Special guest and best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club
Event host and author and radio host of KQED’s Forum
TV personality and two-time
Emmy® award winner for journalism
Join international bestselling author Amy Tan and KQED’s Dr. Michael Krasny for this very special virtual event to benefit shelter animals.
This one-time live and virtual storytelling event will feature a conversation with Amy Tan and a live storytelling contest, focused on the animal companions that shape our lives with love. The contest winner will be awarded as Best in Show.
2019 Storytelling Finalists
Misha had an excellent, very Californian death. We sat cross-legged on the floor.
The vet, in a Mr. Rogers voice, told us what to expect. Misha responded well. His soft fur smelled like clean sand. We cried, and gently folded him into his sheet: a cinnamon bun. His spot awaited him in the yard.
I had spied Misha and Zlata, both dumpster rescues, online. My current cat—three-legged, deaf, bulimic, incontinent—had been hanging on. But a year later I was finally catless. Were they still available? Yes. I wavered but I had to free them from their cage. After Dad’s recent, painful death, I’d vowed: no more suffering.
Whenever I’d called the Foster, there’d been cacophony: barks, meows, chirps. I was relieved when she suggested meeting at the vet’s for the hand-off. The cats reeked of pee and were shedding. I sneezed. Welts formed where they clawed me. I hesitated; I’d never been allergic. Then, she offered: two for the price of one!
Later, I thought: crap. They’re ferals—and defective: Misha had a weepy eye, runny nose, eleven bad teeth. Both were missing a paw. They hid, acted wild.
Gradually, however, Misha transformed. He followed me everywhere, snuggled, destroyed toys and partied in plant pots. He tolerated band practice and home renovations, purring like a motorcycle. Boyfriends came and went; Misha stayed. Other cats jumped the fence or slipped out the door. Not Misha.
We moved cross-country: three cats, three humans, all in one plane row. We weren’t supposed to sedate them, so we medicated ourselves instead.
And then the ailments began. Nothing helped. Five vets, thousands of dollars. The agony of uncertainty: was it time to euthanize? Misha waxed and waned. He kept surprising us, but his eventual decline, like Dad’s, would be swift. And afterwards, I felt that same sharp, cold, triangular pain—an icicle lodged in my heart—as when I’d lost Dad.
I missed Misha’s pirate-sneer and pencil-eraser nose. His reaching out, asking for belly rubs, looking up with total adoration. Galumphing toward me, thumpy-thump on his stumpy-stump, with reckless abandon. Briefly examining my hand before turning sideways and bunting me hard.
But Dad had been an Emerson scholar, and this time I strove for self-reliance. I would stop substituting one creature for another. I would look ahead, rather than backward, and realize: living beings may come and go, but the love remains forever.
I drew a line in the sand: “Whatever happens, don’t come home with a dog.”
I’m honestly not a demanding wife.
Now, my wife would laugh, roll her eyes, then detail my daily demands from her skincare routine to our route home. But when it comes to the life-changers, I’m not a line in the sand kinda gal.
That said, I knew we didn’t need a second dog. So despite her Instagram puppy addiction, and exhortations that surely Scooter was lonely, I wisely held Tiffany at bay.
The day she left for Empty the Shelter 2017, I drew my line in the sand: ‘Whatever happens, don’t come home with a dog.’
‘Of course not, babe!’
Hours later, she FaceTimed—a stocky brown pit snuggling her lap. This gentle, toothless girl had been surrendered to a municipal shelter with mammary cancer. Berkeley Humane rescued Ruby from euthanization and operated on her cancer, but there was no hope for her missing teeth.
All but two dogs had been adopted that day. One pooch being courted and our butt-wagging, toothless wonder. A dog liable to die of cancer is a hard sell no matter how sweet, ‘but we’ll love her until her time,’ campaigned my wife.
‘Plus,’ she said, ‘the owner of Bissell Vacuums—the foundation sponsoring the event—is lobbying hard. I can’t stand my ground against a vacuum saleswoman.’
Even before the heartbreaking health needs and sad story of neglect, I knew Ruby was ours. I drew a line in the sand but it wouldn’t have been crossed unless it was important. Thank goodness, because Ruby needed us.
She needed health care and routine. To sniff sidewalks with the wild abandon of a dog chained in a backyard eight years. She needed cancer surgery last summer and again this fall.
She needed to learn to trust us, know we were safe to love. Now, her bully tail thumps whenever she fearlessly bellys-up for rubs. She no longer hides when we leave, because we always return.
But even more than she needed us, we needed her.
Scooter, our old man dog needed a disinterested female to adore. My wife needed another dog to cuddle and love.
But most of all I needed Ruby. I needed Ruby to open my heart. I needed her slow love and gradual willingness to soften how I thought things should be. I needed Ruby to see that life has so much more in store when I let go of what I think I know.
While wandering the shelter, we spied a 50-pound beast gazing at us…
After our 15-year-old Great Pyrenees made his way into doggie heaven, my wife Mimi and I, new empty-nesters, argued about repopulating the house. I wanted to enjoy our newfound freedom; Mimi wanted a pooch who’d curl up in her lap and hike with us.
She scanned shelter websites daily, emitting Ooohs and Aaahs. Each dog was cuter than the last. Mimi finally convinced me to visit the shelter. “No harm in looking.” Yeah right.
While wandering the shelter, we spied a 50-pound beast gazing at us from inside a cage. This brown muppet had mussed up human-like hair and warm brown eyes. During our introductory walk, Wyatt was happy, engaging and just a bit limpy.
The staff recommended we “foster first” to ensure Wyatt was the right fit. They told us he’d been run over by a car and abandoned. He had two broken legs that needed to be fixed.
That night, I had a hard conversation with Mimi. “If Wyatt can’t go on long hikes with us, maybe he’s not the right dog for us.”
“You don’t understand.” Mimi explained with Wyatt gazing up at her. “He’s a member of our family now. If you want another dog to hike with, that’s fine.” This had to be fastest foster failure, ever!
I called the shelter and complained about our latest marital dispute. They gave me the number of the shelter vet who offered services at a discount. Long story short, a team effort was needed to raise the money to cover the surgery required to re-break and set the bones, insert pins and plates to hold them in place, and cast the legs.
To prevent Wyatt from putting weight on his casted legs, he had to remain caged for a month; we had to carry him to the yard to do his business. I don’t recall post-op directions requiring my wife to sleep on the floor beside Wyatt to prevent whimpering, but that’s exactly what happened… until he made his way to his newly-claimed place on our bed.
Fast forward a few months and Wyatt was able to conquer a six-mile hike and, of course, snuggle in Mimi’s lap. Mimi then argued that Wyatt would be much happier if he had a companion. No harm in looking! Our newest rescue dog, Lola, has helped repopulate our house and make it a home… for all of us.
Master of Ceremonies
Isabel Allende, best-selling author
Annie Crawford and Ruby
Susanna Porte and Misha
Fred Brill and Wyatt
Thank you to our friends
Minuteman Press of Berkeley
Sweet Adeline Bakeshop
Freight & Salvage
thanks to our sponsors
Glenn Jackson Family Foundation
Lippow Development Co.
Susan & Bill Meisel
Become a sponsor for Best in Show 2020! Your sponsorship supports Berkeley Humane’s mission to provide lifesaving programs for cats and dogs throughout the East Bay.
partner with us
Berkeley Humane is proud to partner with our animal-loving community! Opportunities include event sponsorships, raffle donations, and more.
Events subject to cancelation or rescheduling
- Pet Food Pantry Fridays and Sundays from 10-12pm.
- June 27: Low-Cost Vaccine Clinic and Free Pet Food Pantry
- July 4: 4th of July Parade in Piedmont
- August 14: Best in Show – Stories From Beyond the Shelter A Virtual Event!
- August TBD: Rescue Dog Pageant at Missouri Lounge in Berkeley
- August 29: Bark (and Meow) Around the Block!
- September 13: Solano Stroll in Albany
- September TBD: Bay Area Pet Fair in Pleasanton
- September 26: Low-Cost Vaccine Clinic and Free Pet Food Pantry
- October 31: Pet Food Pantry
- November 21: Pet Food Pantry
- December 19: Low-Cost Vaccine Clinic and Free Pet Food Pan