posted by Janet Garey
Itâ€™s been nearly six years since that dreadful night, but to this day I still canâ€™t catch the slightest whiff of smoke without reliving the moments that nearly drove my world asunder.
My daughter, Amanda, and I worked for a company that scored standardized tests; she, a computer whiz kid, oversaw the technical logistics of various projects; I did the actual hand-scoring of both English and Spanish examinations. Under rigid deadlines and grateful for an opportunity to earn bountiful overtime pay, we willingly worked 18-hour days, oft-times weeks on end, with infrequent breaks to go home, care for our animals, grab a few hours of R and R, then return to the grind.
It was a Thursday; I remember that detail only because it meant Iâ€™d be missing a first-run episode of ER. We were both hungry, grumpy, tired and irritable, dismayed that the stacks of tests kept growing instead of decreasing. Resigned to our need for financial input, we plodded on.
But then, with no warning, I felt a sudden, inexplicable urge to leave. Call it karma, coincidence, sixth sense or ESP, something told me to leave immediately. GO HOME. NOW! Unable to define the eerie sensation, but powerless to ignore it, I literally dragged Amanda to the car and sped toward our house, totally disregarding speed limits, barely pausing at red-lit intersections as that vague, but insistent feeling poured through my every fiber.
At the stop sign four houses in advance of our residence, a smell of smoke became evident. One building closer, it turned nauseating. By the driveway, a stream of noxious fumes visibly streamed from beneath the door and a red glow back lit the front windows. Our house was on fire.
Coldly, dispassionately, we leapt into disembodied action – thatâ€™s how we Garey women always approach emergency situations. Amanda, still painfully recovering from a hideously fractured leg, sprinted to a neighbor, requesting an immediate call for assistance from 9-1-1. With total disregard for our personal possessions or safety, I opened the door to, if possible, extinguish the flames and survey the damage, begging an endless chant of â€œOh, God, please let the cats be all right. Please let them be okay. Please, God, help me, help me, please.â€
An interior alarm shrieked, the only sound discernible other than a crackle and hiss of fire. Iâ€™d later learn that the inferno centered in the kitchen; the hood above our stove had disconnected, falling, then striking the control buttons, thus setting a large eye upon which stood a cast iron skillet containing oil to its highest heat level. After a time, the ferociously smoking shortening caught fire, eventually enflaming everything nearby. (Further investigation also indicated that the entire incident most likely had been relatively short in duration; had flames been present the whole time, the house and its contents would have been engulfed. I still wonder if the whole horrible event began precisely at the exact moment I experienced that mysterious precognitive moment.)
Repeating my hopeful prayer, coughing, retching, gagging from the smoke, tears and mucous drenched my face as I gratefully observed that the doors to the various closets, main bathroom and Amandaâ€™s personal portion of the house were closed, leaving just my bedroom as the catsâ€™ only possible refuge. Unfortunately, that large space posed a major problem, what with its abundance of boxes and bags awaiting an upcoming yard sale, a massive walk-in closet jam-packed with clothes, shoes, random containers and other storage paraphernalia, plus a number of bookshelves and dressers. Dominating the clutter was an enormous California king-sized bed taking up a full half of the room. With all of the electric breakers thrown and no flashlight at hand, I was shrouded by total darkness.
And then I heard it, a muted, mewl coming from the farthest corner beneath the bed. Contorting myself into a freakishly, impossibly flattened form and aided by the crook of the cane I use during my most arthritically-challenged moments, I hooked the first object I could discern and dragged it toward the safety of Amandaâ€™s waiting arms. Gasping through smoke-filled, already asthmatic lungs, Amanda flew outside to deposit the frantic Daizee into our car, then returned, accompanied by a half-dozen neighbors to form an impromptu, flashlight-bearing, rescue brigade.
One by one, the other six members of our feline family were taken to safety – Gizmo, Michael Crawford, Dusty, Pumpkin, Tangie and Charlie – none injured or apparently traumatized. Our house was in shambles, but everyone was safe.
As firemen made sure no danger remained and set up enormous fans to dispel as much smoke, ash and residue as possible, emergency medical technicians checked Amandaâ€™s and my breathing. One especially kind-hearted man, an older, self-admitted animal-lover, examined the cats, quietly murmuring gentle sounds as he brushed the soot from their coats, cleared mucous from their noses and held a small oxygen mask near their faces â€œJust to be safe,â€ he explained. (Firefighters are our heroes!)
The days that followed were difficult for all of us. Despite extensive repair, replacement of the stove and a paint job provided by the company which manages our rental property, we were in trouble. Financially unstable, we had no insurance to cover our losses. All we owned – books, decor, my paintings, photographs, needlework, computer, music, collectibles, the bits and pieces that make our house a home, even the clothes on our backs – was damaged or destroyed by the insidious smoke and soot that oozed its way through closed doors. Materially, we lost everything.
On the other hand, we discovered that we had EVERYTHING. Total strangers provided shelter; friends offered solace. Co-workers contributed their hard-earned wages toward replacing our furniture; a local dry cleaner volunteered to salvage our clothing. Churches of diverse denominations stepped up to offer a variety of services ranging from food donations to emotional counseling. And once life resumed a semblance of normalcy, Amanda and I decided to use the incident as a catalyst to become more involved in social service by making ourselves voluntarily available to help other families who might find themselves in similar situations. Most recently, toward this end, we founded MiddleTennesseeFree_4_All@yahoo.groups.com
As for the felines, if anything, the event drew them closer as a pride, a colony made more cohesive by their shared experience, as evidenced by their shift from selective solitude to a group-centered preference in sleeping, eating, and ordinary hanging out. They also became ever more affectionate and attentive toward Amanda and me, a subtle, constant reminder that together, through good times and bad, the Garey Gang can survive and learn from ANY cat-astrophe.
Born in NYC, NY and raised in Miami, Fla, Janet now lives in Nashville, TN. A professional journalist and environmental educator, Janet is an “AARParrothead” devoted to a variety of community-based projects, which she either developed or supports in service of Planet Earth and all creatures great and small. Janet, her daughter Amanda, and her granddaughter Alexandra rescue and find homes for hundreds of stray or abandoned cats simply for the joy and love they give and get from their feline family.
There are no new titles anymore, just recycling what’s gone brilliantly before us.
We’re getting a little much-needed rain today, though not nearly enough. The temperature has dropped as well, which is fine. We all need some cool down time.
The other day I took Amazon to her holistic vet for her monthly checkup. Her vet has been away for a month, and toward the end of that time Amazon wasn’t feeling so well, and I didn’t want to wait until her next appointment. She’s actually doing great. In fact, she may well outlive me!
It reminds me of an earlier cat that cohabited with me when I lived in London, Cassie. Cassie was a “gift” from my first lesbian lover, whose parents had “owned” Cassie and had both died. I had a house, and Cassie needed a house to live in. Cassie spent the first year of our relationship hiding under the living room sofa, except for when she came out to eat and take care of business.
Though my human relationship ended shortly thereafter, my relationship with Cassie lasted many years, and she moved out from under the sofa onto the foot of my bed when I slept. She was never a lap cat, but we had a mutual understanding that grew into a great love over the years.
Cassie had come to me with the diagnosis of having a “bad heart” and so sometimes I wondered how she was doing. She always turned out to be fine. However, one evening she didn’t seem so fineâ€¦she wouldn’t eat, her nose was hot and dry, and I couldn’t easily see any breathing. Of course, it was near the middle of the night, and I was convinced she was near death. I frantically called ’round vets to find one that was open and I spoke to a woman who agreed to meet me at her clinic and have a look.
I didn’t even have a cat carrier, so I bundled Cassie into the front of my jacket and sat with her on my lap as I drove to the clinic, crying uncontrollably, alternately wiping my eyes and nose and stroking Cassie, who was quite quiet and might even have been asleep. So, I got to the clinic and, between sobs, described the symptoms I’d see to the vet, who tried her best to calm me down. Se did an examâ€¦andâ€¦Cassie had a cold.
Cassie went on to live several more full years as my companion. Sadly, I was unable to find a new home for her when I left London, and thought I had no other choice but to give her over to an animal clinic. I put her in my backpack and had that against my chest as I cycled to the clinic, which was about half an hour away, and, again was in tears the whole way there. Cassie wasn’t quiet this time. At the clinic I felt everyone sitting there knew I was abandoning my animal and was silently damning me for doing so. I had to fill out some paperwork, and then a white-coated man came to take her away from me.
She didn’t want to go. She clung to me and was wailing. Now everyone, for sure, was watching our struggle of separation. The man was being very gentle and saying to me that everything would be fine. I wasn’t so sure. Finally Cassie let go and I turned a fled the building. I cried all the way home and for days afterward.
I’m crying now. That was one of the hardest things I ever did.
So, when Amazon seems to be doing badly, I’m happy to rearrange my schedule and take her to the vet. I will do it in a heartbeat. As long as she wants to stay with us, I will help her do that.
|Bed kats: Boca, Amazon and Kali|
Now we have Amazon, Boca Grande and Kali living with us, all of them rescued from the streets. Boca Grande, the only male in our house, is a pain in the ass sometimes, but we love him, and we love his sisters.
Kali likes to sneak up when you’re busy on the telephone, or concentrating on something, or eating dinner, and insinuate herself into your lap, curled up like an armadillo. Then you’re stuck. Any movement elicits a grumpy growl and her claws might dig into your thigh. Ouch! If you do force her to move, she’ll get up, stretch and step to the nearest flat surface and look back at you with distain. Then she’ll pretend you’re not even alive and begin to clean herself, or move on to a more immobile resting place.
Boca Grande has his chair and his bed, and his place on the couch. Do not even think to sit there! If you do, he will begin an unending chorus of wails and outrageous, indignant shrieksâ€¦he will continue until you move. He’s not named Boca Grande for nothing, you know.
Amazon is the big sister and watches over the other two with a matriarchal grandeur. The waves part before her. She doesn’t have to say anything. A look will do. Oftentimes I’ll be working away and suddenly feel that I need to turn around. There’s Amazon, silently watching me and waiting for me to notice her. Then I get up and she leads me into the kitchen (for food), or to one of the doors to be let outside.
My partner and I have renamed ourselves “the can and door openers.”
I’m grateful to have them in my life. Till death do we part.
Try this: Select a spot in your home and lie down on the floor. Is it the kitchen? Give the floor a little lick. Or the living room? Put your nose on the carpet and take a really deep breath. Then, wander into the bathroom and check out the porcelain â€œdrinking fountain.â€ Okay, stop the experiment. You get the idea: this is your home from your dogâ€™s point of view. You generally experience your surroundings from a five- or six-foot elevation, but your [pet] is much closerâ€“and much more inclined to sample her surroundings.
While there isnâ€™t one set definition for â€œgreenâ€ or â€œecoâ€ buildings, there are important general concepts to bear in mind: Energy efficiency, size (it matters), sustainability, use of recycled materials and low impact. Considering that the average US household is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, energy efficiency tops the listâ€“aim for good insulation throughout your home, well-sealed heating and cooling ducts, windows and doors weather-stripped, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. (More tips can be found at epa.gov.)
|A new motherâ€¦Our animal companions walk on our floors and then clean themselves, including their feet.|
If you are remodeling or redecorating, use resource-smart building materials, which are safer for you and your dog as well as for the environment. And, before you purchase flooring material, or even paint for your walls, give some thought to the environmental consequences of your choices. Even small changes can have a big impact. Consider using traditional materialsâ€“beeswax polish and vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning, for exampleâ€“zero to low-VOC paint (latex), finishes and adhesives; and non-aerosol products.
Follow suggestions laid out by green-building expert Jennifer Roberts in her book, Good Green Homes. When you are selecting home furnishings or building materials, ask yourself (or the retailer or product manufacturer) the following questions:
It is easy being green these days, and a little research will lead you to many good, environmentally sound alternatives. Your [pet]â€™s life, not to mention your own and your familyâ€™s, will be the better for it.
Green Flooring Materials
Many kinds of flooring materials can be considered green, including:
There are basically two types of wood: softwoods, which come from rapidly growing trees like pine and fir, and hardwoods, such as oak, maple, teak, etc. Be sure all wood is FSC certified and does not come from old-growth trees. Even better, use reclaimed/recycled wood. Wood flooring is easy to clean with simple products like vinegar and water. Only use zero- to low-VOC and plant-based sealants.
There are more than a thousand different species of this fast-growing woody grass. It is stronger than most hardwoods, and, like wood, can be sanded and refinished multiple times. (Luckily, the type used for flooring is not the kind pandas feed on.) After harvesting, it quickly regenerates. TIP: Even if it comes factory-finished, experts recommend resealing it to protect it from [pet] water-bowl spills.
Made from linseed oil, a byproduct of flax (Oleum Lini). It is antibacterial, making it ideal in kitchens and bathrooms. It is also antistatic, so it repels dust and dirt. It comes in a wide range of colors, and even though it does offgas due to the oxidation of lineolic acid, it is less harmful than vinyl, and is considered to be more environmentally friendly.
From the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). The bark naturally sheds and regrows about once a decade, so harvesting does not harm the tree. Cork resists rot and mold and makes a great sound-absorber and insulator. It also adds an extra cushioning and â€œbounceâ€ to the step, great for the long-standing cook and indoor ball-tossing!
Other good flooring materials to consider are concrete, brick, tile (ceramic, porcelain and glass), terrazzo and stone.
- Avoid Vinyl!
Even though its low cost and wide variety of colors and patterns make it a popular flooring choice, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. Its production releases an extraordinarily toxic chemicalâ€“dioxinâ€“and many, including the Healthy Building Network, consider PVC to be one of the â€œmost environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced.â€
Does Green Building Cost More?
It doesnâ€™t have to. Many green building features and products cost the same as, or even less than, their conventional counterparts. Other green features may cost more upfront but result in savings year after year. Energy-efficiency upgrades, for example, usually pay for themselves by lowering your monthly energy bill.
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization whose certification process provides consumers with assurance that wood was harvested from well-managed forests and plantations. Be sure to look for the FSC label when purchasing wood. fscus.org
LEED Green Building Rating System
A national standard established by members of the US Green Building Council, it provides a framework for assessing building performance and sustainability. It is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. usgbc.org
The release of vapors from a material; many materials in the home offgas formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). TIP: Interior plywood emits urea formaldehyde (a carcinogen)â€”use exterior-grade plywood instead.
Rapidly Renewable Resources
Donâ€™t contribute to deforestation; instead, use products made from rapidly renewable resources that regenerate quicker than the demand for the productsâ€”bamboo and cork for example.
Volatile organic compounds are a range of chemical substances that become airborne, or volatile, at room temperature. They are found in paint, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, glues, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents, dry-cleaned clothing, and even air fresheners. VOCs are a major source of indoor air pollution, exposure can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, eye irritation and headachesâ€”just think of how your dog will feel being that much â€œnearerâ€ to the source TIP: by choosing a zero to low-VOC water-based paint, you can really reduce, or even eliminate, this concern.
Hereâ€™s a quick chemistry lesson. Not everything with â€œorganicâ€ in its name is actually good for us. When we walk into a newly painted room, the first thing we noticeâ€”besides the lovely colorâ€”is the smell, which comes largely from VOCs, chemicals added to paint to speed up drying time. Choose low- or zero-VOC paints; interior flat paint with VOC level of 50 grams per liter or less, and interior non-flat pain with 150 grams per liter or less. VOC content should be labeled on the packaging. Note: that low odor does not mean low VOC, some manufacturers use fragrance to mask the paint odor.
- The Bark is the award-winning magazine of modern dog cultureâ€”it speaks to the committed dog enthusiastâ€”and is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Bark is the recognized expert on the social/cultural world of dogs in America, and what they mean to us. Click here for your FREE issue.