Friday, January 30, 2015

The Status of Humanity

I have been glued to this Facebook page for the past week.

I know, me?  Facebook?  Can't be happening, right?  But it done happened.

I first found out about the story last weekend.  A newly adopted, one-and-a-half-year-old yellow lab got spooked and bolted from her new mom in a parking lot in North Brunswick, dragging her leash behind her.

The new mom and foster-mom looked and looked and looked, but they couldn't find her.  The dog, named "Marie," ran off on Thursday, and only on Saturday did they happen to spot her.

On Sunday, there were no more sightings of her at all.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the foster mom and the shelter from which the dog had been adopted were based in Staten Island, NY.  They didn't know the area, and there were parks and lakes and neighborhoods and strip-malls galore (welcome to Central NJ).

The dog could literally have been anywhere, and a dog that is naturally skittish and now frightened and on the run... it felt completely overwhelming to me, and I was just reading about it, for heaven's sake.

And of course, on Sunday night, the weather forecast was predicting a massive blizzard.  And there had been no sign of the dog all day.  I was so bummed out about it when I went to bed on Sunday night that I decided that I'd go to North Brunswick and look too, in hopes that I might be able to offer some kind of help.

I know, I'm a cat-person.  But dogs have a lot of pretty wonderful qualities too, and anyway, this was a shy and skittish dog, and I always have a soft spot for the shy ones of any species.

I didn't see anything, of course, but later that afternoon, someone did, and that helped boost everyone's spirits enormously.

Because this is where Facebook did a truly good thing: it brought together an amazing community of people.  Seriously.  Whenever I start thinking that maybe people aren't very nice or don't really "get it" or I get discouraged about "Humanity" (with a capital H), I'm going to remember this Facebook page.  And maybe even reread it from time to time, actually.

When the adoptive mom or foster mom posted a status update that clearly registered frustration and increasing discouragement, people's kind and generous spirits kicked in.

"I know you're going to find her!  Today's the day!"

"I'm praying for you and keeping you and Marie in my heart."

"You're amazing!  Marie is counting on you, and I know you'll get her home."

And that wasn't all.  People began spreading the word.  On Monday afternoon, as the countdown to the blizzard was on, the Facebook page gained over 500 likes in the space of about 2 hours.  By the time I came home at noon on Monday, more and more people had begun to look, and later that afternoon, the dog was spotted again (in the neighborhood where I had actually been looking myself, ironically).

As if the situation didn't need any more complications, the area in which Marie was lost is an extremely dangerous area for any animal.  Route 130 is 2-lanes, each direction, with lots of strip malls and side streets--it's the kind of area where no one is driving particularly slowly and no one is expecting to see a dog on the loose.

The area where Marie was spotted was also not far from the junction with Route 1, another major highway, with 3 lanes in each direction.

Much to the dismay of the searchers, whenever Marie was spotted, she began to run.  Towards the road.  The fear was that she was actually crossing back and forth across Route 130 during the day and night.

When the travel bans went into effect on Monday night, I think everyone signed off with a worried mind and a heavy heart.  Marie hadn't been found, and they were predicting 15 inches of snow, with temps in the low 20's.  The only hope was that, because she was last seen squeezing through the fence into a restricted area of a PSE&G facility, perhaps she had managed to find shelter.

But then, Mother Nature did the right thing.  We were spared the blizzard, and the next day, the searchers were back out in full force.

In all of this, you need to bear in mind that the foster-mom was travelling to North Brunswick from Staten Island daily, and on Monday, she actually made the trip twice: she went home in the late afternoon and, an hour later, someone spotted the dog, so she drove back.  And she stayed until it was impossible for her to stay and look any longer, because the bridges were going to be closed and she could no longer be on the road (NY and NJ's governors each declared a State of Emergency in anticipation of the nor'easter).

On Monday, in the aftermath of what turned out to be a non-blizzard for NY and NJ, more and more people began to look for Marie.  They brought grills to the areas where she had been sighted in order to cook bacon in the hopes of luring her out.  They set up look-out posts.  They began contacting friends and co-workers and animal rescue specialists.  They set up a cell phone app to function as a walkie-talkie channel, so everyone on site could communicate quickly.

And on the Facebook page, there wasn't ever a single troll.  Not one flame-out thread or angry interaction.  Even though people brought their own perspectives and concerns and personalities to the page, the tone was never anything but helpful and supportive and encouraging.

They worked towards forging a sense of community with a common goal: to find and save this sweet dog.

When a few realists felt they needed to voice their concerns, they did so gently and respectfully, and the optimists and spiritualists respected that gentle respect and responded in kind.

No one denounced anyone for having a different opinion.  Everyone listened to each other.  Everyone supported the cause.

And last night, seven nail-biting days after she ran off, Marie was found.  And captured.  She went to the vet, and she's doing okay.

Score one for humanity.  Score one for Facebook.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."