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Operation Kindness can be found on the road

Texas and New Orleans offer good food and good friends

Posted: May 30, 2009 7:45 p.m.
Updated: May 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Loren, Michelle Sathe (kneeling center) and Girl Scout Troop 1604 with volunteers from Operation Kindness, who were very grateful for the $500 worth of donations to the no-kill facility in Carrollton, Texas.

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Editor's note: Signal feature writer Michelle Sathe will be taking a seven-week sabbatical to promote homeless dog adoptions. She is taking a rescued pit bull, Loren, along with her as a companion and mascot during their cross-country trip. The Signal will be following Sathe's and Loren's trip every Sunday with a column on their latest adventures.

Day 6 - Flower Mound, Texas. Flat fields of wheat gave way to lush greenery the closer we got to Flower Mound. It's true, everything's bigger in Texas - including some insanely gnarly freeway overpasses.

My cousin Stacey greeted us as if we were long lost buddies when, in reality, it's the first time we met. Her husband, Pat, is my cousin and we became fast friends after meeting 15 or so years ago, when my father was reunited with his biological father (which is Pat's and my grandfather). I must give this woman a lot of credit, welcoming me and a strange dog, a pit bull no less, with open arms. She even put their family cat up at the vet's for the night.

Loren and I walked with Stacey to pick up Leslie, 10, and Sean, 8, from school. Leslie and Sean were very excited to meet Loren and Loren was very calm around them, even with all the after-school commotion going on. I was very proud of her.

Girl Scout Troop 1604, which Leslie and Stacey are involved with, met us immediately afterwards so we could drop off donations to Operation Kindness, a no-kill shelter in Carrollton. They had a donation drive on May 9 at a local Pet Smart, collecting more than $500 in items and gift cards in less than two hours as part of the "Journey Award" service project.

Operation Kindness is an incredible place. They have more than 200 dogs and cats, 42 paid staff members, and more than 500 volunteers. Most of the cats are kept in a large open area, where they can climb carpeted posts and interact with one another. They had dogs of all ages and sizes - including a pen of adorable puppies the girls gravitated to. Volunteers and staff take out each dog to play or walk every day.

Nancy, the lead volunteer who toured us around the facility, told me that the most common breed of dog at Operation Kindness is lab mixes. Fortunately, Operation Kindness has an incredible adoption rate of 90 percent or more and as a no-kill facility, the animals have a home for life if they don't find a home.

After our tour, the Operation Kindness ladies came out to meet Loren and pose for a photo. They were extremely grateful for the donations, which they rely on to operate. I am so proud of these Girl Scouts for what they did - it's great to see young people becoming aware and involved in the plight of homeless animals.

We got some time to catch up after that. Loren hung out in the backyard while Pat, Stacey, Leslie, Sean and I went out for a fabulous meal at Patrizio's. We sat on the patio, enjoying the pleasant Texas night and some incredible pasta. I had the open-faced ravioli with garlic cream sauce, roasted artichokes, mushrooms, and peppers. We all agreed - you could cover just about anything in garlic cream sauce and it would be good.

Loren loves this family and their house. She had a field day sniffing after the cat scent and an odd fixation with a cast-iron buffalo stationed on a coffee room table. Pat got to practice his latent "dog whisperer" skills with Loren and she responded well to him, though she seems especially fond of Stacey and the kids. Everyone signed a paw print magnet this morning and put it on the truck. It'll be nice to have this family with us on the rest of our trip.

Day 11 - New Orleans. The morning cooled way down and rain started to pour as we returned to our room after beignets and coffee at Café Du Monde. I received a return e-mail from Ken Foster, the author of "The Dogs Who Found Me," who lives in New Orleans. He agreed to meet us for lunch. Wow!

We originally scheduled to meet at Willie Mae's Scotch Kitchen, which the Food Network hailed as having the best fried chicken in America, but they weren't open. The Praline Connection was our backup plan. Jazzy music played and crisp white linen adorned both the tables and the servers, who also donned snappy black hats.

The chicken was delicious, as Ken had assured me - crisp, succulent and slightly spicy. He often stops here on the way back from his local teaching gig.

We mostly talked dogs. Ken has four now, two males and two females, which started with Sula, his beautiful pit bull. He named his non-profit organization after her - The Sula Foundation. They have an active foster network and regularly hold educational/fundraising events in New Orleans to fund their rescue efforts.

I told Ken the curious reaction I was getting from people when I walked Loren, especially some tough-looking characters I thought would never be afraid of her. They actually crossed the street as we approached them, even though I assured them she was friendly.

"You have to remember, people from these neighborhoods usually know pit bulls one of two ways - either through dog fighting or as a drug dealer's enforcement," he said.

Like Los Angeles, the New Orleans shelter system is overrun with pit bulls, many from backyard breeders who think they can make a quick buck. These unscrupulous breeders are lucky to get $100 for a pit bull pup. Most of them end up in the shelter, like a little white, deaf girl whom Ken is boarding at a clinic on Magazine Street. One of 13 pups, her breeder immediately took the dog to the shelter when he realized she was deaf, refusing to pay the $10 owner surrender fee. He drove off in a brand new SUV.

Ken and I then took Loren for a walk. She took a shine to him instantly, showering him with kisses and minding him quite well.

Loren's a puller when walking and she kept poking her head into every store and bar we came across, trying to introduce herself.

She loves the people. Sure enough, the hardcore guys with beanie caps and baggy jeans avoided Loren at all costs.

Loren settled back into the truck so I could meet Ken's cutie with one blue eye and one green eye. Is there anything more adorable than a puppy, especially a white pit bull puppy? She ran to and from everyone, a little white blur, still awkward like a foal, making us all laugh.

We tossed around names. My clever mind came up with Scampi (because she likes to scamper about) and Praline.

"Ugh," Ken said of the latter. "I don't like anything that sounds too New Orleans."

We aren't getting tired of New Orleans. Actually, I'm sad to leave. The food, the vibe, the people. Rathbone Mansions, where we stayed, has been especially accommodating to us - it's so nice for Loren to be able to run free in their courtyard and act like a silly dog once in a while. I hope there are more places like this in store for us.

To follow Loren and Sathe on their trip visit their road blog at www.dogdaysbook.com.

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