And We're Off
The first animal I ever felt I owned was a Miniature French Poodle named Coco. He was a Christmas present from my parents, and my sister Paula and I loved that dog to death. He was a hyperactive little mutt, and quite fond of everyone. When I was ten, a neighbor's German Shepherd attacked Coco. I don't really recall much about the incident; I vaguely remember that the neighbor's dog was starved for attention and mean, and that he was "put down" after the attack. But poor Coco was mauled; his abdomen torn open from the attack and he bleed profusely.
My parents were working class people, and the family's income was, at best, middle-class. They couldn't afford the cost of the operation the Coco needed to save his life, and wanted to put him to sleep. I was ten, my sister was eight and we were both crying as Dad loaded Coco into the family Buick and drove off. At this point, I must explain a few things about my father.
Phil Baker stands six foot one inches tall, and weighed at the time close to four hundred pounds. He was a monster of a man, and he frightened me very much. He worked on the production line of a company that produced heavy earth-moving equipment, and his forearms were bigger than some men's thighs. He was the very definition of tough, and no crying children would dissuade him from carrying out the only logical and proper course of action in this situation, which was to humanely euthanize the family dog with the aid of the family veterinarian.
Three days later, Coco came home wearing an Elizabethan surgical collar to keep him from ripping out his stitches.
Coco lived with us for another four years before cataracts and old age did him in, and Dad took him to the vet's office for a dignified release from life. I don't know for certain, but I think that Dad borrowed the money for the operation from his brother and paid him back over time.
I think that's where I get my love of animals, actually; from my father. He was a hunter and a fisherman, but that didn't keep him from loving the domesticated animals that shared our home for our childhood years. My mother was also an animal lover, and particularly fond of a cat my sister got for her birthday after Coco died. The cat was named, not to originally, Tiger.
Tiger and I never really got along. I didn't understand the appeal of a cat. It didn't come when you called it, and never made a big deal out of you getting home from school. It hunted mice and birds instead of eating the food it was provided, and would suddenly pounce and attack fingers, toes, legs, arms and other body parts at the most unfortunate times. I just didn't get it.
That would change.
My wife, Janet Brooks, and I have been working for the past five years on rescuing and rehabilitating stray and abused cats from the streets of our hometown. For her, it's almost a religious calling. She is fanatical about the felines. For me, it's been a more personal experience and a journey of discovery. I have found my humanity in these wonderful little packages of fur and ferocity. They are a link to my soul, and a source of my love.
The stories you will read in this column are true. In some cases, the names have been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty). The purpose of telling these tales is two-fold: first, to let others know that what we do can be done, and second, to try and raise awareness so that we can fulfill our dream of one day opening a no-kill shelter for these cats that we have come to love.
Each week, I will tell a story about one of the 130 or so cats we have taken in and rehabilitated. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Others are inspiring. All are told from love. I hope to see you again.
Brian Baker is a writer and animal rights proponent. He has been published locally and nationally, most notably in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. Currently, Baker spends his time working with a local organization (www.safehavenforpets.org) that not only operates a shelter for animals but also does extensive work with feral cats. To exchange correspondence with the author, write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org