Riding to the RESCUE
By Barbara Nefer
This article was published in the August/September 2010 issue of Animal Wellness Magazine.
A New York biker, Joe Panz has been a street tough all his life and has faced some dangerous situations. One of the worst was when he was betrayed by people he thought were friends. They set him up and lured him into a bar where he was shot five times before escaping.
"I couldn't go to the hospital because that's the next place they would look for me," he says. "I knew I had to go home, and I couldn't depend on anyone for help because I didn't know who was my friend and who was looking to finish the job." Joe did have one loyal ally--his Rottweiler. "They're very keen dogs and know if something is wrong. That dog watched out for me all night. I knew he would protect me, no matter what, if someone came to the door. My friends turned on me, but I could depend on that dog through thick and thin."
For Joe it was a turning point. He's always had a soft spot for animals, but his dog's loyalty in the worst of times sealed his commitment to them. In 2007, along with two other biker buddies, Johnny O and Big Ant, he became one of the founding members of Rescue Ink (rescueink.org), a group of burly tattooed bikers dedicated to saving animals from dangerous and abusive situations. "I'm just paying back the favor," Joe says. The group will handle virtually any situation where animals are in danger, from breaking up pit bull fighting rings to assisting hoarders. They've helped dogs, cats, horses, ducks, chickens, turtles and even fish.
Rescue Ink has a rotating membership, with anywhere from nine to 14 members actively participating at any given time. "We try to keep the group small so it's agile," Joe explains. "Guys come and go for different reasons. Some get burned out, some go on to other things. This is rough work, and we risk our lives daily. We never know what's on the other side of a door or what we might be walking into, but we do whatever is necessary to get an animal out of a dangerous situation." Rescue Ink also has a "den mother" named Mary Fayet who works tirelessly in the background to coordinate their efforts. She answers phone calls and emails and sends complaints to the appropriate people for investigation.
"We have many other people helping us," Joe says. "Some are retired from the police force so they can check out individuals. This includes getting photos of them and their cars, finding out their workplace and seeing if they are felons or have weapons or a violent history. We don't want to get in a situation without knowing exactly what's going on."
No Nonsense Approach
If the situation warrants it, the perpetrator will get a visit from Rescue Ink and receive some re-education. The group keeps its tactics within the law, but Joe emphasizes, "We can be very convincing. Once they meet us, it usually takes care of the situation because they don't want us coming back."
Rescue Ink also gets involved in situations that tend to go along with animal abuse, like spousal or child abuse. "A lot of times we find there's more going on when we investigate animal cruelty," Joe says. "Abusers like to hone their skills on animals because they can't talk and it's easy to hide. They get more comfortable and turn on other helpless victims like women, children or the elderly. Some use the animal to show a woman what they will do to her if she tries to leave, or they threaten to kill the animal if she tries to go."
Joe says the group hopes to break the cycle of violence by educating abusers. "Kids see violence in their neighborhoods and homes, they grow up and act the same way because they get desensitized. We make sure they know the proper way to treat people and animals. We make a good first impression and let them know we'll be watching. Believe me, they don't want another visit." Rescue Ink also tackles the cycle at its roots by going into inner city and reform schools to educate kids about the humane treatment of animals. "We try to instill that you can be tough and still do the right thing," Joe says. The group has a hot rod pet ambulance that started out as a donated clunker. It was converted into a mobile clinic, and veterinarians and vet techs donate their time to provide free services for elderly and housebound people. They also run an animal sanctuary upstate where animals are rehabilitated before adoption. Those that cannot work through aggression or other issues live out their lives at the sanctuary.
Of all the rescues the group has done, one stands out in Joe's mind. A Humane Society broke up a dog fighting ring in Kentucky and came across a dog that had been used for baiting. Bait dogs are like unwilling sparring partners and are used to train fighting dogs and get them used to blood. The dog was hiding in someone's garage, eating out of their own dog's bowls. The Humane Society dubbed him Ribbon because of his torn-up ears.
"We told them we would do whatever was necessary to save him," says Joe. "We were assisted by Animal Rescue Flights, a group of volunteer plane owners who help us out a lot. We brought the dog to New York, had him vetted and nursed him back to health. We were going to adopt him out, but he really touched a chord because he'd been through such rough times and almost lost his life, but he pulled through. He reminded us of our own personal trials. We didn't want him to ever get in a bad situation again, so we kept him. Now he's our mascot, and we named him Rebel because we didn't want him to have the stigma of his old name."
Rescue Ink is funded entirely by donations and has garnered a lot of media attention. It started with a story in the New York Times that generated a huge response. Viking Books published a book about the group, and National Geographic is producing a television show. Meanwhile, the group is staying busy, both in New York and farther afield, doing whatever it takes to help animals at risk. "We go wherever the need and our funds take us."
This article was reprinted with permission from Animal Wellness Magazine.
© 2007 Redstone Media Group Inc. All rights reserved. www.animalwellnessmagazine.com
* * *
"Pre-Loss Bereavement" and the Power of Bargaining
By Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
There is a stage of grief that one hears very little, if anything, about. It's the hidden stage, a stage that friends and family may have difficulty understanding. It's a stage when people are most likely to ask why you are grieving--because your pet hasn't even died yet!
It's the stage I call "pre-loss bereavement." It begins when you realize, with absolutely no wiggle-room for argument, that your pet is going to die. You don't know when, but you know loss is coming. It may not even be coming soon; your pet may have weeks, months, even a year or more of life ahead. But you know that you have reached "the beginning of the end."
It may begin with a diagnosis of a final, incurable disease or condition. When an older cat is diagnosed with borderline kidney failure, for example, you know that you may be able to take steps to manage the problem and keep "full failure" at bay for a time--but you're never going to be able to accomplish a "cure." Or, it may begin when you look at your pet with "newly opened eyes," and notice changes in its health or condition that have been taking place slowly over time. When a pet gradually loses weight, for example, it's easy to overlook subtle, ongoing changes to its appearance, because you never see a sudden, dramatic alteration. Then, one day, you look at your pet and realize that you can see every rib, every bump of its spine.
Whatever the trigger, pre-loss bereavement begins when you realize not just intellectually, but emotionally, that you are going to lose your pet. It is something you have always "known," from the day you brought your pet home--but now it is not simply known, but felt, deeply, keenly, painfully. Now, you may find yourself in something of a "pet loss limbo"--you begin to grieve the loss that is coming, but there is no "closure" to your grief. You can't "get over it" because the loss hasn't actually happened yet. And you know that things are only going to get worse before they get better.
This is the period in which you are likely to experience all the classic Kubler-Ross "stages" of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Denial may have preceded this stage, vanishing like a toxic bubble the day you accept and acknowledge the diagnosis or changes in your pet--or, it may resurface from time to time, as you try to convince yourself that your pet's condition isn't really that bad. Anger can come at odd times--when, for example, you think you are taking your pet to the vet for the last time, and manage to psyche yourself up to make the most painful decision, only to have an unexpected "reprieve." Yes, of course you are glad to bring your pet home again--but you may feel a twinge of irrational anger at having had to go through all that for "nothing," only to have to go through it again. Depression comes and goes as you contemplate a future without your pet. But the most common reaction to this stage is likely to be bargaining--bargaining with your pet, your vet, yourself, or your higher power for anything that will extend (or improve) the life of your pet.
I know this stage well. Several years ago, my 15-year-old cat, Nani, was diagnosed with borderline kidney disease. At the time, she seemed to be deteriorating rapidly; I doubted she had more than a few months to live. And so I entered the "bargaining" stage (or, for some of us, the "begging" stage).
But what could I bargain for? I knew I could not hope for a cure. We weren't sure how old Nani was, as she was a young adult when we adopted her, but we knew she was at least 15 and possibly 16. While cats occasionally live to 20 or longer, such lifespans are rare, and not likely in a cat already suffering from kidney disease. So what could I ask (and pray) for that might have some chance of success?
I chose to ask for "time." I realized, looking at my wasting-thin kitty, that Nani had been suffering from a certain amount of "attention neglect" over the previous year. We had undergone a stressful move and job change, cramming ourselves, our goods and three cats into a very small duplex. Nani had not been getting the same amount of lap time, cuddle time, and sleep-on-your-face time that she had enjoyed previously. I felt a surge of guilt; if only I could have some time to make that up to her. Give me time, I asked, to make sure that in her final days she feels loved; give me time to give her the attention and cuddling that means so much to her. My part of the "bargain," of course, was to provide those things!
Miraculously, time was given. In 1999, I doubted Nani would survive six months; she survived for more than four years. Each time she seemed to slip toward the edge, a change of diet would bring about an amazing rally. Even though she lost nearly 1/6 of her original weight, and underwent surgery for a lymphoma, she has hung in there.
More importantly, she had "time" to enjoy renewed attention. She had more years to curl up on whomever was resting (or sleeping) in the recliner (and if you were "resting," a curled-up, purring Nani was almost certain to put you to sleep). She had time to play with the other cats, and even to chase 18-pound Brisco down the hall if he forgot his manners. She had time to watch the birds at the bird-feeder, and the squirrels at the squirrel-feeder. Her one disappointment was that we no longer allowed her on the top shelf of the closet, for fear she might jump down and injure herself.
Eventually we looked at Nani and came to the conclusion that "time" was running out. Her weight loss had accelerated, and a reaction to a prescribed medication made her seriously ill. Though she managed yet another rally, we could see that she was slower, stiffer, weaker, thinner. The time was coming to make that final decision.
We faced this prospect with acceptance, however. We had a peace in our hearts about what must come, because we had a chance to make sure that Nani's last days were as happy and comfortable as we could make them. Despite the grief of the "pet loss limbo" period, we had the comfort of knowing that death didn't take us by surprise; we weren't left regretting the things we hadn't done, or wishing that we'd had a chance to do things differently. We kept the first half of our bargain (making life better for Nani), and now we faced the second half: Letting Nani go.
While some psychologists consider bargaining to be nothing more than a mental game we play to avoid or ignore grief, I believe it can be genuinely helpful--provided one is realistic about the process. If you find yourself in "pet loss limbo," you may find that "bargaining" is an effective way to ease your passage from grief to acceptance. Here are some tips on "healthy" bargaining:
1. Be realistic about your pet's condition. Don't expect a complete, miraculous cure; you'll only be disappointed. Instead, look for ways to work within and around that condition to extend and improve your pet's life.
2. Focus your efforts on your pet's well-being, not your own. Don't try to make a "bargain" with God or the universe just to keep yourself from feeling pain, or to postpone that pain. Instead, use this time to seek ways to improve your pet's life and comfort level. By doing so, you'll enhance your own ability to accept the inevitable.
3. Use whatever time your pet has left to take care of "unfinished business." If you haven't spent as much time with your pet as you'd like, spend it now. If there are special treats or experiences that your pet particularly enjoys, use this time to provide them. The best way to spend this time is to ensure that, when your pet dies, you aren't left with regrets and self-recriminations.
4. Seek a balance between your pet's health and its general comfort and happiness. Often, for example, a pet may loathe the "special diet" that is prolonging its life. If your pet starts losing weight because it refuses to eat a prescription diet, you may not be doing it any favors by withholding its preferred foods. Similarly, if life-prolonging treatments are more stressful or painful than the disease they're designed to cure, you may need to make a decision about "quality" of life vs. "length" of life.
5. Keep your side of the "bargain." If you've asked for "time" to give your pet extra love and attention, and you miraculously receive that time, use it! It may, indeed, be a miracle.
6. Be prepared to take "no" for an answer. I firmly believe in the power of prayer, but not all prayers are answered as we would wish. If you seek to "bargain" in the last days of your pet's life, you must accept the possibility that you won't get what you're asking for. If and when that occurs, don't waste time and emotional energy blaming yourself or the universe for failing to respond to your wishes.
7. Understand that a "bargain" isn't going to change the final outcome. If your pet has a terminal illness, you may gain the gift of time--but it is a temporary gift. Use that time, not only to improve your pet's quality of life, but to come to terms with the inevitability of loss. You may find that this precious gift of time is just what you need to work through many of the other emotions of grief, so that you can face the final loss of your pet with a measure of acceptance and peace.
© 2002 Moira Allen. The above-mentioned material was reprinted from the Pet Loss Support Page. If you're grieving the loss of a pet, you'll find more helpful tips in Moira Anderson Allen's book, Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, available from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1598584537/.
* * *