Taking Care of the Strays Without Making a Donation

strays boy with dog

I’m a little partial to strays, depending on what kind they are.

Back in the day when I was praying about a husband, one of the things on my list was that he had to be kind to animals even if they were strays. Animal cruelty is wrong and I think animals need to provided for and cared for. I knew that if a man was kind to animals, he would be kind to kids. If I ever got married, I wanted kids and I wanted them to be cared for in ways beyond just their physical needs.

When I spent a summer as a nurse at a camp, I watched this man I would marry take care of the horses on the camp farm. There was one unbroken horse who dared anybody to ride him without being thrown off. Dave managed to do both and he did it with firmness and with kindness. I was impressed – but I didn’t let him know.

I liked that in this guy, and as the summer progressed, I discovered that he fit a few other things on my list of requirements. Find a man who cares about animals and you’ll have one who cares about his wife and his kids.

So be assured that I’m not opposed to taking good care of animals. We’ve rescued a few dogs from the pound because we like to give homes to those who need a place. The only cats we have now are strays who showed up here and were allowed to stay. We’ve had stray puppies who came uninvited and unannounced that were given a home. You can be assured I’m not opposed to helping stray or homeless animals.

stray
Our St. Bernard puppies – circa 1963. Saints Alex, Bernard, Casper, Darla, Evangeline, Frederick, Gwendolyn, Hugo, Jasper [Saint Iris died and St. Katharine was stillborn.]
I guess you could say it’s in my genes. I grew up with cats and dogs. Some of them belonged and a few came as a stray. We dressed the cats in doll clothes and carted them around the yard in an authentic baby carriage. We lined the St. Bernard puppies up on the porch steps and played church with them for days on end. Our cats and dogs were well fed, including the St. Bernard that ate all our table scraps and huge amounts of dog food every month. But my mother had a heart for kids, too – which is one reason she hosted our summer sisters from New York city each summer for two and four weeks at a time through the Fresh Air Fund. My mama cared most about the children.

What disturbs me today is the many folks who beg people to take in a mistreated animal or pastureless horse but seem to turn a blind eye to the strays and the needs surrounding them in their own community.

Needs like kids who don’t get a square meal a day and, were it not for free breakfast and lunch during the week, many of then would go to bed hungry. Kids who need a place to go when their parents can’t provide for them – or aren’t allowed to – because of neglect. Kids who don’t experience love and care because the adults in their lives didn’t receive that as kids either and therefore don’t know how to give love themselves. One stray often leads to more stray animals.

stray

I think a stray dog and a lonely kid would make a good pair. But if I have to choose between one or the other, I choose the kid.

That’s why we’re giving to pregnancy centers and to organizations that provide food, clothing, water, and education for kids in countries that would be hopeless without the support of others. There are so many organizations asking for funding.

  • One of those I  highly recommend (and no one there knows I’m mentioning this) is Compassion International. If you want to know more about it, click here.
  • You can also consider Orphan Resources International. For more information, go to this link.
  • Another well-known organization that I recommend is Samaritan’s Purse. Find out more about this organization and ways to help here.
  • Recently, a friend recommended an organization that helps refugee families. Since this friend recommends it and I trust her judgment, I offer this suggestion for World Orphans.

When you’re asking me for a donation to the humane society, I’m more likely to give if I know your heart is out there helping kids, too. I’d make a larger contribution if I knew you were helping take care of kids who need a home and not just gathering up stray dogs and cats because you want them to have a home.

There is always something a person can do.  You don’t have to be a foster parent. You can mentor moms. For local folks in my community, the mentor role model program is a way to help kids. For those who don’t live around here, you can find plenty of places to invest in kids as well as animals in your community. You can do playdates with kids, and volunteer in the schools. You can participate in programs or offer child care or financial support so others can if you are not able to donate your time.

I think it’s time we get our priorities in the order they ought to be. Let’s take care of the kids first – and then those extra animals might also find a home. Every kid needs a pet. Let’s find help and homes for kids and then provide them with pets. It’s a win-win.

Pinterest strays

 

Sharing the Gift Inside the Present

give the gift

I didn’t realize, those years ago when we opened our home, that we were giving the gift of family and home. . . .

The young man wheeled his vehicle into our driveway and bounded up the steps. I knew him at once.

It had been fifteen years, but I recognized that build and that face. Tucked into our son’s photo album is a picture of our kids with Terrance* on the first day of school – the time he lived with us for three weeks while his mother was in the process of moving to another state. I had often wondered what had become of Terrance.

He was just another lone wolf who camped at our place. There had been others, like the fourth grader who spent every Wednesday after school and went to church with us. We helped him complete his homework for the week because his mother’s world didn’t include her children’s homework, school, or church. There was another day I peered through our living room window to check on the kids when I noticed an additional kid.

My son explained, “I told him if he ever needs a place to stay, he can play here. So his mom dropped him off while she went to town.” I didn’t mind an extra child being there. What was foreign to me was a mother who didn’t bother to verify permission for his presence in our yard. I never did meet his mother, but he found a safe place to stay and ate at our table that day.

give the gift

In recent years, we’ve had other children show up at our door – brought by either a case worker or another foster parent who needed child care. These children have stayed for several weeks or over a year. Every time, it upsets my neatly ordered world.

Every time, I have to choose to give – to widen my circle and make room for another wagon instead of tightening my safe-place-circle to the exclusion of lonely waifs.

While foster care was a new territory for us, as a child I observed my mother doing her own foster/respite care for moms in New York City. My family participated in the Fresh Air Fund program. Each summer — over twenty-five of them — we hosted four to six girls of different nationalities for several weeks in our home. After my mother passed away in 2010, we received emails from several Fresh Air children expressing appreciation for the love and family life they experienced in my mother’s home as children. If my widowed mother had waited until her house was “good enough” to host these children, it never would have happened.

Rather, she chose to give because she had been given much.

An email from a neighbor’s child shared her memories of being invited to come see new puppies and eat supper with us. Fifty years had passed, yet she specifically mentioned the gift of love and kindness she experienced at my mother’s table.

give the gift of family

You know what I’ve discovered as I’ve listened to the stories of these foster children?

Visiting our homes is like being given a gift from another world: removing the bow, loosening the tape on the paper, and then lifting the lid of the box to enjoy the priceless gift inside. 

We allow others who have never had a safe place experience, savor, and delight in the beauty and safety of a Christian home. How many children in our communities have never experienced this blessing?!

In my Anabaptist culture, most of us have been blessed with two-parent homes and supportive, encouraging churches. We’ve been gifted honesty and respect for authority. Surely we would change some things about our childhoods if we could, but the fact remains that for many of us, our heritage is a blessing to which we are blind.  Rather than share this bounty with others, we mingle with our own people and hoard this gift for ourselves alone.

A few days after Terrance’s first visit back to his “childhood home,” as he calls our place, he told me, “I never knew that there were parents who did not beat their children – until I came to live with you. I didn’t know that families sat around the table and ate dinner together– until I lived with you.”

No wonder, I thought, he seemed so intrigued with setting the dinner table and begged for a “job” to do when our kids had jobs. Our home had been a haven for him when his mother moved to another state after her divorce while his fractured family was oblivious to his needs.

give the gift

In my Anabaptist haven, I never considered that our home was providing more than just food and shelter those weeks. We were providing a model for a completely unheard of way of life. We didn’t do anything significant. We just lived it in front of him, and he guzzled at the nourishment and fresh water of our home, all while we were unaware.

As Christian women, we have an opportunity to peel back the curtains of our homes and allow others to experience what is so common to us, but is foreign to many children. We have a message of hope and a message about eternity.

In our fear of tainting our own families, we keep the ribbon on the package; we refuse to unwrap the paper, let alone allow others to touch what is inside that tissue paper. We hoard it for our families and our people instead of opening our homes and our hearts so others can understand that there really is a good way to do family.

A few weeks ago, a young girl visited in kids’ class at church. Her home houses two incomplete families: mom and siblings, mom’s friend and his daughter. How I wish I could take this little girl and show her the hope that Jesus gives. I have not forgotten that there is a little girl living in my community who had never heard the song Jesus Loves Me – until that evening. This same little girl shared tearfully that her greatest fear in all of life is that her Daddy will get killed while he is in prison. We prayed that evening for our new friend and for her Daddy. I want to do more because I have been given so much.

I want to open the sweet gift of  “family” for her, allowing her to taste and sample the beauty of knowing Jesus. I want her to know that there is a better way to do family than what she is experiencing. Who is going to tell her? Who is willing to give?! Who is going to share that wonderful news with her? Who is going to live it out in front of her?!

sharing the gift

We have a gift for the world.

Sharing that gift takes investment and it takes time. And oh, does it ever cost! Are we too busy, too preoccupied, too selfish, to give what we have so others can learn a better way to do family?

Lonely, hungry folks don’t care about extravagant meals or immaculate homes. They need to see the hope of Jesus lived before their eyes. They need to experience what it means to have an intact family, for it’s something they’ve never known. Are we willing to share our homes with those who have never experienced one?

Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8).

We’ve received freely.  Now He waits for us to give.

Pinterest Sharing the Gift

 

This article was first published in Daughters of Promise magazine.

*yes, I changed his name