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Ten years on, how 9/11 made me a better person.




Back in the Summer of 1997, I was in law school, clerking in a law firm for the summer.

It was a boring job, and as summer drew to a close, I knew what I needed -- a pet!

I started going through the yellow pages, calling dog pounds and asking, "What's your most difficult dog you have in finding a home?"

One week later, Spud was my soulmate -- my mainstay, my explorer in life.


Our journeys led us everywhere, down to get my Duke MBA in North Carolina, and ultimately, to a job in New York City.

It was a supposed "dream job" --

-- I went through 35 interviews --

-- they promised so much.

In the Summer of 2000, here I was, atop the World Trade Center as a tourist during my summer internship.

I remember the towers as ominous, all-knowing, and somewhat frightening.

They were just so massive.


One short year later, Spud and I moved to the Flatiron District, to pursue that "dream job."

Sure, there were nags in my head about this job --

-- how come leaving before 10PM made me a slacker?

Why did they nit pick about giving us $10 dinners when we worked 12 hour days?

Why were all the managing directors screaming so much?

How come the admins didn't want their sons and daughters to grow up and be "investment bankers" -- ??

Well, I ignored those signs for the time being, and got down to reality.

On September 11, 2001, my classmates and I took the subway down to the World Trade Center Marriott for our brokerage exam.

At right, my receipt from that morning.


As the exam started, the proctor said, "Today is September 11, 2001 -- a day you will never forget."

Odd.

During this paper exam, we heard the equivalent of a piano fall upstairs --

-- then, the lights flickered, and another piano fell.

Then, the proctor said, "Your exam is cancelled, please exit the building through the fire exit."

Outside we went, to mayhem.

It looked like we had been dropped in to a modern day Libya.

The cars' tires were blown out.

Skinned body parts and luggage were strewn about.

Hotel staff covered the body parts with white linen napkins.

There was an airplane landing gear 20 feet in front of us. The firemen had put up a "do not cross" perimeter tape, and we were in its bounds.

All this happened while my classmates shrieked, and while the firemen made their way up the towers, in an obedient and faithful line.

As I looked up, I saw an orange and purple burning hole in the southern WTC building --

-- it was in the center, and it looked like a small plane, like a Cessna, had accidentally crashed in to the building.

 


Then, as my classmate Andreas and I looked up, debris began falling.

At first, he said, "It's just papers" -- and then, we realized it was people jumping, holding hands or solo -- either way, they were jumping to their deaths.

Following the jumps, there was the sound of shotgun blasts as their bodies hit the concrete, and the fire personnel rushed to cover them. Those sounds still haunt my mind.

It was surreal, and without explanation.

While all this happened, I remember thinking that Americans were jumping from these buildings -- and how it just couldn't be happening. Sure, I had seen such terror on the news in other countries, but never from Americans, in America.

Then, I wished the helicopters would show up on the roofs and rescue the people stuck above the flames, but they never came.

Finally, Andreas and I began the long walk to my Flatiron apartment, while the buildings shockingly fell.

My cellphone service was spotty, at best, but finally I got through to my mother, whom I couldn't even understand -- she was screaming in the phone almost in tongues, until finally she realized I was all right.

For the next two months, the city was broken -- it smelled like burning iron, the memories were too fresh to forget, and it was seemingly "back to normal" after our banker friends had a little chat with us in the basement of the building, basically saying, "We're sorry for what happened -- now please, get back to work."


During the next weeks, I began roaming the city during my rare off-hours --

-- discovering a part of society I had prior ignored in my "must achieve" years.

Here, shown at left, I met Lydia, on the Upper West Side, and a little boy, named Thumper.

Lydia had a dog rescue, and she was trying to find this boy a home.

Having adopted Spud earlier, I thought I had "done my part" --

-- but to see people working on a large scale, as a public charity, to help these dogs, well, something just clicked in my head --

-- and with that, I found I had a purpose.

I was no longer wondering why life was so unhappy, why I worked with such beasts, who were millionaires, yet miserable --

-- and with every little animal I saw being saved, it made me happy for the moment -- something I had lost since 9/11.


Well, wouldn't you know, in the next months, the "happy bankers" laid off our entire class --

-- citing the "poor economy" and "9/11" as reasons.

So, while these "people" made million dollar salaries, we were looked at as the expendables, and 9/11 proved yet another blow --

-- I was $120,000 in school debt, with a landlord suing me on my vacant apartment, and there were absolutely no jobs for a "green MBA" in New York City.

What I did have, though, was Spud, my boy.

I also had my fantastic parents, who said, "you can always come home."

So, home Spud and I went, with my new "favorite things" in my head of helping these dogs --

-- for their sakes, and for my sake --

-- in short, helping the dogs helped me heal.


Over the next years, I entered the world of dog rescue, as a passion.

During the day, I was a robot in a new robotic job, with a lot of personal issues that still weren't sorted out.

Sure, I went to counselors, spoke to pastors and the like, but the dogs helped me the most --

-- to a point where I drove, drove, and drove to help the dogs -- once driving from Connecticut to Las Vegas, down to Florida, up to Ohio, then back to Connecticut, alone, with many babes in tow --

-- all to try and figure things out, like, "Why am I here, and how am I going to get back to normal?"


As the years went on, I worked with hundreds of great people to save thousands of dogs.

Babies, adults, pregnant moms --

-- you name it, they needed help.

Before then, I was always scared of the word "pit bull", thinking Spud was instead some sort of American Staffordshire mixed breed.

This fear was furthered by one of my Duke classmates making fun of me, saying that "Spud is a pit bull", and me consistently denying it --

-- like in a way, the pit bulls were out there, and they were a different class of dog who didn't need help.


Well, God spoke to me, loudly and clearly, the day I rescued my first hardcore pit bull, Precious, at left.

Precious was left behind after breeding in a Missouri yard, to fend for herself, and she ended up in the kill pound.

With Precious, a whole new "pit bull" world opened up to me --

-- for she was, without question, a pit bull.

What I found in this breed was a unique temperament, that needed and demanded respect.

What I also found, oddly, was a highly predictable temperament -- one of loving, needing care.

Even the most bruised and shaken of pit bulls, some from NYC fighting rings who came with their lips and ears ripped off, would sit in my lap, on their backs, licking me as I rubbed their bellies.

While I knew that my small victories didn't touch the larger issue of pet overpopulation and the pounds' need to euthanise these unwanted animals, my connection to these dogs was unquestioned, and it seemed like the only time I was happy was when I was helping them.


Also, in rescue, I met some of the most caring, giving people I have ever known.

One was Susan Morgan, from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Susan worked at the local Animal Control -- a notoriously sad destination for pit bulls.

Well, Susan didn't let that fact stop her, and over the years, she saved and sent many a pit bull to SPBR for placement up North. Also, when Susan would call, she wouldn't just talk dogs -- she'd ask, "How are you?" -- personally caring about me and my dealings through the hard journey of dog rescue.

Sadly, Susan passed in late 2008, leaving a memory of steadfast love and a "never quit" attitude with me. I still often feel her, looking over my shoulder, watching my work.

At right, a birthday card Susan and staff sent me the year of Susan's passing -- words I cherish and adore, from such a great woman. Though I never personally met Susan, I love Susan Morgan, and I still pray for her every night.


In close, what has 9/11 and the past ten years taught me?

It's shown me the joy and love that life has to offer by giving back, and by doing good work.

At left, is Valentino -- a boy we rescued from the euthanasia list in Upstate New York, fostered for 2 years -- yes, 2 years --

-- and who found a forever, loving home in rural Connecticut.

Placements like 'ol Val's do a lot for me, 10 years after 9/11 --

-- they let me help in a world where I was once helpless, and they show me the true joy that life has to offer, a joy only shown when giving back to this great world we live in.

Thank you, all, who have helped me along this journey, and thank you most to these loving, precious dogs, who have helped me to heal in ways I never knew possible.