Friday, July 27, 2012

Pet Therapy Volunteer Barbara Moccia and Skylar, Nanuet, New York

by Barbara Moccia
Several years ago, the Moccia household was filled with pets: our wonderful Schnoodle (a cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle), Bingo; our cats and a hamster. Sadly, all of them passed away. Bingo was 18 when he died. He was ill for a while, but waited to see our oldest daughter, Elissa. The day after she came home from college, Bingo passed away.

Once all our pets were gone and our daughters were out on their own, my husband, Mike, said, No more pets, despite knowing I desperately wanted another dog. I would even put a leash around a ceramic dog we had and pretend to be taking it for a walk!
One day, seven long years later, Mike saw a TV program about a new breed of dog called a Labradoodle. Labradoodles originated in Australia, where they are a recognized breed and are bred to be therapy dogs.

A few years before Mike saw this program, I’d told him that one of my goals was to have a therapy dog. I first became aware of therapy dogs when my mom, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, had to be admitted into a nursing home. As much as we wanted to still keep her at home, we could not. She had become a threat to her own safety. While visiting her at the home, a group and their dogs visited the residents. I saw what a wonderful impact the dogs had on the residents, including my mom, who had never really liked dogs. I never forgot seeing this.

Mike remembered all this while watching the program, which aired around the winter holidays. He told me about it, then asked me to view the tape he had made of the program. I immediately fell in love. He said to sit down as he had something to tell me—I could finally have my dog!

I did a lot of research. At that time there were only three breeders of Labradoodles in the United States, and the best one, Glen Eden, was in Virginia. I called and told them what I was looking for. I waited two months and there she was, my beautiful Skylar. It was love at first sight, right from the Internet. We drove to Virginia and picked her up. The love affair is still going strong.

I knew Skylar would make a perfect therapy dog because of her wonderful personality and her loving way. I went to Canine Coaching in New City, N.Y., where the owner, Pat Coglianese, worked with us both. Skylar graduated from “Kindergarten” and received her Good Citizen Award, and then we began therapy dog training. Our first attempt was not successful; Skylar was too young, just one-year-old. We waited until she was almost three and then—SUCCESS!

Skylar has provided much happiness to a group of autistic young men in a group home. She has also visited nursing homes. They love her large size, which makes it easier for bedside visits.

Pat told me about the pet therapy program being implemented at West Point's Warrior Transition Unit. Through the program, our therapy dogs would help Soldiers with physical injuries, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional stressors brought about by battle and separation from family and loved ones. I immediately said we would be part of it.

Skylar is so excited on Wednesday when we get in the car and head up to West Point. We bring her favorite toy, a tennis ball. She loves to entertain everyone with it, playing catch. (I might add, she is a great catcher.)

It is fun for the Soldiers to watch Skylar interact with the other therapy dogs, especially Molly and Abby, with whom she shares the tennis ball. She loves to give kisses and she will “talk” to anyone to let them know she wants a treat, or to have a door opened for her!

It amazes me how she knows exactly what each Soldier needs from her, be it just to sit quietly and let them pet her, to give kisses or go over with her tail wagging. When there are no Soldiers around she is truly sad.

Skylar participated in the Army Community Service Valentine's Day party where children of deployed Soldiers were videotaped reading to her. The videotapes were then sent to the deployed parent. It was a beautiful experience.

Skylar and I are honored to be part of this program.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beauty Is Possible, Even in Brokenness

Pastor Burt Crabbe addresses Red Cross High School Club members
“Profoundly jarring.”

That’s how Bert Crabbe, pastor of True North Community Church in Bohemia, N.Y., described his journey to the Far East six years ago to learn about the sex trafficking of children.

Crabbe was addressing a group of 14 Red Cross High School Club members enrolled in “Exploring Humanitarian Law,” a program designed to help students understand the rules governing war and their impact on human life and dignity.

The program, which is being held at Greater New York Red Cross regional headquarters in Manhattan from July 9 through August 2, also addresses supplementary rules and guidelines regarding armed conflict, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on Genocide and the UN Convention on the rights of the child.

“While human trafficking may most often be a result of poverty, it can also be a result of armed conflict,” said Amanda Crabbe, Greater New York Red Cross youth programs manager and Pastor Crabbe’s cousin. “Bert’s talk set the stage for our students’ knowledge of human trafficking and conveyed a personal account of what sexual slavery actually looks like. We have been referencing his talk throughout the program,” she added, “and applying his examples to instances of sexual slavery during times of conflict.”

On Crabbe’s 2006 trip to Thailand and Cambodia, he accompanied Rob Morris, president of LOVE146, a non-profit international human rights organization working to end child sex trafficking. Crabbe, who had supported the work of LOVE146 through small personal financial donations, now wanted to see the organization’s challenges and programs firsthand.

While waiting in LA for a connecting flight to Thailand, Crabbe and Morris drove through Bel Air, California, passing lavish homes and mansions, and luxury shops.

Right after landing in Bangkok, Thailand, Morris took Crabbe through the Red Light district, where trafficked children—girls and boys—end up. The contrast between Bel Air and Bangkok was a huge shock, said Crabbe.

Sex tourism, he told the students, brings an enormous amount of money into Thailand. He explained that young girls living in the countryside are procured by men who tell the parents that their daughters will earn money waitressing in the city. If that argument fails, they may simply give the parents $100 American in exchange for their daughters.

Crabbe said these stories made him sick to his stomach.

“Then we went to Boys Town,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “That’s where underage boys work in the sex trade.”

“A little boy tried to lead me to his pimp,” he said. “I just wanted to die. You know intellectually that there are people in the world who have it rough. But you don’t get it until you see it and smell it,” he said. “We saw children living in slums, literally walking through garbage. It was profoundly jarring; the most difficult stuff you’ve never seen.”

Crabbe went on to describe their next destination—Cambodia, a country he called “beautiful and broken.”

He showed slides of lush green countryside, followed by photos of the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former high school in Phnom Penh used as a prison and torture center between 1975 and 1979. There, more than 17,000 Cambodians were said to have been executed by the ruling party, the Khmer Rouge.

Crabbe said when he returned from the Far East, he came close to having a nervous breakdown and had nightmares for a month.

“I realized I am affluent,” he said. “I have first-world problems. If you earn $36,000 a year you are in the top five percent of the world’s wealthy; in fact, your part-time job at Starbucks puts you in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy.”

Crabbe immediately cut a large personal check to LOVE146 and asked Morris what more he could do. Morris said the organization needed $200K to build a facility in the Philippines where rescued trafficked children could get their lives back.

Crabbe approached his parishioners and raised the needed funds.

The Round Home
In 2009, the “Round Home” for rescued girls opened in the Philippines. Its distinctive construction is meant to promote togetherness, with none of the children feeling marginalized by being at the “end” of a corridor. In addition to the main Round Home, there is also a staff house, a Therapy Tree House and a Reflection Room.

“I’m most proud of the chapel we built and a tree house therapy environment,” Crabbe said. “I visited there. I saw that talking to the girls as human beings was a big deal to them. So was simply having fun; dancing.”

Crabbe advised the EHL students: “Walk the earth aware of what’s going on and your reflex will be to be an ‘upstander,’ not a bystander. Live generously and support organizations that help others.”

The students reacted positively to Crabbe’s talk.

“It was profoundly disturbing, but an informative session,” said Tanvir Shahjahan of Brooklyn Tech High School. “I'll never again feel underprivileged and be sure to spread awareness of sex trafficking to those I know and the invaluable efforts of groups such as LOVE146."

Sandra M., who attends high school in Queens, said, “Bert's presentation/story touched my heart and made me realize how fortunate I am to live comfortably, unlike children and teenagers in Cambodia and Thailand who live in poverty and try to survive day-to-day.”

Crabbe concluded his talk on an optimistic note. “I’ve learned,” he said, “that beauty is possible, even in brokenness. If more and more people step up, we’ll see a lot more beauty and a lot less brokenness.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

“If they weren’t here, we don’t know what would have happened to us.”

Photo: E. Calderon/S. Johnson

Okisha Ashley, her four children and her grandmother, Nellie, who was visiting from the Island of Jamaica, were fast asleep in Okisha’s Walton Avenue apartment in the Bronx around 12:30 am on July 18 when they were awoken by someone kicking hard at the apartment door.

Alarmed, Okisha called the police. Then she looked out the window, saw fire trucks and heard a commotion. She immediately grabbed her kids and her grandmother and ran downstairs and out of the building.

“We didn’t bring anything,” she said, “just the cloths on our backs.”

Her entire apartment, her home for 33 years, was destroyed—her ceiling had collapsed as a result of all the water being used to put out the fire above.

“I had just remodeled my apartment—new furniture, a new TV,” said Okisha, “Everything is gone.”

They were, however, very glad to be safe.

“I was just thankful that we are all alive.”

After evacuating, they waited in a park across the street until the Red Cross set up a reception center at nearby All Hallows High School. There, they cooled down a bit, ate and waited.

At the center, a Red Cross responder told Okisha that she and her family were eligible for emergency housing at a hotel. Although grateful for the offer, they declined and stayed with a friend.

They did, however, come to Greater NY headquarters in Manhattan the next day where Red Cross caseworkers provided the family with emergency funds for clothing.

“My kids have been wearing the same thing since the fire,” said Okisha, “Because of the Red Cross, I’ll be able to buy them a change of clothes.”

The Red Cross also provided Okisha with information on how to obtain long-term housing while their apartment is being renovated.

“I didn’t know the Red Cross was so helpful,” said Okisha. “You would never think you would be in that situation; that’s how quick you can end up homeless. I really appreciate what the Red Cross did for us. If they weren’t here, we don’t know what would have happened to us.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I am extremely grateful for my First Aid and CPR training from the American Red Cross

By Catherine Lague, Greater New York Red Cross Assistant Director, Outreach and Preparedness
The first Sunday in July, I was trying to escaping the summer heat by watching movies in my air-conditioned living room. To complete my lazy summer afternoon, I was snacking on some watermelon. My pint-sized pooch, Lola, loves fruit, and, as a spoiled pet, she occasionally gets a bite (or two!).

Unable to resist her charms, I dropped a piece of watermelon in her bowl. She scurried over to enjoy her treat while I resumed watching a movie from the couch. Lola started heading back to the couch when as usual she decided to double-check her bowl for missed treats.

After ensuring that she got every morsel, Lola meandered back to the couch and stared at me. I motioned her to jump up onto the couch, but she just sat there staring. I called her repeatedly when finally she went to the corner of the room, where she continued staring unresponsively.

Getting nervous, I went over to pet her while cooing her name. Still unresponsive, she stared down. As I petted her, I noticed her tummy was rock hard. Immediately, I checked her breathing with my ear to her snout hoping to hear her breath and feel it on my cheek. There was nothing.

Realizing that she was choking and already a few minutes had passed, I had to act quickly. Hoisting the little dog’s hind legs in the air and shaking her, I hoped to use gravity to dislodge the food. Nothing. I picked Lola up upside down. Still nothing. Slightly panicked, I put the little dog down, leaned her over, and gave a few rapid hits between her shoulder blades while fishing for an object in her throat. Finally, Lola coughed up the watermelon piece and began breathing normally.

With the worst over, I began shaking while gratefully hugging my little dog for a few moments. Keeping Lola in sight, I called the local 24-hour emergency veterinarian. They advised me to keep an eye on her and not to feed her large amounts of solid food in case her throat was swollen.

Almost immediately after the incident, Lola returned to her normal self and even begged for more watermelon. I meanwhile have remained cautious and extremely grateful to still have my pooch. I have taken extra care to review the lessons from Pet First Aid and save the 24-hour veterinarian’s phone number. Luckily, my actions mirrored official recommendations except for a few small details.

I’ve also shared Lola’s story to encourage friends and family to prepare to help their pets in an emergency.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Red Cross Pet Therapy Volunteers Judy Audevard and Kizzy, Somers, New York

Judy Audevard and her 11-year-old Bichon Frise, Kizzy, came to pet therapy in an unexpected way.

Audevard adopted Kizzy from the Greater New York Bichon Frise Rescue Group in 2001. Soon after, Audevard decided to take photos of Kizzy with her mom, who had suffered a stroke two years earlier. Her mom was not only unable to move her right arm or hand, she also had great difficulty speaking.

Audevard placed Kizzy on her mom's lap. Her mom held Kizzy with her left hand and started stroking him with her right.

“I asked her if she realized what she was doing,” said Audevard, “and she said, ever so clearly, ‘Of course, I do, I'm petting Kizzy!’"

"I was watching a miracle unfold., said Audevard.

A few days later, Kizzy was again sitting with Audevard’s mom.

“While mom tried to read a magazine aloud, he appeared to be listening to her!” said Audevard. “The power of this little dog can never be measured.”

Audevard then had Kizzy trained as a therapy dog. He has certification from Therapy Dogs Incorporated, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizenship, and Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.).

Audevard and Kizzy have worked with children and adults at hospitals, libraries and schools in Orangeburg, Harrison, West Haverstraw, Hastings-on-Hudson, Pearl River, Nanuet, and Tappan, New York.

Kizzy has also enjoyed some measure of fame. Fans can visit his website, Kizzy’s Korner. He has also been featured in local newspapers and “Ladies Home Journal,” and appeared on TV: WABC Eyewitness News and News Channel 12.

Kizzy even stars in his own book: “One Incredible Dog, Kizzy,”a story of a day in his life. Kizzy and Audevard have traveled to more than 100 schools promoting the book and explaining the benefits of reading to a dog to students and teachers.

Recently Audevard was instrumental in implementing the Red Cross pet therapy program. With experience running her own marketing business, as well as her and Kizzy’s involvement with pet therapy and the R.E.A.D. program, Judy saw the need for leadership for this program. She worked with Leslie Louango, an occupational therapist at West Point, to implement the program, which involves pet therapy volunteers and their dogs visiting soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

Recently, Audevard and Kizzy, along with several other R.E.A.D.-certified teams, worked with children from the West Point Military Academy enrolled in a R.E.A.D. program. At the group’s last event, children of deployed soldiers were videotaped reading to a R.E.A.D.-certified dog. The video was then sent to the deployed parent.

Kizzy has received his TDI-AOV certificate—a therapy dog’s most prestigious award—for being an Active Outstanding Volunteer, and has made more than 400 documented therapy visits. His favorite pastimes are chasing squirrels in his back yard, playing “Kizzy tag” with boys and girls, and sleeping.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Five-Alarm Life: Home

By Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla

Home—there’s no place like it. But after the fire in our apartment building left us displaced for almost a year, “home” became a moving target. In its stead, we had to find temporary accommodations. For ten months we relied on the generous hospitality of family and friends, wondering all the while when we’d be able to move back into our home again.

We gained a lot through our loss. We learned how to live with just what would fit in my car—how little we really needed to be content and comfortable. We had new and interesting experiences: My husband and I were interviewed for various videos—we even made it on the news. I shared our story at the Red Cross Gala and was completely outfitted for the event by Lord & Taylor. We were inundated with love—the generosity of those around us (friends, family, and even a few strangers) blew us away. My husband and I learned more about each other and ourselves: our limits, our strengths, our hopes. But mostly we learned how to move a lot—and frequently—and often.

We were urban nomads. We made six moves in ten months. There was an oasis of time where we got to stay put for a few months, but mostly we just kept moving. First we moved to my brother-in-law’s. Then two friends took us in for a month. Then we got a moving break when we signed a six-month lease for a temporary apartment. Hoping our home would be ready soon, we returned to our friends’ apartment for another month. Thinking we’d be able to move back “any day now,” we spent our final six weeks of waiting living with my in-laws.

Each of our moves had its blessings and challenges. And I like to think of them in different ways. For example, geographically: Maspeth, Union Square, Long Island City, Union Square, Hollis, Elmhurst (home) or Queens, Manhattan, Queens, Manhattan, Queens, home. There is our relationship to our hosts: family, friends, just us, friends, family, home. And finally, there is where we slept: living room futon, private bedroom, own apartment, private bedroom, twin bed, home.

That’s right, for the last six weeks of our displacement, my husband and I shared a twin bed. And as much as we love each other, that was definitely a challenge. Neither one of is very tall or otherwise large. We’re both fairly average in size. But we’re also both sprawl-style sleepers. While dreaming, we each like to spread out. We manage to get in each other’s way on a queen mattress, so sharing a twin bed gracefully was close to impossible. We tried multiple sleeping configurations and orientations. We tried to sleep while remaining absolutely still. Eventually we gave up, put a sleeping bag on the floor, and took turns.

So when we finally moved back into our renewed apartment, it was a very happy homecoming for us. After ten months of waiting, we had our own space again—space to spread out—space that was ours. We weren’t visitors, guests, temporary residents, or passers through anymore. We were home.

Oddly enough, home took some getting used to. It was familiar and different. The apartment was completely renovated. It was gutted down to the foundations and built up again. The general layout is the same as it was before, but there are some minor differences I had to adjust to. On a daily basis I would reach for light-switches that weren’t where they used to be, but a few inches to the right or left. And even though we’ve been home for months now, there are still some switches I can’t find instinctively in the dark.

There were some other mild inconveniences. Everything wasn’t perfect when we moved in. Our newfangled intercom system was a comedy of errors for many months before it finally worked. Our bedroom furniture couldn’t be delivered right away, so we spent our first few weeks home living out of suitcases and sleeping on an air mattress. Our elevator was out of commission for a month after we moved in. This made buying groceries or doing laundry a form of exercise (or a punishment). And even though our super has “fixed” it countless times, our kitchen sink still leaks. But that’s okay. I don’t care. I’m home.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Finding a Way to Help: Volunteering at the ECC

By Gena Sabin

While I have lived in New York City for most of my life, I was new to the Bensonhurst, Brooklyn neighborhood when I heard about a terrible fire. A building burned to the ground, two businesses were destroyed, firefighters were injured and sadly, several people perished. This happened down the street from where I had just moved. The main strip of 86th Street has always been a buzzing commercial area, and a fire in one of the residential apartments above the hair salon had left a huge gaping hole right in the middle of the bustling street.

I overheard people talking about the fire in a nearby store a few days later. They were discussing what a shame it was that members of a family lost their lives because they had too many people living in one apartment. The number of people and items stored inside of the residence made it nearly impossible for them to get to the fire escape in time. The area where the building once stood was roped off from the public, and a giant dumpster stood in front of the address for months.

I suppose it was both the proximity and the ongoing reminders of this neighborhood disaster that had me wondering how I would be able to assist in some way. I had been to the New York Red Cross about a year earlier at a general volunteer orientation, where I learned that local responders go to every occupied residence where a fire occurs and help those affected. For lack of a better phrase, the impact of such a local disaster didn't "hit home" until it happened right next to my new home.

After a few e-mails to and from members of the Red Cross volunteer department, I learned about the ECC, or Emergency Communications Center, and found that I could be trained to volunteer there and help out on weekends. The ECC serves as the nerve center for the organization. Its workers schedule responders to go out to local disasters and send out all notifications and other reports regarding these disasters and other events throughout our area. They also book hotel rooms and activate debit cards providing emergency funds to disaster victims. I really liked the idea of being able to help people in the NYC area while learning how the Red Cross functions.

Gradually, I got to know the staff and volunteers and for the past year and a half, I have been a back-up dispatcher. This basically means that I assist in verifying fires throughout the five boroughs and communicate with the responders that go to each scene to help those in need.

Since I’ve worked in the ECC, I’ve helped the Red Cross respond to many different types of incidents. The first time that I entered the code in the Red Cross system for a confirmed death was particularly eye-opening. When I later heard the story of the fire on the evening news, my jaw dropped.

There have been at least three more occasions during my time with the ECC when I‘ve seen the incidents that I’ve helped with featured on the local news, proof to me that I was providing help to real people in my community.

When I tell people about the work I do on alternate Saturdays, most consider our conversations a learning experience. The truth is, until you experience the help the Red Cross provides, you don’t really think about it. I’m happy to talk to people about it, in the hope that they might be inspired to help as well.

Traveling to the Red Cross Chapter in Hell’s Kitchen for my volunteer shift often gives me the opportunity to sit on the subway with tourists. I have learned from overhearing their conversations that they don’t always have the most positive view of New Yorkers. I often wonder if I could change their opinions if I introduced them to some of my fellow volunteers. So many of us care, and I think that is often overlooked.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Red Cross Pet Therapy Volunteers Diane Tulp and Cody, Tenafly, New Jersey

When Diane Tulp’s youngest daughter, Stephanie, was a freshman in high school, she needed a community project. She discovered Therapy Dogs while watching “Animal Planet” and decided it was a perfect service project as her family had a year-old poodle, Cody.

Stephanie and Diane became registered handlers in Therapy Dogs, Inc. Shortly thereafter, the program needed a Tester/Observer (T/O) in order to continue and grow. After a few months of training, Diane became certified as Therapy Dogs, Inc. T/O.

Diane and Stephanie began visiting a local nursing home in their hometown of Tenafly, New Jersey. Patients loved their furry friend and begged them to return for another visit as soon as possible.

That was more than 10 years ago. Diane now coordinates 25 to 30 active volunteers visiting anywhere from six to eight facilities per month along with local library “Read to Dog” programs. The volunteers work with emotionally disabled children, teens and young adults, adults in nursing homes, senior day care facilities, rehab centers and hospices.

Recently Diane learned of the Greater New York Red Cross Pet Therapy Program from active local program volunteer, Laurie Cramsie, owner of sweet therapy dog, Abby, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Diane and Cody have enjoyed their visits to West Point.

"It's a way to give back, and in a small way, I feel connected to this wonderful community," she said. “Although I think the warriors prefer larger dogs such as German Shepherds, they can't help but smile when they see my 10-pound Cody in Army fatigues and a buzz cut."

Cody is the Tulp’s first and only dog. Selected from a breeder in Hackettstown, New Jersey, Cody is calm and affectionate and gets along well with other dogs. The Tulps wanted a small dog, and, due to allergies in the family, selected a poodle.

Cody is the perfect lap dog. Patients love his soft fur. He is older now and so used to therapy dog work that he can quietly sit on a patient’s lap for as long as necessary. And he entertains everyone with his “jumping up and rolling over” routine.

Stephanie did an excellent job training Cody, teaching him many tricks from the time he was a puppy. Even years later, after Stephanie left for college, Diane continued teaching and training Cody.

“Poodles are smart, so it was fun and easy,” she said.

Recently, Cody learned how to jump up on a piano bench and pound on the keys, “singing” a little (some imagination is needed here). His new “trick” has caused much laughter at every facility he and Diane visit.