FOR THOSE OF YOU who know me as a writer who thus far has only written about the Middle East, and generally, stories about courageous Middle Eastern women, here’s a little sampler of a book telling some of my animals stories. Truly, the love of animals has ruled my life. I intimately connected with animals from the time I could see and feel. (This, according to my darling mother.) I’ve been the proud companion of 44 sweet creatures, including birds, chickens, dogs, cats, one horse, and one squirrel. I’ve saved countless animals, whether I was in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Thailand, or other lands.
I’ve been trying to tell the story for several years. Although I keep getting interrupted, I will be finishing this book late 2014, so it should be published in 2015. Meanwhile, here’s the sampler of SQUIRREL ON MY HEAD and PUPPY IN MY POCKET…
SQUIRREL ON MY HEAD AND PUPPY IN MY POCKET by Jean Sasson:
While I can’t see across vast expanses like an eagle, nor smell scents from long distances like a dog, nor hear the slightest crackle of like a cat, I was born with a natural gift that is intimately linked to animals. My talent is that I can feel what all animals feel. I can feel their joy. I can feel their fear. I can feel their sadness. I can feel their pain. My feelings become so intense that I become the animal with my mind and body experiencing exactly whatever it is they are undergoing. If they are shackled, I am shackled. If they are confined in a small cage, I am confined. If they are injured, I am injured. If they are happy, I am happy.
This gift has been a mixed bag, making my life’s path at times more joyful and on other occasions, more sorrowful. But I have no choice in the matter. You see, I was born this way.
My dear mother once told me that the first animals I ever saw were the hens with their chicks running free in our back yard. She remembered that my baby eyes lit with excitement, my entire body wiggled while my tiny hands reached out and my feet kicked vigorously. I acted thus until the chickens were out of my sight. Later when I saw a homeless cat jump and perch and preen while sitting on a high shelf on the back porch, sheer joy bubbled from my lips as a series of baby squeals. Mom smilingly related that throughout my babyhood, I never failed to visibly react when in the presence of any animal, whether dog, cat, bird, cow, chicken, or even an ant. As I grew older and learned to speak, she said that I could see dogs, cats, donkeys or cows from long distances, exclaiming with such eagerness that it was a big challenge to calm me.
I find it puzzling that there were no pets in my family’s home until I was five years old, and due to my inborn love of animals, a tragedy ensued from that event, a tragedy I can barely think about today without tears flowing down my face.
My love of animals grew more profound with each passing year, and my feeling of oneness with all creatures grew more potent, becoming so intense that today it is more acute than ever. Some friends or acquaintances who have witnessed the pain I suffer from this ability to connect with animals claim it’s a curse, doing nothing more than creating a torment of sorrows. There are others who tag it as a gift, realizing that I have used my capability to help many animals gain the right to joy and freedom. Whether my oneness with the animals is a gift or a curse, it cannot be separated from whatever it is that makes me, me.
This heightened sensitivity has meant that it is impossible for me to turn away from an animal in need of help, even when such an action means that I might end up in a confrontation with another human being. Many times I have jumped in to uncertain circumstances that threatened physical altercation. I’ve discovered that most human beings don’t appreciate being informed that they are neglectful or cruel. One of my most dangerous moments occurred when I was driving down a country road in Southern Alabama.
On that day I caught a glimpse of a hapless dog tied to a tree. Suddenly I physically felt a noose tightening around my own neck. The chained dog brought on the familiar choking and gagging reflexes that always occur at the sight of a restrained animal. I felt myself strangling as I pulled against an invisible chain that I could painfully feel around my throat, although my own neck was physically free. As I always do when I see an abused animal, I rushed to the animal. I slammed on my automobile brakes and pulled to the side of the road before making a quick circle to return to the small isolated farmhouse where the dog was shackled.
I pulled in a dirt drive separating the house from the tree where the dog was sitting in a delicate manner. I stared at the dog. He stared back at me. But the dog was not barking, which is what most dogs do when a stranger comes into their territory. I was puzzled, but would soon discover the horrific reason for his cautious position and wary silence.
I turned off my automobile and further studied the situation. The small and unpainted farmhouse was dark. There were no chairs or swings on the front porch. There were ten or twelve empty coke bottles on the wooden steps leading onto the porch. There were no vehicles in the drive. In fact I could see no evidence of inhabitants. I returned my gaze to the unfortunate doggie. The poor creature had no dog house, so when it rained, there was no shelter to be had. I could not see a bowl of food or water. The poor dog spent his days chained and unable to move more than a few feet in any direction. I asked myself a question I’ve asked myself many times before and since, “Dear God! How can anyone be so cruel?”
I waited for someone to come out of the house so that I might speak with them about the dog. Many were the times I had proposed purchasing a dog house, or even to help build a fence for dog owners I did not know, although most owners grew defensive and dismissive of my offers as it was clear that I had found them to be neglectful. Usually such situations end with angry owners ordering me off their property. Generally it would take days to get humane societies or legal assistance to free animals. But I’m impatient when it comes to liberating animals, so I try to solve problems on my own, without any outside help.
After a few minutes, I decided that the house was unoccupied. I mused that perhaps the dog had been tied up and then abandoned. There were constant and painful surprises when it came to ‘human on animal cruelty’. But whether the dog’s owners were there or not, I knew that I was going to take action.
I stepped from the car and made my way to the dog. It was a small male, no more than 20 pounds with short tan fur. We locked eyes. He was following my every move. I saw hope in his intense gaze but my stomach tightened as I was once more mentally assaulted by his despair. His short tail wagged hopefully whenever I started speaking, “Hello little man. Don’t worry. I’m here to help.”
When I drew closer I knelt and reached out to him, I involuntarily gasped. The dog was not wearing a collar, yet he was hooked to a chain. Someone had torn open a hole in the dog’s neck with the sharp point of a metal hook, with the hook connected to the chain. His every movement was an agony. No wonder the poor creature didn’t bark or move about. The dog had been in obvious torment for some time, for the flesh of his neck had grown up around the hook.
My eyes followed the length of the chain, which was wrapped around the tree. The loose chain was so short that the dog had no more than three feet of movement in any direction.
My breaths were coming short and sharp. I was ready to fight whomever had committed this heinous act.
The small dog was getting excited but his movements were tempered by the hook growing out of his little neck. I sat still, holding his head in my hand while studying the chain, wondering how on earth I was going to free the dog. I couldn’t rip the deeply embedded hook out of his neck without causing him tremendous distress and pain. I stood up and walked to the tree and was relieved to see that the ends of the chain were not held together by a lock that would require a key. Instead, the ends of the chain were looped in and out of the two or three chain circles. “Jean, you can do this!” I said, giving myself encouragement that I did not feel. I set to work.
I was breaking another promise to my husband, Ted, who was a veterinarian. (We divorced four years later, but remained friends.)
Bless Ted’s heart, he had not once complained at my practice of taking dogs or cats or birds that did not belong to me to appear in his clinic with the poor creatures in tow. He always treated the animals and always assisted in finding good homes. But he had recently confided that he was fearful for my safety. My promise was that I would get him to help should I feel the need to free any animals. At 5’2” and weighing no more than 110 pounds, I agreed with him that it wouldn’t hurt to have physical back-up. Ted was a big guy, standing 6’4” and would intimidate anyone who didn’t know that in fact he was a very gentle man.
But after seeing the condition of the dog, I could not bear to walk away, to leave him alone and to leave him believing that I was not going to save him. So I kept unlooping the chain. That’s when I heard the front door of the farmhouse slam. I turned to see a man of 60 or so years standing on the porch. He was scratching his face and looking at me in great puzzlement.
He spoke loudly and in poorly spoken speech. “Ma’am, wat you doin with my dog?”
I stared at him, pausing for only a moment, impatient to scream at the cruel man, yet knowing it was best to remain calm. “I’m taking him.” I replied in a level, determined voice.
I remained calm, but never stopped unlooping the chain. I glanced at the doggie and his ears had flattered. He was terrified of the man. No surprise there, I thought. With an owner so cruel, who knows what abuses the poor baby frequently endured?
“I’m taking this dog with me. He needs medical attention.”
There was a long silence before the door slammed once more. I looked to see that the man had gone back into the house. Perhaps he didn’t care if I took the dog, but I doubted that was the case. It had been my life experience that anytime I pointed out cruelty or became involved in saving animals from brutal situations, the owners always became defensive, the sort of people who saw nothing wrong with chaining or mistreating dogs, or starving horses, or torturing cats, or any other brutal exploitation against a helpless creature.
By this time I nearly had the doggie freed. That’s when the door opened once more. I twisted my neck so I could see the porch. There was the same man standing on the porch. To my surprise, he had a shotgun in his hand, although it was not pointed at me.
Strangely enough, I felt no fear. Anytime I am in the middle of a rescue, my adrenalin must flow in triple doses, for I can’t recall ever feeling actual fear or even alarm during such conflicts, although I do admit it was unusual to have someone come at me armed. But I was more determined not to leave this hooked dog to his owner’s mercy. Something extraordinary happens to me when an animal is in need, and I feel myself a superwoman, ready to fight to the death if necessary. So I kept unlooping the chain.
“You not takin my dog, lady.”
That’s when chain loosened from the tree and clattered to the ground. I quickly gathered the chain and lifted the doggie into my arms at the same time. I began walking to my car. I was moving slowly and purposefully but my mind was racing. Thankfully I had left the keys in the ignition. My car separated us, but I was young and agile while he was old and shuffling. I could easily beat him to my car. I was small but determined. I truly felt that in a physical altercation, that I would be the victor. Of course he could shoot me, but I felt strongly that he was not going to shoot me over a dog he cared so little about that he had intentionally maimed him.
“Lady, drop the dog,” he ordered in his loud gravelly voice.
You nasty brute, even your voice is revolting, I thought. But I kept my thoughts to myself, giving him a quick glance and speaking in a normal tone, “If you are going to shoot me over a dog, now is the time to do it.”
I had challenged him. Unless he was completely insane, I knew that the doggie and I would leave freely.
I maintained my composure, carefully placing the doggie on the back seat and placing the chain in a manner that I hoped it would not pull on the dog’s neck. Only then did I settle into the front seat and start my engine and slowly drove out of the drive.
The criminal was standing on the porch, looking at me in bewildered astonishment. I guess he had assumed that the sight of the gun would create a panic and I would abandon the dog and run away, leaving the poor critter for further torture. Fat chance, you disgusting worm, I thought to myself.
I gave a triumphant wave as I roared off.
That’s when I decided to name the little fellow Chance. “You got your chance when I saw you, little man,” I told him.
Chance was extremely intelligent and very polite. He looked at me with a smile, yet knew not to move around and jiggle the pain-causing-chain. I could feel his doggie happiness flooding the car. Somehow, Chance knew that he was saved.
Ted was seeing a cat patient when Chance and I arrived, but his assistant was properly horrified at the condition of poor Chance, dropping everything to help me move the poor dog into an exam room. When Ted rushed into the room, our eyes met over Chance. That kindly man didn’t say a word about broken promises, but set to work examining the poor dog. Ted grunted when he saw the hook imbedded into Chance’s neck, and quickly changed his schedule for an unexpected emergency surgery.
Sometimes there are happy endings in a life filled with misfortunes, and Chance’s life went from the bleakest misery to a life of happiness. One of Ted’s clients fancied Chance, and soon the healed doggie was blissfully settled with a family who appreciated his specialness and lavished him with the best foods and infinite love and care.
What happened to the vicious man with the gun? Regrettably, there were few laws on the books in those days to truly defend and protect
animals. Coincidentally Ted happened to be a good friend of the sheriff in our small city, and the two of them made the man a visit, warning him that he was in danger of being arrested for animal cruelty. That’s when the criminal said he wanted to take out a warrant against the lady who had come onto his property and stolen an expensive and greatly loved dog!
He decided against that action when the sheriff cautioned that he was walking a thin line that might well cause him to be booked for a felony, although what felony the sheriff was not yet quite certain. Ted, who was one of the founders and was the current President of the local humane society, forewarned that there would be routine checks at his home to make certain that he did not acquire another domestic pet.
I aided in the cause. The man’s home was located on the road to the home of my best friend, so I routinely checked his yard for chained dogs. Thankfully I never saw another animal in his yard, something that would have made it necessary for me to spring into a second hazardous situation with the same criminal.
Writing these stories evoke so many memories. I’ll never stop admiring Ted for the super cool manner he handled the many pet dilemmas I brought his way during the four years we were married, and the additional years we remained friends. Perhaps from all the “Jean’s animal stories” Ted had heard from my parents, he expected no less of me.
Such reminiscences carry me back to my family’s history. These memories lead into my early days, to the very beginning of my many years of animal love, consisting of my many pets, numerous and dramatic pet rescues, and in one sad case, the tragic deaths of sweet kittens brought about accidentally by my own childish misbehavior.
I’ll tell you more about those precious, but doomed kittens later. There are many other stories to come, but for now, here are some photographs of only a few of the 44 sweet animals who have loved and been loved in my home.