Famed Photograher Hannah Stonehouse Hudson Vists Home for Life Animal Sanctuary and The Story of Simon

The Native American Spiritual Adviser told her that she would know when her husband Jim was close because she would see eagles near. Eagles were Jim's symbol. So we knew it would be a special day when Hannah said the eagles seemed to be accompanying her on her drive to Home for Life, especially as she approached the sanctuary, circling above as she drove up our driveway, as if to herald her arrival. Eagles have  special meaning for her, and it almost seemed as if the eagles had led her to Home for Life that chilly but sunny and clear day this mid November.

For Native Americans  as well as people of many other cultures eagles have long signified courage  and a connection to the divine because they can fly higher than any bird. They are of the earth but their powerful ability to soar so high seems spiritual as well. Little did Hannah know that she would meet a special dog at Home for Life that day, who seems to embody the spirit of the eagle, a gentle Doberman with a mighty heart named Simon.

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is an internationally acclaimed documentary photographer whose photo “John & Schoep” went viral in 2012.

In the midst of this stupendous success, Hannah suffered an unimaginable loss: the untimely death of her young husband Jim, a fishing guide, due to hypothermia. During this thrilling time counterpointed by heartbreaking tragedy, Hannah has stayed engaged and positive, practicing her art around the world and giving generously to the animal rescue community by photographing the dogs and cats in their care. She is based in Bayfield, Wisconsin but travels all over for her work. Her specialty is ”photographing objects that move fast and bark!” Hannah adores dogs! She is so busy, famous and so in demand but made time to photograph Home for Life's animals for our sponsorship program. She visited the sanctuary and spent several hours with us late morning into the afternoon on her way to catch a flight to California to photograph dogs at a rescue in Santa Monica.

Even before she came to Home for Life, Hannah said she wanted to sponsor one of our dogs and was eager to meet them all. She appreciates and loves all dogs but one of those at Home for Life really touched her heart.

Simon is a red Doberman and now about 9 years old. Since he first came to us, Simon has seemed to inspire everyone around him with his gentle and radiant spirit and eagerness to forge special relationships with all he meets.

We were asked to help Simon by a veterinarian after the former owners brought him in to be euthanized. There was no way the vet could euthanize the 9 month old puppy (then called Phoenix ironically).The vet convinced Simon's owners to sign a  a release  surrendering the puppy to his custody. Simon reportedly had physical disabilities that resulted in frequent accidents and could not be trusted in the house. The owners would leave him crated when they were at work but were fed up when they returned home to find messes in the kennel. The vet didn’t think he could be placed in a new home and asked Home for Life to take him in.

Simon has always lived in our doggy townhouses. With access to a spacious outdoor run attached to his townhouse, Simon was able to get outside for bathroom whenever nature called rather than having to wait hours in a crate for the chance to be taken for a walk, or if not in the crate, to hope someone noticed when he needed to be let out.

With Simon's young age we wanted to get him involved in dog training to help him learn his obedience skills and  provide him  with a challenge for his obvious intelligence. We hoped that with his gentle nature he would become a therapy dog. We enrolled him in our Renaissance Program, and Simon developed a special bond with Ron, his student trainer at Totem Town. Like Simon, Ron was long legged and active. And like Simon, underneath a tough exterior Ron was gentle hearted and caring.

Ron put his heart into training Simon, who was still an ungainly pup, barely one year old, and successfully taught him the basics of obedience like walking on a leash without pulling, sitting when asked, staying for petting and lying down. Ron was so motivated by the fact that he was helping Simon and the many people Simon would go on to help through his work as a therapy dog. It was very inspiring to see Ron walk proudly with Simon on leash in the final classes where it was obvious they had achieved so much.

Ron was not able to finish the Totem Town class unfortunately, but shortly thereafter, Simon met Cesar Milan when he was in town and promotional photos were taken for our 2007 gala, a landmark event for Home for Life. Because of Ron's hard work to train Simon, Simon was chosen to represent Home for Life and our gala, posing for the pictures with Cesar, and the photos by Mark Luinenburg turned out great.
Simon with Cesar Milan 



Because of Ron's diligent work with Simon, he was able to become certified as a therapy dog. Simon became a well-loved and well recognized therapy dog with the VA Poly Trauma Unit in Minneapolis at the VA Medical Center. This Poly Trauma Unit is one of only four such facilities in the entire country. They are provided for veterans returning from the wars with multiple traumatic injuries: head injuries, amputations and other conditions that will require long term rehabilitation and care. As a Doberman, Simon was a “manly” breed who appealed to the soldiers, especially the young men recovering from injuries. The physical therapists incorporated the Home for Life's dog visits into the exercises for the patients,for example, throwing balls for the dogs to retrieve to work arm muscles. Simon's calm and loving presence even motivated one young soldier's recovery from devastating war wounds, and the relationship was documented in a St. Paul Pioneer Press article about Home for Life's work with patients in the VA Poly Trauma Unit. See the article here.

Simon with Shane, our black and tan Doberman, who is Simon's protégé and now visits the soldiers at the VA Polytrauma Unit. For many years the two boys did the visits together.

When Simon was approximately 7 years old, he developed a spinal problem that is common in Dobermans: Wobbler's Disease.  There is no cure and the impact on the quality of life of affected dogs is profound. They become very disabled, and the disease is progressive, rendering these large breed dogs unable to walk. As his disease progressed, Simon became nearly quadriplegic. Yet he had such a palpable will to live, and to give. He was not ready to give up and we couldn't give up on Simon either.

We tried various approaches to try to help Simon: chiropractic which was unsuccessful in helping him, and surgery. Surgery represented a huge risk since a procedure might have left him unable to breathe independently, requiring him to be on a respirator. At the University, Simon underwent an MRI; after evaluating the MRI results, while Simon was still under anesthesia, the veterinary surgeons and neurologists determined that they could not offer a solution for him via surgical intervention. In a way it was a relief because the risk was so great had the procedure failed.

At this point some staff thought it might be better to put Simon down. He was so hard to care for they complained. I vetoed this option, clearly recognizing that Simon wasn't ready to die. Then, they thought it would be easier to care for Simon and that he might do better in the main dog building rather than his longtime townhouse and lobbied to move him there.  We gave it a try. But, it was apparent that this move was more for their convenience than Simon's. Dogs may not be able to talk but Simon made it abundantly clear he wanted nothing to do with a new location. He wanted to stay with his long time roommates and friends. He sat at the window of the front door of our main dog building, wistfully looking out, searching for his friends and crying. In the end it was decided that if we could give Simon some comfort by letting him be with his friends in his townhouse, that needed to be the place he should be, even if it made a bit more extra work for the staff. Thankfully, our current staff accommodates Simon and puts his welfare first before their convenience. Simon was reunited with his longtime friends and roommates Stella the sheepdog cross, Buster Brown the blind lab, and Ruby the walker coonhound.
Simon with Ruby,summer 2013

Simon with Stella and Buster Brown, taken last summer after Simon began walking on his own following his surgery

Searching for a solution for him we learned about a new surgery for Wobbler's Disease that had had a high rate of success. In early February 2013, we arranged for the pioneering surgeon Dr. Fillipo Adamo, to fly to Chicago from his practice in San Francisco to help Simon. Simon was driven there by some of our wonderful volunteers and underwent the new, but promising procedure for Wobbler’s where a special device was implantedWe sent photos of Simon to Dr. Adamao before his surgery - the photos of him with Cesar Millan and those that had appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. With great insight Dr. Adamo commented that from the photos, it was clear Cesar wasn't the only celebrity - Simon was a star in his own right!

The surgery was a success but Simon had a long and slow recovery. For the first few months we performed range of motion exercises to keep his muscles supple and preserve his flexibility. He was turned every 2-3 hours to prevent the development of pressure sores. He received medication to help with pain and promote muscle relaxation.  Four months into the rehabilitation, when we had nearly concluded that the surgery must have failed, Simon started to walk on his own! In the mornings, there he was - waiting for the staff at the gate of his run- he had risen to his feet on his own and walked out the dog door and to the front of his run. It was incredible and miraculous to see him finally be able to stand up  and walk on his own, and we were so grateful!


Simon still has a good deal of stiffness on his right side and doesn't walk “normally” but loves doing everything his roommates and our “normal” dogs do including making his way to the meadow for exercise with his roommates and best friends. After his surgery, Simon received several months of acupuncture therapy which gave his muscles some relief. When Hannah visited in November to take the sponsor photos Simon was there to greet her, and walked from his townhouse to the lower meadow with the other dogs from his group. He wasn't going to miss the chance to meet a new friend!
HFL staff Kaitlin takes Hannah's photo with Simon using Hannah's own camera!

This hard winter has been a challenge to Simon's recovery. He seemed to lose ground with his rehabilitation, losing his mobility as the weather grew colder. This winter has been the coldest and snowiest we have had in 15 years at Home for Life. By the end of 2013,Simon  was not walking at all. Our dedicated staff continued to take care of him faithfully, making sure his bedding was thick and comfortable, holding a water bowl for him so he could drink, helping him to his feet and getting him outside on warmer, sunny days. Even though our employees never complained about caring for Simon, as heavy as he was to handle, leaving him like this was not a good long term solution for him. If Simon had ever let us know that he'd had enough, as difficult as it would have been, we would have let him go, knowing that we had done everything we could to help him.

How do we know when one of our animals is ready to cross over, to die? How do we know when they have had enough? I am asked this question all the time. Sanctuaries take in and care for the special cases, many of them high risk animals with significant health conditions. It’s understood that part of our mission is that we will go the extra mile for our animals. Our animals need that extra mile, often, to have their best chance at a fulfilling life. The toughest question we have to ask ourselves is when our efforts are directed to saving us - from the heartbreak of losing one of our beloved animals, and from the sense of defeat that occurs with giving up hope, conceding that there was nothing more we could do to help. It's hard to give up when the entire reason for the organization's existence is to rescue, to save animals. And - it's just as difficult to honor our animals' wish to continue to fight for their life if they want to live. We've witnessed miracles often enough over the fifteen years Home for Life has existed to know that we must support our animals as long as they want to live.

Animals aren't afraid of death like most human beings are. While they don't fear death, they love their life and will fight to live if they know it's not their time to leave. As their caretakers, humility is required to be able to listen to our animals and recognize when they are done and have had enough versus when they still feel connected to life and want help to make the most of their time left. They convey their continuing connection to life thru eye contact, engagement in what's going on around them and interest in food and treats! So many of our animals who have terminal diagnoses are still alive and not only just alive - but happy, pain free, active, enjoying their animal friends, and engaged in life around them. Defying their medical prognosis, these animals live on. What if we had euthanized them; put them to death after they had been diagnosed? If there is still a spark, killing them before their time is a betrayal.

Disabled and old dogs and cats take a lot of work and creativity to care for to ensure them a quality life. It takes patience, effort, and imagination to picture the potential of the animal instead of focusing on the limitations. The prevailing idea is that if an animal cannot function or walk like a normal or young dog or cat in their prime, they must have no quality of life. That position is pretty ignorant. Most animals want to live if they can and will make the best of their situation, focusing on what they CAN do not their lack. Simon is just one of our special animals whose life at the sanctuary demonstrates that if a cat or dog can enjoy the sun, tasty food, treats and attention, the company of their dog or cat friends, the animal still has quality of life that should be preserved and cherished. In fact Simon is one of four dogs at Home for Life who were quadriplegic and later recovered fully. Their stories remind us to never give up and to honor an animal's choice to live with adversity when they have faith and want to keep trying.  

Animals like Simon who come into the world with disabilities or who become disabled as they age still find a safe haven at Home for Life® where they will be loved and cared for as long as they may live. As we get to know these special animals, their disabilities become less of a defining and identifying feature, while their courage and their indomitable spirits become what we think of when reflecting on all they mean to us.

Our goal is now to support Simon by helping him to walk again and to make sure he will be able to enjoy this coming spring and summer when it finally arrives. With this objective before us, we found a great canine rehabilitation facility where Simon now goes twice a week. There he swims in a tank, walking in an underwater treadmill. The warm water allows his tense neck muscles to relax and the water buoys him up so he can stand and work his muscles safely. Massage and physical therapy, and a change in his medication are also part of his rehabilitation program. Back at the sanctuary, our staff helps Simon with his “homework” - a number of physical therapy exercises to strengthen his muscles and improve his flexibility. This physical therapy represents a significant investment in Simon of time and money, but already there is improvement. Simon has much more flexibility of his neck muscles and can turn and  flip himself around to reach his water and get the most comfortable spot on his bedding.




Simon's case raises an important question about animal rescue and the philosophy of our sanctuary with regard to the animals we help. Why direct so many resources to helping one single animal? That amount of money it has taken to help Simon and allow him to live a pain free life and to walk again, we hope, could have been used to help several animals. Where resources are limited trying to do the most good for as many as possible is a legitimate approach to rescuing animals.

Home for Life has always believed that helping animals in need and saving lives requires a multifaceted approach. A focus on moving numbers of animals thru adoption and reducing numbers of animals thru sterilization addresses one aspect of the need. An exclusive focus on the numbers, however, will exempt many deserving animals from help. Sanctuaries like Home for Life have a vital role to play if as many animals as possible are to be saved because a true sanctuary is created to focus on the individual animal and his/her unique needs. The current focus in animal welfare is on moving animals through the system to adoption and posting high numbers of animals altered and adopted. Dogs such as Simon who fall outside the parameters of the 'adoptable' animal and who require a rescue to divert disproportionate resources to help them will not be served by the conventional current models offered by animal welfare. Sanctuaries whose focus is on the individual animal provide a depth of care and a lifesaving, life affirming alternative for these special animals.

As long as we've known this special dog, Simon, one continuing theme of his life has been his ability to connect with amazing people who have identified with his  hopeful attitude and  kindness. Had Home for Life not invested the time and effort to help Simon during his years  with us, how much we and everyone he has met would have missed! His love of life, his courage, and his resilience. We didn't direct Hannah's attention to Simon but in retrospect it was no surprise that he was the dog who most touched her heart. Like Simon, Hannah has faced adversity with grace and courage, and has stayed engaged with life in a positive way instead of letting setbacks overcome her. It was very inspiring to meet such a talented and optimistic person who still has an open heart to give back, and to see her connect with a kindred spirit, our Simon.


Here is the Facebook album of highlights from Hannah's Facebook page. And here is her blog about her day at Home for Life.

See all of Hannah's photos from her day at Home for Life here.

Whatever happened to River & Smokey?


Did you know that in the U.S., up to 90% of animals will lose their homes during their lifetimes? Most animals surrendered to shelters are just 2 ½ years old. Shelters and rescues work hard to find new homes for these animals, but only 24% of them get adopted each year. The adoption numbers for older dogs are much more grim, let alone for senior pets who are bonded pairs and hope to stay together. Statistics like these make clear how rare it is for a dog or cat to land in a stable, loving, lifelong home. Although older animals have a hard time finding a new home, age 8 is really middle age for an animal, who will still have half their life or more to live after that benchmark. But many shelters and rescues won’t accept a surrendered animal over age 8 or even age 6;they know that animal will be perceived as “old” by the prospective pet owner looking to adopt and will be difficult if not impossible to place in a new home. For an animal who is a senior and now surrendered to a rescue or shelter, there is the compounded trauma of losing their home and then realizing they are unwanted and likely not to get a second chance.

This spring, you may have read about two special senior dogs, one blind and one deaf, whose owner had lost his home after his wife died. He desperately wanted to find a new home for his boys, one that would keep the two dogs together. Their owner described how he acquired both dogs when they were just puppies:

Smokey's mother was picked up by animal control when she was pregnant, so he was born into the +system. He came into my life when he was three months old. He turned blind about two years ago, but it hasn't stopped him from being a lovable guy. River was found floating down the Mississippi river, as a puppy. Hence, his name. They are both getting older, but are a great couple of dogs, and I so want to give them the opportunity to live out the rest of their days, together.
River and Smokey have been together since they were puppies. Now both age 11, the two big guys had become each other’s eyes and ears and relied on each other to navigate the world. Smokey, a collie/Doberman/Shepard mix, lost his sight about 2 years ago while River lost his hearing about the same time. Together since they were just about 3 months old, the dogs have forged a bond and are inseparable, depending upon one another to face the world: Smokey ears for River and River eyes for Smokey. Their story touched the hearts of dog lovers around the country, as their story went viral, and their owner desperately looked for a safe landing for his dogs before he lost his house.

The owner contacted Home for Life to help the dogs, but we were at capacity so, we asked him to hang on to them until his house was sold, in the hope we would be able to work them in a few months. But he worried that he was not providing the care and attention the dogs needed given his demanding work schedule and continued to look for a rescue to help his dogs.


We assumed that River and Smokey were going to stay with their owner until his house sold. Time marched on, and when we didn't hear back from the owner we lost track of the two dogs.

The next information we heard about them was about four months later, when a supporter contacted us via Home for Life's Facebook to see if we would take them. River and Smokey had landed with a local foster based rescue – Ruff Start Rescue of Princeton MN- and they were looking for a home for the two dogs where they could stay together. We will always be grateful to Ruff Start Rescue for taking Smokey and River in to their foster based program at this critical point. Had they not stepped up to help the dogs when no one else would or could, it is difficult to think what the outcome would have been for River and Smokey as older homeless dogs.

The Two Dogs with their former owner this winter 


The rescue assigned the two brothers to a foster home in Bloomington, and attained publicity via many news and internet outlets including KARE 11 news. 


On the feature story that aired on KARE11, the foster  pledged that Smokey and River would remain together forever whether that meant they stayed in the foster home or found a new adoptive home. Watch the Kare 11 video.

Unfortunately, this pledge could not be fulfilled when the foster home did not work out for Smokey and River. Smokey was alleged to have chewed some woodwork in the foster home, and then the foster accused the two dogs - who had been comrades and friends for over 11 years - of fighting with one another. She gave the rescue less than 24 hours to remove the dogs from her home. The rescue had no other foster homes available and had no choice but to put the dogs into boarding - in separate kennel runs.

Home for Life learned of the two dogs’ latest predicament after a volunteer from the rescue contacted us, recognizing that the dogs were deteriorating in the boarding kennel, losing weight and becoming depressed and despondent. They had no future and no prospect for another foster home let alone for adoption.  River was having trouble walking without pain, and there was talk of putting him down. Smokey was physically better off but was lonely and afraid, without his brother in the unfamiliar setting and unable to see.  We decided that the two older dogs deserved to have a safe and peaceful home -together- for their last years, and this time decided not to pass up the second chance to help them. The two dogs came to Home for Life late this summer.


It's hard to think of how alone an animal must feel when they lose their home: an animal surrendered by their owner or separated from them via circumstances is never more vulnerable, forced to rely on the kindness and mercy of strangers for their survival and any hope for a future. Animals who come into a rescue or shelter from the same household are often separated to make them more "adoptable”, where one of the individuals seems like an easier placement. This tactic to obtain a new home for one of the animals at the expense of the other who may be less appealing disregards the friendships between these family members. Now an animal has not only lost their home but their best friend as well, a blow they may never recover from, whether they find a new home or remain behind, unwanted.

Sanctuaries, as true homes to their wards, honor the bonds and friendships among their animals. Certainly having the opportunity to observe our dogs and cats over time has confirmed that animals form strong alliances and close friendships just as we do, mourn when their treasured friends pass away and rejoice when they are reunited with a long lost comrade. Animals have long emotional memories, and never forget their loved ones be they two-legged or four. Dogs and cats kept as pets seem to be valued only insofar as they have a relationship with a person but their friendships with other animals are just as important a part of their well-being and quality of life. Yet so many animals are socially isolated from others of their own kind and are very lonely even with attentive owners. Animals of the same species have an unspoken understanding, and those who are friends have an even more profound connection. We feel fortunate that, as a care for life sanctuary, we can provide a rich social life for our dogs and cats and the opportunity to foster the touching bonds between pairs of animals that have found their way to us.



Although their foster home claimed that they were aggressive with each other, River and Smokey have been well behaved at Home for Life and seemed relieved and grateful to be reunited. They have their own townhouse at the sanctuary. Both dogs needed and are now on medicine for arthritis, and they are so much more comfortable. Both have gained weight, and their coats are shiny and healthy. They both were recently groomed and look handsome and loved the “spa experience”.




New collars for the dogs: for River: hearts, for Smokey: hugs and kisses, both from Dogla of Gig Harbor, Washington

Now settled in at Home for Life, their  life at the sanctuary is nothing like the years they had with their family  but is just as fulfilling as they enjoy new found canine companionship, the freedom to go outside when they want, plenty of daily activity and superior food, vet care and grooming. The stimulation of the daily activity, exercise, and companionship from humans, dogs’ friends and many new experiences keep the dogs young at heart. Their life is much different than when with their prior family but the essential qualities that create a quality home for any animal are present at the sanctuary: loving care, a place to belong, companionship, safety and security.

River

Smokey
Home for Life believes a place can be created for animals that may be overlooked for adoption but who still can live a quality life and that these animals include the senior pet.  In theory, older animals are “adoptable” or “place able” but these definitions matter little to a dog or cat who can’t find a home and is out of options. An animal is not “adoptable” if no one wants them.    Older animals have the capacity to hope for better days ahead, and inspire us with  their ability to live in the present to make the best of all that is good in their lives. If they can enjoy any aspect of their life, those qualities are what they focus on. . Animal welfare needs to create safe harbors - sanctuaries- for senior pets which offer quality and loving care for those cats and dogs( and other animals too!) who want to live and can live even if the next chapter of their life can't be in an adoptive home.. Our senior animals know that each phase of life is precious and that a home can be defined in many ways.


You can meet Smokey and River in person at our upcoming Fall Gala, the Fancy Feast, November 19, 2013 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Minneapolis. Our other special guest will be Temple Grandin.  More information and reservations are available here: http://www.homeforlife.org/events.htm




Home For Life's Superheroes


                                        For Dora
  There aren't many times when people can have the chance to be a superhero but making a difference for a traumatized,ill, lost or unwanted animal gives us one opportunity. Nothing is more  exhilarating  than animal rescue because it's possible to create such profound transformations in the lives of dogs and cats who have come from desperate circumstances: to play a part in helping a vulnerable animal, wounded in body and spirit,  overcome a terrible start  because of the care and love we provide,and triumph over abuse and neglect by going on to have a happy life, is the greatest reward.

Helping animals makes us feel great but to me, all of Home for Life's animals are  the real superheroes. Nike, our paraplegic Alaskan husky, is just one example. Now age nine, Nike has been at Home for Life since she was about a year old. This spring, she was the “Face of the Race” running the Dog5K with her sponsor, Erin, representing all of Home for Life's special animals at the 4th Annual Dog Day 5k in Waconia, MN, (for which Home for Life was the Best in Show  sponsor),  and inspiring our donors who made pledges to support Nike's participation in the race. See photos of Nike on race day  here. Nike and all our animals at Home for Life are survivors: survivors of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and of the heartbreak of being unwanted.  Despite the injustices they have suffered, they have overcome great odds to move beyond these circumstances and have never let their past limit their present, making the best of the opportunity for a second chance at happiness at Home for Life Sanctuary. We may provide help along the way but our animals's spirits are the real reason for their resilience. 


At Home for Life, we have several animals named for super heroes: Spiderman, Bullwinkle, Robin, Batman, Rocky, Luke Skywalker, Dora the Explorer, and Buzz Lightyear,suggesting   the idea of a blog post with the super hero theme. I thought the blog topic would be easy to write about. Instead it has taken months as I considered the question:  What's in a name? Trying to define what makes a superhero is as difficult as trying to prove that our animals' have a spirit, a  soul that has given them the strength to rise above the tragedies they have faced.        
 .  . 

“To me, animals have all the traits indicative of soul. For soul is not something we can see or measure...No one can prove that animals have souls. Asking for proof would be like demanding proof that I love my wife and children, or wanting me to prove that Handel's Messiah is a glorious masterpiece of music. Some truths simply cannot be demonstrated. But if we open our hearts to other creatures and allow ourselves to sympathize with their joys and struggles, we will find they have the power to touch and transform us. There is an inwardness in other creatures that awakens what is innermost in ourselves.” 
― Gary KowalskiThe Souls of Animals    



 It's possible to describe the many features of a superhero but a superhero will always be more than the sum of the parts.   Louis Armstrong said about jazz " if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know". If you have to ask what a superhero is, if you have to ask if an animal has a spirit, a  soul,  you'll never know.

According to Wikipedia, a true superhero possesses the following qualities:

- Extraordinary powers or abilities

Take Home for Life's Luke Skywalker, a young boxer that was rendered paraplegic at just 6 weeks of age, when his former owners stepped on him, severing his spine in two. Surrendered to the Boxer Rescue in Washington State, adorable Luke was facing euthanasia. The rescue coordinators loved this spirited puppy but didn't know how they could find a home for a dog who was paraplegic and incontinent. The veterinarian who ran the boxer rescue called Luke “Luke Spinal walker” because, although his spine had been totally severed - cut in half - due to the accident which occurred when a puppy - he could still  walk with all four legs even though he had no feeling in his back legs from the waist down.


At Home for Life, Luke has a custom made cart that helps him get around town. He loves to run in it at top speed. Luke is on a schedule, consisting of two hour intervals, like all our paraplegic dogs: in his cart 2 hours and then out of his cart two hours. It's very tiring for our paraplegics to be in their carts even though it enables them to be mobile, because all their weight is on their front end. Luke forgoes stirrups in his cart so he can walk with his hind legs even when supported by his cart. When out of his cart, we have witnessed him standing up and then proceeding to walk on all of his four legs. Amazing! With a severed spine he shouldn't be able to walk at all with his hind legs- in his cart or not. Logic dictates that he should have no feeling and no nerve control to use his hind legs. Yet Luke can walk both in his cart and yes, sometimes without his cart. Defying all logic and the laws of physics, Luke Skywalker walks. But more than this Luke never has lost his will to enjoy his life to the fullest despite his disability.  It is for dogs like Luke that we created Home for Life!

- A strong moral code, including a willingness to risk one's own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward.

Rocky is a Miniature Pinscher mix who has had a drive - from puppy hood - to protect his tribe, his family.  He was never trained for this calling - his sense of duty and responsibility is inborn. His former owners had purchased Rocky and his brother as pups. Rocky as the elder, felt his responsibility and was always protective and assertive. His puppy brother in contrast was mellow and easy-going, leaving the heavy lifting to Rocky. When Rocky's owners had a baby of their own, Rocky’s protective attributes were regarded as a liability rather than an asset, and they vigorously sought another situation for him. The problem was that Rocky was regarded as aggressive and therefore “unadoptable” and placement thru a shelter or rescue was not an option for him.  When his owners approached us, in desperation to save their dog's life, we figured we could handle one small dog who was soon to be homeless and agreed to accept him at the sanctuary.

Rocky now lives in our main building and is the sentinel - self-appointed - on alert to all comings and goings during the busy days at Home for Life.  Rocky's super power is his talent for discernment, and his ability to quickly evaluate and scrutinize strangers. I have no doubt that Rocky would give his life to protect Home for Life if he determined there was a risk. Despite his small size Rocky is fearless, and is not intimidated by larger dogs or people who believe his calling is misguided and that he should be “rehabilitated”. On the contrary Rocky knows his heart and is faithful to his calling. His courage and protective instincts are valued at Home for Life. He is very well behaved, always comes when called, listens well and is very smart- .  At Home for Life this courageous little dog has found a job and his true calling, as the gate keeper and protector of the sanctuary's main building.

- A sense of responsibility (e.g. Spider-Man), a formal calling (e.g., Wonder Woman), a personal vendetta against criminals (e.g. Batman), or a strong belief in justice and humanitarian service (e.g. Superman)

Home for Life's own Spiderman is a handsome sheltie/American Eskimo mix with a distinctive look and even more unique spirit. Spider is athletic and active, with a sparkling white and tan coat, a Sheltie face and a curled tail.  He has the energy of the American Eskimo and the penchant to herd of the Sheltie, a perfect and beautiful mix of the two breeds. In his first home, Spiderman came under the ire of animal control officers for nipping neighbors and passers-by around the neighborhood, in an earnest effort to herd them.  His owners, who were of color, seemed to be bullied by the authorities, backed into a corner and left with no alternative but to euthanize Spider or find somewhere else for him to live.  


When we learned of the circumstances surrounding Spiderman's predicament, it was clear that this was yet another herding breed that was being mislabeled as aggressive for doing what came naturally- enthusiastically herding stray neighbors and kids. With Spider, his American Eskimo heritage turbo-charged the intensity of his efforts. His sense of responsibility, and calling – to herd the children on his block – was just out of place in his suburban neighborhood. Spiderman has flourished at Home for Life, where he has plenty of opportunity to work off his abundant energy and exercise his enthusiasm for keeping track of all activity at the sanctuary. Upon arrival at Home for Life, anyone can observe Spiderman running the length of his exercise area, favorite toy “kong” in his mouth. Checking out the new arrivals, he returns to his dog apartment at top speed to report back to his dog group- older and more sedate, they leave the sentinel duties to Spiderman  

- A secret identity that protects the superhero's friends and family from becoming targets of his or her enemies, such as Clark Kent (Superman), or to protect themselves from getting arrested by the police, like Spider-Man, although many superheroes have a confidant (usually a friend or relative who has been sworn to secrecy).

Robin is one of our feline leukemia cats whose secret identity is that of a feral cat . Self-preservation resulted in the feral and ever wary behavior which afforded the protection Robin and his feline friends needed to survive. His authentic purrsonality has emerged over the years at Home for Life: a shy but sweet and appreciative boy.  Robin is also leukemia positive.  Robin has lived at Home for Life for many years, and has thrived in our protected environment which still affords him plenty of freedom and the opportunity to go outside but also to retreat indoors when he is cold or tired. This simple luxury was an elusive comfort in the hard years that Robin experienced before a very kind benefactor, who was feeding him near the University of Minnesota, asked Home for Life to take him in.  She became his loyal sponsor and visits him at our annual open house.


Most feral cats become shy and wary out of necessity due to the many risks they face trying to exist on the streets- dodging cars, predators, dogs and mean people. Once they know they are safe and won't be hurt, they can become comfortable around humans and even affectionate though they may always prefer the friendship of other cats. 

- A distinctive costume, often used to conceal the secret identity (see Common costume features).


Rocky wears a sharp red leather collar with “ROCKSTAR” spelled out in rhinestones. Rocky is a prima donna. For example, he recently hurt his paw, and has required antibiotics to get better. Even though Rocky's foot is better and no longer hurts he is still plays it up for all its worth, limping with the hurt paw in the air.... until some excitement occurs  and he runs to the front of the building to look out the window-  on all four of his legs.       The showy collar neatly sums up Rocky's bravado and big personality but the bold fashion statement belies the loyal and loving heart of this little dog.


Batman, Spiderman and Bullwinkle all sport comic book “POW!”  collars by Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers

- An underlying motif or theme that affects the hero's name, costume, personal effects, and other aspects of his or her character (e.g., Batman wears a bat-themed costume, uses bat-themed gadgetry and equipment and operates at night; Spider-Man can shoot webs from his hands, has a spider web pattern on his costume, and other spider-like abilities).

Our Batman comes by his name honestly. Black with a distinctive Bat like “look” Batman is believed to be cross between a pug and Chihuahua. He also sports the comic book collar by Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers. Bats seem playful to me;' they swoop around the security night lights at the sanctuary, in pursuit of bugs. Batman the dog also swoops around the feline leukemia building where he grabs a toy and prances around, so much the better if the toy squeaks. All in good fun, Batman will also playfully swoop after some of our feline leukemia cats in the feline leukemia cattery where he resides. The cats pretend to be scared and run and a chase ensues. Batman only tries to catch them; if he did then the thrill of the chase would be over.   Bats are feared by many people but are actually very benign creatures who eat pesty bugs, mind their own business and sleep during the day. Sharing many characteristics with bats, our Batman also likes to sleep during the day, and is known by the cats as a benign, gentle and fun-loving dog.

- A supporting cast of recurring characters, including the hero's friends, co-workers and/or love interests, who may or may not know of the superhero's secret identity. Often the hero's personal relationships are complicated by this dual life, a common theme in Spider-Man and Batman stories in particular.

Batman's dear friend is Pumpkin with whom he was confiscated then surrendered to Home for Life. Read their story at the link under Batman's name above.

Here Spiderman saves his beloved kong from roommate Lily, a cavalier/Australian Shepard mix.

Buzz Lightyear, right, is one of our FIV+ cats. Our FIV+ cats are a charming group of imposing former tomcats, all huge, who have left their tomcat days behind.  Buzz is a stunning and handsome grey and white short hair neutered male. He lacks a “big” personality but is a true survivor. Buzz came to Home for Life from a Western Minnesota animal control facility where he had been turned in as a starving stray. While caged at the impound, he was still so gentle, and unassuming that the animal control officers longed to see Buzz land on his feet in a safe setting. They contacted Home for Life for help on his behalf when no rescue or shelter would take him into their programs, because they simply didn't think that he could be adopted due to his FIV+ status and his mature age. Although his quiet and understated demeanor might fool some, Buzz possesses a hopeful, radiant spirit that touched the animal control officers and enabled him to survive abandonment, his time at the animal control facility and adaptation to his new life at the sanctuary. Read about our FIV+ cattery and FIV+ cats at the link at Buzz's name above. .

Bullwinkle, right, came to Home for Life after he allegedly bit a child in the face, causing the loss of a tooth - for the child. A collie mix, Bullwinkle also was reported to have poor eyesight and separation anxiety.  Sure, when he first arrived, we witnessed some of that separation anxiety: he grabbed a hold of the fencing and pulled it nearly apart, because he was upset about being confined to his run.  Since he has become comfortable at the sanctuary, he recognizes Home for Life as his true home. He realizes that we won't leave him, and that he will be able to get out to run and play often.  Since he is in a place where he can see all activity at Home for Life, therefore, confirming in his mind that we will always be there, the separation anxiety behaviors have subsided. The biting that was alleged to have occurred? We have seen no evidence of that. Yes Bullwinkle doesn't see that well but he knows who is there for him, and he recognizes loving care and his roommate, the one and only Ashley a chow mix from Florida, who was rendered paraplegic as a mere puppy when some cruel person stomped on her, breaking her back, pelvis and both femurs.
Ashley believes Bullwinkle is wonderful, handsome and strong, but more importantly kind. He is patient with Ashley, who uses a wheelchair. Initially Ashley had to challenge our superhero, over food -naturally. Early on in their relationship, she tried to steal his breakfast, and Bullwinkle stood his ground. After this early incident, Ashley and Bullwinkle have been able to establish some common ground and mutual understanding. A few months before Bullwinkle came to HFL, Ashley had tragically lost her best friend, a paraplegic Thai street dog named chok dee (the Thai language does not use capitals) due to cancer. She was lonely and mournful after chok dee's untimely death. A few months after chok dee's death, enter Bulllwinkle, who was facing euthanasia and came to HFL when no other rescue or shelter would accept him due to his prior background of alleged aggression, poor eyesight,   and separation anxiety. At  age eight, Bullwinkle was considered a senior dog but was the same age as Ashley. As a collie mix, Bullwinkle is lanky and streamlined, fast on his feet.  Yet he will modify his pace for Ashley so they can run and play together .Bullwinkle's afflictions leading to his surrender to Home for Life - alleged aggression and separation anxiety- have become irrelevant. As far as Ashley is concerned, Bullwinkle is her comrade and friend, a dog who has enhanced her life and given her companionship and friendship, accepting her despite her challenging personality and disability.
Ashley and Bullwinkle

- A rotating list of enemies that he/she fights repeatedly. In some cases superheroes begin by fighting run-of-the-mill criminals before supervillains surface in their respective story lines. In many cases the hero is in part responsible for the appearance of these supervillains (the Scorpion was created as the perfect enemy to defeat Spider-Man; and characters in Batman's comics often accuse him of creating the villains he fights). Often superheroes have an archenemy who is especially threatening. Often a nemesis is a superhero's doppelganger or foil (e.g., Sabretooth embraces his savage instincts while Wolverine tries to control his; Batman is dark, taciturn, and grim, while the Joker is colorful, loquacious, and flamboyant).

In the many years of participating in animal rescue, I have concluded that most people – and animals- are good in their heart. I'd estimate 90% + are good. But most people in animal rescue- maybe in order to motivate themselves?-  need to create villains. Can we do “rescue” if there do not exist terrible people and even evil villains to rescue the animals from? As the above feature of the superhero definition suggests, the hero is in part responsible for the appearance of these “supervillains” It’s so much more dramatic- and satisfying- to rescue a dog or cat from  some evil, heinous villain. It makes the stories we tell about ourselves and we rescuers feel better- like superheroes! But in fact, most people who have animals that they need rescue for and help with are not bad- they are just overwhelmed, or have found themselves in a situation that they need help with. They have no money to take care of the animals, or the animal has developed a behavior issue that they cannot cope with in their environment.  While I used to become angry at people who wanted to surrender animals to Home for Life, after 15 years working at the sanctuary, it's become more and more difficult for me to demonize those people who ask for our help. And I believe the same is true for the animals we help, especially those who come to us as incorrigible cases. They usually are not bad dogs or cats, but just misunderstood or in a situation that has become more than they can cope with.

- Independent wealth (e.g., Batman or the X-Men's bene
factor Professor X) or an occupation that allows for minimal supervision (e.g., Superman's civilian job as a reporter).

Home for Life has no independent wealth. Annually, I am  amazed that we have made it thru another year. We are eternally grateful to you, our generous supporters and sponsors-who make Home for Life's lifesaving work possible. How can we ever thank you enough? You have made it possible for us to save the dogs and cats- like our superheroes profiled here- who otherwise would have no other alternative, and nowhere else to turn.   

- A headquarters or base of operations, usually kept hidden from the general public (e.g., Superman's Fortress of Solitude or Batman's Batcave).

Well headquarters could only be Home for Life Sanctuary. While not hidden like the Batcave, our facility is not open to the public like an animal control facility or humane society. The Sanctuary is our animals' home and to maintain the serene and peaceful setting and routine, tours are at scheduled times. We also have regular open houses- see photos from our July 27, 2013 open house here: https://picasaweb.google.com/mluinenburg/RideForTheirLives2013


backstory that explains the circumstances by which the character acquired his or her abilities as well as his or her motivation for becoming a superhero. Many origin stories involve tragic elements and/or freak accidents that result in the development of the hero's abilities.


Dora the Explorer was a courageous red heeler dog who  survived abandonment and also a debilitating disease called Dermatomyositis, an autoimmune condition of the muscles and skin. It's possible that she would have been as endearing and brave had she not had physical challenges to contend with. More likely, her inner qualities would have never emerged, or at least been as apparent, had she not been put to the test by circumstances. Dora had no choice but to become a superhero if she was to live life to the fullest, despite her disability. 




Here is the profile I wrote for her, shortly after she arrived at Home for Life:

Dora was found abandoned in the woods in rural Missouri, starving, emaciated and in obvious need of medical care, at a mere six months old. The individual who found her forlorn and alone could not keep her but brought her to a local veterinary clinic, hoping to find help on her behalf. Fortunately for Dora, the veterinarian and his wife were very kind people and not only took Dora in but also worked diligently to restore her health. With good food and care, Dora's weight stabilized, and she was able to be spayed. She never grew very big, and has remained a small and dainty dog. While her overall condition improved thanks to the care provided by the veterinarian and his wife, her appearance remained baffling; Dora was missing fur on her face and in patches on her feet, tail and other spots on her body. Dora underwent testing to rule out the most obvious explanations for her condition and unconventional appearance: allergies, mange or parasites like mites. All of these possible causes were excluded. While a diagnosis was sought for Dora's symptoms, the vet and his wife tried as hard as they could to place Dora with a rescue or shelter who they hoped would find her a home of her own. Dora was gentle and courageous, good with all people and other animals. But because of the way she looked and her perplexing health issues, no adoption program would take Dora on, and after over a year of effort to place Dora, the vet and his wife worried that Dora would have to spend the rest of her life in a kennel cage at the clinic.
One of the rescue groups the vet contacted about Dora referred him to Home for Life. Like everyone else we were taken aback by Dora's photos but our heart went out to this young dog whom the vet and his wife described as brave and gentle, a rare spirit with a strong will to live. They had just taken a skin biopsy and sent it to a veterinary pathologist as the last effort to establish a cause for her condition which would determine a way to treat her. The pathologist came back with a diagnosis: based on the skin biopsy he thought Dora either had lupus or more likely dermatomyositis: an autoimmune disease found in heelers also known as cattle dogs, which causes inflammation of the skin and muscles.
Once Dora arrived at Home for Life, we sought treatment and guidance for her from dermatology specialists at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. There, the diagnosis of dermatomyositis was confirmed, and a treatment plan set up to provide Dora the best possible quality of life. Dora saw her veterinary specialist at the U every 6-8 weeks and was on a protocol of medicines which control her symptoms and halt the progression of the disease. We don't know how long we will have Dora with us or how long we will be able to keep her comfortable to assure her quality of life. For now, Dora epitomizes the saying "life may be short but its wide". She is happy, comfortable and lets us know that she appreciates all the loving care she receives at Home for Life. She takes her daily medication in liver sausage, her favorite treat, and loves to run in the meadow with her dog friends including her best friend Igor. She loves to sunbathe on the couch in the front entrance of our main building and loves attention from our staff and visitors.

Although the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with dermatomyositis is guarded, we wanted to give Dora the opportunity to have her own home, a home for life which she has found at our sanctuary. At Home for Life, Dora lives in our main building where she is never caged or kenneled and enjoys the loving attention of our staff who are in the building all day throughout the day and where she gets to greet all visitors and tourists who come to Home for Life. Her favorite spot is on the couch in the front entrance, where the big windows create a solarium effect, warm and bright even in the winter. She enjoys the company of our other "kitchen dogs" who live in the main building but her best friend is Igor, an older blind Lhasa Apso cross who, like the always cheerful Dora stays on the sunny side of life despite physical challenges.


We lost her  just about a week ago, while the writing of this blog post was in progress. Even though she suffered from a disease with a poor prognosis,her sudden loss was unbelievable as she had just started a new protocol of medications and had responded so well. With her condition so much improved, she was scheduled to begin a course of treatment of IGB  to boost her immune system. It seemed like we had finally found the magic bullet that would help heal  her skin and give her a chance to live like a normal dog as she so wanted  to do. But she never got the chance.It's especially hard to accept the injustice of her loss when a brave and gentle dog, and one so young like Dora, suffers from  such a debilitating disease and then dies when barely two years old.  Life isn't fair and even our best effort as  rescuers can't even the score for some animals.  Her abrupt loss was even more heartbreaking  because she was seemingly getting better.  Dora suddenly developed severe diarrhea,then  within a few hours became pale and weak. We brought her to the veterinarian within the half hour;there it was determined that Dora was critical and needed to be moved to intensive care. Although our staff did everything to get her to the University ICU immediately, Dora died en route to the hospital. The necropsy revealed an acute hemorrhage from the small intestine, due to the disease. 

 Dora  came to us as an unwanted stray,rejected from shelters and rescues,an unadoptable dog. Once at  Home for Life,  despite being featured on our website's "Meet the Dog" section, she never had a sponsor, like many of our animals at HFL. Maybe Dora didn't attract sponsor support because the initial impression from her photos  was so startling. Yet , Dora  was a dog who was never defined by her disfigurement, or even the disease that ultimately claimed her life. Looking back, after the  shock of  seeing her the first time, I never again really thought about her appearance. As my grief about losing her subsides, what will always touch  me  when I remember her is her bravery and dignity  in the face of   being abandoned, unwanted and suffering from the terrible disease, her gentleness, her determination to make the most of everything good  in her life and how much she loved liver sausage and treats!  Dora was a superhero and that's why her memory will always live in the hearts and souls of those who knew her and helped her along her journey.  Like all the superheros of Home for Life, Dora was soulful; her soul  lives on and so transcends her physical condition, limitations and her death. Listing and describing all the qualities that make up a superhero really circles around the question. All the qualities that describe a superhero come down to one word: superheros have soul .