Why do we do this work? What things do we all believe are important? A few years ago, Our Kids and our partners set out to answer these questions. The resulting document is something we call “Our Communities’ Values and Beliefs,” which are the fundamental concepts agreed to by every participant in our System of Care.
Once created, the challenge is to keep these “Values and Beliefs” alive, relevant and not relegated to the bottom of a drawer. What you are reading is my first attempt at blogging and is about witnessing these common values and beliefs in action.
Recently, the team at Our Kids was alerted to some awful and tragic circumstances that brought siblings into foster care. On a March evening in a home in Miami-Dade, a mother is accidentally shot and killed by her husband. The couple’s children witness the accident. Police respond and the shooter is led off in handcuffs. The mother, now deceased, is taken away in an ambulance. DCF (The Department of Children and Families) is alerted and the children are taken into foster care at an emergency shelter. An investigation commences.
The next day, in the fog of shock, grief and disbelief, the oldest child asks a shelter staff worker for his pets. Can he see them? Who is caring for them?
These innocent and reasonable questions set off an amazing chain of events that we now refer to as “Operation Doggie/Kitty Rescue.”
At Our Kids, we had never dealt with this issue. In my 18 years of child welfare work, I had never considered questions like “What about the family’s pets? What happens to them?” As an animal lover, it was an embarrassing, but important, revelation.
Within hours of the child asking about his pets, smart shelter staffers run the questions up the chain of command. Calls are made and pretty soon, emails and conversations are flying. Quickly, we learn some basic information. In Miami, when authorities remove all individuals from a home and there is no local family or support (as in this case), Miami-Dade Animal Services is called out to remove the pets. The animals must be adopted within a few days or risk euthanasia.
Maybe it was the awfulness of the tragedy or the pain these adorable and innocent kids were suffering or the stupidity of the parent’s gun play or the recently deceased’s spirit that was inspiring everyone to move mountains. The last thing these children needed was to suffer another loss…another tragedy caused by carelessness.
In what was an unprecedented move, Judge Cindy Lederman signed a special order authorizing the family’s pets to be released from Animal Services to Our Kids. The animals were then voluntarily placed in Our Kids’ employees’ homes, awaiting the return to their family.
Days later, three small pets were happily returned to an eagerly awaiting 7 year old and 9 year old. The counselor who was in the home at the time of the reunion described it as a moving moment for all. There was not a dry eye in the house.
At Our Kids, the children are always our priority. And in this case, the children – having suffered such a terrible accident and loss – needed extraordinary gestures of kindness and decency. They needed to know that the other members of their family – their pets – were safe. Of course, the family has a long road of healing ahead of them. But for a few weeks, we demonstrated how powerful some simple actions can be.
Today: Three small animals are safe and happy; and two young boys feel love and comfort. “Operation Doggie/Kitty Rescue” was a success. And in the face of tragedy, best friends – two young boys and three small animals – are reunited.
Thanks to the extraordinary team at Our Kids, Children’s Home Society, DCF, Knowles Animal Hospital, Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, Judge Lederman and all those who made this possible.