So, that happened.
That being 2021, a year we had high hopes for when it began only to see it collapse in chaos and acrimony, and way too many sick people. Again.
Maybe that’s why this year’s crop of nominees for Angels Among Us – our 12th – seem so much more profound and important, and needed. Then again, angels are always needed.
This year, several of the folks readers nominated selflessly stepped up to help those struggling because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Others reached out to the homeless and hungry, whose numbers are rising. Still others found unique ways to earn their wings – one literally so.
One of the Angel honorees received two nominations for her tireless, often emotionally wrenching, work saving animals no one else wanted.
But it’s the person who nominated the other Angel who also deserves recognition. Melanie Garcia lost the love of her life Nov. 20 when his vehicle was struck by a car Albuquerque police say was driven by an intoxicated teenager barreling down Montgomery NE at nearly 100 mph and running a red light.
Despite her own grief, Garcia graciously nominated not one, but two Angels, one whose small, but crucial, act of kindness merits our first Auxiliary Angel award.
Sincere thanks goes again to Donald Apodaca, my altruistic angel who donates beautiful Nambé angels for each recipient, and Deena Crawley with Dion’s, who donates pizza gift cards for each winner. Our auxiliary angel receives a Nambe heart dish and a Dion’s gift card.
Special thanks to all of you who nominated these amazing people who remind us that there are good people in this world doing great things.
Saving every creature
She was a big dog in big trouble, a Great Dane covered in infected lacerations and gashes from being mauled by a dog apparently unintimidated by her size.
She was a gentle giant, too gentle to fight back.
Allie Sikorski of Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico knew the veterinary bills would be high, the recovery iffy. Rescuing such a big dog was a daunting proposition.
Sikorski didn’t hesitate.
She rarely does.
“I promise you love, happiness, comfort and well-being,” she told the droopy eyed dog. “You will never have to suffer again.”
She named the dog Betsy, one of the latest in the line of 200 to 300 or so dogs and cats Sikorski has fostered over the years – and one of the countless unwanted animals given loving homes thanks to Sikorski and Pawsitive Life.
“She works tirelessly to rescue as many dogs and cats as possible, and rehome them,” wrote Jessica Saavedra, one of two people to nominate Sikorski for Angels Among Us. “She exemplifies everything good in a human being through her work and dedication to the rescue she founded.”
Sikorski created Pawsitive Life in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, with her friend, Jenn Wilson. The rescue became a nonprofit three months later.
The work she does includes transporting animals hundreds of miles, trapping feral animals, fundraising, networking, promoting, recruiting new fosters, organizing vaccine clinics, enlisting the help of veterinarians and groomers, and making sure every animal gets all the love she can give.
She does that on top of working full-time as a substitute teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools and attending college online.
“I have a lot on my plate,” she said. “It’s tiring and it’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
Besides, she said, it’s hard to say no.
That’s what led to the formation of Pawsitive Life.
“A few years ago, I saw on Facebook about how 29 dogs needed to be rescued within a certain time and I decided I could do that,” she said. “But all the rescues were full. They kept telling me no, they couldn’t take them. I wanted to be the rescue person who said yes.”
Of those 29, Sikorski managed to find rescues and fosters for 23 of them within the allotted time – a commendable effort. But it left her heartbroken.
“Feeling like I failed them is a massive understatement,” she wrote on Facebook then. “I wish I could have been better for them.”
But she didn’t give up and, even though the remaining six had to spend time in a shelter, Sikorski was able to find homes for them, too.
Good homes. Sikorski doesn’t let her rescues go to just anybody.
“The process that Allie took us through ensured a deep review of our willingness and ability to care for the dog, and also a complete and candid summary of the dog’s personality and health,” wrote Melissa Smith, another person who nominated Sikorski and a recent adopter of a Pawsitive Life puppy. “The thing that I feel sets this rescue apart from others is its mission statement, which states: At Pawsitive Life, our mission is to be the ‘yes’ to animals that have had closed doors, been rejected or have otherwise been left behind.”
Sikorski’s recent efforts include finding foster or forever homes for 19 cats and three dogs saved from the euthanasia list at a Clovis shelter just before Thanksgiving.
She provided frozen turkeys to the animals at a shelter in Valencia County for a Thanksgiving treat.
On Thanksgiving, she was on the road, transporting a blind husky to his new home in Kansas City.
Sikorski said she is drawn to the underdogs, animals who aren’t necessarily cute and fluffy, but imperfect and shaggy, and in need of one more chance to be loved.
Like Betsy, the Great Dane.
“She’s just so grateful,” Sikorski said. “She has so much love to give. All she wanted was to love and to be loved.”
Which sounds a little like Sikorski, who admits that running a rescue is sometimes a painful experience. It hurts to say goodbye to a foster pet she’s grown close to – which is almost every one of them. Sometimes, the dogs she rescues don’t survive their wounds. An adoption fails.
Fortunately, she has a supportive team, which, in addition to Wilson includes Lee Ann Rottler, Michael Cordova, Kaitlyn Nikkila and Josette Watson.
“Sometimes, I’ll just cry on the phone to them,” she said. “What we do takes a village. It’s not just me.”
When she’s dog tired or troubled, she thinks of all the dogs and cats she has rescued, all the dogs and cats that still need rescuing.
“I built something with Pawsitive Life literally out of nothing,” she said. “To quit would be letting them down. It would be breaking a promise.”
So she says yes. And she keeps going.
(Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico is on Facebook and accepts donations via PayPal at email@example.com or Venmo at @plrofnm.)
Where the universe needs you
It was a familiar sound, the ugly crush of metal and rubber, and too much speed, too much booze, often too much of both.
Rachel Davis lives not far from Montgomery NE, a main thoroughfare where drag racing and collisions are all too common.
“I hear them, and I feel I need to rush down there to see if I can help,” said Davis, strategic partnership manager with the American Cancer Society. “I’ve always been driven to help.”
But the crash on the night of Nov. 20 sounded worse. Loud, like a bomb. She saw the light post come down as one of the cars smashed into it.
But she could tell more than a light post was damaged.
Davis, who is medically trained, raced to the chaotic scene where she saw the two crumpled vehicles – a silver GMC facing the wrong direction and a dark SUV, its engine on fire, screams coming from inside its mangled frame.
She saw a man lying in the street, the apparent driver of the GMC. His eyes were open, blank.
She ran to him.
“Sir? Sir? Are you OK?” she shouted. But she knew he was gone.
Davis did what she could to help the five people in the SUV, all young, one whose arm was ripped off, until paramedics arrived. Two dogs hurled from the GMC were injured, and Davis helped a couple place one of the bloody dogs in their car to take to an emergency veterinary clinic. Another dog was also transported.
She didn’t know it that night, but a third dog had been in the GMC and had run off.
“I could not sleep after what I saw,” she said. “I’m heartbroken.”
She thought about the dead man in the street, his eyes, how one minute he was heading home with dinner for his loved ones, as she later learned, and the next he was gone.
The next morning, she saw a NextDoor post from a woman named Melanie Garcia. The dead man in the street was Kevin Barton, 58, Garcia’s partner of 14 years. The dogs were theirs. They were their babies, Garcia wrote. One of them – Otis, her favorite – was missing.
Davis contacted her about what she knew about the crash and the dogs, and it seemed to Davis that here was a woman in shock, lost in her loss. Davis could not help the man in the street. But she could help the woman he left behind.
“I saw with my own eyes what happened to her husband, and I wanted to do something,” she said.
Garcia gratefully accepted.
For the next numbing days, Davis was there as a steadying hand, a guide, a counselor, an angel. She helped Garcia start a GoFundMe to raise money to pay vet bills and other expenses. She connected her with legal counsel. She accompanied Garcia at her request when, three days later, Otis, the third dog, was found shivering and scared in an alley a mile west of the crash site.
“She has been there for me through these hard times, giving advice and calling to check on us,” Garcia wrote in her email nominating Davis as an Angel Among Us.
The women became friends.
“We just sort of started building a relationship,” Davis said. “She’d call just to talk when she was having a hard day and those times when she was scared of being alone.”
Their friendship has also been healing for Davis, who still cannot shake the vision of what she saw that night. It’s a reminder to her – to all of us – that, when we help others, we help ourselves.
“The universe puts us where we need to be,” Davis said. “That is my daily meditation and, boy, did the universe send me out that night. I will forever be Melanie’s friend. What I saw I will never forget. I hope this friendship helps us both.”
The Auxiliary Angel
Few know Albuquerque better than PNM meter readers, their daily routes taking them 20 to 40 miles by vehicle, 8 to 10 miles by foot.
“I go through alleys, the backs of buildings, every nook and cranny,” said Samantha Hernandez, who scours the city each day reading both residential and business utility meters.
Now and then, she spots a stray animal on her route and, because she’s an animal lover, she grabs her cellphone, snaps a photo and sends it to the Lost and Found Pets Albuquerque page on Facebook.
On Nov. 23, she spotted a skittish white dog, cowering in a narrow alley behind a business in the 9200 block of Montgomery NE. His front leg was limp and caked with dirt. “It seemed broken to me,” she said.
She was working and couldn’t scoop up the dog and take him to a veterinarian. But she could snap a photo, send it to the lost pet page and plead with others to come rescue the pup.
It wasn’t long before her post started blowing up. She learned then that the dog was Otis, the focus of an intense search reported on local news and social media.
Otis was one of three dogs Kevin Barton had with him in his truck three nights before when Albuquerque police say an SUV slammed into his vehicle at Montgomery and Morris NE, a mile east of where Hernandez found the dog.
According to a criminal complaint, Casino Salazar, 19, was intoxicated and speeding at 96 mph in a 40 mph zone when he ran a red light and crashed into Barton’s car, killing Barton, and seriously injuring Salazar and his four passengers.
All three dogs were flung from the car. Good samaritans took two of them to emergency veterinary clinics. Otis went missing.
Until Hernandez spotted him.
Within an hour of her posting, Otis was back in the arms of a sobbing Melanie Garcia. Otis and their other dogs are family, Garcia said.
“I really appreciate her for bringing our family back together after a tragic loss of my partner,” she said of Hernandez in her nominating email.
Hernandez said she was surprised at how her small act had such a huge impact, not just on a grieving woman, but also on a community that became invested in finding Otis.
“I was like, what?” Hernandez said. “It was a crazy day, a rollercoaster of emotions.”
It’s a reminder that even a single ray of hope can light the way at the dark end of the road. That’s what angels among us do. May we all be blessed with them. May we all be them.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 505-730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org