We arrived Thursday evening and went out to dinner with our hosts for the weekend, Megan and Bobby, to Free State Brewing, where we filled up with some of the best food and local brews that we'd had in a while. The chicken tenders were a game changer. We were pretty wiped out from an nine hour car ride (Dan drove the whole way. Did I mention that he's the best?) and Megan and Bobby had both had long days of work, so we all crashed early that night.
Friday morning we woke up to Bobby making us banana and walnut pancakes, which we topped with peanut butter and Nutella (Delicious. Think about it....thiiiink about it). After breakfast, I reached out to the local Red Cross to see if there was anything we could do as far as disaster relief for a family in Lawrence whose home set on fire earlier that week. After I explained who I was and what we were doing, the executive director let me know that the family I was asking about was actually in pretty good shape and had full insurance coverage. She then mentioned that there was another house fire that week that had not received any media attention and could definitely use some help. I got some information from her about that incident and promised to let her know if we ended up providing any sort of assistance.
I went on a jog (it felt reaaaaally good to stretch out my legs after sitting in the car for so long) on a trail behind Megan's place, showered, got my butt handed to me by Dan in Disney Trivia and then Dan and I headed to our interview with Brooke at Channel 6 Lawrence. The interview went well (at least we think it did. We will find out on Sunday when it airs) and they got some really awkward footage of Dan and I filling some expired parking meters with change (RAK #8...it may not be "legal" per-say, but we're a couple of renegades).
We met back at Megan and Bobby's apartment and all of us went to a local burger place for lunch, which included some melt-in-your-mouth truffle fries that the four of us shared. Megan and Bobby showed us around downtown Kansas, where we made a few stops to pick up some goodies for our next few RAKs.
Side Note: While we were shopping, I called my mom to catch up. She let me know that her generous friend Dawn wants to send her keyboard to Mr. Baileys (his story is right here) and asked for Liz's address. When I reached out to Liz, she told me that our RAK has already paid for two months of medication for the son whose mother has a life threatening disease and that someone emailed her and wants to send her a check for $50.00 to help out her students even more. Good deeds are contagious and I am overjoyed that Liz and her students are getting the help and attention they deserve!
We also stopped at the local salon to pick up a $100.00 gift card for our second RAK of the day, Cara.
We were having a game night that evening at Megan's friend Cara's house. I had met Cara last year and was a big fan of both her and her four year old daughter, Atticus. Recently Cara's life has been turned upside down in a not-so-great way. Allow me to catch you up:
Six years ago, when Cara was 20, she began dating a guy she worked with. They hit it off and after a couple of months, Cara became pregnant and had to drop her college course load to one class a semester. She and her boyfriend moved in together to raise their child, who they named Atticus. Long story short, Cara struggled as a young mom and was forced to grow up extremely fast. However, raising Atticus helped Cara to find her passion and she even got a job at Atticus's daycare...until Atticus's day care shut down with a week's notice, leaving Atticus out of a day care and Cara out of a job. Cara was forced to drop out of college completely in order to take care of Atticus while her boyfriend worked long hours.
Flash forward a bit: finances were still precarious, but Cara found another job that allowed her to work and take a few classes at a time. At this point, she and her boyfriend had been dating for around five and a half years and had been a family for four and a half of those. Cara was yearning for a marriage and to be a traditional family, so she asked her boyfriend if they could talk about the potential of that and possibly strike some common ground. He agreed, but when they began talking, things did not go as planned. There were some not so nice things mentioned on his end, he left them that night (and took their bed with him) and Cara was left to figure out how to be a single mother in one night.
It's been a few months since then and Cara is making ends meet, but we thought that she deserved to do something for herself since all of her time is spent making sure Atticus is adjusting to this new life. So, we presented Cara with the Salon gift card and also threw in a few gifts for Atticus (including two sheets of temporary tattoos that Atticus covered herself in from head to toe). It's worth mentioning that Atticus is an awesome kid -- she loves dinosaurs, Ninja Turtles and Spiderman, but also really enjoys wearing dresses and singing Katy Perry. I only hope my child is that fantastic one day.
Oh, game night was a blast as well...as shown by the following photos:
|Bobby and I just mesmerized by the nitro beer.|
On Saturday we woke up to Bobby making us breakfast yet again (Breakfast Burritos and cinnamon rolls. He's just the best!). I went on another jog and started putting together one of our Denver RAKs (which you will hear all about in a future post). Meanwhile, Dan got to work baking for our next RAK. Then, at 2:00pm, we hopped in the car to meet Anthony.
|Preppin' for the Denver RAK|
|Any guess what part of the next RAK could be?|
Anthony is the owner of a local Doggie Daycare (his store's ten year anniversary is coming up soon!) who also owns four therapy dogs. We were lucky enough to meet one of his dogs, a two and three quarter-legged pitbull with a tail that does not stop wagging, who he and his wife, Katie, named Leonidas for the fearless Spartan king in film 300. After we all took turns scratching Leonidas behind the ears and getting lick-attacked, we asked Anthony how the pitbull lost his leg. Anthony explained that when Leonidas was only a few weeks old, his owner's kids dangled him over a fence and allowed another dog to chew off his back left leg and back right foot. Fortunately, someone witnessed it and called animal services. Even luckier, Anthony and Katie adopted Lionidas and he is now living a happy and productive life. All four of Anthony's dogs are rescued dogs.
Leonidas and his dog-brothers do many things as therapy dogs: visit grade schools to teach students how to safely interact with dogs, do stress type visits with younger children, and even hang out on campus at Kansas University during exam week to help relax some stressed out students. Their main focus is providing therapy to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anthony's father is an Airforce veteran, so providing this service is something that really hits home.
|So many dog-kisses!|
Anthony's frequent and fulfilling visits to the VA unit with his furry friends make the day of many a vet. The VA offers a seven week in-patient PTSD program that allows vets to get their bearings before sending them out to rejoin the civilian population. The therapy dogs help the patients to open up emotionally, remain calm, put a smile on their faces, and get acclimated to home living. Anthony let us know that while there is a good mix of ages at the VA (from Vietnam and Korean War vets to Iraq and Afghanistan vets), the PTSD unit is primarily made up of younger veterans involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are wary of the dogs at first, having experienced dogs used as IED's. One brave man in particular took a visit or two to approach the dogs, but he finally did saying "We're here to face our fears, aren't we?"
Anthony's advice for helping recently returned veterans is: "Make home feel like home. Just be a person." Not prying into their experiences in the field and treating them like you would anyone else is the best way to help someone struggling to adjust.
In addition to raising therapy dogs, owning a doggie daycare, and working with vets, he also goes into the field with the Kansas City SWAT to prevent dangerous and aggressive dogs from being put down during raids. Currently he is working with law enforcement in the area to train SWAT members in how to read the dogs they encounter in order to avoid provocation and to prevent K9 casualties.
|Me, Dan, Anthony, Katie and Bobby (Megan was the photog for the day)|
He gifted us each with an adorable Lionidas shirt, and a pro-pitbull magnet, which is now residing on the back of my car. He is in the beginning stages of starting up a hybrid treatment center focusing on rehabilitating both people and dogs. To learn more about this ambitious do-gooder's work and future plans, check out his website.
|Bobby was almost ready.|
We had clearly found a deserving individual.
We had asked Anthony what would help him out the most and he, after taking a few hours to wrap his brain around the fact that someone was reaching out to help him -- he said that not many people think to help therapy dogs and their owners, even though the owners are the ones who pay for everything involved with owning and training a therapy dog, he told us that a few new jackets and badges for the dogs would be more than enough and that if we felt like buying some cookies, he could deliver them to the veterans his next visit, Tuesday.
Well, we didn't want to just stop there. We provided Anthony with enough money to purchase his therapy dog items, bought some treats and toys for each of his dogs, and then Dan made chocolate chip cookies from scratch for the veterans.
After we left Anthony and his wife, Dan and I headed over to our next RAK recipient, who had no idea we were coming.
Remember when I said I had spoken to the local Red Cross and they gave me some information about someone needing our help? Well that someone was a woman named Susan, who lives by herself (the executive director also thought she may have some disabilities, but didn't share any specifics), was estranged from her family, had a dog and was struggling to make ends meet after not being able to keep a job for a number of years. Earlier this week her house caught fire when she fell asleep with dinner on the stove. The Red Cross had tried to put her up in a hotel, but when the executive director called the hotel she learned that Susan (who does not have a cell phone) was not there. She told me that she thought Susan had returned home where she was comfortable and gave me her address.
Dan and I drove over to the address we were provided, parked, and noticed that there was a woman sitting inside the home. We walked up to her front door, knocked, and I asked if her name was Susan. She slowly got up from her chair and walked over to the door, gently nudging her dog aside and said "Yes, can I help you?" looking at my cautiously. I then asked her if she recently had a fire in her home, to which she nodded yes. I told her that I was directed to her by someone who was concerned about her and that we had a gift card to Target and some dog food for her and her four-legged companion. We let her know that there are people who care about her and hope she gets back on her feet.
She then opened her door, started tearing up, and hugged me. She hugged me for a really long time. Then she hugged Dan for a really long time. Once the hugging ceased, she looked at us teary-eyed and said "I don't have anyone. I haven't had any one come to visit me in a long time." We told her that we wanted her to have a pick-me-up and to know that she had people looking out for her, even if they'd never met her. The three of us chatted for a while about the journey Dan and I were taking and then before we left, she hugged both of us again. For a very, very long time.
As we drove away from her house, we didn't really talk for a while. Mainly because I was looking out the window crying and we both knew what the other was thinking: we are incredibly fortunate to be able to bring this much joy to people's lives. This journey is the biggest gift we've ever been given.
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