2012-11-28 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

When I take my Afghan Hounds to the groomer in East Islip, I often wait for them, meandering through a nearby cluster of church thrift stores looking for “treasures.” My groomer is so skilled that she and her staff can bathe, dry and brush out both my Babylon beauties in about two hours, which is quite an accomplishment, considering the amount of hair they have.

Last week when I stumbled on a copy of the classic Walden on the St. Mark’s bookshelf, I couldn’t help but ponder what Henry David Thoreau would have had to say about our post-storm struggles, especially our new natural disorder and the bare essential existence that thousands of Long Islanders have endured for the last month; and many will continue to weather with no idea of when “normal” living conditions will return. Would Thoreau approve of the back-to-basics survival strategies forced upon storm victims?

Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817. At the age of 16, he went to Harvard. He taught for a short time after graduating before becoming a full-time writer. In 1845, he began his famous twoyear experiment, immersing himself in nature and personal introspection, while living simply and alone in the tiny cabin he built by Walden Pond within woods owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau’s whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, part of the American Romantic Period. His book- Walden or Life in the Woods- detailing his experiences in solitude, communing with nature, wasn’t published until 1854. He died in 1862 at the age of 45.

Thoreau listed food, shelter, clothing and fuel as the “four necessities.” Depending on their proximity to the bay, South Shore residents may well have lost all four. Yes, there are parallels to Walden, but there are huge differences too. Thoreau entered his simple lifestyle willingly; whereas on Oct. 29 Mother Nature thrust this harsh reality upon Long Islanders who abruptly lost technological advantages a century and a half beyond any convenience that Thoreau would have known, and then snubbed.

Let’s take a look at a few of Thoreau’s comments from Walden to see how his preaching compares to life lessons derived from the super storm: First his thoughts about comforts- “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Oh, really? Did Thoreau the prolific author ever try going without a computer for a month? Feelings of frustration mount when you fret about what you should be writing.

My computer is essential from a pet rescue perspective. It didn’t survive the storm, but since that surge was electrical, not salt water, the computer’s demise was unknown until the power came back on. A smart phone offered limited internet access, spotty usage, since the phone’s operator isn’t so smart. ‘Twas 27 days until I had a replacement computer with all my files and photos, thanks to those good folks at Carbonite, and a friend in the marine biology department at Stony Brook. In between fixing tidal gauges, he worked on restoring my online identity. In the mean time, I probably wore out my welcome at the library and Amityville Record office typing the column, while Last Hope and Babylon Shelter Petfinder and Facebook posts, website blurbs and press releases were put on hiatus. It’s one thing to borrow the shower at a relative or friend’s house, but a bit much to monopolize their computer for hours on end. Even the Last Hope fall dinner with District Attorney Kathleen Rice as keynote speaker was postponed from a week after the storm until this Thurs., Nov. 29 because Woodbury Country Club had no power.

Last Hope committed to taking several West Virginia dogs before the storm but delayed their transport for two weeks during the gas shortage. There was no way we were venturing to the New Jersey meeting spot. We also needed to leave room for an influx of local dogs. One dark, powerless afternoon, I got a surreal call from a West Virginia clinic about paying spay charges, only to ask the receptionist to wait while I found a flashlight so I could read her my credit card number. It was as if Long Island had switched places with Appalachia.

Since Sandy decided to burst upon the East Coast so late in the hurricane season, long after summer’s end, going without heat or hot water became a real issue. When addressing the four necessities, Thoreau stresses how important it is for us to keep warm, when he writes: “…man’s body is a stove, and food the fuel which keeps up the internal combustion in the lungs. In cold weather we eat, in warm less.” There’s something about walking around the house wearing layers topped off by two coats that works up an appetite; plus there’s probably a correlation between prolonged power outage and packing on pounds. The lower thermostat turned my dogs into chow hounds too.

Could any good rise from the devastation of this storm? Perhaps. Each day we learn of the many kind people, some traveling great distances, who have reached out to strangers during such distress. If nothing else, the aftermath of Sandy has been an eye opener, allowing some once-comfortable folks to get a glimpse of how less-fortunate families cope, and to empathize with daily trials imposed by poverty. As Thoreau states: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? …I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.”

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Snookie” #12-661 a young Shepherd/Sharpei was surrendered a week before the storm with her twin sister who has since been adopted. “Snookie” spends a lot of time in the shelter office, rolling over for belly rubs. Poor “Mickey” #12-710, a one-eyed Chihuahua mix, came in right after the storm. He belonged to an elderly person who can no longer care for a pet.

Cats: beautiful dark calico #2-505; black declaw in Cat Colony.

More Dogs: “Jack” #12-727- charcoal wirehaired terrier mix; “Barney” #12-726- apricot Lhasa mix; “Bruce” & “Emma” from the patient Pit contingent… long timers.

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