After having read Meet: Tiamo, my friend Walter Ruston wrote:
Maura, that’s a great journal of not only a dynamic dog but also the network of kindness, beginning with your amazing daughter, all the way through to the organization that grants second chances to the least of our brethren, to the pilot who provides wings to the angels. Just amazing, and such necessary reportage in this world that leans toward the harshest of our condition. This is the story we should be most interested in and hear about the most, the welcome news of who we really are.
Cuddles over cudgels.
Wally went straight to the heart of this story. It’s the network. The team.
And what a team it is.
I call the men and women I’ve come to know “my Portland kids,” and I care about their careers and life stories as if they really were family. So who are these people? Well, let me introduce you to some of them. Kind of in the order that we met . . .
First, there’s Kelly Allen. Kelly and Juli have been friends since college. Kelly is a Seattle schoolteacher now but she was instrumental when OTAT PDX was getting started as Juli’s one and only sidekick. It all started in November 2014 with these two bleeding hearts.
Friends since they had met at Lake Forest College, Juli Zagrans and Kelly Allen were at that time housemates concentrating on careers and adulting. In the midst of the daily drudgery, they reacted reflexively to something they could not abide, and their actions resulted in the seismic shift that became OTAT PDX.
Juli, who was already an attorney-at-law, had just earned her LL.M. in Animal Law at Lewis and Clark Law School, the only law school in the country to offer this specialty. https://law.lclark.edu. The stage, so to speak, was set. The intellect had been primed; the law had been studied. Reality and morality were two seats on the same teeter-totter.
Juli was cruising the pet section of Craig’s List. She noticed that someone was giving away–for free–their pets, a dog and pig duo that had always been together. She was outraged. You don’t give away animals on Craig’s List! Who knew what end they might come to?!
So she texted Heather Owen at OTAT Chicago and asked if these two animals could be the first saves of an entity that existed only in Juli’s imagination—OTAT PDX.
“Sure why not.”
The next text Juli sent Heather was a photo of the dog and pig in the back of her car.
“OMG YOU DID IT?”
I wish I had been there. What a wild ride that must have been.
Kelly googled “pigs’ favorite snacks” while Juli drove, and they stopped at a grocery store on the way back. Turned out that not even a trail of raisins could lure Kevin the Pig out of the car. They used a door someone had set out on the curb as a makeshift ramp, but Kevin wasn’t having it, even if they did put a non-skid rubber mat down to help him get traction.
Finally, they called a friend to help lift Kevin out of the car. Poor guy was terrified. He did nothing but pace the yard and squeal all night long.
In fact, he made such a ruckus, the word “eviction” popped into Juli’s mind. Clearly, damage control was in order. Juli and Kelly went to the neighborhood coffee shop and bought gift cards. They wrote apologetic notes, tucked the gift cards inside, and taped the envelopes onto their neighbors’ doors.
There is a darling sidebar story that serves as a template for what would become the domino effect of OTAT PDX.
One of the neighbors posted on her Facebook wall something to the effect that Only in Portland do you get this kind of a note from a pig. A high school friend she had lost touch with commented, and they decided to use the gift card to catch up over coffee. Now this couple is married and—it gets even better—adopted their own OTAT PDX dog. In fact, their dog was in the large group of dogs that Magpie was in when she was rescued.
Or maybe not so crazy.
Maybe just . . . connected.
As Pope Francis said, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us living creatures are dependent on one another.”
OTAT PDX saves lives.
By saving lives, they complete families.
By completing families, they spread goodness.
Without this network of dedicated individuals, so many lives would have been pre-maturely ended. So many families would be incomplete. I myself would not have Tiamo Heather curled up beside me as I write.
In five years, OTAT PDX has grown from a team of two to a volunteer network of one thousand, with the core group staying steady at about 30-50 people.
In five years, this remarkable network of kindness has saved 950 lives.
No telling how much happiness they’ve spread. Or hope they’ve kept alive. Or families they’ve healed.
As Wally pointed out so astutely, This is the story we should be most interested in and hear the most about the most, the welcome news of who we really are.
Cuddles over cudgels.
What a difference one letter can make. Cuddle / cudgel. Take out the g, add a d, and reverse the e and the l and you’ve got a whole other thing.
So too with us. What a difference one person can make.
The Portland Kids:
I’ll never forget when Juli called me, all excited. Someone she knew not all that well but whom she knew she would like to get to know better was moving from Chicago to Portland. They had met through Chicago OTAT, and were in touch via social media. Kara Pierce had written to ask if it would be too much trouble for Juli to drive by and check out a house she and her man, Dave Mucci were thinking of renting. Juli was ecstatic: the house was a short walk from where she lived and, as if that weren’t awesome enough, it was nearly next door to where Amy Dunn, one of her very best friends, lived. And indeed Kara and Dave moved to Portland and became part of the posse.
Kara is intelligent and accomplished and compassionate and very, very beautiful. She works long, disheartening hours as a therapist at a Veterans facility. Sometimes the heartbreaking narratives of her clients burn holes into her heart. I’ve seen the flames of those fires flickering in her eyes. And Dave, well, he’s a superstar. He’s an artist who designs and builds motorcycles that are so lovely they could be in a gallery in an art museum. I’m not exaggerating. Go to https://www.motomucci.com and see for yourself. Dave is designing for Zero Motorcycles — https://www.zeromotorcycles.com — now. They’re lucky to have snared him.
Three years ago in May, I was babysitting Magpie while Juli and Amy were galavanting around Europe. I had been working hard on editing a manuscript, and Mags and I went outside to stretch and get some fresh air. We were standing in the front yard when suddenly Magpie was gone. I called her and I called her. No Magpie. I couldn’t see very well in the deepening dusk but I wouldn’t risk the time it would take to go inside and get my distance glasses. I beat back a rising tide of panic until I thought: Kara! Dave!
I called them. They dropped everything. They set out immediately and wouldn’t you know they encountered the little runaway trotting toward their house. Kara and Dave showed up in a big way when I really needed them. That’s the kind of people they are.
Amy Dunn: she’s witty and clever but there’s a baseline of intelligence and savviness that runs beneath the humor, which makes her captivating company. She left a cush job at a solid company to become the Director of Communications for a start-up app called BUMPED. Your assumption that she’s got guts and gumption and moxie to spare would be correct.
Astonishingly, Amy is a fabulous auctioneer. I saw her in action as master of ceremonies at previous Bone Balls. She was polished and smooth, entertaining and effective. But when she auctioned items and services up for bid, she was in her element, and it was something to see. I was mesmerized.
And then there’s Alexander Case. He’s the merch designer and marketing guru for OTAT PDX. And I cannot lie: he’s one of my favorites. He’s so kind. Yes, he’s talented, he’s artistic, he’s musically gifted, he’s loyal, he’s fun, and he’s really, really creative. But with all of that, it’s Alex’s kindness that sings the top notes.
I heard him play once. Juli told me we’d be going to hear a band play at some place somewhere in Portland, and I was like, cool! You know that’s my favorite thing to do! And so we went to a cute little restaurant that gave me the feeling I was at a speakeasy, and we ordered pizza, and stood around and waited for the band to come on stage and start their performance, and then WOW! I was blown away! I love that he never wears anything but his OTAT PDX hoodie whenever he performs. That’s loyalty in action.
Missi Clements is furreal one of my daughters. We bonded over lupus and shared admiration for Juli. She’s adorable, and hard-working, and freaking so easy to be with, it’s as if I have known her all my life. Her day job is Director of Operations for The Twin Team Realtors. The Twin Team has always been very good to OTAT PDX, but this year—this ridiculous, absurd, idiotic year of the pandemic—they catapulted into another stratosphere of support. Without The Twin Team, Bone Ball 2020 might be more like a Bone Picnic. And Missi’s main squeeze, Shane, who does contracting work—he’s another great guy Juli can count on to pitch in whenever OTAT PDX needs a hand.
Kelsey Klingenberg and her husband Adam DeVore are another favorite Portland couple. I got to know them at Game Night, when a bunch of Juli’s friends gathered at her house. We drank wine from Juli’s stoneware mugs because, well, she doesn’t have any wine glasses. Kelsey’s a creative force—she’s a designer who helps you figure out what to do with your space, and dang! not everyone can do that. Kelsey and Adam are always very good to Juli, helping her do things that she can’t pull off by herself. That means a lot to me.
And then there’s Nicole Brodeur. OTAT PDX is so very lucky to have her.
I had been listening to Juli talk about Nicole for a couple of years. I could not understand why Juli felt so shy, even intimidated, around Nicole. There was some kind of weird hero worship going on, and it mystified me.
Then I met Nicole.
Now I’m in the same position as Juli.
Nicole is absolutely essential to the success of OTAT PDX, but she pulls the scarves of nonprofit systems and foster coordinating leadership from her sleeves with the humility of someone so grounded, you’d never know she’s an actual magician and she’s working magic.
Nicole fulfills the duties of the Associate Board Director in such a way that I can relax. I know that Juli and her organization are in capable hands. It’s as if OTAT PDX has in Nicole a young and beautiful Den Mother. She’s such a gracious host, they could sell tickets to the Board meetings held at her home. She’s the Queen of Philanthropy but she’s also the Den Mother. Yep, they’re in good hands.
Sadie Hoxmeier: I love Sadie. We share a love for vintage clothes, unique shoes, classy accessories, the great outdoors . . . and dogs. Always the dogs. She works as an escrow officer at a title company, but I mostly know her as the smile that lights up the world.
I’m crazy about Kat Maund, who is just about the most fun person I’ve ever spent time with, and her wife Melissa Sher, whom I respect greatly for the impressive book she wrote, Cracks: Unapologetic Essays on Growing Up and Getting Gay. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cracks-melissa-sher/1136532287
I don’t know Becca Leediker all that well, but I know enough to be impressed. Here’s my first introduction to Becca: two years ago at the Bone Ball, Becca disguised the fact that she was in pre-term labor because she didn’t want to worry or distract Juli, who was understandably nervous about her on-stage duties throughout the program. It was a selfless thing to do. When Juli finally did find out Becca was there even though she was having contractions, Juli did in fact lose it, so Becca was right in protecting Juli’s ability to concentrate. As it happened, Becca’s daughter Lennon has the distinction of being OTAT PDX’s first human puppy. I met Lennon at an after-party for last year’s Bone Ball, and she is precious.
Clara. Where would OTAT PDX be without Clara Ridabock and her father? I don’t have enough space to write about them. Let me just say that I’ve never consumed food of any kind as tasty as the vast menus they have served up at the Bone Balls. The fact that it’s all vegan food is just, whatever. I’m convinced that these people can do anything. Anything! But let me tell you my favorite Clara story.
So these are some of the people I’ve gotten to know who make up the network of kindness behind OTAT PDX.
Last year, my Portland kids took me to my very first karaoke party. It was a blast. Nicole and her husband, Alex, and Amy, and Alex Case, and everyone who came—they were were all really really great at the mic. But it was Clara who stole the show with her brilliant rendition of “Dreams” by The Cranberries. She nailed it, screams and all, and looked adorable doing it.
I’ve come to know and love, respect and admire, and basically stand in awe of the people who are the heart and soul of OTAT PDX.
As my friend Wally observed, these are the people who both deliver and embody the welcome news of who we really are.