October 31, 2011

Kindred Spirits

How many of us as kids brought home a stray animal? Finding one was almost magical, and the joy of carrying that precious cargo home was mixed with a solid determination to talk The Parents into keeping it.

I grew up in late 1970's in the suburbs of Chicago, possibly before they were actually called suburbs. County roads quickly turned from dirt to pavement, and houses popped up almost overnight in the middle of soybean fields. That meant one thing to us kids- lots of extra lumbar and building supplies at hand to use for forts.

One afternoon while running the neighborhood, I found a dog. OK, not even a dog-dog, but the most beautiful German Shepherd on the planet. It was very hard to find a name that would do her justice, but I settled on Princess. Kind of dreading the The Parent Plea (those usually did not go my way), my friends and I fixed her an awesome fort of her own. We dug out a big hole, and cut down tall grasses to line it with. Not just any tall grass, mind you, but the kind that has gone to seed - we figured those fluffy ends would add cushion and a bit of style.

To the cushy and stylish hole, we found lumber and constructed a shield that protected her from the wind, and our Princess abode was complete. We faithfully kept her water fresh and fed her 2 times a day. In return she ran, played and swam with us. When we were tired, she dropped down in the empty fields and watched the clouds with us. When we had to go home, she actually stayed in her makeshift dog house and waited for us. She was our best friend.

Days turned to weeks, and still no Parent Pleas had happened. You see, I had a secret weapon- my Uncle Norm was coming for a visit. To those who do not know, Norm Mason, founder of Angels of Assisi, is my uncle. In him I had a steadfast and reliable animal advocate. On his visits, he was the one who built me bunny hutches, loved my guinea pigs, and gave us our family pet, a beagle named Missy.

On Uncle Norm's big arrival day, we proudly brought Princess home. My mother was all "we are not having any more dogs in this house!" while Uncle Norm said "Now, now Bev, let's get a good look at her" and then thoroughly agreed that Princess was the best thing ever.

To keep the peace, we took her back to the fort, and gave Norm a few days to work his magic. I remember leaning over the vent in my bedroom so I could hear him talking to my mother, his sister. "Come on Bev, it's just a dog, and a nice one at that."

During the visit, I did my chores like crazy, and even practiced the piano without being told. All this to soften up the Parents into getting Princess. I actually hated playing the piano, and had been taking lessons for years. I remember Norm watching me thoughtfully, then going to ask my mother why in the world she was wasting her good money making me play, because I really was not that good. She responded that maybe he was right, and I could stop lessons anytime. I hopped away from the dreaded piano in delight thinking "My god! He really is a miracle worker! Free at last!!"

We worked on easing Princess into the house, but like all good things, Uncle Norm's visit had to end. And so did the Princess era. My dad ended up finding her a home through work, and that was the end of that.

To this day, Norm continues to be a steadfast and reliable animal advocate. Can we do a bunny rescue with around 65 rabbits with mange? Yes. Can we take in 103 dogs and cats from a double wide trailer tomorrow? Yes. Can we take a baby cow still drinking from a bottle? Yes. Can we take a blind old sheep? Yes.

In fact, it was not that long ago that Norm was at Harmony Farm Sanctuary building yet another new bunny hutch. He still likes guinea pigs (ask my daughter), and he is responsible for many a family getting new pets - over 5000 actually.

And the best thing about Norm? He'll hate it that I gave him one ounce of credit for any of this. But for me and the animals in our community, he's working that magic through hard work and creative ideas that have saved the lives of many.

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. 
~Washington Irving



  1. Maybe it's just me, but each time I see a "stray" animal I think how heartbroken its owners must be at its loss. Now, I know that there are people who think that an appropriate way to deal with an unwanted animal is to drive it to a field and drop it off somewhere, but I choose to believe that most people are inherently good and love their pets, and I could not imagine finding an animal with the "intention" of keeping it. I hope that all parents teach their children the same compassion, in that when a child comes home with a found animal and the "can we keep it?" chorus, the first response is to look long and hard to be sure that someone else somewhere is not crying their eyes out missing their beloved pet.

  2. Thank you, Kristen. Yes, I agree with what you are saying. This particular story happened in 1978, and I'm not sure that any of us knew about reporting stray animals in those days. We certainly do now, and together we can continue to educate the public and our kids on the proper procedures. Thanks for your comment1

  3. Gina SimpsonNovember 01, 2011

    Great story AND great picture of him. I do not know him but just the picture captures his kind spirit. Thank you for sharing.