2009-08-26 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Balto, the hero Husky who in January 1925 led the last life-saving leg of the six hundred mile diphtheria serum run from An­chorage to Nome, Alaska is im­mortalized in bronze in Central Park. Just like the Alice in Won­derland statue, Balto’s fur shines like gold because of the countless children who have pet off his pa­tina. Yet his biggest fan worships him from afar. Balto’s legacy lives on within the heart of a spe­cial young man in Florida.

Although Matt Browning, age 33, was born with multiple physical and intellectual impairments, he has a beautiful outlook on life. He’s an identical twin and proud of his brother who works at Universal Studios, especially since Matt is a movie buff. The animated Balto is his favorite filmfor two reasons. As Matt says, “#1 the story is true and #2 Balto saves chil­dren”. He’s a participant at Pathways, a day pro­gram for independence in Palm Beach where my friend Jeanne Penney is a director. She too has a refreshing perspective about disability, partly because her late father had polio. At softball games, he’d step out of his wheelchair to hit hom­ers and then barrel by the bases in his braces. She grew up thinking that only the “good people” wound up in wheelchairs. Her childhood was unique. Each night she and her identical twin sister were whisked off to bed either by a rocket ship or magic carpet.

Shown in photo, Balto statue in Central Park. Shown in photo, Balto statue in Central Park. Meanwhile Matt’s an innocent, kind fellow who is al­ways thinking of others. Most of Pathways’ 15 clients are paralyzed, some quadriplegic; but Matt can negoti­ate a walker, so each day he gathers his buddies’ drinks from their lunch boxes and puts them in the refrigerator. It’s the least he can do for them. In addition, Matt is the movie critic for Pathways’ newsletter “Wild Wheels”. Last year he brought in his Balto tape to share with the gang, but the VCR ate it up. He was beside himself; ev­eryone needed to know about Balto, so Jeanne ordered a DVD replacement tout de suite from EBay.

Pets for Adoption Shown at right, Fidget ~ Greyhound mix Pets for Adoption Shown at right, Fidget ~ Greyhound mix Jeanne is a native Long Islander. We taught togeth­er three decades ago. Her twin sister still lives in East Moriches. Last summer Jeanne, also an RN, was in New York quite often because her cousin from Delaware was undergoing chemo treatment at Sloan. To Matt, “New York” means “NYC” and “NYC” means the Balto stat­ue. Each trip he would ask Jeanne to go to Central Park to get him a Balto photo but her cousin’s ordeal was too intense. Jeanne was never able to steal away; Matt understood. Since 2000 Pathways (www.pathtoind.org) has helped Palm Beach area adults with severe physical developmental disabilities live as independent a life as possible. The clients, presently ranging from 22 to 57 years old, have varying difficulties with communica­tion

Shown at left, Preston ~ gray tabby Shown at left, Preston ~ gray tabby and mobility. Many have electronic devices that interpret eye or head movement messages, besides us­ing powered wheelchairs. Activities are designed to en­hance each participant’s abilities and dignity. Some learn to read or use computers at Pathways, because previously no one tried to teach them. In their “Do You Have the Guts?” support club, members dis­cuss barriers in their lives and ways to obtain individ­ual goals which can range from moving into their own apartment to convincing their parents they are not ba­bies

anymore. Pathways clients manage creative micro-industries such as a balloon bouquet business, an online thrift shop, and my favorite- a Flamingo Flocking ser­vice. Far from a somber place; practical jokes rule at Pathways. This tiny community combats monumental challenges with a collective sense of humor. However, like many non-profits, budgets are stretched. Not im­mune from the Madoff mess, Pathways had to sell their only specially equipped van to help them stay open. Now back to Balto…..but first, since I’m obsessed with the truth behind famous, long dead dogs (including Westminster’s Sensation buried in Babylon), time to de­bunk

the Hollywood version. (Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know the harsh reality.) Balto and the sled team did inspire the annual Iditarod race, though there were hard feelings about which lead dog should receive the credit. The public loved Balto’s story. In December 1925, Balto attended the unveiling of his Central Park likeness. When his star faded, he and his K-9 cohorts were sold to a vaudeville promoter. In 1927, a Cleve­land businessman found the team neglected and in poor health, prompting Ohio school kids to raise $2000 to buy the dogs and return them as heroes to Cleve­land. At his death in 1933, Balto was stuffed, and is now on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Last month Jeanne returned to Long Island, stopping first in Dela­ware to see her cousin, happily in remission. We spent a day in NYC. Our first stop was Central Park to climb the rock and pose with Balto. The weekend before had been Matt’s 33rd birth­day. She sent the photos by phone to Pathways. Within moments, Matt (with some help) texted back: “Thanks, for the best BD gift ever.” Matt, I’m spreading the word too. Now every Post reader knows about your beloved Balto.

For Adoption at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: “Fidget” is a lovely female Foxhound mix with a Greyhound’s face while “Preston” #544 is a handsome gray tabby. He and his cat brother “Derek” #545 are purrsonality plus. Dogs: “Rusty”- young Lab; “Gypsy”-Cattle Dog mix; “Ripley”- Puggle. Cats: “Spanky”- declawed tabby in showcase. Her owner died; “Prudence”-flame point Tonkinese mix; “Quincy”- orange & white.

Don’t Miss Out: Last Hope’s musical “Bella Notte” dinner at Sergio’s in Massapequa-Thurs. Sept. 3 from 6 to 9 pm. See www.lasthopeanimalrescue.org for ticket info.

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