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Tag: faith

Dachshund won’t go back to owners after all

The old dachshund abandoned with a note at a Los Angeles County shelter, then saved from euthanasia by a rescue group, then offered back to the “poor, sick and elderly” owners who wrote the note, won’t be reuniting with them after all.

Upon further reflection, Toby Wisneski, founder of Leave No Paws Behind, decided life with his original owners — two traveling ministers – might not be best for the 13-year-old dachshund, and apparently Otto’s owners have said they’re good with that decision.

ottoThe owners, initially anonymous, have now been identified as Chris Gonzales and his wife, Christine. That’s Rev. Chris in the video above, seemingly speaking in tongues at times, and not appearing too sick, poor or elderly. (Public access to the video was removed after this post appeared.)

The video, and some other interesting information, was unearthed by Mary Cummins, an animal advocate and wildlife rehabilitator who writes a blog in Los Angeles.

Cummins reported Sunday that Wisneski had decided that, in the dog’s best interest, “he will be remaining right here in our care and his humans agree.”

harley-note2Going back to the beginning of the curious story, the dachshund was found outside the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter March 6, tied to a basket, with a handwritten note that said:

“We are both seniors, sick with no money. We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep.”

Before euthanizing the dog, the shelter called a rescue group, Leave No Paws Behind, which agreed to take him in. They named him Harley, got him treatment for a skin condition and pronounced him healthy enough to be adopted.

Wisneski, the group’s founder, also held out hope, at the time, that she might find the anonymous owners and return the dog to them, along with an offer to pay for all his medical care and food.

When the couple learned of the offer, and about donations coming in to help them, they came forward and agreed to reclaim their dog, whose real name is Otto, when they returned to town at the end of the month.

In an interview with KTLA, Chris Gonzales — though he wasn’t identified by name – said he and his wife were out of town and planned to return to California and pick up the dog once they raised enough money to buy new tires for their car.

What seemed, up to then, a heartwarming story, was slowly getting squirrely — turning into the kind it’s hard to keep the faith in.

Cummins, who had publicized the dog’s story on her blog in an attempt to help reunite him with his owners, did some investigating, and came away less than impressed with the couple.

gonzales-facebook“They are not senior citizens. They are not disabled. They are merely obese. They are not poor. They are traveling ministers who give little talks then beg for money. They are not a legal church, corporation or non-profit. They make $60,000/year,” she wrote.

“He’s one of those faith healers that puts his hands on people and then everyone shakes like someone having a seizure,” she added. “He likes to spit out mumbo jumbo made up words while doing so. He invites people to meetings at Sizzler or the Old Country Buffet restaurants. People pay for their food, listen to him talk then he asks for money. He calls it a ‘love offering.’”

Cummins now feels, in case it’s not obvious, that returning Otto to his owners would be a mistake.

While that means a detour before Otto finds his happy ending, we think that’s the right choice, too — based on what we’ve heard about his owners and the fact that they abandoned him in the first place.

Despite all that faith they travel the country professing, the couple apparently didn’t have too much in their dog.

Wisneski has said all of Otto’s medical problems turned out to be minor and treatable, and that he’s in good health now.

Here’s hoping Otto finds the home he deserves.

And that the reverends find some tires.

A matter of Faith: Girl, 5, gets service dog


A family in northern Maine says it is “overwhelmed” by the generosity they saw from friends and strangers who donated enough money for them to get a service dog for their 5-year-old daughter, Faith.

Faith has spina bifida and experiences seizures. The new dog — a black Lab named Dandy — has been trained to detect when they might be coming.

Bruce and Beverly McNally, of Island Falls, took Faith in as a foster child, then as their adopted daughter. They quickly realized they needed help monitoring her for the seizures, which could be deadly if not addressed.

“The family became very worried, which is why they wanted to get the dog,” Michele King, Faith’s aunt, told the Bangor Daily News.

King is also the chief administrative officer for Brave Hearts, a nonprofit Christian home for young men in Island Falls, and that organization sponsored a fundraiser last month to try and raise the $2,500 that was needed.

King said that donations came from the more than 100 people who attended a benefit supper, and from people as far away as North Carolina.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” Beverly McNally said. “We eventually had enough money and we had to gently turn people away. We had to tell them that we had enough for the dog, but that we wanted them to donate the money to a charity of their own choosing.”

Dandy came from CARES — Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services — a nonprofit organization in Concordia, Kansas, that trains and matches assistance dogs with owners.

“Dandy has just been wonderful for Faith,” McNally said on Friday. “She picks up on a chemical change in the body when a seizure occurs. One day when we got back, Faith was very lethargic. She was in the chair with me and needed to be snuggled a lot more. And the dog got up in the chair and started whining. And I didn’t realize what was going on. And 45 minutes later, Faith had a seizure. Then I realized what the dog was trying to tell me.”

(Photo: Michele King)

Groom, Texas: My cross to bear

 

With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.

This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.

Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.

It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.

“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.

Between the caffiene, her well wishes, and Bobblehead Jesus, who has accompanied us on all of our 20,000-plus miles, I felt prepared for what was ahead — namely Groom, Texas.

In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.

To your left is how that embankment looks today, not nearly as steep and rugged as it was in my memory.

Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.

As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”

For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.

I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.

Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.

Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.

The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.

It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.

It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.

I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.

Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.

I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.

I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.

Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.

Turns out it is now a storage facility, its rooms no longer holding people — only people’s stuff.

Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.

I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.

I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.

I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).

By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.

Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.

But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.

Salvation Mountain: A heap of commitment

Between the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains — in what may sound, and look, like a space you’d land on in the old board game Candyland — there was a man, and a mountain, I needed to check in on.

About 12 years had passed since I first visited Salvation Mountain — Leonard Knight’s massive, hand-painted monument to God. I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, fond of seeking out stories in the middle of nowhere. He was 67 by then, and had spent almost 15 years constructing his mountain out of hay, tires, adobe and more than 100,000 gallons of paint.

What struck me then was his incredible commitment to the task. What struck me this time is how, even after finding a modicum of fame, what with his own book and DVD and his appearance in the movie, “Into the Wild,” his determination and focus remain — not on himself, not on getting rich, but on the mountain, its maintenance and its continued survival.

Leonard, at 79, is still at it.

He can’t hear too well. His eyes are going bad. He walks with a pronounced limp, and he can no longer lift the hay bales he uses as bricks, or to mix up adobe, to fashion his ever-expanding monument.

While volunteers still drop by to make donations and help with the labor from time to time, on this particular day — Thanksgiving — he was alone.

“Have a seat,” he said, shifting over to the next chair. A blanket was stretched across posts to block out a relentless wind. For the desert, in November, temperatures were chilly. Leonard, wearing paint-spattered khakis, kept his hands stuffed in his jacket as Ace sniffed at the conglomeration of items in the back of his pick up truck.

Salvation Mountain looked much like it did 12 years ago — bright, bold and scripture-laden. But it’s far more famous now, with everyone from National Geographic to Ripley’s Believe it or Not finding it worthy of note.  And after Leonard and the mountain were featured in ”Into the Wild,” the 2007 movie based on the travels and eventual death in the Alaskan wilderness of Chris McCandless, interest in his monument rose again.

Even so, he said, maintaining the mountain, much less working on more recent additions — including a “museum” area that wasn’t there the last time I dropped by — has become a strain. The volunteers seemed fewer this year. Leonard blamed the weather. “The summer was too hot, the winter’s too cold, or it’s just too windy, like it is today. You can’t paint on a day like today.”

Crazy as the weather has been, it’s still better than his native Vermont, he said.

Knight was one of four children, born in Burlington, Vermont. He never liked school, got teased a lot, and dropped out in the 10th grade. In 1951, he joined the Army, was trained as a mechanic and got sent to Korea.

Upon his return, he worked as a mechanic in Vermont, supplementing his income by picking apples, which helped him raise enough money to make trips to Caliornia to visit his sister. He treasured the trips, except for the fact that she would make him go to church.

Leonard hated church, and religion, and God, at that point in his life, and he figured the feeling was mutual. “I wasn’t doin’ nothing that God would be pleased with,” he has pointed out.

During one visit, after an argument with his sister, he stomped out and sat in his truck. There in the driver’s seat — for reasons he can’t explain — he found himself saying, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come into my heart” over and over again.  Jesus, he says, did.

For the first time in his life, Leonard had a sense of direction — and it would be, as it turned out, a very strange direction.

In 1971, still in Vermont, he noticed a hot air balloon one day, advertising a brand of beer.

What if, he thought, he could market God similarly? He began researching and seeking materials to build a hot air balloon, and praying to God to help provide them, but for nine years it remained a distant and unreachable dream.

On a cross-country trip in 1980, he had engine trouble in Nebraska, and had to spend several days there. The mechanic working on his truck offered to help with the balloon project. They got a bargain on some material, and, for three years, Leonard stayed in Nebraska and sewed.

Not one to do things on a small scale, Knight stitched together a balloon that was 200 feet high, 100 feet wide, and built a burner, complete with fans, to help fill the balloon.

The balloon never got off the ground, though. When he came to the desert in Niland, California to make a final attempt to launch it, he discovered the material was rotted.

It was then, in 1985, his 14-year quest to launch a God is Love balloon over — that he decided to build a small replica of the balloon, in the middle of the desert, out of adobe. He planned to stay for a week in Slab City — a makeshift community of desert-dwelling loners, snowbirds, RV’ers and on-the-verge of homelessness types.

But what started as an 8-foot sculpture would become Salvation Mountain, rising about three stories high, an accumulation of tires and other junk salvaged and donated, coated with adobe and brightly painted with flowing rivers, budding flowers, a yellow brick road and Bible scripture –all topped by a big white cross.

It’s a constantly evolving work, and, as you might expect, it has fallen victim to both structural collapses and government bureaucracy, at both the county and state levels.

When state-conducted tests found contaminants in the soil, they blamed Leonard and his paint.

Leonard had his own tests done that proved otherwise.

County supervisors backed off their threats to shut him down, but by then all the free publicity from the controversy had added to the mountain’s legendariness.

Today, the mountain is more likely to be referred to as a work of folk art than an environmental hazard, and even though the mountain is a squatter — an unauthorized work on public land — Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2002 afforded it some protection when she entered it into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.

Leonard lives on the grounds of his masterpiece. He beds down for the night in a small cabin mounted on his 1930s-era fire truck, which like every other vehicle in his compound, be it tractor or bus, is covered with painted-on Bible scripture.

He works on it everyday, weather permitting. A newer ”museum” wing, still under construction, features a tree whose base was created from tires and adobe, and whose branches he cut from dead and fallen trees nearby. He hauled them to the mountain, and bolted them on, painted them and added flowers, which he says are easily made by punching your fist in a mound of adobe not yet dried.

Leonard urged me to go take a look at the addition, and apologized for not making it a guided tour. His leg was bothering him. Ace wasn’t sure what to make of it. He explored its nooks and crannies, and, back at the main mountain, climbed up the yellowbrick road path to near the top.

When I returned and took a seat next to Leonard, he gave me a DVD of a documentary about the mountain, “A Lifetime of Childlike Faith,” and a Salvation Mountain magnet. I asked him what his plans were for Thanksgiving dinner and he said some friends were bringing him some turkey.

Leonard gave Ace a final pat on the head, and we said goodbye to the old man who lives in the desert, having learned, or relearned, at least two things.

One is that there’s a thin and sometimes not immediately discernable line between visionary and nut job, so be careful who you call a nut.

The other is that — however eccentric Leonard Knight may be, and no matter what your feelings are on God — faith can indeed  move mountains.

Or even build them.

Highway Haiku: Putting My Trust in You

  

“Putting My Trust in You”

 

Sexy voice … street smart

Kind, patient … You complete me,

GPS lady

 

(Highway Haiku is a collection of poetry, composed on the road, that appears semi-regularly in ”Travels with Ace. To see all of them, click here.)

Two-legged dog in Israel aided by wheels

When Avi Kozi, chairman of the Society for the Protection of Animals in Israel, adopted a dog born without its front legs, he hoped the dog might learn to walk on his hind legs, as did Faith, a two-legged in the United States.

When he didn’t, Kozi arranged for Hoppa to get a set of wheels, built by a student.

“From the moment I took him to my house, I knew I had to build something that would help him to move,” Kozi told Channel 10 at his home in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Hoppa lives with six other dogs – all of them were taken in by Kozi after they’d been severely injured. Hoppa  was born four years ago, and vets said only way to prevent him from suffering would be to put him to sleep.

Faith takes her message of hope to soldiers

Faith, the two-legged dog, continues to spread inspiration — most recently last weekend when she visited McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis in Washington state.

Faith met thousands of soldiers — some headed to war, some coming back.

“She just walks around barking and laughing and excited to see them all,” Faith’s owner, Jude Stringfellow, told the Associated Press.

“There is a lot of crying, pointing and surprise. From those who have lost friends or limbs, there can be silence. Some will shake my hand and thank me, some will pat her on the head. There is a lot of quiet, heartfelt, really deep emotion.”

Faith, a Lab-chow mix, was born to a junkyard dog around Christmas of 2002. Her mother rejected her and she was rescued by Jude Stringfellow’s son, Rueben, now in the Army. The mother and son taught the dog to walk on her rear legs — using peanut butter and a lot of practice.

Since then Faith has done the talk show circuit, and Stringfellow has become a motivational speaker. She has written two books about Faith and is working on a third, “Faith Walks.”

They get more than 200 letters and e-mails a day, run a website and make dozens of appearances every year, including stops at veterans’ hospitals across the country to cheer injured soldiers.

Rueben Stringfellow left Iraq in September and is stationed in Alaska. He is scheduled to get out of the Army and head home on Jan. 1.

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