By Barbara Mellon
On a recent episode of The Tyra Banks Show on NBC, four young women were recognized for their selfless commitment to others by being treated to Fantasy Makeovers. Former Andes resident Kari Hall was among those being honored. Her work at a Delhi animal hospice was the impetus for this tribute.
Born in Alabama, Kari moved to Andes with her family when she was just a toddler. She attended ACS until her family left the area when she was in the 9th grade, but returned to finish her last two years of high school. Having spent time in other schools, she attests that Andes Central School was her favorite. She attributes this to the small size which allows students to really get to know their teachers, and the feeling that her class of 12 were “like brothers and sisters,” learning, playing sports, socializing and essentially growing up together.
After graduating in 2004, Kari went on to get her Associate’s Degree in Parks and Recreation from SUNY Delhi. With a love of being outdoors, she hoped to one day work for DEC or as a forest ranger. She took a job at Plattekill Mountain, but found that she was doing mostly office work that wasn’t fulfilling.
At her part-time job at a store in Delhi, Kari met a woman who was always excitedly talking about her work with the animals at a pet hospice. Intrigued, she contacted Susan Marino, the founder and executive director of Angel’s Gate, located on Archie Eliot Road in the Town of Delhi. Her life hasn’t been the same since.
According to its website, Angel’s Gate is “a unique, first-of-its-kind Hospice and Rehabilitation Center for animals.” The Delhi site is a home set on acres of rolling fields shared by Ms Marino and the many critically ill and physically challenged animals in her care. Currently there are over 200 residents at the center, including more than 80 dogs, 120 cats, 3 horses, a baby bull, 2 opossums, a turkey and a squirrel. They come from all over the country, for a variety of reasons.
A number of the dogs were survivors of Katrina, and last month Susan and Kari traveled down south to rescue a dozen Chihuahuas deemed “unadoptable” after being taken from a puppy mill in Alabama. Malnourished, underweight and suffering a variety of injuries and ailments, these tiny, attention-starved dogs arrived to live out their days with dignity.
The stories are heartbreaking. Among the horses is a mini-horse that is blind in one eye and a jumper with seriously injured hind legs. The bull, found frozen soon after birth, had to have its back hooves removed. Euthanasia would have been their fates had it not been for Angel’s Gate. There are cats with AIDS and neurological problems, dogs that have lost the use of one or more limbs, animals suffering from diabetes.
When I stopped by for a visit, I immediately realized that her work at Angel’s Gate is more than a job for Kari. The love she has for the animals shows in her eyes, her voice, her touch. She is working primarily with the dogs, attending to all of their physical and emotional needs, including mixing up the hospice’s special food consisting of ground turkey or duck, chicken and noodles.
Kari’s learning a lot from this endeavor, from the types of illnesses animals can suffer with (so many similar to human counterparts), to the positive results of hospice care, from the inevitability of death to how to better care for her own pets at home. Mostly, though, she says she is learning patience. Her charges, as ill or damaged as they may be, are full of spunk and keep her on her toes.
Of course she has her favorites. One is an arthritic Rottweiler named Marshall, who came from a shelter in Mount Vernon. “The first day I saw him, we just connected,” Kari told me. “He follows me everywhere.” Another favorite is Lacey, a longhaired Chihuahua who used to suffer terrible seizures. “She’s had only one since getting here,” Kari tells me with pride.
So how did all of this culminate in an appearance on The Tyra Banks Show? Ms Marino is always on the lookout for ways to get publicity for her undertaking. She has appeared on Martha Stewart and the Oprah Winfrey Show among others. Recently, a woman who works for NBC brought them a cat with severe diabetes. Keeping in touch, she was amazed at how well the cat did, and mentioned they were looking for young women who do good deeds for an episode of the Banks show. Susan and Kari jumped on the idea.
While Kari had fun doing the show, both women were disappointed that very little of their message got out on this particular segment. The show’s staff instead “made over” the selected honorees to reflect what they did in life. Kari was made up to look like a cat, in this case a leopard. In the resulting photo, she looks more like a gorgeous fashion model than the hard-working, dedicated animal caregiver she was being feted for. While not what they had hoped for, the Angel’s Gate staff will continue to look for ways to educate others about their mission.
Despite the hard work of Susan, Kari and the rest of the staff, there is always more to do. Donations and volunteers are always appreciated. If you are interested in learning more about Angel’s Gate and its mission, or how you can help, check out their website at www.angelsgate.org.. ~