When Sue Green walked into our newsroom on Tuesday, she gravitated to a photograph, framed and hanging on the wall.
“It speaks to my soul,” she said.
The picture, “Inverness Porch” by Marty Knapp, was a favorite of Bryce Butler who wrote for The Enterprise for 17 years, ending with a stunning series of columns on facing death and living life. He died of cancer on Dec. 4, 2001.
Bryce had a tattered copy of the picture that hung by his desk in the newsroom and that he asked me to bring into hospice as he lay dying. After he died, his life companion, Marilyn Mowry, tracked down the photographer, in California, so that she could buy a print of the picture to comfort us and remind us of Bryce. She succumbed to cancer herself in 2005 but her kindness lives on.
The picture shows a child basking in the sun with a cat and a dog; all three are still, and look perfectly at ease.
“The cat leaning against the dog connotes the ability to live in harmony,” said Green. “It holds the promise of innocence, the possibility of what can be in the future.”
Green had come to our newsroom with a handwritten notice about Guilderhaven, a not-for-profit group that cares for animals, which she founded with Pat House a dozen years ago.
Green, a youthful 70, was a social worker for years. “My spirit has always been with the most disenfranchised,” she said. When she worked for Catholic Charities, she focused on the children and the elderly.
“I’ve always been in love with animals,” she went on. Because she lives in rural Guilderland, she has rescued large animals — goats and horses and donkeys — as well as small ones.
Green and House, years before, had focused on finding homes for unwanted pets. Now, with six volunteers, Guilderhaven focuses on spaying and neutering animals.
“The only way to stop the euthanasia of animals in this country is to stop the pipeline — spay and neuter everything,” said Green.
She doesn’t mince words. And she speaks the truth.
“I love the warm and fuzzy stories,” she said of once-abandoned pets finding homes. “But we’ll never adopt our way out of this problem — ever.”
The pool of pet owners has been shrinking in recent years with the recession, said Green.
“I do not want to see animals going only to the upper middle class. They provide valuable support for people,” said Green.
We agree. What a shame it would be if only the wealthy could keep pets.
An average visit to the veterinarian these days costs $45, Green said, and pet food is expensive, too.
“A lot of people have been through layoffs or cutbacks in their pay,” said Green. “Maintaining an animal is expensive. It’s getting scary. Only the upper-middle class can afford a pet. You have to take out a loan,” she said of owners dealing with veterinary expenses.
Guilderhaven has worked with area vets who will provide their services at a discount. A fourth veterinarian practice is joining the cause in 2013, she said.
Guilderhaven goes by federal income guidelines set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so an individual earning under $44,000 annually or a couple with an income under $47,000 are eligible for the discounted services.
Cats are given a complete checkup, are tested for feline leukemia and AIDS, are given shots for rabies and distemper, and are spayed or neutered — all for $81.
Dogs are given checkups, tested for heartworm, and given shots for rabies and distemper. Male dogs are neutered and the cost for all the services is $100. For females, the cost varies with weight — for those under 50 pounds, the cost is $170, and, for those over 50 pounds, the cost is $230.
While the program started with clinics, now individual appointments are available as well. They can be arranged by calling Green at 861-6861. She receives an average of 20 phone calls a day, she said.
“My goal is to have enough vets to do spaying and neutering every day of the week for those with low incomes,” she said. Pet owners have come from as far away as Vermont to use the services.
We urge people who need the services to call. And we urge those who may have funds to spare, to donate to this worthy cause.
Green is pleased that the Guilderhaven program is being used as a model to start other similar not-for-profits elsewhere.
Part of Guilderhaven’s mission is education, and volunteers teach at schools, churches, and gatherings of Scouts and other groups.
“We’ve taken on a wildlife rescuer, too” said Green. Joyce Perry is a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When a wild creature, like the barred owl injured in Bethlehem last Tuesday, is hurt, Perry tries to nurse it back to health to be released in the wild. If it’s unable to survive on its own, it is kept for educational purposes.
Guilderhaven is funded entirely by donations so, Green says with a bright smile, she does a lot of “begging and groveling.” She adds, “We have a wonderful community…and St. Francis looks out for crazies.”
Green didn’t want to have her picture taken; she didn’t want this story to be about her, but rather about Guilderhaven.
She suggested instead that we run “Inverness Porch” with her words. So, to get permission to print the copyrighted picture, I searched on the Internet for the photographer’s website and late Tuesday night called Marty Knapp in Point Reyes Station, California. To my surprise, Knapp himself picked up the phone on the first ring.
Other surprises followed in rapid succession. He remembered the call he had gotten more than a decade ago from Marilyn Mowry. “I was sitting there, thinking of making that picture a valentine, when I got the phone call from her,” Knapp said. “Now I’m working on a series — One from the Heart — and you call…Of course you can use it for free.”
The photograph, he said, is also called “Morning Prayer,” and is included in the book, Gifts of the Spirit, under the heading “Being with Others.”
Knapp vividly remembers taking the picture 37 years ago: “I was just starting out, not a professional photographer. I had just gotten my hands on a camera.”
It was early morning and he was barefoot when he opened his door and saw the dog and cat, sunning themselves. “Walking up the hill came that boy, making a beeline for them,” he recalled. Knapp took several shots through his telephoto lens and then waited for the trio to settle in. “They never looked over at me,” he said.
Before she left the newsroom on Tuesday, Green reflected on why Knapp’s photograph had attracted her and moved her.
She said that, in her younger years, she had been influenced by the writing and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. The picture led her to remember a favorite thought of Gandhi: To judge a society, you look how they take care of their most vulnerable — the children, the elderly, the animals, she said.
To us, the picture shows why people need pets.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor