The Greatest Adventure is Yet to Begin #RooCrewCrossAmerica2017

I feel much like the older Bilbo Baggins – as I sit here on my comfortable couch, in my home that is feeling more like home every day, with a sweet little dog curled up by my side – reflecting on the last couple weeks as if they were just yesterday, yet years ago simultaneously at long last. I start my new job Monday (tomorrow as I write this) with HSUS and I wanted to wrap up the cross-country blog in pictographic style…each image below telling the story of a leg of our adventure; from a first-class pie to car-dog-piles to sunsets and sunrises and corn fields for days. It’s been an experience of lifetime, crossing these here united states. It went by much quicker than I expected but I guess that’s a sign that the company and vibe were spot on-it was only when we hit Nebraska that we realized we hadn’t much listened to the radio. It was just that good. All of it was. The silence and gazing and the talking and laughing. We were lucky that we had a safe and smooth ride, Yuki did not bite anyone, and that we had amazing people along the way who opened their home to us for a night or three (surprise, Codie & Linds!).  To everyone we stayed with (Mom & Rick in CA, Beth in UT, Ryan & Rebecca in CO., Lindsey and Codie in IO, and Pat and Debbie in OH): Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!! Our home is open to you anytime!

I’ll update you all on Silver Spring, Maryland life in the near future, as well as what I can disclose about life in the new role. If I am walking away with one thing from this entire experience, it is that there are a whole lot of things to see in this world-your impression of them has more to do with you than them. This trip was reflective and peaceful for me-things I’ve needed to reconnect with greatly.

Beauty and hope can be found anywhere… you need only open your eyes and be grateful for sight.

Enjoy the captioned picture show, loves <3

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Day 1: CA to Utah (via Nevada) #RooCrewCrossAmerica2017

Hi Friends!!

Wow, there are A LOT of you out there-thank you so much for subscribing/ghost stopping by :) We feel the love and support…that’s for sure!

I’ve got to keep this short and sweet, as I’m much more tired than I thought I’d be after 12 hours on the road today (that’s about 9.5 hours of driving and some necessary potty breaks for two and four-legged along the way). I’ve got so many thoughts-how beautiful are the clouds and the sky over the California Rockies?, How sad is it to see cows shipped up and strapped in to trucks hauling their terrified eyes off along the highway (still want that burger?!)?, How lame emergency road side “assistance” from Hertz is (never patronizing again, but we are okay…)? All these to be further explored in due time, but for now, I’m surrounded by tired pups, a passed out boyfriend, and a sore neck so off to bed I go.

But before I do… I just want to send out some MAJOR love to the wonderful human that we are staying with in Salt Lake City tonight: Beth, a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Kenya in the 80s) who has a lovely and welcoming apartment. She’s opened her home to us, and after she got back from working in Shanghai and Pakistan received lots of community support, so she’s returning the favor to us tonight. I’m just thankful for good people, good Indian food, and a warm spirit who loves our dogs. Go humankind <3

Enjoy some pics from Day 1, loves. Thanks for swinging by! Until Colorado mañana…

#RooCrewCrossAmerica2017

Well, the time is here. For those of you new to me, my 5 former street dogs I collected in the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean, my guy (also collected in the Peace Corps… but at the end of his service in Uganda) and I are making a cross-country trek to start our new chapter on the East Coast.

I’ve been involved professionally in animal welfare since 2011 (started the Vincentian SPCA with an amazing group of Vincentians and ex-pats as my primary project in the Peace Corps) and after working in Humane Education for a couple of years at Woods Humane Society then Volunteer Services at The San Francisco SPCA, I’m headed to an organization I’ve wanted to work with since first learning of it-The Humane Society of the United States. I’m beyond stoked. I’ve accepted the role of Volunteer Manager for the Animal Rescue Team. More on the team, here.

I’ve been so fortunate to work for organizations and with groups of people who I truly respect and love. This field is no cake walk and you must have a solid group of support, inside and outside of this realm, to balance and ensure you’re not giving more of yourself than you have. As I often tell volunteers, colleagues, and myself (!): you cannot give 100% if you’re at anything less than that. So lots of deep belly breaths, yoga, hikes, friends, dogs, nature bathing, good beer/wine and writing have helped me over the years.

We’ve been living in Berkeley, CA. the last two years-me commuting 11 miles to work in SF and Nick commuting 5 minutes to a veterinary clinic where he worked-yes, we both LOVE animals. He’s from Rhode Island and has lived in New England and worked in D.C. before and after his Peace Corps service, so he’s no stranger to this crazy white cold stuff they call “snow” nor the actual changing of seasons. Me-I’m born and raised in Cali and other than studying abroad in Deutschland for a year in undergrad and living in the Eastern Caribbean for two years while in the Peace Corps, I’ve grown pretty darn used to wearing my Rainbow flip-flops and “active wear” (yoga pants and a tank) year round… this will certainly be an adventure! Hence, the blog reawakening…

So, I will do my best to document our drive across America with 5 dogs. We’ve shipped our life in 2 containers and my mini cooper-all of which is currently en route to Silver Spring, MD., where we’ve been beyond lucky to secure a beautiful home that’s perfect for our little active family-huge fenced backyard, near a 9-mile park to D.C., and super close to my job! Tomorrow we leave Sun City Lincoln Hills, CA. (where my mom and her guy recently moved), where we’ve been warmly welcomed in their lovely home on the golf course. Special thanks to Rick for taking Nick out to a RiverCats game, dropping us off at the airport to pick up our sweet rental ride for the journey,  and for being overall so patient and understanding with having 8 dogs (they have 3, well 2 and a half, but that’s another blog post for another time) in the home for a week!!! Only one “love-nibble” from Yuki, I count that a wild success and have really enjoyed spending time with he and my mom! We leave from here for Salt Lake City-roughly an 8 hour drive, some 640ish miles. That’s the first leg of our journey, then we’ll be going to Littleton, CO. < Waterloo, Iowa < Chillicothe, OH. < MARYLAND! We’re taking our time and staying with new and long-time friends along the way. We’d love good vibes for safe and peaceful travels <3

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If you’re into hashtag following, I’ll be posting on Instagram (handle: kierstenlovesmutts) as I’m inspired with the hashtag: #roocrewcrossamerica2017. Look us up :)

Other than that, enjoy some pics so far-our Berkeley hobbit bungalow boxed up, loaded, Wolfie arriving at Grandma’s, Sandy making out with Uncle Roger, Wolfie mackin’ on Aunt Bonnie, beautiful mama, snacks for the road, mom making us vegan choco chip walnut cookies (because she is the best), Nick enjoying retirement, and Roger and Nick talking baseball in the pool:

There and Back Again

It’s been three years since I’ve been on this little rock in this big Caribbean Sea. I’ve found myself pinching my arm out of disbelief that I’m actually back. I didn’t know if I’d be able to come back after Peace Corps, but here I am. It’s morning, sitting on Leslie’s deck  as 3 pound Stella (a Canadian transplant chihuahua that Jade carried home with her from living abroad) sits on my lap and co-observes the 85 degree shaded wind rustling bamboo trees and collected bohemian wind chimes from bouts of travel around the world. Governor, one of five bottle baby-puppies Les and I took neonatal care of five years ago, basks in the rising sun. Bouganvillea-bonsai hybrids add color depth to the vista of tangerine, coral and turquoise colored houses and a cobalt-ombre sea at rest. Barking dogs speak with vocalizing chickens and I smell the faint scent of salt and coconut. Jade and her mama laugh in the kitchen while eating papaya, Nescafe and toast. It’s as if I never left, yet it feels new-in a way.

The last time I was on St. Vincent, literally my last step on the mainland, was on a dock in Calliaqua. We (somehow!) arranged for 6 island mutts to come home with us-Isla, Roo, Wolf, Sandy, Yuki & Birthday Cake…the last 5 being foster failures because we never thought we’d be that crazy. But we were/are/will be. It was midnight and our less-than-sober skipper had arrived four hours late to the port with not the slightest apology. Ahh, one of my last experiences of “island time”. My life packed in two bags, we loaded them and the five crates onto the 40′ vessel. Birthday Cake, Yuki’s puppy, was only 2 months and as the runt, was small enough to fit into a soft carrier that I’d be bringing on board the plane with me. As we set off on our overnight journey through the Grenadines, along channels and a full moon nestled into stars of stars, I felt sad but relieved. Relieved to be returning home and reuniting with familiarity and the missed comforts of America. Yet my heart had been opened and broken without being properly healed-I felt, and still do to this day, a rawness and vulnerability to sadness when thinking of this place. So much beauty from the bird’s eye view juxtaposed with so much tragedy on the ground. To leave on that little boat with my life and dogs and boyfriend felt selfish, like I was giving up too soon, but I had to go. Not only was my service up, but I needed a break and breath. Or two or three…

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Arriving in Grenada ’13

 

A lot has happened since leaving St. Vincent. The VSPCA has had it’s successes and challenges but continues to make progress-one animal and person at a time. It can be stressful and overwhelming for the handful of committed volunteer board members to plan, execute and carry on regular spay-neuter clinics, but it’s so worth it. The mobile van is looking fine and partnerships between organizations seem to be ripe for growth. Challenges can look like a very successful spay/neuter day of 70 surgeries by one government vet in Owia one day, and then driving home to see a van (like a bus and is the primary mode of transporting up to 21 passengers at one time) swerve to intentionally hit a dog on the street. Bandades-approaches to problems can only do so much. It’s time to increase proactive measures to systemically shifting the culture toward a more compassionate and empathetic place. This will begin with the children.

My primary reason for being on this trip is not only to assist vets at clinics, but to assist in developing a strategy to work closer with the Ministry of Education to get character education and humane education lessons into primary schools… SO much more challenging than drafting a few empathy-based curriculums on responsible pet guardianship and the value of spay/neuter. Things down here take time and seem to, at times, be unnecessarily complicated. But that’s another blog post :) Things are happening, but gosh darn is it heart-breaking to see the overall state of the animals down here. Truth.

I met a hubs/wife team in Mustique who do feral cat spay/neuter when I was in the Peace Corps back in 2012. They’re lovely and have been doing it for years for the small, privately owned, celebrity/royal-infused island. We talked about the still-relatively-infant VSPCA and potentially hosting clinics on the mainland later down the road. Well, we are at that place in the road and we have 3 DVMs and 1 RVT here, as I type, assisting a government vet with as many surgeries as can be done this week. It’s the first go, so there’s lots of learning to do, but future visiting vet programs will smooth out over time. World Vets is also coming to SVG in October-such progress! The demand is beyond high and the need is so great.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Our VSPCA van!! Thanks to generous donations and coordinated efforts by the VSPCA team!

 

 

 

Rain Falls. Spirit Rises.

(Warning: Graphic images follow)

I’m not sure how many more times my heart can break, before it shatters.

Weather-wise and other-wise, today was dark.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is currently experiencing a storm; a tropical wave is hitting this tiny rock in the middle of what feels like nowhere-and my entire world at the same time.   It’s only appropriate for a day like today, when yet again, I looked death and misfortune straight in the eye as it manifested through an innocent, helpless and discarded sentient creature. A dog I named Spirit, left for dead.

I received a call around 9:30 this morning from a concerned woman who had just passed a pup in the gutter off a busy road in Kingstown with what appeared to be two broken back legs. I immediately called Leslie and Max to help me find and rescue this sweet girl.

Observed by witnesses, she was hit by a car over a week ago, and struggled to survive on the streets. She was skin and bone when we got to her, no doubt starving, but seemed relieved to be taken by gentle strangers out of the rain and into shelter and warmth.

Unnamed, unowned, unclaimed, a dog that could have been yours, or mine had such a strong spirit and hunger for life. She amazed us by propping her body up on her two front legs to “walk”, broken legs dangling behind and under her-exposed bone and all. She had tended to the wounds well, as there was not evident signs of infection.

Her tail wagged when kind words and gestures, for once, were extended towards her. Her deep brown eyes, glowing with yellow rings, seemed to say, “I’m tired. So tired…thank you.”

With the injection in the vet’s hand that would hush her existence, I along with the two or three others present wracked our minds to think of what kind and patient soul could take her in and allow her to recover and rehabilitate with love and peace.

In the end, I carried her out of the clinic. I cradled her in a clear plastic bag, lifeless, still warm to the touch, as the tears blended with misting rain down my swollen cheeks. I tried to close her eyes, but they remained open, as if to say, “Remember me and don’t let my efforts to live die today.”

I mourn for Spirit. I mourn for what she represents-the drop in the ocean affect we are having, and the countless other animals who are suffering all over the world, but especially in this country-on the streets and chained in yards. Hungry, abused, scared, and seen as disposable.

In the moments before they die, I am with them, and all I can say is, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I failed you. We failed you. This country failed you.” They don’t understand and they don’t deserve pain and suffering.

But what hurts the most, is when the animal can be saved, but a lack of facility or willing caretaker leaves us left, in extreme cases, with this as the only option.

She didn’t put up a fight, she came to us willingly. I won’t let her death go unnoticed or without sharing. Her spirit, like so many I have been affected by on this island, remain with me and motivate me to make it through the dark storms.

RIP Spirit. May your soul finally sleep in peace.

Morning Senses

I.

Rain bolts, falling, waltzing against a grey canvas

Diffused morning light struggles to permeate the plush variety of foliage

Sleeping dogs strewn and scattered, stir only when dreams bend

II.

Crickets nervously invite whistling birds to morning tea

Rain, less frequent now, drips out of rhythm from window sills into swollen puddles

Mango trees rustle in wind, forecasting storms to come

III.

Asphalt and cool rain take me back to childhood recesses in the fall

Lingering scents of lemon dish soap drift from the kitchen

Dog breath is but a lick away

IV.

Bequia honey melts into passion fruit tea

My mouth is full of warm summers, sweet and calm

Whole grain toast crunches, contrasting with Ellsie’s guava jelly

V.

A break  permits the picking of plums

Remnants of rain, nature’s wash, shake off upon plucking

My feet, bear on the swamped grass, reunite me with the Earth