I went from having a heart of stone to a heart of love. From a cold, emotionless state to one of warmth and compassion.
Because of the vivid change that God has made in my life, I am compelled to share my story. I hope it may inspire others to
open their hearts.
Growing up under a constant barrage of verbal, sexual and emotional abuse
left me feeling empty inside. At some point, my despair led me to make a choice to not feel anything -- for anyone. As a young
man, I moved to the mountains of north Idaho, hoping to find -- or create -- my true self.
One day at my cabin "in the middle of nowhere," a little tabby cat
showed up on my doorstep. Having no interest in animals, I shoved him away. For three months he persisted, visiting frequently,
undaunted by my lack of welcome. Finally, I gave in and fed him. A month later, I invited the little cat in the house, named
him Jake, and an amazing relationship was born. Within a few days, Jake was curling up on my bed at night, his soft fur and
contented purr bringing a comforting presence I hadn't known I needed. Over the next two years, he became my closest friend,
a wonderful companion who accepted me as I was and loved me unconditionally. When he died from crushing snow that fell from
the rooftop, it was the first time in years that I felt real pain again.
My anguish was too much
to take -- I couldn't handle such strong feelings of loss. So I medicated the pain, over-using prescription drugs to dull
my senses and avoid having to feel.
A year passed before I had the strength to visit the shelter
and adopt two cats: Buffie and Woofers. Buffie died of liver failure 2-years later. Though I knew I did everything
I could to help him, still I grieved over his loss for over a year.
But something remarkable
was happening to me. As I felt love and sadness for these animals, I sensed another presence in my softened heart: God's
love. I realized in amazement that He was using the grief process to help strip me of layers of emotional callousness, indifference
and detachment. I had worked so hard over the years to build this tough, protective shell, yet with each beat of my aching
heart was another crack, and another layer slipped away, exposing me -- revealing my true self. And healing the pain. God
was healing me, and using the giftings of animals to get to my stony heart. Through God and His messengers Jake, Buffie and
Woofers, I was learning the values of mutual respect, companionship, acceptance, courtesy, tolerance, validation and true
friendship. A level of wholeness was filling my soul and enhancing my life.
Feeling called to
help the creatures that God had brought into my life, I sold my mountain home and relocated to land better suited to my plans.
With a little research, I learned that over 7.5 million cats and dogs are killed each year in shelters because of overpopulation.
Another 10 million die from disease, starvation, accidents, freezing and human cruelty. I knew what to do: I founded Lifetime
Friends Animal Sanctuary (LTFAS).
I believe that rescuing stray, abused and abandoned animals
and providing them with a safe, loving, nurturing environment through LTFAS is truly a parallel of what God's interactive
love has done for me. I was the abused, abandoned stray, but now, in His hands, my life is a miracle in progress.
Genesis tells how God gave man "dominion" or (as I and many others believe) "stewardship"
over animals. I define stewardship thus: "to learn how to commune with in order to affect quality care for."
God befriends the animals through me -- through us all. And this is what the Sanctuary is all about. I've learned to see
animals through my Heavenly Father's eyes. They are not objects to be tossed away; rather, they are living beings with
hearts and feelings.
At the Sanctuary, I have finally made the choice to stop burying my feelings.
When, despite all of our efforts to save him or her, a rescuee dies, I no longer run from the pain. I feel the hurt, I cry
the tears, I mourn the loss. And I pray. I pray that God's angels will gently carry that precious soul home to Him.
And there have been so many other wonderful, life-affirming changes in me! God has freed me from several afflictions
which I had developed as a consequence of childhood abuse, including addictions to sex, pornography, TV, videos, alcohol,
prescription drugs and emotional turmoil. One of my favorite Bible passages is John 8:36: "Whom the Son
sets free is free indeed, from the inside out."
So, just opening my heart,
my soul -- my life -- to these hurting creatures of God has enriched my life immeasurably. Founding and continuing LTFAS has
unleashed the power of compassion in me, and healing benefits are far-reaching. I've learned that manhood is not about
being feeling-less, but being of strong mind and tender heart. I've chosen mercy and compassion and a gentle way of being.
I now have the ability to communicate and connect with a being outside of myself. I cherish the sweet bonds that develop with
each new animal companion that comes into my life. I, and this organization, have the purpose and passion to responsibly provide
a home for stray, abandoned and abused animals.
I believe that being in the right relationship
with God allows me to be emotionally capable of enjoying healthy relationships with myself and others. The quote I wrote to
place on LTFAS literature sums up this belief: "Love for an animal companion becomes something transforming
that gave this man back feelings that were lost or buried, thus unexpectedly, immeasurably enriching his life."
Each year, LTFAS helps to save an average of 300 animals, by becoming a safe, nurturing, cageless
haven for those who were stray or abused, and by educating, encouraging and empowering individuals to solve pet behavior problems
and take it upon themselves to help animals in need. The Sanctuary also offers a temporary home for pets of women victimized
by domestic violence. And a new program allows people to legally direct LTFAS to care for beloved pets left behind when their
human dies. At any given time, about 200 animals live at the Sanctuary.
Through the grace of
God, LTFAS continues to rescue animals. Many others have joined in this mission -- people who are not only supporters, board
members and volunteers, but to me are friends, brothers and sisters under God. We may come from different walks of life and
have different spiritual beliefs, but we all strongly believe in the power of compassion and share a special bond that comes
from our love of animals. Through their gifts of time, money and creativity, we have the property and dwellings to house
our precious rescuees, and we now have a small thrift shop up and running to help support the Sanctuary (we call it Sanctuary
Seconds). We need to build more animal living quarters, come up with a way to purchase a larger space in town for the thrift
shop, and we hope to eventually hire a full-time employee for both the shop and the Sanctuary (I love what I do, but wish
someone could help me out on a regular basis, especially when I'm ill or just plain exhausted!).
but God will provide; He blessed my life with Jake, Buffie and so many other four-legged companions, taught my stony heart
how to feel again and brought several loving, caring, two-legged people into my life -- and together with Him, we will stand
up and be a voice of compassion.
Blessing of the animals,
Founder and Director, Lifetime Friends Animal Sanctuary
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Lifetime Friends Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent
of the law, and are always welcome, as are encouragements! Send to: LTFAS, P.O. Box 54, Careywood, ID 83809. Packages for
the thrift shop may include out-of-business store stock, like-new clothing, old and new jewelry, antiques, collectibles (how
about those boxes of bean-bag animals or old comic books in your closet?), etc. Send to: Sanctuary Seconds Thrift Shop,
521-b Church Street, Sandpoint, ID 83864. Thank you for any help you can give! Please visit our website at www.ltfas.org .