Hometown Hero:One caring human can make all the difference

Pat Buchanan believes “For me a house or apartment becomes a home when you add a happy tail, four legs, and that unconditional love we call a dog.”

Buchanan began volunteering at dog shelters before she and her husband Angus moved to Whidbey 10 years ago.

“I learned the most common reason people give for relinquishing their dogs was too energetic and destructive.” She says that is not a good excuse to take your friend to a shelter.

“It’s not the dog’s fault, they need proper training, exercise, and the humans need education, too.”

She started educating herself, to figure out a way to help prevent so many dogs from ending up at the shelters.

Buchanan says, “Besides proper canine training for both humans and dogs, a well-exercised dog burns off excess energy and makes a calmer, happier, well-socialized dog less likely to dig, jump, escape, bark and destroy their human’s things. A lot of people said they couldn’t take their dogs for a walk on a leash; some owners were elderly, some physically unable, some were mothers with young children. But an off-leash dog park could be a place where everyone’s dog could run free.”

She visualized a park, where part of the facilities would promote responsible dog ownership, education and training. Meanwhile, Buchanan found out about an 81-year-old lady named Margaret Kuehn who, on her own, had gone door-to-door to get signatures to begin the process of establishing off-leash dog parks. The two hooked up, and with the help of hundreds of other volunteers, Whidbey now has five “Fetch” (free exercise time for canines/humans) off-leash parks.

These parks are mostly about people, Buchanan says.

“Dogs have helped us heal during a very painful time in our lives,” writes Ron and Dawn Michelsen, Fetch volunteers. “Watching dogs run free and enjoying life with reckless abandon has never failed to lift our spirits when we needed it most. We wouldn’t be able to do this without off-leash parks. Recently we took a car trip and visited every off-leash dog park along the way, and realized that Whidbey has the best dog parks of any we’ve seen.”

Talking with Buchanan at her open kitchen counter, her husband Angus comes in from his workshop, a charming and witty man, 25 years her senior.

“I admire Angus,” Buchanan says. “He lost his right arm in a Scotland war factory when he was 13 years old, and he’s never looked back.”

Their extra large mutt, a rescue dog called Kismet, lies on his cushy bed in the kitchen.

Buchanan looks over at their dog and adds, “Kismet had such a rough start in life before he came here.”

She knows firsthand what a tough start in life can do to a spirit. She also knows what a difference a loving influence can do, as well.

Raised by an unavailable father and a mother with an untreated mental illness, Buchanan and her three siblings suffered daily neglect. The kids foraged for food at neighbors and found clothing in the school’s lost-and-found boxes. None of them finished high school.

Sadly, she lost two of her siblings. Her oldest brother died homeless. Her sister was taken by one of her mother’s boyfriends and was never seen again. The remaining living brother still struggles from this childhood.

What made Buchanan’s life better?

“I had two people in my life — from age 5 to age 18 — that regrettably my siblings did not have. Jack and Mae, a Catholic couple in the neighborhood, spent time with me and made all the difference in my life. Just about any child or any dog can be saved by a nurturing and responsible human influence.”

She gives her dog a big hug, while stressing how much she has to be thankful for; she is animated and upbeat, like a whirly-gig on a gusty day.

“I talk with my two grown children every day; they are the best kids anyone would want.”

A few months ago, she had a total mastectomy, and since has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and will be going through more surgeries shortly.

“They give me a 50-percent chance of living another five years, after that they tell me my chances of living actually goes down. This has been a gift, in that I now live every day as if it could be my last — it’s the way I should have been living all along really. My friends bring me meals and support me in so many ways. Some people lovingly tell me I’m gonna beat this cancer.

“That isn’t how I look at it though. I will do everything in my power. But ultimately, I do not have control over everything in my life.”

She dishes up some of her sugarless homemade fruit cookies, that are more like a healthful meal, while she pours green tea. Eating healthy and exercising is part of her daily routine.

Buchanan says she’s determined to do something about the things she can control.

“It’s always bothered me, for instance, that I didn’t stand up for Brooke Baldeman. Brooke was in my sixth-grade class. I can still see the tears rolling down her cheeks as the boys on the bus pelted her with spit wads. And I just sat there silently afraid to do something. What a coward. I’ve never wanted to act that way again.”

She says we can learn a lot about how to treat humans by observing dogs.

When loved ones come home, run to greet them. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. Enjoy a long walk with your friend. Be loyal.

And when someone is having a bad day, sit close in silence and nuzzle them.

“Each of us can be that one person who can make all the difference in another person’s, or dog’s, life, if we would learn how to show unconditional love as our four-legged friends do for us.”

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