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A Spirit of Benevolence
by Demetria Patras with Lillian G. Leslie

Six nights a week I’m in the alleys traveling our routes, alternating one night on the East side and the next on the West. I have each route sectioned such that I arrive in any given area at approximately the same time. This way the animals who depend on us for a meal know when to be waiting for us at their feeding spots. Animals living on the streets have only two constances in their existence: one is the danger they face in every direction every day and night; the other is us. Thousands of animals know that every other night, in a specific location, we will offer them a pot of food to give them the strength to face the next danger. Other than this, these animals have nothing given to them in life; consequently, the one place on earth they return to over and over as if it were (in some remote sense) their home, is the feeding place.

Occasionally I alter my route to check on a particular area or animal. Most times these route alterations are spontaneous – even I couldn’t tell you why I suddenly decide to go right instead of the usual left, or enter an area now rather than its usually scheduled position. But it is during these inadvertent changes in plan that I most strongly sense the presence of a guardian angel who, through us, helps these beautiful creatures. More times than I can number (or even remember) we’ve arrived in a location that we would normally have reached earlier or later, and have come upon an animal desperately needing help, often very near death. Over the years I’ve ruled out happenstance as the reason for these encounters; coincidence can no longer explain why, time after time, we’ve arrived at just the right moment to prevent an animal from having to go on suffering pain we cannot imagine – not even the most sensitive among us can fathom the pain these animals endure.

Once I might have been skeptical but now I must acknowledge (after incident upon incident) that some benevolent spirit – the animals’ angel – watches over our shoulder and guides us where we need to be at just the right time. On one occasion I pulled into an alley and noticed a puppy lying on the ground in a vacant lot. He couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 months old, but he was just lying on the ground; as I walked over to investigate I saw that his head was stuck inside a tin can. All struggling had stopped, he wasn’t thrashing about in order to free himself, I saw no heaving chest trying to suck in air – I knew he might well be dead but I had to make sure. I gently touched his body and I heard the tiniest muffled whimper from inside the can. I felt a wave of relief to know we’d gotten there in the nick of time; the puppy would have suffocated in minutes had it not been for the benevolent spirit pulling me off my schedule to find him.

Another night I changed the order of the route for no tangible reason, just a thought in my head to tackle one of our areas much earlier than its usual time. We arrived in the first alley of the section to see a black cat (one of my regulars, a big old tom) trying to make his way. He staggered forward one foot in front of the other, he looked neither right nor left, he was oblivious to all things but his one concern of returning to the only place in his world ever yielding anything good – the feeding place – and something drove him to return there this night not to eat but to die. He’d been hit by a car most likely; his face was bloodied, his jaw clearly broken, his breathing labored and fluid-obstructed. He offered no resistance to our settling him in to a carrier lined with a soft towel. In the end the vet could do nothing to save him, but at the least his passage from his life took place in the company of people who cared about him. A quiet, humane release from his terrible pain. He didn’t die alone in the darkness, lying on some cold patch of cement. The benevolent spirit guided us there so that we might do one final act of kindness for a deserving soul.

The puppy and the black cat are two of countless instances where a guiding hand took me off track to accomplish an unplanned act of compassion. the benevolent spirit – the animals’ angel – cannot forcibly change the wrongfullness of this world, but I’d like to think that on occasion we’re able to manifest its good will and lighten the heavy burden carried by animals living on the streets.


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