I bet you are wondering how in the world I could be writing a post introducing an organization that is coming up on its 5-year anniversary. Well, let me tell you…
Like everything in life, LGAR is a work in progress and with every passing year I realize that I am asking more and more from you – our volunteers, our supporters, our fosters, our community – but have shared little of the “why” behind the organization. I mean really, why do we exist? Sure at the most base level, it is to save animals but, that’s not really the reason why I started this nonprofit. To be sure part of it was a response to not finding what I was looking for in the other rescues I worked with. Yes, they saved animals but there was always something missing; something I could not quite put my finger on. Of course the incessant drama and ego-driven rantings didn’t help but even that isn’t what drove me to start my own. No, for me the missing pieces were in fact, human. It was how people were treated by “rescue”, with such little compassion, harsh judgment and little personal interaction other than an online application and a check-list. Rescues held themselves out as saviors of all life without a voice but I really think we forgot that the other half to the equation in animal rescue is human beings. Funny thing is, at the time I didn’t really understand that was what was missing but when I get an idea, I go full throttle so nearly 5-years later, here we are.
Since 2015, LGAR has made some great strides and horrendous mistakes…and there will be more of both, I promise you. My team and I have been emotionally beaten up, hated, slandered and defamed, accused, bullied, and, get this, I even had to get an order of protection on an ex-volunteer! Now, who says rescue isn’t fun? Aside from that, however, I have made some true friends, like pee in your pants laughing so hard friends. I have met people from all walks of life that I would never have had the opportunity to interact with, giving me perspectives that I didn’t even know I was missing. I have cried, no fell completely apart with strangers, held hands with the less fortunate, felt euphoria for a job well done and pride (I know it is a sin but this is the good kind) in the people that have chosen to stand with me….me. Of all the organizations and all the people they chose me. What greater honor is there really?
So, it is why I want to share with you the “why” behind the logo, the reason for the effort…the purpose of our Pack, today. For some this will be a long diatribe from which you are likely no longer reading. But for others, you may actually relate to my words in your own way. I am actually hoping you do. Perhaps in my words, you too will reflect on the reasons “why” in your life. Come to understand them. Give yourself permission to finally accept them and perhaps, the courage to accept that which you cannot change but can use it to your advantage.
The following is a piece I wrote 2.5 years ago when I was asked to share for a possible T.V. interview (didn’t pan out, damn!) why I started LGAR and what makes us different. I think it is about time I shared it with you.
I believe in second chances. I didn’t always but, in my younger years, I survived a life-changing event that caused me to question all that I ever held out as true. It is only now, in my 40’s that I realize the impact of that on the person I have become today.
I grew up in a middle-class family, struggled at times but never felt like I was missing out. I was a bit gregarious, most definitely confident, perhaps a little too outspoken and smart. Moreover, I was an athlete and I was good, a natural as they say. I had a competitive streak and my success on the field made me feel as if I could tackle the world. So the night I completely lost my sense of control, where my confidence turned into self-doubt, guilt, and loathing was a loss of innocence that changed the trajectory of my path forever; and in looking back, I wouldn’t change it because it made me the woman I am today, however painful the road to redemption has been.
When I was 14 I was taken advantage of by someone I thought I knew, as well as any child could I suppose. He was my first kiss and my last memory of what it meant to see the world through rose-colored glasses. In an instant, I became a different person. Jaded and untrusting of myself, of others, fearful of the unknown. But worst of all I felt like I was damaged goods. I had a secret that would make me repulsive to others if they knew; that made me repulsive to myself. Vulnerability became the enemy and if I felt threatened in any way, I went on the attack; reactive to those that I felt the slightest bit of uncertainty about. I was out of control. The one aspect of my life that I was able to manipulate fully was my food intake and it was a severe eating disorder that both became my undoing and my saving grace…12 years in the making.
Although not insignificant, I won’t labor over the details because they are not relevant to this missive, rather it was my recovery, essentially my journey to survive, that led me to form Looking Glass Animal Rescue. Only I had no idea that all those years of struggle would give me the strength and passion to do so.
I had every animal imaginable as a child, the most consistent of which was a dog. My mom loved them, my dad tolerated them; I connected with them. My dogs were my friend, my confidants, and my support. I “talked” to them because they didn’t judge and that felt safe. I had friends but I didn’t truly trust anyone – there was too much risk for judgment and I was way too fragile. If things got tough, I dealt with it internally and no doubt negatively impacted those around me given my aloofness which was often perceived as bitchiness. I was difficult to be sure but it wasn’t intentional. I was just trying to survive.
I have always had compassion for animals – they were cute, fluffy, and full of happy energy but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized just how much I had in common with those without a voice. It started rather innocuously when I came home with a black lab named Bear. He was maybe 3 or 4 years old and I had heard about him from a friend that said she just saw the owner put him in the back of his pick-up truck to bring him to be euthanized because “they no longer had time for him”. I was about 17 years old and remember thinking how wrong that was. Around that same time the song, Conviction of the Heart, was released by Kenny Loggins and I remember that being my inspiration to do something to right this injustice. There was nothing wrong with Bear; he just needed someone willing to give him a chance. That person was me. I had to save him. So I hopped in my car, drove 45 minutes and took him home…without my parents knowing. Let’s just say my parents were less than enthused but ultimately it was my father that helped me properly place him. I will never forget that.
Years later, after many dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, squirrels and hawks (yes, hawks) saved, I finally realized my connection to these lost souls. I was looking at myself. Not literally but rather metaphorically, in my younger years, before counseling, medication and importantly, the forgiveness of both “him” and myself. I had found a way to survive by turning my struggle into determination. Ultimately, through hard work and sacrifice, I had all the things I had ever thought I wanted: A great job, an amazing husband, two beautiful children, financial stability and finally, my health. Yet, I wasn’t fulfilled. I needed to give back and to make a difference somehow. I survived, came full circle and it has become my mission to help these helpless souls find the determination to do the same. Playing in the background all these years has been that song, now my rescue’s theme song, serving as my reminder that courage of my convictions is the only thing standing in the way of my making a difference in the healing of animals AND people.
It’s true, I could have focused on the homeless, medical research, children, or any other cause imaginable but it appears my calling is for those whose voices are muted both because they don’t speak our language and (mostly) because people aren’t really listening. Society is fickle and animals, in particular, are often seen as a commodity to be discarded when they are no longer convenient. This is especially true if they are deemed broken, imperfect or otherwise “less than”. They are all too frequently discarded and overlooked. If they need medical help or behavioral therapy they are passed by. They sink further into the shadows until finally, their future rests on the sharp side of a needle. No one ever asks “why” they are the way they are or “how” they can help because let’s face it, behind the “happy mask” that most folks wear, to acknowledge that which is less than tidy is a risk too great. I empathize with that and am only able to do so because I was there, in my own way, for many years. It is why I can’t turn a blind eye.
I have finally accepted that I will never be perfect but it doesn’t stop me from trying. I have, however, accepted that there are things that I can control and those are my attitude and my actions. That starts with self-awareness and transparency; that progress does not equal success, nor does it have to and a belief that I can make a difference. I learn every day from our community, my family and even myself, as I try to reflect on my actions often to keep myself in check. That translates directly into LGAR. We share our successes and failures, we operate with integrity, we make decisions in the spirit of our mission and with the best intentions. And we ask for advice a lot because there is always another side to the coin. Mistakes are accepted without judgment, expected really, and we do not look to shame others for their mistakes because we are all human and maybe even “damaged” in our own way.
The name Looking Glass Animal Rescue is very purposeful. It represents a lot of how I felt for so long – Things are not always as they appear to be – and ties directly into our mission: Saving the sick, injured, neglected and abandoned. In short, we are about giving second chances to those that have been failed, those that have suffered and those that have so much to give if just provided with the opportunity.
So, there it is. It was a song that gave me the inspiration and the courage to step outside myself and do for others which, unknowingly, helped me heal from my own broken past. I carry this with me and wanted to share this with you as life is often too busy to really appreciate the impact that one simple exchange, like that of listening to the words of a song, can have on a person. Rescue is hard, we are always in debt financially, stressed and exhausted but we are always flush with good-will striving to make a positive difference in the world by rising from the ashes as opposed to sinking futher into them. I am inspired by our community and hope that my story gives you all a small smile when you read it as hopefully, you too are reminded that it is the simple things that can have the greatest impact on change.
“No one can make you inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Location: Ridgefield, CT
Job: Real Estate Salesperson
Fondest memory: Last trip to Disney World with all my children.
Proudest moment: Watching my girls graduate high school/college.
Biggest Challenge: I am just not technologically savvy. I love talking to people “in person.”
Why Looking Glass Animal Rescue: I’ve always been a dog person but rescue began for me when Ridgefield, CT built an animal shelter in 2005. As one of the earliest volunteers, I spent several years working at that local no kill shelter. It is where I found my passion and purpose. Unfortunately, I had to go back to work to help to pay for the impending college tuitions and my passion and dreams were put on hold. Advocating for animals, especially those in the NYC, is where I found myself everyday on the computer for the past couple of years. Tremendous feelings of loss, along with tears of sadness, were shed daily as the lists of the “Gone” grew larger. They were the innocent and voiceless who’s only crime was that they were homeless. Amidst the frustration born from sadness, I felt like I needed more, I could do more or that I HAD to do more. Jody and I were brought together when my advocating turned into a tribute to the death of a beautiful shelter dog named Hayes, whose life was cut short and he succumbed tragically to pneumonia. Fate intervened when the vast outreach of the internet travels only 1 mile down the road to bring advocate and rescuer together to implement change. The idea of a local, foster based rescue was conceived in a quick meeting that was only to be an hour. By the end of the 4th hour, we had a plan that would help our local Animal Control, who had limited exposure and resources. From there it grew to saving dogs languishing in smaller shelters across CT and the tri-state area. Destiny (along with my beautiful NYCACC death row survivor Kyra) brought us together to save lives. Saving lives is what we are going to do–4 paws at a time!
I wanted to share the answer to a question that I often get from those who peek into the world of rescue and wonder “why do you do it?” I often struggled to find the words to answer that very legitimate question and I was fortunate enough to come across an “answer” that someone had already penned. As I read it I said (to myself), “wow, it is as if she wrote that for me.” And so now, I share it with you in hopes that you too understand “why I do it”. And for those of you who struggle to articulate that which you know to be true in your heart, it is my hope that you too can share this “answer”, or a variation of it, with those who ask a similar question of you. And maybe, just maybe, our passion will ignite a fire in another who can help us in our quest to “save them ALL.”
Someone asked me recently, why do I do it? Why do I put myself through the stress, the heartache of rescuing dogs when so many die anyway? Some people even have gone as far as to say rescuers just concentrate on death. They ask “why don’t you just focus on the nicer subjects of dogs – doggie fashion shows… adopt-a-thons… competing in obedience, things like that?” I thought about it for a while, and this is what came to me.
I would love nothing more than to promote the fun things with dogs. Believe me, I would REALLY, REALLY LOVE to do that. And there was a time when I did. Hell, there was a time I wanted to start my own show kennel. (UGH!) But that time coincides with the time when I thought that WAS all there was to dogs. I was ignorant.
I rescue. I spend all my money, my valuable time with my own dogs, everything on rescue. Rescue is hard. Rescue is sad more times than happy. Rescue is tiring. Rescue is not pretty. Rescue is expensive. Rescue is physically, mentally, emotionally, financially draining. Rescue will shorten my life. But sometimes, it’s not how long you live, but what you do with the time you have that matters.
On rescuer’s worst day, it is STILL better than it is for them. Imagine what it’s like to be them. Imagine, REALLY imagine what it’s like. To be at the whim of whoever claims you as their own.To have to accept when they do not feed you. To accept that you did something wrong when they beat you, even when you have no idea what it was you did. To accept the neglect, and still greet them when they are near. To accept being put in a concrete cell with other dogs like you, screaming to be out. To not know where you were going when someone came and took you out of that cell — will it be the yard outside in the sunshine? or will it be the small room in the back that no dog returns from? Imagine kissing the hand of a stranger, in hopes that they will take you away from all this… imagine that….. REALLY imagine that.
So why do I cry over and over and yet still come back…” when the last hundred dogs I posted, shared, transported, donated to were still put to sleep? Because of the one dog that WILL make it out. That WILL get a new start. That WILL be brought “back to life”. That will know again, or perhaps for the first time, sweet love. There is no more comforting feeling in the world than to see a dog FINALLY safe.
So I say to you, I do not “focus” on death, my friend. I focus on LIFE! The life of that one in a hundred dogs that, if I didn’t do what I do, would be dead. I will worry about my health, my financial future later. Right now, it is about them. And my only regret for being in rescue is that I did not act on the NEED earlier in my life. And my only hope is when I am gone, there will be someone to take my place. My promise to that person is this – I will be with you in spirit from wherever one goes when the breath leaves the body. Because I will ALWAYS be a rescuer, even when I am just a memory. – Excerpted by Ellen McNeely-Paquin • 19 April, 2011