Story Submitted by Amy C. Ragg

As a privileged white woman, I feel wholeheartedly unqualified to speak about the horrifying killings of George Floyd and of Ahmaud Arbery, but silence is not an option.

How is this still happening? How? How is it possible that men of color continue to put their lives on the line just by leaving their houses every, single day? How is it that still today, in 2020, every mother of a black boy has to teach him how to speak, how to stand, how to respond, in the event that he his stopped by law enforcement, to keep him from being killed?
We have to be better. We have to do better.

I want to write something profound and moving, but my words are stuck around the lump in my throat.
I look to my friends of color to help me learn how I can help. Please, tell me what I can do to help be part of the solution, not part of the silence.

We are all we have, my friends. We have to be better.
Please be kind to each other.
Stay safe and be well.

Peace & Love

Story Submitted by Alexandra Wright, The PIBA Foundation

The PIBA Foundation was founded September 2019 by a group of friends that had a passion to help animals and our local communities. After a few years of volunteering with various non-profits, Angel and I decided to start our own. This is the story of People Inspired by All.

The name PIBA, pronounced Pea-buh, was the name of my first dog. I told myself I didn’t want to name an organization after a dog (cliché), but everyone kept bringing her up! When I finally took their advice, I decided to turn it into an acronym. This way, we paid tribute to Piba and were not limited to helping one cause. We were excited to finally have the opportunity to be creative with our giveback efforts!

To date, our team has fed and provided care packages to over 100 individuals and their pets experiencing homelessness, partnered with 3 local non-profits to collect food and blankets for low-income and homeless families, partnered with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and have cleaned up approximately 50 pounds of trash in Ybor. We have also rescued 61 dogs and cats, which includes strays, owner surrenders, transferred 3 dogs from another rescue that came from a terrible hoarding situation, and 2 dogs who were at the shelter for over 500 days.

Included in our total are two very special dogs, Nala and Bo. Nala was an owner surrender due to her medical needs and Bo is a cancer survivor. Nala drags her back legs due to a possible spinal injury that occurred at 9 weeks and never received the proper medical attention. Bo had a mast cell tumor on his paw and hind end, and his family needed help raising funds to cover the cost of surgery. Through generous donations, we were able to raise enough funds to cover each of their medical exams and supplies, including Nala’s wheelchair.

Our efforts to give back will always continue. Whether it be rescuing 23 puppies and their moms (yes, we did that earlier this year), or fundraising and collecting supplies for a family and animal in need, we will continue to be people inspired to make a difference in our community.

You can find more information on how to help or volunteer at www.thepibafoundation.org/donate or www.facebook.com/thepibafoundation

Story Submitted by Ann Lehman

Twenty-three years ago, this holiday weekend, I fell in love. Her name was Heidi and she had been part of the foster care program at the local shelter. Friends had adopted her in February, but by May, the teenage boy had grown tired of this precious puppy. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to begin what was to be a 16-year love story. Heidi became my baby girl. She was a dachshund mix with the most loveable personality. She traveled with me from Colorado to Missouri and finally to Florida, never complaining. As she grew older, she developed a heart murmur, glaucoma, and though undiagnosed, doggie dementia. But she never wavered in her devotion to me. Nor I, her. When the time came to let her go, June 30, 2013, my heart was broken. A part will always be with her and forever grateful for the unconditional love she showed. She always knew when I was sad-be it a true sadness or just a Hallmark commercial. She knew I did not like thunderstorms and she would come to sit at my feet, look up at me with those soulful eyes of hers as if to say: It’s ok Mom, I’m here. She still is-her paw print is tattooed to my right wrist so that I may place it on my heart whenever I am missing her.

Story Submitted by Darouny Bounsengsay

As a kid, I never had a pet. My mom was (and still is) allergic to dander, dust, pollen etc. and my childhood home had burnt orange 80s carpet original to the home my parents couldn’t afford to change. I had a pet rock for a science project in 7th grade and my aunt’s house had fish. It was as close as I got. I was never able to understand how people were so attached to their pets. My romantic relationships brought cats, dogs, birds, and even the occasional reptile or two into my life and I loved them all, but I still didn’t really get it on a deeply personal level.

One unassuming evening, I picked up the sweetest little black and tan puppy and fell in love. That’s it. One moment. I instantly understood. I was determined to bring her home and did so as soon as I could. It wasn’t even a week. Ellie Mae, you won me over, little lady. Hook, line, sinker.

At the time I was on the tail-end of a tough relationship, and having my girl there for me got me through one the toughest challenges I’ve faced yet. I sat with her for a number of nights bawling my eyes out and she just licked the tears away – loving me until I was crying over how much I loved her instead of what was hurting me.

We’ve been together a year and counting. She’s still the sweetest puppy and I’ve become that crazy dog mommy who posts constantly about her, cooks human food for her, and gives her anything her little heart desires. My parents finally re-did their floors and Ellie has won over grandma, who asks about her every phone call since there’s no carpet anymore to aggravate her allergies.

My love (and best doggy dad ever) likes to joke my separation anxiety from her is worse than her separation anxiety from me, (lol) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s my girl. I wake up every morning with her snuggled between us and I would do absolutely anything for this little ray of sunshine in my life. I get it now. I really, truly, get it.

Story Submitted by Deb Kelley

This is a story about a kitten who fixed three broken hearts and about another who led us to him.

Holly was a tiny solid black kitten that my husband, Ken found on Halloween – thus his name. The dogs were barking at this little guy curled up in a ball in their food bowl. We think the dogs scared his mama and she abandoned him. Ken brought this scrawny kitten into my office and sat him on my lap. I didn’t need another animal. We already had dogs, but Holly looked up at me and snuggled into my lap, and I was done for. But at our first visit to the vet, we learned Holly had feline leukemia but was asymptomatic. The veterinarian said that as long as he wasn’t showing signs of the disease and we didn’t have other cats, he’d make a fine pet. Holly, it appeared, was not a cat at all, but a sweet-tempered, needy human in the thickest black fur coat. This little malnourished kitten grew up to be a huge, part Maine Coon. When he wanted attention, he would mew, stretch his paws up to be lifted like a child, and wrap his paws around our necks and give us a nuzzle hug. We could not leave the house without giving Holly a hug. This routine lasted for 10 years. When Holly passed, I couldn’t think of replacing him. He left an empty spot and I’m tearing up now 20 years later thinking about him. That’s the indelible impact this cat made on my heart.

A couple of months after his passing, my daughter showed me a little white female puffball on the humane society’s adoption page on PetFinder. We decided this little girl would be exactly what we needed. We visited the humane society and she was at the bottom of three levels of cages. My daughter sat on the floor and tried to play with her, but she spat, growled, and glowered in the corner of the cage. Her temperament was definitely the opposite of her photo online. Directly above her cage on the first level, this chunky gold, black, and white kitten was doing everything in his power to get noticed. He meowed, literally slammed himself against the cage door, and reached out his paw as far as it would stretch to try to get my daughter’s attention. I read his name on the cage door: Fiz. Fiz was determined to not be ignored. We took him into the playroom and his personality matched his name: fizzy. He bounced around the playroom, darting after toys, cuddling in our laps, and giving head butts. It was at that moment, he adopted us. Whereas Holly gave hugs, Fiz (we kept his name because first, he knows it and second, there’s no better description for this crazy cat) gives kisses and head rubs. He also enjoys watching TV with us. If we put on animal videos on YouTube, he will sit and watch alert until the video ends. He’ll also come and stand in front of me and wait for me to rub my forehead on his forehead, then he’ll go kiss my husband’s bearded chin and lay in “his” designated spot on the top of the bed, centering himself between the two us with paws outstretched and kneading. Or on the pillow behind me. Or on top of my laptop. Pretty much our bedroom is his domain. He just lets us sleep and watch TV there. I am convinced Holly led us past the high-maintenance Persian and to our regal, gold-eyed vocal little boy who has been a never-ending source of nuzzles for over 10 years.

Story Submitted by Afsaneh Noori

When I was growing up, I loved the summer and played in the sun all day. My skin would tan, the color of mocha. On day, when I was around 5 years old, I overheard a relative say, “Afsaneh, just like her father, is as black as a cockroach.” That made me feel ugly and I believed that I was ugly. That year, my father traveled to the US and brought the larger doll back (the small one was from a later trip). When I saw it, I asked if it was for me. He said, “No it is not. This is a black doll and you said that black skin is not pretty.” I said, “but she is pretty.” Then my dad asked, “so are you pretty too?” I said, “yes” and he gave me the doll. She’s been with me for 60 years, reminding me of my father teaching me to value myself.

Story Submitted by Suzanne Austin-Hill

A Double Layer Heart-made Cake In our house, my husband is the King of the Kitchen and I am the Royal Taste-tester. On May 1st at the end of our seventh week of isolation (three weeks in Haymarket, VA and the remainder to date here at home in Ruskin, FL), he decided to make a cake from scratch! “NOT a box cake!” as is sometimes said at a church function. The photo shows the beautiful and delicious result – a Vanilla Cream cake with Butter Cream frosting. But, in addition to the blessing of being married to someone loves to cook and clean-up, is the fact that every ingredient for the cake and frosting was purchased for us by our next-door neighbors who have shopped for us every week since our return home.

Story Submitted by Lori Smith

Five Sentence story on what it’s like to Shelter-in-place in a Pandemic

  1. I watch the news and see the death numbers rise and the curve ascending.
  2. These four walls entomb me with my idleness.
  3. It’s a waiting game in this prison of laundry, cooking and cleaning, frayed nerves, and to-do list that lies in wait.
  4. I burst outside to walk up the street and hear the birds sing, see the lizards pretending to not be there as I glide by, see the Live Oak leaves sway and feel the mosquitoes bite.
  5. I turn into my garden where bees are pollinating, a pair of cardinals tussle, butterflies flutter through, and the fountain’s trickle soothes and all is well with the world.

Story Submitted by Leslie Farrell

This is not inspirational or anything, but my daughter and husband were here for a few days and we all (with one of my sons and husband) perused our old photo albums. This was joyful, reminiscing. Also, literally smelling the roses in my yard, which thankfully are blooming! And best of all, cleaning out our laundry room has brought me great happiness!! I can walk in there again, hallelujah! Also, just having time to read has been great. Hope you are well!

Story Submitted by Kriste Vogler

The beginning, just a normal photo wall of memories. Day 1. The first crayon drawing is placed, bets were made on how many photos and how long it would take them to notice. Day 2. After FaceTiming with my grandparents (the subjects of my first crayon replica) for an hour near this wall, I decided to add another piece while my parents took a walk. Day 3. Up to three crayon artworks now and still not even a glance. That door on the left? It’s used multiple times a day. Day 4. Thought I would get caught today. I had been posting on Twitter about my progress and my mom chose today to try to start a twitter account to talk to John Krasinski about Some Good News but luckily her account was locked. Day 5. At this point it was getting harder to pick photos I thought weren’t noticeable plus I felt like I smelled like crayons constantly. Day 6. After getting a ton of rain for days I was needing to get sneakier to be able to add these to the wall. I think today I convinced my mom to go for a run before it rained haha. Day 7. Today was a twofer with these classic Christmas photos. At this point, I was starting to think I should have guessed based on weeks and not days for how long it would take them to notice. Day 8. I legit did not think I would get this far, but here we are. Day 9. Only three left to go before my work is complete. I should probably take a moment to apologize to my art teachers. You tried really hard to teach me to draw people, and this is what I’ve done. Day 10. Happy Easter. My mom was nice enough to hide Easter eggs for me, in return, I did this to the photo of her firstborn. Day 11. I almost got caught hanging this one up. Had to hide in the bathroom but they still didn’t notice. Day 11 – 7 hours later. I heard the initial “wait… what” and went running over in time to capture this moment. I like to think they noticed because I replaced my senior photo and of course they look at the picture of their favorite daughter the most right?