Last night, I read an article about elderly people who suddenly find themselves homeless since the advent of COVID-19. The piece, which appeared in The New York Times, featured the story of a man named Miles Oliver who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from Chicago, Oliver came to Arizona by way of the Army over thirty years ago, when he was a new recruit assigned to Fort Huachuca. He liked Arizona and decided to stay there once his stint with the Army was finished.
According to The New York Times article, Mr. Oliver had been able to make a life for himself in Arizona by working day labor jobs and delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. But then COVID-19 struck and Oliver was soon out of work. To make matters worse, work had already been slow in February, before things really started to get bleak in terms of the virus. Oliver was soon face with the difficult decision of either paying his rent or paying his car note, $230 for a 2007 Ford Fusion. He decided to pay the car note, since it was a source of shelter and transportation. By the end of April, he was kicked out of his home, forced to grab just a few necessary items– reading glasses, socks and underwear, and Metformin for his blood sugar, before he hit the streets in his car. By late June, his car quit working.
Oliver has an ex wife and two children. His older son is estranged and hasn’t spoken to him in years. His younger son is a student and in no position to help him. He doesn’t speak to his ex wife. He has diabetes and sleep apnea, and although he is a veteran and qualifies for some benefits, his future looks dim.
As I read about Mr. Oliver’s plight, it occurred to me that he’s about Bill’s age. Once again, I was reminded of how quickly and drastically things can change. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate the risks that someday, I’ll find myself homeless. I looked at Bill and said, “You know what? I think if I were in that situation, I’d be tempted to just check out.” I said this mainly because although I am not necessarily estranged from my family, neither am I particularly close to them. I don’t have children, and although I am well-educated and privileged, I was never able to parlay that into a job that paid me enough to live on. If I couldn’t do it 20 years ago, how can I do it now? And why would I want to? Without Bill, I’m not sure why I’d stick around this hellhole we call Earth, which is swirling with plagues, natural disasters, and selfish, shitty politicians like Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Bill, who is eternally optimistic and has survived some pretty dim odds himself, gave me a pained look. Although he knows I suffer from depression and that makes me look on the dark side of things, I don’t think he’s ever gotten used to that unfailingly pragmatic aspect of my personality. It’s also kind of anti-American to “give up” on life. Bill has never felt the urge to off himself, despite his brush with death when he was a teenager. I, on the other hand, used to feel suicidal somewhat often. I’ve often felt ambivalent and apathetic about life. I was told more than once that I wasn’t wanted by the people who were responsible for creating me. They later came to appreciate me, but those comments left a deep scar that has affected my self-worth. And I just feel like if I were in a situation as an old woman without a home, family, or friends, I wouldn’t want to bother going on. But then I started thinking about it some more and realized that maybe I was wrong to think that way.
I thought about all of the challenges facing Mr. Oliver. He’s an older Black man, with no family able to help him and, it appears, few friends. He’s got health problems, but no money or resources to take care of them. There’s a pandemic raging, and we have a president who doesn’t care about people. And yet he is clearly a survivor. He has reached out for assistance. His story was told in The New York Times. Maybe I got the wrong message.
After I told Bill about why I felt it would be more expedient to “check out” than try to rebuild life as a homeless person, I looked behind me at Noizy. He’s still stuck in the corner of our living room, slowly getting braver by the day. I started to think about how he’d once been a homeless puppy, weaned too early from his mother, and left to die in a country where dogs aren’t appreciated. It’s kind of a miracle that he’s here with us in Germany. What are the odds?
Noizy was brought to his American rescuer, Meg, by a young man in Kosovo who had seen him in the street, screaming for help. He brought the puppy to Meg because he didn’t know where else to take him. Kosovo has a big problem with street dogs, but the culture doesn’t support animal rescue too well. Many people in Kosovo are Muslim and many Muslims consider dogs impure and unclean. Meg didn’t need another puppy to take care of, but she decided to keep Noizy anyway. She watched him grow from tiny puppy to gigantic adult. I’m sure she wondered what his future would hold.
And then, Bill and I came along, looking for a new canine friend. We had just tragically lost a dog we’d tried to adopt, one who was much closer to the type of dog we usually take into our home. It took some time for us to decide we really wanted another dog, and it was definitely not our plan to adopt a big dog– especially one as large as Noizy is. But once I saw Noizy’s face, I was hooked. There was something about his eyes that touched my heart. I have never been sorry when I’ve taken in a dog, and every single one we’ve adopted touched me through a photograph.
I started thinking about all of the people who came together to see that Noizy found a home. He spent 18 months living on a farm in Kosovo, one of many dogs living there, cared for by a farmer who has a soft spot for dogs and was willing to help Meg, who had moved from Kosovo to Germany and couldn’t take her rescues with her. She had paid for the dogs to be taken care of on the farm while she looked afar for potential rescuers. Most of these dogs haven’t lived as pets in a home.
I just happened to have a friend who knew Meg and introduced us. I met this friend in Stuttgart a few years ago, again by chance. We’ve only seen each other in person once, but our mutual friend is very involved in dog rescue herself and has a couple of exotic dogs from far flung countries like Thailand and Afghanistan. She told Meg that one of her dogs would be very lucky to be placed with us. It was like the stars aligned.
I just met Meg in person the other day. She is very impressive. Somehow, she has managed to develop a powerful network of people in Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia who have helped her on her mission to save some street dogs. What are the odds that a tiny puppy like Noizy would end up in Meg’s care? What are the odds that she would be found by a local young man who cared about the puppy’s life enough to seek her out? It was much more likely that the noisy puppy would have languished and died.
Even once we’d decided when to pick up Noizy, there were challenges. First, there was the whole COVID-19 situation, which is causing countries to shut their borders again. Fortunately, that didn’t affect us during our trip, although it as definitely a concern. And then, when Meg was bringing Noizy and two other dogs up to Slovenia to hand off to Bill and me, her car broke down. Another American couple (younger and able to take another day to travel) drove an extra 400 kilometers to help Meg get the dogs to Slovenia. They drove all night, very slowly, to make it happen.
Soon Noizy was in the back of our Volvo, with our other dog, Arran, looking pissy in the back seat. On his first night in our home, Noizy was obsessed with going outside. It’s what he knew. He hugged the door to our yard, taking every opportunity to go out. He bumped his head on the glass, apparently because he’d never seen a glass door before. Within 24 hours, he clearly preferred being indoors rather than outdoors. He’s staked out a part of our living room and won’t venture beyond that area. But every time he sees me, he looks delighted and wags his tail excitedly. He rolls on his back for a belly rub. He’s learned how to drink from a water bowl and eat from a dish. He’s even been pretty good (but not perfect) with peeing and pooping outside. Noizy is clearly game for the challenge of learning how to be a pet.
A few days ago, Bill had an epiphany about Noizy. In 2012, when we were vacationing in Scotland in honor of our tenth wedding anniversary, we got the devastating news that our beagle/basset hound mix, MacGregor, had a spinal tumor. At the time, we lived in North Carolina. Vets had told us before we left for our trip that they thought MacGregor had disk disease. If we had known it was a tumor (which they only discovered after he had a MRI), we probably would have made other choices about our vacation.
The night we found out about the cancer and the vet’s suggestion that we euthanize MacGregor, Bill had a nightmare. He dreamt he was being chased by many dogs. He thought they wanted to hurt him, so he initially threw rocks at them. But then he realized they weren’t trying to attack him at all. They all needed help. One dog in particular was kind of eerie looking. He had gleaming eyes, but he wasn’t menacing.
The next morning, we got off the Hebridean Princess and took a taxi to Edinburgh. As we were passing the lovely town of Stirling, Bill considered his dream and what it meant. He knew it meant we were going to be helping dogs… perhaps even a lot of them. As he thought more about his dream while we rode toward Edinburgh, Bill came to assume that the gleaming eyed dog represented death, which will always be there whenever there’s a living creature involved in a situation. The dream has stuck with him almost eight years later. This past Sunday, as we were driving to Germany with Noizy and Arran, Bill said “You know what? That dog in my dream looked a lot like Noizy.”
Later, Bill told Meg about his dream. Meg, who studies Jungian psychology, offered her take on it. Then she told us about what Noizy meant to her and how he came to be in her care. I hope Meg doesn’t mind that I share this one bit from her explanation… because I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. She wrote that to her, Noizy represents hope for the future. He should have died on the street, but he screamed for help (hence his name). A young man, native to a country that doesn’t necessarily appreciate dogs, came to his rescue and gave him to Meg, a woman who rescues dogs.
Why did the young man give Noizy to Meg? Because he had hope that Meg could save the puppy and give him a future. The alternative was to let him die. Meg told us that a lot of the young people of Kosovo don’t have a lot of hope. They are in a country that isn’t recognized everywhere yet. Their country is troubled, and the young people wonder if anyone cares about them.
Why did Meg give Noizy to us? She said it was hard for her. I could tell she was very emotional when we took him. He’s a big, powerful dog, though, and Meg has many dogs who need homes. Meg is also retired and has physical and financial limitations that may preclude taking care of Noizy the way we can. Even though we’re doing fine so far, I wonder what the future holds for us. I’m no spring chicken myself. 😉 But I do have plenty of time, and Bill and I– at least for now– have a secure home and money for food, vet care, and anything else Noizy needs. So we’re going to do our best to make sure that young man’s hope for Noizy will not be unfulfilled.
And maybe I can learn a lesson from Noizy, too. Against all odds, he’s up here in Germany, about to live his best life… to the best of our ability to give it to him. We’re an unlikely match. Bill and I have always had beagle mixes, after all… and we’re renters with a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. But I think I can teach Noizy a thing or two, and he can teach me even more than that. At the very least, he can teach me that maybe “checking out” isn’t the best thing to do when one is suddenly homeless or facing another major adversity.
I hope Miles Oliver finds what he needs to start over and live his best life with whatever time he has left. And I thank him for his story, which affected me more than I realized when I read it last night.