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Campbell: A Story Of Kindness

15 Dec

Tazz and Campbell

Once upon a time, I had a child and called him George. I had all kinds of hopes and dreams for that child. We were going to  take him on the kinds of outings kids love, and for his birthdays, we’d invite his friends to come too. We would delight in watching him grow from babyhood to childhood as he ran and jumped and played with his peers; we would laugh at the funny things he said as he was learning to talk; he would make cookies with me and we’d go for picnics at the zoo. When he became a big brother he would take pride in helping with the baby.

One day, when George was almost four, the hopes and dreams crumbled as a doctor gave me the news that George had autism. As I sat there in shock (strange really, since I’d known for a year that something was wrong) I did not yet know that at some point in the future, I would come to accept a new kind of “normal”, that my hopes and dreams would take on a different, but still meaningful form, and that while the journey would take us on the scenic route, we would still see many wonderful things along the way.

It hasn’t all been a cakewalk. There have been hard times. I have had to learn how to restrain my son with my bodyweight to stop him from hurting himself. Speech is still sporadic enough that we celebrate every single word, every single sentence. It saddens us that George does not have friends, preferring to play by himself.

One of the hardest things to deal with has been the reactions of other people. We get rude stares in grocery stores, and complete strangers tell us that what our child needs is “a good hiding”. When people see George having difficulty in a public place, they jump to the immediate conclusion that he is misbehaving. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes he is. He may have autism, but let’s face it – an eight-year-old boy is an eight-year-old boy. Most times, though, George is having trouble with the brightness of the florescent lighting, or the overabundance of sounds, or all of the conversations going on around him that he does not know how to filter.

I sometimes wish for a magical potion, a Perfume of Arabia that I could sprinkle onto people to open their eyes and help them understand.

In the absence of a Perfume of Arabia, the best I can do is write about my experiences and hope that it will make a difference to someone’s life. Like it did to a reader, Tazz, who along with her dog Campbell, had an incredible encounter with a special needs child. With Tazz’s permission, I am sharing the story here. I’m not even going to bother rewording it. Tazz’s words can speak very well for themselves.

“One thing I learned is to never ever judge what I see a child doing, because for all I know there may be a problem I do not know about. Turns out this info came in very handy for me not long ago. There is a family who are members of the church I am currently attending part time. Their son has some kind of a problem that they have not quite diagnosed yet. However, it causes him to sometimes have horrible meltdowns. I was walking down the hall one day during Sunday School time going back to class from the bathroom when from a room down the hall a ways I heard the most heartbreaking crying I ever heard, and knew it was this little boy having another hard time. His mother was doing all she could to calm the child. I followed my heart and took a chance. I softly knocked on the door, and asked if I could help. She had come to the door with the melting down child in her arms, and when he saw Campbell his screaming stopped. I mean like turning off a switch. I asked if I could bring Campbell in and visit for a minute. She agreed and we all sat on the floor with the little boy calming down and petting Campbell. They are now looking in to the possibility of getting a therapy dog for this child. Campbell has come to rescue this child a couple more times since that day. Because now if we are there, and this child starts to have a problem they come and get me from where ever I am and I happily go and help. Well, Campbell helps.

Is this not the most amazing story? Tazz had an instinct and she followed it. She and her dog were exactly what that little boy and his Mom needed. We special needs parents all need people like this – people who don’t necessarily know the circumstances, but who open their hearts to people who really need it.

To Tazz and all of the people like her, thank you. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being you. You restore my faith in the goodness of human nature.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Head Ant, who gave me this prompt: What would your proverbial “perfumes of Arabia” take care of? Fiction or non-fiction.
I challenged lisa with the prompt: Write about anything you like, but include the following: cotton candy, a dog, and a broken-down taxi.

Photo credit to Tazz. This picture was taken at an event to remember the victims of domestic violence.

The Story Of A Dog In A Cat’s Body

23 Nov

Today I want to tell you a story about a dog, or rather, a cat who thought she was a dog.

Her name was Tushka and she was a black tabby. She came into our family when I was so young that I cannot remember her arrival. At that time, we also had two big “pavement special” dogs named Judge and Kentucky, a fat Fox Terrier whose name was Bianca but who everyone referred to as “The Bionic Watermelon”, a neurotically insane Fox Terrier named Twiggy, Megan the Siamese cat, and a hamster named Antoine.

Tushka was intended to be a companion for Megan, but while she didn’t exactly shun Megan, she definitely identified more with the dogs. At animal feeding time in the kitchen, my mom would always put the cats in one corner and the dogs way over on the other side. Tushka would neatly use her front legs to push her bowl across the kitchen floor until it was among the dogs. She would eat her meal there, surrounded by slobbering canines, while poor Megan ate by herself.

At the time, we were living in the Cape Town suburb of Tokai. Our house was across the road from the Tokai Forest, which was a popular dog-walking spot. On Saturdays, we would put the dogs onto leashes and venture out into the forest, where we would let them loose to romp around. We were always accompanied on our walks by Tushka. She would romp right along with the dogs, who seemed to accept her as one of them.

She even had a dog-like temperament. Oh sure, she did the odd cat thing, like purring and climbing trees. But she lacked the aloofness often displayed by cats, she always came when you called her name, she rushed around like an overexcited puppy, played with the dogs, and I swear she wagged her tail when she was happy. She was loving and loyal.

Megan was also loving and loyal, I’m not saying she wasn’t, but she was loving and loyal in a cat kind of way. Tushka was loving and loyal in the same way the dogs were. She would jump onto my bed in the mornings and lick my face with doglike enthusiasm.

By the time Tushka was about ten years old, we were living on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Several of the animals had moved onto higher plains, including Antoine the hamster and my beloved cat Megan, but Tushka still remained. One summer, we went on a family vacation to the coastal town of Ramsgate. We took our little dogs with us: Twiggy and The Bionic Watermelon were long gone, but we had another Fox Terrier and a wiener dog. Tushka stayed home with a new generation of cats and the two big dogs we had at the time. My cousin, who had a special bond with all of the animals, house-sat during our absence.

This was all in the day before cell-phones and the Internet, so when you went on vacation, you were pretty much out of circulation. You called home once a week to make sure everything was OK, but beyond that, there was no contact. Looking back, I wonder how that vacation would have turned out if we had had email or Facebook.

As it was, we arrived home after the vacation to find my cousin in tears (and this is not a gal who cries easily).

“Tushka’s missing,” she sobbed.

Our dog-cat had wandered into the yard after being fed three days previously, just as she always did. That was the last anyone saw of her. Ads were placed in newspapers, signs were taped to telephone poles, vets were notified, rewards were offered. With the help of the neighbours, we searched every inch of every yard on our street. We spent weeks scouring the banks of the river opposite our house.

No trace of Tushka was ever found. To this day, we don’t know what happened to her.

She is no doubt romping around somewhere in Dog Heaven. Because that’s where she belongs.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Head Ant, who gave me this prompt:Write a standalone, original piece on a lost dog.
I challenged Supermaren with the prompt:Write a story that includes an old copy of “Macbeth”, a strand of long blonde hair, and a footprint from a man’s boot.

Do Cats Go To Dog Heaven?

24 Mar

My first-ever dog, who had the somewhat regal name of Judge, was what we refer to in South Africa as a “pavement special”. He was a mixed-breed, and I have no idea what his lineage was. His mother, Kentucky, was a mixed bag herself, and we don’t even know who the father was. This doesn’t speak volumes for Kentucky’s moral values, but I guess this is less of a problem when you’re a dog.

Judge was about the height of a lab retriever but had the relative proportions of a bulldog. His facial features resembled those of Clifford The Big Red Dog, except that Judge was a couple of shades lighter than chocolate brown. He had enormous feet that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a St. Bernard. It was as if God, when He was done creating dogs, assembled all of the leftover dog bits and used them to make Judge.

I was young when we got Judge. So young that I have no memory of him coming into our family. To me, he was always there. According to my parents, however, he and I instantly took a shine to each other and we became inseparable. He was a big dog, especially from my toddler perspective, but he was unfailingly gentle. Although my parents were always vigilant, they never had to worry about whether I was safe with Judge.

My relationship with Judge had to be temporarily put on hold when I six. My Dad’s employers sent him on a three-year secondment to the United States, and we all went with him. We were able to bring our two fox terriers with us, along with our two cats, but Judge and Kentucky had to stay home as long-term residents of a local kennel. It seemed patently unfair to me that I had to leave my dog behind while my brother got to bring his dog, a fox terrier named Bianca, who was affectionately referred to as the Bionic Watermelon. I took some solace from the fact that my Siamese cat, Megan, accompanied us.

Three years later, we returned to South Africa. Me and my brother, our parents, the two dogs, one of the original cats, a new cat named Sarah who had been acquired to help me get over the loss of Megan during our stay, and a stray ginger cat named Ginger Peasley who had adopted us (Ginger Peasley was mean to everybody except my Dad, upon whom he lavished unending affection).

On our return to South Africa, we went to the kennels to claim Judge and Kentucky. I don’t remember much about the reunion, but I do recall that in very short order, Judge and I were best of friends again. My fears that he had forgotten me during our three-year separation were totally unfounded, and Judge and I frolicked happily together for several more years.

One day, shortly after the next-door neighbour’s dog had been run over and killed by the milkman (deliberately, we’re sure of it), Judge got sick. He was fine when he woke up in the morning, but by mid-afternoon he was lying helplessly on his side, breathing shallowly and too weak to even lift his head. By dinnertime, my beloved dog was dead.

We don’t know for sure what happened. We suspect the milkman, who by all appearances, had a toxic hatred for dogs. There was no way to prove anything, of course, but we did stop having our milk delivered after that.

Over the years, we have said goodbye to many dogs and cats. A few have died of old age; most have been euthanazed due to illness. My cat Sarah, who we brought back with us from America, lived to a ripe old age before her hips gave in. Mean old Ginger Peasley had heart trouble, although he did attain a good age. Bianca the Bionic Watermelon developed kidney problems.Kentucky, Judge’s mother, outlived all of the animals of her generation. She lived to a very respectable age and then simply didn’t wake up one morning.

Every time one of these four-legged friends has died, many tears have been shed. Today, one more was added to their number as my Mom made the heartbreaking decision to have her old dog Bella put to sleep. Bella lived a good life, but her body was failing bit by bit and it was clear that her time was up. It is a sad day for my Mom, whose dogs and cats are her companions.

I’d be willing to bet, though, that Bella and Judge and all the rest of them are having a hoot in Dog Heaven. It must be complete chaos there.

My only question is this: Do cats go to Dog Heaven?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beeldenzeggenmeer/297619009)