual fundraising gala at the Diablo Country Club, and it's being held to honor Marian's memory. Among the raffle prizes: a 2010 VW Beetle, a laptop computer and - what else? - a Coach purse.
You don't have to be present to participate in the raffle. For raffle tickets or to RSVP for the gala, e-mail rociop@crisis-center.org or phone 925-939-1916 x100.
And if you can't attend but would like to contribute anyway, send a tax-deductible check to P.O. Box 3364, Walnut Creek, CA 94588.
But I'm not really writing this column to plug the gala. My real reason is to let you know that this lifesaving service is available to you, too, if you need it. And in these hard times, a lot of people do. Just make the call:
Suicide: 1-800-SUICIDE
Grief: 1-800-837-1818
Crisis: 1-800-833-2900
Homeless: 1-800-808-6444
Youth: 1-800-863-7600
If you live in Alameda County, the comparable organization is Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. Its phone numbers:
Suicide/Crisis: 1-800-309-2131
Grief/Job Loss: 1-800-260-0094
And if you'd like to contribute, send a check to P.O. Box 3120, Oakland, CA 94609.
But the most important thing is to make that call. I promise: The person on the other end of the line will understand what you're going through because they've been there themselves.