Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Of Shouts into the Void…and Cats

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Earlier tonight, when I was about to go to sleep (as it was very late night, or very early morning, depending on your point of view), I got a call from a distraught friend.

You see, he’s a cat lover. He has a cat — a rather feisty, elderly cat that doesn’t like other cats, or too many people, either. He treats this feisty, elderly, cantankerous cat like royalty (my other cat fancier friends are no doubt adding, “As the cat deserves”).

But the reason he was distraught was also because of a cat. A stray, that had once been a well-kept house pet — my friend said he could tell — and was still willing to believe a human being would help rather than hurt.

My friend couldn’t bring this stray cat into his home, even though he desperately wanted to. (I know this because he called me, and we discussed it at great length.) His own cat would’ve hurt this littler, younger, gentler one, he thought. And he, himself, is disabled, and has recently come off some medical treatment that made him a bit weaker than usual. (And usual isn’t exactly strong anymore, though I hate to point that out for the sake of my friend’s machismo.)

What he did do, though, was take some cat food out, some water out, and went and held the cat for an hour while it ate and drank. He petted the cat. He tried wracking his brains to see if he could find anyone in the Tampa, Florida, area who might be able to foster a cat, as this one needs some medical attention as it recently looks to have gotten into a fight. (Perhaps with a raccoon, perhaps with another cat.) Its eyes were affected, and my friend was very upset at leaving a half-blind cat outside, at the mercy of the elements (as it’s chilly tonight in Tampa — perhaps more temperate than my own Wisconsin, but cold by their standards, and not good for a cat that really shouldn’t be out in the darkness, alone, when it doesn’t seem to be seeing very well).

I told my friend he did all he could. He did more than some would do, considering his levels of physical limitations, and considering his own very ornery and unruly cat. (I know he’s not going to like me calling her that, but his cat definitely is.)

But that doesn’t help this particular stray cat. Not enough, anyway…though the food and water my friend gave the cat may help the poor little guy survive another night alone, outside. (And I devoutly hope it does.)

My friend was also livid that a pampered house cat — which this must’ve been at one time — had been tossed to the curb like so much garbage. He said that in his area, there aren’t many shelters that will take animals for very long without euthanizing them (though there are a few shelters that are no-kill, or at least want to be, he said they are overcrowded, overloaded, and underfunded). And he’s worried that a cat like this one — providing it sticks around (and he checked on it four or five times in the next several hours, and the cat had stayed right there, waiting for him, which broke his heart, and mine, all over again) would be euthanized immediately due to the recent fight and the damage to at least one eye.

This is where the “shout into the void” comes in, folks. Because I’m with my friend on this one. I do not understand, at all, why anyone would treat a pet like that. And thinking about anyone treating a beloved family pet that way just makes me want to scream.

Maybe it won’t be heard, thus the “shout into the void” concept. But it makes me so angry, to think about this poor little guy out on the streets, way too far away for me to drive to, to rescue the poor dear, and no way to know if the cat will survive this night — or not.

Rather than kicking a beloved pet out, do the responsible thing if you can no longer take care of your animals: Give that pet a good, loving home somewhere else.

I know that years ago, my mother and I adopted a very elderly dog that, like this cat, had been abandoned in the middle of winter. This dog had cataracts in both eyes, couldn’t hear, and was so matted when it was brought in that the shelter people had no idea whatsoever what type of dog it was. (It was a Lhasa Apso.) We were horrified that a dog like that had been abandoned at such an old age, left to fend for itself in the middle of a Wisconsin winter…that the dog had survived its ordeal was wonderful, but why did it have to go through it at all?

(Needless to say, that little dog was better off with us, and had a couple of good years where he was pampered, well-fed, well-treated, and basically lived the life of Reilly.)

I know that there are many stray animals out there in need of loving homes. There are more cats, dogs, and other assorted pets that have been left on the sides of roads or maybe ran away and couldn’t find their way back home.

My hope is, that by writing this blog, you will think about how you can help the neglected animals in your area. Many are loving, affectionate, and really want a “forever home.” But for whatever reason, they are out there, alone, in the dark, without food, without water, without shelter…and I find that so unconscionable, I just have no words for it.

So please. Do whatever you can to help the less fortunate among us, including the animals. Because they often get forgotten, and they can’t speak for themselves.

We must do it instead.


Couple Injured in Store Parking Lot Needs Your Help

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Folks, about a week ago in Racine, a young man was driving, high-speed, trying to get away from the police. (As per my policy, I will not name this person. He is a teenager.) He cut through a parking lot and hit two innocent pedestrians, who were coming out of Festival Foods on a Sunday morning.

This couple, Cheryl and Jeffrey Coopman, needs your help. They are raising their granddaughter alone, which was hard enough, as their daughter died last year. (See this story from for further details.) They’re in their forties. And all they were doing was shopping at the grocery store.

Now, Mrs. Coopman lacks an arm and a leg, and Mr. Coopman has broken ribs. Both are in the hospital at the present time up in Milwaukee (at Froedtert, one of the best hospitals in Wisconsin), and last I heard, Mrs. Coopman remains in critical condition.

I want you to put yourselves in the place of the Coopmans, just for one moment. Can you imagine yourself, on a sunny but cold January morning, getting out of your car, and walking into the grocery store, finishing your shopping, and coming back out, only to have one of you lose an arm and a leg and the other with broken ribs and internal injuries (no doubt), all because a young person who should’ve known better tried cutting through a parking lot to evade the police?

Then think about the grandchild you have left at home. And how neither of you can care for her…so other relatives have to do it.

This couple’s life has radically changed, all because of one young person who didn’t know his own limits and refused to surrender to authority while he still could. They are in a lot of pain, and even if Mrs. Coopman can make a full recovery (which I pray that she will), she’s going to have a much different life going forward.

My heart aches for these people. They didn’t deserve this. And while life is assuredly not fair, it also doesn’t need to be this unfair.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to pay for the Coopmans’ medical bills. That will only help the finances. Nothing can help their psychological trauma, and the absolute unfairness and injustice of what happened to them, except time and perhaps some good counselors, and maybe if they’re extremely fortunate they’ll be able to rebuild their lives and continue to find some meaning and joy to enrich themselves despite it all.

And while I urge you to consider donating to this account, I also want you to do whatever your spiritual background allows you to do to send good thoughts, positive energy, prayers, or whatever else you think may help. If you can think of a concrete way to help them, too, be sure to do that…as they’re going to need a lot of help.

In addition, the Festival Foods on Washington Avenue in Racine (the location of the horrible accident) is taking donations at any register. So if you live in Racine, or the surrounding area, and can help this couple, and don’t want to use GoFundMe for some reason, that’s another way to help. (I just thought of this. But it’s accurate. Festival said they’d be taking donations at least through the end of January, and possibly longer, the last time I went in there, which was last week.)

While you’re at it, pray for their granddaughter, who’s already lost her mother and now is in jeopardy of losing her grandmother as well…

This is just wrong. And we, as a people, need to do what we can to let the Coopmans know that we do care about this injustice, and will help them in their hour of need.

Because that is what the whole idea of charity (Christian or otherwise) is all about.

Homeless Youth in Racine Finds Tough Sledding

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This past week, I’ve been trying to help a homeless youth in Racine who I’m going to call “Allan.”  Allan is eighteen, African-American, polite to a fault, well-spoken, well-intentioned . . . and completely without any place to lay his head.  The reason I’ve become involved is that I have known Allan, on and off, for the past two months; he used to stay next door with a friend.  However, his friend was put in jail on an armed robbery charge (fortunately, Allan was not involved), and Allan was consequently evicted.

At this point, I learned that Allan’s situation was desperate.  He actually had been staying in this friend’s garage (some friend, hey?).  Before that, he’d lived with his grandfather, until his grandfather became homeless.  Before that, Allan was in jail on a minor weapon’s charge (carrying an unlicensed weapon).

As for family, Allan has adoptive parents who live up in Milwaukee County.  But they basically turned him out when he turned eighteen, saying they’d “done enough,” and are not willing to help him now under any circumstances.  He has his grandfather.  He has a few friends, most of whom seem to be of little account.

In any event, none of these people are either willing or able to help Allan.  So he’s still stuck.

What disturbs me is this: Allan has been homeless now for a week.  He hasn’t slept well, or much, in a week, because he mostly has to move from place to place.  And he’s not eaten well, or much, aside from whatever my Mom and I have been able to do to feed him.

Mind you, we’ve been doing this while trying to get someone, anyone to help.  We don’t have many resources.  Many times, we don’t have enough for the two of us.  But we could not let this young man, who’s skinny as a rail, go without food.

We just could not do it.

I can hear most of you now.  “Where are the advocates for this young man, Barb?  Where are the shelters?”

Well, this young man doesn’t have any advocates.  And the two shelters in town have thus far refused to take him.  Love and Charity Mission over on Douglas Avenue said that Allan is too young, because the minimum age for their services is twenty-one.  And HALO, which is the only other shelter in this area, at first refused to take him because Allan had no proof that he’s homeless.  And even though a policeman spoke with Allan on Saturday afternoon and actually took Allan over to HALO and said, “This kid really is homeless” (this according to Allan’s account), Allan is still in limbo.

Part of the reason Allan is in this trouble is due to state and federal cutbacks for shelter funding.  He was in a local shelter meant specifically for homeless teens, Safe Haven, once upon a time, and he’d probably be there right now except for one thing: They closed a few months ago, citing a lack of federal funding due to the sequester cuts.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare of major proportions.  And all the while, Allan continues to have no place to live.

This is just wrong.

I interviewed Allan at great length earlier this evening in preparation to write this blog.  I found out that Allan has no resources other than some food stamps (which he’s out of at present) and a small check that he’s to receive until he graduates from high school due to his adoptive father being a military veteran.**

Obviously, this is not nearly enough for Allan to get an apartment, or maybe even to rent a room.

High school graduation for Allan is a few more months away, as Allan needs to complete two more credits in summer school.  (I’m not going to name which school Allan’s been attending to preserve whatever vestiges of his privacy that I can.)  Allan told me he’s looking forward to graduation, as he has hopes to work with computers and make a good life for himself.

Yet how is Allan supposed to learn when he doesn’t have the basics every person in this country should have — food, clothing, and shelter?  How is he supposed to put all of his earthly cares aside under these appalling circumstances?

What I’ve observed this past week in trying to help Allan is that very few people, in government or out of it, seem to care.  I find that so disgusting that I don’t even have the words to express it.

We in Wisconsin pride ourselves on our compassion.  Well, where is the compassion for this young man?

I’m sorry.  When one person like Allan falls through the cracks, that means our whole system is a failure.

I do know this: every religion worth its salt in the history of the world has said to help the poor.  Protect the weak.  Heal the sick.  And help the homeless.

In other words, Jesus Christ did not believe that young men like Allan should be left to fend for themselves.  Gautama Buddha believed that compassion and mercy should be shown in all cases.  Confucius believed that those who had should help those who didn’t as a form of noblesse oblige, while more contemporary prophets such as Baha’ullah and even Joseph Smith believed that if you were to be one with God, you needed to act like God would want you to act — which means that you should give to those less fortunate, and try to help them get up on their feet.

None of these religions ever said that it’s OK to abandon a homeless young man who’s two credits short of high school graduation to whatever fate he can find on the streets.

I wonder what our Governor, Scott Walker, would think if one of his teenage sons was simply turned out one day and told to fend for himself without money or hope.  I wonder if the Governor ever once thought what it means when the state slashes funding — that someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s family member, is left on the streets because homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  And no one wants to be the one to take this young man in when there’s no guarantee they’ll get any funding to help him out.

I do know what I think, however.  And I do know how I will act, as I will continue to help Allan in whatever way I can.

I really hope that HALO will open its doors to Allan without further delay.  (They should, no matter how full they are.)  He is a young man who works hard, is respectful, and truly seems to want to better himself.  He’s the type of youth that anyone should want to help, as his potential is limitless despite the current exigencies of his situation.

Why no one else seems to care about that is beyond me.


A note about the title: I used “tough sledding” to imply an ice-strewn path.  That’s what it seems like “Allan” is on right now — any step he takes could put him through the ice and into an even worse situation than the one he’s already in.

Besides, Wisconsin is known for our winter weather.  So “tough sledding” seemed a natural fit, under the circumstances.  (Yes?)

** A correction to the record: Allan’s adoptive father is the disabled veteran.  Allan said he does not know who his natural (birth) father was, nor his natural mother, either, when I talked with him earlier today.  All apologies for my earlier misunderstanding.

WI D Legislators Pro-Jobs; WI Rs Dither; Scott Walker Recall Starts Nov. 15

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Last night at the Roma Lodge in Racine, WI, there was a jobs forum sponsored by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO where four state Democratic legislators showed up — Representative Robert Turner (D-Racine), Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine), Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha — also a former United States Representative for district 1, which includes Racine and Kenosha), and Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha).  The Democrats listened patiently to the concerns of Racine residents, which included the following comments (pulled from this article from the Racine Journal-Times):

Barbara Rankin of Kenosha, 78, told the four legislators that of the sixty-six people in her family, only four have jobs that pay over $10 an hour.  “Jobs shouldn’t be that hard to get,” she said.

According to the Journal-Times article, person after person stood up to talk about their problems with jobs.  They mentioned looming cuts to the Racine bus budget, the need for a casino in Kenosha (or something to replace Dairyland Greyhound Park, which closed at the end of 2010), and the need for greater funding for technical colleges, which also got their budgets cut as part of the Scott Walker budget bill earlier this year.

This is why Scott Walker needs to be recalled, folks, in an nutshell; Walker’s done nothing to help Wisconsin workers find jobs for nearly a year, yet he ran on a “pro-jobs” platform.  I’m tired of Walker “talking the talk” but refusing to “walk the walk,” and the other Rs in the Legislature are obviously taking their cues largely from him.

Now, what are the other Wisconsin Rs doing in response to this?  Not a whole lot.  Senator Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, recently killed a bill that would’ve prevented the state’s main utility company (WE Energies) from charging customers for faulty meters, despite this bill being proposed by another member of his own party, Mike Ellis (R-Neenah — also the President of the Senate). 

Yes, that’s right — Wanggaard voted against consumers.  Against the people of his own district.  (Why am I unsurprised?)

Wanggaard has also recently drafted a “jobs bill” — as in, finally in October of 2011, nearly a full year after he was sworn into the state Senate, he’s finally figured out that we’re in a jobs crisis.  That the City of Racine, the area he currently represents, has consistently had 13% to 14% reportable unemployment for the past three years or more (those of us working part-time don’t count on that; those of us who’ve fallen off the unemployment rolls also do not count) — of course, Wanggaard will soon represent the counties of Racine and Kenosha, who aren’t doing so bad, due to the 2011 state Legislature’s gerrymandered map; perhaps that’s why Wanggaard doesn’t care too much about the City of Racine as he knows his days as its Senator are numbered?

Now, apparently Wanggaard had this jobs bill on his mind for at least a month, as I was able to find a reference to it back to September 12, 2011.  And much of it, I actually agree with (from the Milwaukee television channel’s Fox 6 News report of the same date):

Sen. Wanggaard’s proposal would provide help for hiring. The plan would give businesses a $5,000 tax credit if they hire someone unemployed for more than 60 days and keep that employee for more than a year. Rep. Wanggaard says, “We can’t continue to throw money at things that aren’t working. We’ve got to think outside the box.”

I agree.

Going on, Wanggaard also says that the current situation is “unacceptable.”  Again, I agree.

But was he at this jobs forum?  No, he wasn’t — and my guess is, he probably did know about it as courtesy invitations usually go out to both sides.

Going back to the Journal-Times article I referenced above, Rep. Cory Mason said this situation is awful:

“It is a sad state of affairs in the United States of America, where you can work full time and still be poor,” Mason said.

I agree, wholeheartedly.

At any rate, the recall of Scott Walker will start on November 15, 2011.  I plan to be out there on the first day getting signatures, because I believe Walker has failed — failed on jobs, and failed as a Governor, period.

And while I do not know when the recall of Van Wanggaard will start, whenever it does, I’m going to be right there, too — because to me, it’s flat unacceptable that Wanggaard hasn’t done any better in the ten months he’s had in office to get any new jobs into Racine City (or County).