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 .