Hometown Hero: Zen and the art of loving animals

Curled up on a soft bed in the living room, he raises his head and looks up with eyes that emit pure unqualified love and forgiveness. Yet, his own life has been one of abandonment. His body is full of the physical scars of abuse and neglect, his eyes hold the emotional scars.

  • Wednesday, June 25, 2008 11:34pm
  • Life

Ron Kerrigan surrounds himself with three of his many canine companions

BY SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER

Contributing writer

Curled up on a soft bed in the living room, he raises his head and looks up with eyes that emit pure unqualified love and forgiveness.

Yet, his own life has been one of abandonment. His body is full of the physical scars of abuse and neglect, his eyes hold the emotional scars.

Such is the life of the unwanted, the unloved and uncared for. But he’s safe and appreciated now, no longer behind bars.

His name is Scooter. His offense? He is a sick, old and unsightly looking dog.

Ron Kerrigan gently lifts Scooter’s head and feeds him his special homemade lunch.

Surrounding Scooter — a black Shepherd mix — are another seven “unadoptable” dogs and six “unadoptable” cats, resting peacefully on couches, chairs and cushions; one at Kerrigan’s feet and two resting their heads and front paws on his lap.

Kerrigan is a volunteer for Old Dog Haven and helps other shelters with Web sites and by visiting lonely animals.

“Ron walked dogs at the WAIF shelter for 11 years every week. When I say every week, I mean EVERY week. Rain, shine, sleet, snow,” says Patricia Buchanan, one of the founders of FETCH, an organization devoted to off-leash dog parks.

“This weekly mission took him all day as he didn’t want to leave even one dog out.”

Buchanan says Kerrigan lives his life with purpose and passion.

You can experience this in his home.

Sitting in Kerrigan’s living room is an emotional encounter. Nuzzling Kerrigan’s legs is a rotund, fuzzy 14-year-old Norwegian Elkhound named Calypso whose eyes have been removed.

A fervent barker named Emi, a purebred Saluki, won her owners many trophies in the show circuit before being abandoned at a shelter while suffering from lupus.

Kerrigan says, as he lies down and snuggles her on the floor, “Unfortunately, lupus doesn’t affect your larynx. Does it, Emi?”

Kerrigan turns his attention to

Wizard, a tall, deaf, Akita mix.

He looks into Wizard’s eyes and says, “People really passed up a good dog in you, didn’t they, Wizard?”

“Usually, I only adopt the older ones, but Wizard here had waited 18 months at WAIF for a home and I just couldn’t stand the thought of him there one more day,” he explains.

Another special needs dog adopted 12 years ago is a large black dog named Quasar, who sadly passed away the day after this interview.

“It’s heartbreaking each time one passes on,” Kerrigan says.

He says he and his partner Bill Halstead have learned to try and focus on the love they shared with each animal.

“These animals want what we all want. Love and acceptance.”

Kerrigan knows something of the feeling of abandonment. His parents were both alcoholics and his dad left when he was 6 and never returned.

He says he indulged in self-pity now and then about his childhood until the early 1970s.

“I turned on the TV to unwind, and there being interviewed were these

25-year-old twins, Yvette and Yvonne. They were conjoined at the head and had never even been able to stand up, let alone all the health issues they must have had.

“But what really impressed me was their upbeat attitude; not a complaint out of either of them.

From then on I remind myself, that compared to most people in the world,

I haven’t much to complain about at all.”

“Ron is the most selfless and singularly dedicated person I have ever met,” says Vicki Payne, an avid volunteer in the community.

“Ron is an institution. I know for a fact people call him for help with crises, questions or just good old canine/feline related moral support. He has all the usual hero characteristics: tireless nature, huge heart (though he tries to hide it), guts and commitment,” Payne continues. “But he’s also one of the funniest people I know; a dry and wry wit.”

But maybe the best thing about this month’s Hometown Hero is that he loves those who are loved the least, Payne says.

“Blind and deaf dogs, old dogs, dogs with bizarre, complex and expensive medical conditions and behavioral

quirks — such as eating alarm clocks, $300 reading glasses and couches.

They all find their champion, confidant and a forever home with Ron; cats as well. He and Bill care for all of these animals’ special medical needs out of their own pocket. To my knowledge Ron has never turned anyone away, regardless of whether they walk on two legs or four,” Payne says.

Kerrigan says he has always loved all animals.

“However, to be honest, sometimes

I struggle with the two-legged animals, and seeing how we humans discard our animals doesn’t help me like us more.

I am afraid my epitaph might say something like: ‘He loved animals … people not so much.’”

He didn’t set out to adopt a lot of animals. It sort of evolved.

His and Bill’s first dog was Pumpkin, a terrier mix he adopted. When Pumpkin died about 25 years ago, Kerrigan felt such a void in his life that he adopted two dogs two weeks later.

“Then a neighbor dog adopted us, and then I’m not sure how this all happened, but two more shelter dogs ended up living with us. And once you have five dogs, it wasn’t much of a stretch to adopt five more.”

Roxane Olsen, a fellow old dog adopter writes, “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ This would be a very great nation indeed if there were more people like Ron Kerrigan.”

Throughout the years not all of the animals that have come to Kerrigan’s home have been able to live out their golden years.

“Sadly, even with years of barricading portions of our living room to separate some of the dogs, we have had to call the vet to ‘put down’; though we call it what it is, killing. This has been something we have had to realize; that occasionally a dog’s history was so bad we cannot bring them back to ‘normal.’”

Leneen Carr, an artist and illustrator, talks about Kerrigan as her personal hero.

“Ron sees the elderly dog, the one missing an eye, the ones with major, expensive health problems and says, that’s the one for me. And he commits to making the rest of their life full of love and devotion.

“Ron reminds me of the quote by Saint Francis of Assisi:

‘If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow man.’”

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