Episode 18: Kindness Is Appreciating Your Own Backyard

Alex at ten years of age, taking photos for BBC Wildlife Magazine

Seventeen-year-old Alex White joins Anitha from Oxfordshire, United Kingdom to talk about his passion to inspire people to appreciate wildlife and nature in their own backyards.

When Alex was seven, he was given a camera, and fairly soon after he created a blog to share stories and photographs of wildlife and nature in his Local Patch. His blog has been declared as one of the top 50 wildlife blogs.

Alex also talks about his exciting stint as a journalist for a BBC wildlife magazine and publishing a book he wrote called Get Your Boots On. It’s all about ways to enjoy nature.

To learn more about Alex and his blog, click on this link: https://appletonwildlifediary.wordpress.com/

To check out Alex’s book, click on this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Get-Your-Boots-Alex-White/dp/1909455229/ref=sr_1_8?dchild=1&keywords=Get+Your+books+on&qid=1615061919&sr=8-8

As a thank you for sharing his story, Anitha donated to the Oxfordshire Badger Group Vaccination Project. To learn more about the wonderful work this group is doing to help badgers, click on this link: https://www.oxonbadgergroup.org.uk/

And to help them help badgers, click here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/oxfordshire-badger-group-vaccination-project

Michelle Kadarusman—Author & Animal Lover

It’s always a joy to meet another author. However, connecting with Michelle Kadarusman was an extra thrill, because not only do we share a love of books and writing, we share a love for animals.

Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia with her four siblings. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mom, now a single mother and raising five kids, didn’t allow the family to have pets.

But this doesn’t appear to have been a hard rule, since Michelle and her siblings still filled their home with strays. To her relief, once the animals were there, her mom fell in love with the new family members as well. Michelle’s menagerie of strays included cats, rabbits and a dog named Charlie.

In 2000 Michelle moved to Canada and adopted her first dog from the Toronto Humane Society. Buddy was a five-year-old beagle mix. Sadly, Buddy died two years later. It happened when Michelle and her children were walking home from school. Buddy saw another dog across the street. He lunged and broke free of his leash, and he got hit by a car.

Devastated by his death, Michelle knew she wanted to bring another dog into their family.

Dogs add colour to our lives,” she says.

In 2003, India, a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, joined Michelle’s family, and then seven years later, they adopted Hannah, a shepherd mix rescued from Aruba.

Given her love of animals, it’s no surprise that in 1996, while living in Surabaya, Indonesia, Michelle’s desire to help animals extended beyond rabbits, cats and dogs. She helped rescue an orangutan.

Her brother, Andre, was also in Indonesia at the time. He was working for an Australian construction company based in Jakarta. His work involved travelling to remote areas. At one of those locations he came upon a captive orangutan, held in a tiny cage, who was being used as an attraction at a restaurant.

Michelle’s brother didn’t know what to do. It is illegal in Indonesia to have an orangutan in captivity. But this was before Google and finding a rescue organization to save the orangutan was very difficult.

Michelle’s brother contacted her, wondering if she could help. Michelle had recently had a baby and belonged to a mom’s group. She told the other mothers about the plight of the orangutan. Luckily, one of the women knew someone who volunteered at an orangutan rescue. She promised to contact her friend at the rescue and get back to Michelle.

A couple of weeks passed and then Michelle received a call from the woman at the rescue. They were in the area that day and needed the location of the restaurant.

Michelle scrambled to contact her brother. Fortunately, she was able to speak with him. Even though he didn’t know the exact address of the restaurant, as it was located in a remote village, he was able to provide enough details for the rescue team to find the orangutan.

Thanks to Michelle and her brother, the orangutan was saved and taken to a sanctuary. Her seven years of being held captive in a tiny cage had finally come to an end.

Michelle never learned exactly what happened to the orangutan, but is hopeful that her life was a lot better having been rescued.

Not only is Michelle an animal lover but she is also an author. This incident with the orangutan has been brewing in Michelle’s mind for almost thirty years. She is now working on transforming it into a fictional story. She plans on telling the story from three points of view: the main character is a girl who is a budding activist, a boy whose uncle owns the restaurant where the orangutan was kept, and the orangutan herself.

As she writes, Michelle is cognisant of the complexities involved in dealing with animal conservation in countries such as Indonesia. She is determined not to vilify the restaurant owners. She says that her brother returned to the restaurant after the orangutan was saved and the owners were relieved she had been rescued. They too, wanted a better life for the orangutan but didn’t know how to make that happen.

Michelle is a gifted writer. Her 2019 middle grade novel, Girl of The Southern Sea was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. She has written three award- nominated novels. I eagerly await the release of this story based on her real-life experience helping an orangutan.

When asked the question, what is the one thing she would change in the world, Michelle said, “To change the world we have to look at our own actions first. It’s easy to forget to simply be kind. I try and remind myself everyday to lighten my thoughts and just do what I can.

For more information about Michelle, please check out her Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/MichelleKadarusmanAuthor

Marilyn Helmer (Part 2)—Unexpected Visitors

One of the great joys in creating this blog post is hearing how these stories of kindness touch and inspire others. I was incredibly heart-warmed when Marilyn Helmer, who had already shared her story, Random Acts of Kindness, told me she enjoyed reading one of my other posts.

 As a dedicated cat lover, Marilyn was particularly taken by the post titled, Kate and Her Cats. 

“Although I haven’t had anywhere near the number of cats Kate has had, I can certainly relate to her love for them. I particularly enjoyed her story about raising the young kittens”

In 2003, Marilyn was blessed with the opportunity to rear a litter of abandoned kittens  her son rescued from inside an air conditioning vent. Chris and his girlfriend brought them home for Marilyn to raise. With the help of her daughter, Sandra, also a devoted cat lover, and advice from the animal clinic where Sandra was working for the summer, all four babies survived and thrived.

Marilyn was delighted to have her story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul  in 2017. With their permission, Marilyn shares that story here for us to enjoy!

Unexpected Visitors

by

Marilyn Helmer

(originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Cat Really Did That?)

 

The phone rang while I was busy preparing dinner.

“Hi, Mom, we’re heading home now.” It was my son Chris. He and his friend Jenn had been out of town the day before.

“Great,” I replied. “We’ll expect you in a couple of hours.”

“Wait, Mom, I have something to tell you.” Just then my oven timer dinged.

“Tell me when you get here,” I said. “Pie’s ready. Got to go.”

As I started to hang up, I heard Chris say, “We’re bringing some extra company.”

Extra company? Yikes! Would there be enough food to go around? “How many?” I asked.

“Four,” said Chris.

“Four? Chris, I can’t feed four extra people on such short notice!”

“Good news, Mom,” he replied cheerfully. “You don’t have to feed people. The company I’m bringing home is four abandoned kittens.”

“Kittens? Chris…”

“We’re stopping at Sandra’s on the way. She’s getting formula for them.” My animal-loving daughter had a summer job at the local veterinary clinic. “They’ll have to be fed every four hours. Don’t worry, she’ll explain it all to you.”

“Explain? Explain what?” Too late. Chris had hung up.

The timer dinged again. My pie! I yanked the oven door open to a burned-apple smell. Too late for the pie too.

I made a cup of tea to calm my nerves and phoned Sandra.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Apparently four newborn kittens,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I got the formula and bottles. The vet said they’ll have to be fed every four hours. I’ll come and show you what to do.”

Show me what to do? “Sandra, I don’t know anything about caring for newborn kittens.”

“I’ll help,” she said. “But I work all day so I can’t look after them full time.”

And I don’t work all day? I’m a writer. Writers work day and night. Well, sometimes.

“I have to go,” Sandra broke in. “Chris and Jenn just arrived. See you soon.”

I love animals passionately but being caregiver to four newborn kittens was more than I could handle. I resolved then and there to follow that sage advice, “Just say no.”

I was working on it when the front door opened. “Mom? Come see the kittens,” Chris called from the vestibule.

I went downstairs, silently repeating the “Just say no.” mantra.

In a basket in Jenn’s arms lay four tiny kittens, snuggled together.

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(l-r) Chloe, Zoli, Leo & Bailey

“Where did you find them?” I asked.

“We heard cries coming from the roof of our motel,” Jenn said.

“The guy in the office said a pregnant cat had been hanging around,” Chris jumped in. “He kept chasing her away but he thought she’d had her kittens on the roof.”

“He said he hadn’t seen her for several days so he figured she’d been killed on the highway and now he was stuck dealing with them. We knew what he meant by dealing with them,” Jenn said ominously.

“I told him we’d look after them,” Chris said. “I borrowed his ladder and got up on the roof. Somehow the mother cat managed to get inside the air conditioning unit and had her kittens there. She must have been desperate and thought it was a safe place.”

I quickly blocked out the thought of what might have happened to the kittens if Chris and Jenn hadn’t come along.

At that moment, the smallest kitten gave a faint squeal. Before I knew what I was doing, I reached in and picked it up.

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Leo & Bailey

“He’s the runt of the litter,” Jenn said. “He may not survive.”

“Unless he has the best care possible,” Chris added. “Care only a mother can give.”

“I am not a mother cat,” I reminded my son as I wrapped my sweater gently around the unbelievably tiny bit of life in my hands.

The door opened and Sandra came in. Her eyes went to the sweater-wrapped bundle in my arms. I didn’t miss the knowing smile she, Chris and Jenn exchanged.

“I brought everything you’ll need for the kittens – formula, feeding bottles, wipes,” Sandra rhymed off.  “We’ll work out a schedule and we’ll all help. Mom, look at them.” She picked up the white one with orange and black markings. The kitten obligingly wobbled her head and managed to look sweet and pathetic at the same time. “How can you resist?”

The bottom line was, I couldn’t.

In no time the kittens were awake, filling the house with their hungry chorus. My “Just say no.” mantra vanished in the twitch of a whisker.

That afternoon, Sandra walked me through the steps of kitten care. “They have to be fed every four hours. Then there’s the toileting.” I won’t go into details but suffice it to say disposable diapers do not work on kittens.

And so I became a kitty mama. If I thought my children had been messy eaters, the kittens outdid them, hands…er… paws down. And bathing a kitten is no easy job. Imagine a body so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, with twig-like limbs and paws the size of a dime. Imagine toweling them dry, taking care not get tiny claws snagged in the cloth.

When I was on my own that night for the ten o’clock feeding, reality hit. There were four of them and only one of me. When one kitten woke up, its hungry cries woke the others. Suddenly I had four little pink mouths emitting heart-rending pleas. Begging the one I was busy feeding to hurry so the others could have their turn fell on deaf ears. Last but not least, every towel and blanket that lined their basket had to be washed because no one was toilet trained.

Fortunately, as the days went by, I did have help. On alternate days, Sandra took the kittens to the veterinary clinic where the staff argued over who would get look after the adorable quartet. Strangely no one offered to do the night shifts though.

As well as feeding the kittens on schedule, we had to keep track of every gram of formula they drank. I couldn’t bear to list them as Kitten 1, 2, 3 and 4 so I named them – Bailey, Zoli, Chloe and for the littlest one, the biggest name of all – Leo the Lion-hearted.

 

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Chloe, Bailey, Zoli & Leo

Once named, the kittens developed individual personalities overnight. Leo certainly lived up to his name. His heart stopped twice, thankfully when he was in my daughter’s care. Using two fingers, for that was all that would fit on his tiny chest, Sandra managed to massage his heart back into action.

Good news! They all survived and thrived. Zoli and Bailey were adopted by Sandra’s mother-in-law where they are presently living a life of leisure. Chloe went to live with a friend of Chris’s and wee Leo was adopted by a client at the veterinary clinic.

Seventeen years have passed since those four unexpected visitors arrived. Looking back, I am thankful beyond measure that I had the opportunity to play a part in their survival and to observe up close, the miracle of life.

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Zoli & Bailey, 17 years old & living the life of luxury

If you would like to learn more about Marilyn and the wonderful stories she creates, please check out her website at http://marilynhelmer.com/