Monday, Jan. 26, 2009

Saved: Rescued animals and the lives they transform

If you liked Dewey The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World and loved Marley and Me (the movie of which I’m not a big fan), you’ll adore Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform.

It’s an emotional collection of 28 real stories about pets which were rescued — and which in turn rescued their new owners or transformed their lives. Think of it as a Chicken Soup for the Soul about animal rescues.

One of the stories is about Don and Darlene Ahlstrom from Minnesota who adopted two Great Pyrenees.

The dogs had been found in a ditch, starving, left behind after having been severely beaten with an iron pipe or bat. A call for donations to help to provide care for them had donations pouring in at the Humane Society; donations and applications to adopt the dogs.

The Ahlstroms got them. They named them Hope and Chance and brought them back to their home; a hospice and adult foster care home. There, in the past 10 years, they’ve become part of daily life, encouraging and comforting many. Especially Hope, who before going outside checks into every resident each morning.

The dogs help people make the difficult move away from independent living. And sometimes they have a bond beyond the ones we can establish. One of the residents, Mildred, suffers from Alzheimer and seems far, far away; she usually sits in her wheel chair, staring away in the distance, not being there. But when Hope comes to sit with her she comes back, comes alive, and her hand reaches out to pet him gently.

Karin Winegar ended up doing 28 stories, collecting them coast to coast, but says she could easily have done ten thousand.

She says Hope and Chance’s story is typical of the stories in her book.

“It was exactly what we had in mind: reciprocal rescue. How an abused animal, rejected and abandoned, is rescued and really gives back more than it was given.

That’s what ‘Saved’ is about. It’s about reciprocity and the human-animal bond.

Our connection to animals is so primal to us and so joyful and necessary that even when we forget our spouses, we remember the animals.”

Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2007

I asked the angels to protect it

The night was freezing.

It was just past midnight on Dec. 24, 1983, and 21-year-old Tim Anderson and a friend were driving to Illinois from Fort Wayne, the last leg on their trip home from the East Coast.

Snug inside her Arlington Heights, Ill., home, Tim’s mother, Joan Wester Anderson, was praying for his safe arrival.

Anderson and his friend were traveling on a rural road — a shortcut back to the interstate after dropping off a third friend — when the unthinkable happened.

The car sputtered, died and stalled. There were no lights, no traffic, and the wind chill was deadly.

The two young men sat, horrified, as the freezing cold began seeping in. Soon, they could barely feel their legs.

And at home, Tim’s mother, overcome with a foreboding of doom, still prayed.

“God,” Wester Anderson said. “Send someone to help them.”

What happened next inspired her to walk a new path, to begin writing a series of books about angels and their work here on Earth.

Her first, “Where Angels Walk,” was published in 1992 and hit the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest, “Guardian Angels: True Stories of Answered Prayers,” came out in 2006.

“That Christmas, everything went wrong,” she recalled. “We always said that was our worst Christmas ever, until we found out it was our best Christmas ever.”

Out of the snowy darkness, a tow truck appeared behind the two men. The driver, unrecognizable under his winter trappings, knocked on the door.

“Need a tow?” he asked.

The men gratefully accepted and gave directions back to their friend’s house. The driver pulled in front and hitched the car, pulling it behind him.

He pulled into the cul-de-sac, and Tim Anderson stumbled up to the door on near-frozen legs, asking his friend for money to pay the tow truck operator.

His friend looked puzzled.

Anderson turned around.

The truck was gone. There had been no sound of chains releasing, no goodbye.

And the only tracks in the snow were from his own car.

“I found out, later, finally, what happened,” Wester Anderson recalled. “And when (Tim) told me about the tow truck driver, I got a rush of goosebumps. And I’ve realized since then that whenever I’m sensing something that is God-related or inspired, I’ll get goosebumps. We have a tendency to rationalize things so much, I think God goes right for our souls.”

She believes God sent an angel to help her son. And she believes, too, that angels are everywhere, helping us when we need them most.

“God gave us beings to help us,” she said. “Angels save us, they protect us, they keep us out of danger. I think they help us all the time, but they don’t stay around to get involved — all the glory goes to God.”

After her personal experience, Wester Anderson, a freelance writer and columnist, began researching angels and tentatively asking people for their own angel experiences.

Over time, she’s heard hundreds of stories, enough to fill her first book — and six more.

“At speaking engagements, I would tell Tim’s story, and when I was done, there would be a hush in the room,” she recalled. “And some people would roll their eyes … but others would get that look; I started calling it ‘The Look.’ And they would say, ‘Something happened to me … ’ ”

Wester Anderson, a Catholic, has done extensive research on angels since those early days.

“I don’t believe angels are the spirits of people who have died,” she said. “If you look at the description of angels in Scripture, in the Bible … it says angels are a separate creation. Angels are not human, they never were, and they never will be.”

She does believe, however, that each of us has a guardian angel that watches over us.

Angels play prominently in a local story featured in Wester Anderson’s latest book, one that focuses on both angels and answered prayers.

One of the chapters details the story of the Monsignor Frank Korba, pastor of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Munster.

He’ll happily tell it again and again.

“It’s one of my favorite stories,” he said. “And I know, people read things and think, ‘Oh, yeah, right,’ but I tell you — every word is true.”

The story recounts what happened when Korba inadvertently mailed an open envelope overstuffed with cash and checks — that week’s collection — to the church’s chancellery in Parma, Ohio.

He’d meant to take the envelope — already stamped and addressed — to the bank and exchange it for a cashier’s check; he dropped it into a mailbox in Munster with the rest of the outgoing mail instead.

Soon realizing his mistake, he tried desperately to get it back.

But the mail had already been picked up. He then rushed to the Gary post office, but had no luck there, either.

Panic-stricken, he prayed. Constantly. A staunch believer in angels, Korba asked God to send His angels to protect the envelope.

“There was probably $700 to $800 in cash in there, and another $1,000 in checks,” he recalled. “I prayed my head off.”

Hearing nothing from the local post offices, Korba finally made the inevitable, dreaded phone call to the Parma, Ohio, office, ready to apologize and explain.

There, he learned, the envelope — still open — had just arrived. Everything was intact.

“I asked the angels to protect it, and they did — from Munster to Gary to Cleveland to Parma,” he said. “I believe it was angels, and I believe it was a miracle.”

Although Wester Anderson, now living in Prospect Heights, isn’t planning any more angel books, the stories keep coming.

“The world has gotten spiritually darker, I think,” she said. “There’s so much anger and violence. I think of Billy Graham, who said in the ’70s, ‘In the coming dark times, angels will prove to be a light to many.’ I just thought that was very prophetic, because, I, for one, feel like we are in a dark time. I think people are calling upon God more frequently.”

Sunday, Jun. 26, 2005

Great Stuff: How to best treat a patient? With “Cancer Etiquette”

While talking to a close friend on the phone, Rosanne Kalick revealed she would need a double mastectomy because of breast cancer.

“Well, at least you’ll be symmetrical,” the friend said, trying to make light of the situation.

Kalick was taken aback. It was her second time going through cancer treatment — she already had endured multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, several years prior to developing breast cancer — and she thought her friends would have learned by now. She was wrong.

“I thought, maybe something is going on here,” says Kalick, of White Plains, N.Y. “Cancer etiquette: That phrase flashed through my mind.”

She reached out to other cancer survivors and discovered that they, too, had endured insensitive comments and awkward gestures. But she couldn’t find much published information on the topic.

Having been a librarian for many years, she decided to write a book. “Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer” (Bookmasters, $19.95), a four-year effort, was published in May.

It is packed with stories from survivors and practical communication strategies for friends and family, including when to make a joke, when to use religious comments or when to simply say nothing at all.

Kalick also delves into appropriate humor, gifts and other methods to comfort, along with explaining the surprising physical and mental changes cancer can bring.

“A bottle of moisturizer, for example, is not only good for a woman’s skin, often dry from chemotherapy, it serves as a reminder that she is still a woman,” Kalick writes in the book.

Some of her advice is based on experience, but she says she talked to about 1,000 people for the book, using the Internet and databases to find sources.

Kalick explains that just a few decades ago, a diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence, and talking about cancer was taboo.

Even now, with survivors living longer and new treatments always on the horizon, some of the old fears still surface, particularly in the way people react to the news that a friend or loved one has cancer.

Much of “Cancer Etiquette” revolves around the level of intimacy between the person diagnosed with cancer and the person trying to comfort him or her.

A co-worker, for example, might not appreciate a joke about the extended vacation he’ll have during chemotherapy. But a spouse might.

Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer
Amazon discount!

Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer
“If you did not speak about an individual’s sex life, breast size or baldness before the diagnosis, what makes you think it is appropriate to ask those questions now?” Kalick writes.

The occasional gaffe is going to happen, even when the person’s intentions are innocent, Kalick says. Cancer is a complex, frightening disease.

In the long run, it’s not the gaffes that matter; it’s the connection between people. Seldom does someone want to endure cancer alone.

“There are no magic words,” Kalick writes. “The magic is that friends and family are generally there for us.”

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