Casper Cigar Company Owner Sees Life Come Full Circle: Giving Back to Those Serving

How can purchasing a cigar in the middle of Wyoming help an Army platoon stationed in the mountains of Afghanistan? Ask Joshua Cruse, owner of the Casper Cigar Company, whose history with both the military and cigars spans over a decade and reaches across the globe.

josh cruseJoshua Cruse was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in Bosnia in 1998 when he found himself taking a much needed break in a tent where some of his fellow comrades were smoking cigars. Sitting around in the tent, everyone was in t-shirts. With no visible designation of military rank, it was just a group of guys. They could have just as well been sitting in a garage in Milwaukee tinkering with a car engine or shooting pool in a bar in Key West. It was there on that Balkan Peninsula that the Lafayette, Louisiana, born and raised Cruse was first introduced to the world of premium cigars. A comrade handed him a mild Churchill Connecticut stogie and showed him the proper way to cut the cigar and light it. After the cigar break was over and the uniform shirts went back on, Cruse realized that it was an Army General who’d handed him his first cigar. “Imagine my shock—but at that moment it was just a bunch of guys smoking cigars,” he told me while manning the counter at his Casper Wyoming store. “It broke down the enlisted and officer barrier; it was just a bunch of guys making the best of a crappy situation.”

The authenticity and power of that bonding moment in the middle of a mission has stayed with Cruse ever since. After completing his military service, he headed out west with his wife, who had found work in Wyoming. Around that time, at the Deadwood Tobacco Company & Cigar Bar in Deadwood, South Dakota, life started to come full circle for Cruse. The cigar shop, located in the historic city of Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickok played his last hand of poker, is a long-time supporter of the nonprofit Operation: Cigars for Warriors. Operation: Cigars for Warriors has built a nationwide network of volunteers that collect premium cigars and ship them to U.S. troops serving in long-term deployments across the globe.aaron cigar

Miss Vaughn Boyd, owner of Deadwood Tobaccco Company & Cigar Bar and part of the nationwide network of volunteers, solicited a donation from Cruse on behalf of the charity. Patrons in her store can donate cigars or a cash donation to offset the cost of mailing hundreds of cigars to the troops every month. Cruse donated a few cigars to the cause and, knowing firsthand the mental break in the middle of a war zone that a cigar can offer, readily became a lifetime supporter and fan of the charity.

The connection that veterans are able to easily make with the Operation: Cigars for Warriors mission does not surprise the charity’s Board President and veteran Storm Boen. Boen said that many of his supporters, donors, and volunteers have served themselves or had a close friend or family member that is a veteran or currently on active duty. “What people don’t often realize is that yes, it is a box of cigars, but there are some service men and women who don’t have anyone else sending them anything period while they are deployed overseas; we are their link to home,” said Boen.

op cruseAs time marched on, Cruse was able to support the charity from a different vantage point: that of a cigar shop owner. In 2013, Cruse opened the doors on his own business, Casper Cigar Company in Wyoming. Setting up the shop was a labor of love and a nod to the deep traditions in the west. His walk-in humidor in the shop was built using 1800s wood reclaimed from a barn that was part of a stagecoach stop. It doesn’t get much more “wild west” than that in 2014. The finishing touch on the business was, of course, a collection bin for patrons to donate cigars and monies to Operation: Cigars for Warriors. Cruse’s shop collects over 100 sticks a month from patrons, which are then sent to a central collection point for sorting and mailed overseas.

Working to solicit monetary and cigar donations from patrons has also been a positive experience for Cruse. “The more I promote what I am trying to do here for the troops, the more I learn just how many veterans there are, “ Cruse shared. “I’ve had people who recognize the Operation: Cigars for Warriors logo and come up to me on the street to tell me that they have a positive memory of having a cigar with their brothers and sisters in arms in the middle of a chaos- and hell-filled war zone,”

The appreciation from strangers on the street and from everyday patrons who help despite having no personal connection to the armed forces has been a positive aspect of being a busy small business owner and proof that while so many things have changed in the last 16 years, Cruse’s experience in Bosnia is still being replicated for service people all over the globe. Beau Blakeney, who is currently serving in the Army, recently told Operation: Cigars for Warriors a story that sounds eerily familiar to Cruse’s recognition that the countries and the soldiers’ names have changed, but a moment of relaxation and personal connection is still needed. “A cigar could be that one moment of peace a soldier gets to enjoy in a country where everyone wants to kill him,” Blakeney said. “It is important to give a soldier that feeling, because who knows, it could be the last time they get to feel that way.”something


More information on Operation Cigars for Warriors can be found at


Catch up with Josh Cruse at  or

Carrie Collins-Fadell is a nonprofit professional residing in New York.  Contact her at


For Those Who Wander

By Roger Bushnell and Carrie Collins-Fadell – September 2012 Best of Aging Magazine



Almost everyone’s heard of Amber Alert, the child abduction alert bulletin used throughout the United States and other countries. Adopted by Michigan in 2001, this system only serves children who are 17 years old or younger. Yet, there has been a deadly concern from families who have wandering elders with mental impairments. With recent legislation passed in Michigan that established the Silver Alert Act, these families now have the help they need.

Dione Pierce was living a real life nightmare in 2005. Her grandmother, Estelle Mozelle Pierce, had wandered away from her son’s house and was nowhere to be found. An entrepreneur and pillar of her community, Estelle was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The family was in a panic. Worried about Estelle’s safety and knowing that she would need her diabetes medication, they frantically searched the neighborhood she had lived her entire life in. Coming up empty handed, they then turned to the police and media for assistance.


To their horror they were turned away from the police department and asked to come back in 24 hours to file a missing person’s report. It didn’t make sense to them. They soon learned that even though Estelle was medically unable to return home or make the appropriate choices to keep her safe, she was an adult and therefore had privacy protections under the law.


Enduring the cruel twist of irony, the family turned to the media. The media didn’t offer any assistance either because of the liability concerns about broadcasting a missing person’s report that contains medical information. Ms. Pierce was told to let them know if the worst-case scenario happened and they would report on that.


The family did what they could on their own to search for their grandmother and the dreaded call came four days later. Estelle was found dead in a rail yard not too far from her home. “I felt an urgency to make sure no family would feel rejected and helpless when trying to assist a loved one that can’t help them self anymore,” Ms. Pierce said.


And so began a quest to make sure that never again would a family be left without resources in these dire circumstances. Estelle’s family partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapters to fight for a Silver Alert law.


On June 19, 2012, the Silver Alert Act, officially named the “Mozelle Senior or Vulnerable Adult Medical Alert Act”, was signed into law. The law provides a plan for immediate action to be taken by local law enforcement instead of the standard 24 hour wait time for a person 60 years of age or older that suffers from dementia or is otherwise mentally impaired. It also includes provisions to limit liability for local news media when publishing a missing person’s medical information.


How Does Silver Alert Work?

Fortunately, it works much like Amber Alert. In fact, it uses much of the same resources and tools. A law enforcement agency that receives notice of a missing senior or vulnerable adult from a “911” call would be required to investigate and prepare a missing person’s report immediately.

The law enforcement agency would forward it as soon as practicable to all enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in the location where the missing person resides and was last seen as well as one or more appropriate broadcasters.


Who Is At Risk Of Wandering?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for a period of time. It’s important to plan ahead for this type of situation. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

•  Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual.

•  Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work.

•  Tries or wants to “go home,” even when at home.

•  Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements.

•  Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room.

•  Asks the whereabouts of current or past friends and family.

•  Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done.

•  Appears lost in a new or changed environment.


When The Worst Happens

Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared and close to half of those who are not found within 24 hours will become seriously injured or will die, so time is of the essence. Also until the Silver Alert is issued, initially the public may not be as much help as they would be in a wandering child situation. The fundamental difference between relying on the public to recognize a child that is alone versus recognizing a person with dementia, who can look perfectly normal and healthy or gain access to a vehicle while wandering, is challenging to say the least.


This challenge can be reduced significantly with preparation. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests the following plan when the worst happens:


•  Keep a list of people to call on for help. Have telephone numbers easily accessible.

•  Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.

•  Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.

•  Know your neighborhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.

•  Is the individual right or left-handed? Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.

•  Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.

•  If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes.
Call “911” and report to the police that a “vulnerable adult” is missing. A missing person’s report should be filed and the police will begin to search for the individual.


Additional Resources

The Alzheimer’s Association offers and supports two types of programs to help with those who wander. The first one is called MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® program. It is a nationwide registry and proactive search-and-locator service.If an individual with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia wanders and becomes lost, caregivers can call the 24-hour emergency response line (1-800-625-3780) to report it. The initial costs range from $55 to $97 and has a $35 annual renewal fee.

The second program offered is called Comfort Zone®. It includes everything in the MedicAlert + Safe Return program plus location tracking technology to help manage the location of your loved one. Costs start at $42.99 per month plus an activation fee of $45.00.


Final Thoughts

Michigan joins 29 other states that have a similar version of Silver Alert with Colorado being the first state to adopt a Silver Alert system in 2006. Among states that do release statistics, retrieval rates are very high. In Georgia, of the 71 calls received over a three-year period, 70 were returned home safely.


Currently, there is pending federal legislation to unify all state programs under a common National Silver Alert Act. Critics, including Governor George Pataki who vetoed New York state legislation to implement a Silver Alert system, have raised concerns that the addition of Silver Alerts to the Amber Alert system will weaken the overall effectiveness by having too many alerts.


Clearly the Silver Alert system works and, in fact, was instrumental in the safe recovery of a Saginaw County man last month that went missing and was found alive in a cornfield less than 24 hours later. This legislation, coupled with the Alzheimer’s Association’s programs, helps bring Dione Pierce’s hope to “make sure no family would feel rejected and helpless” a reality to us all.

Pennsylvania Artist Helps Animal Rescues With Her Work

What’s a life without a calling? Many of those involved in animal rescue and welfare work feel the deep satisfaction of a calling realized. In the world of pet portraits, there is one woman combining her love of dogs and animal rescue groups with her artistic abilities and experiencing the bliss of pursuing her calling. Her name is Ashley Beech Reid and even if you have never heard of her, chances are she has sent a donated portion of her painting commission to your favorite rescue group.

On the day that I interviewed her, Ashley Beach Reid was brushing the finishing touches on her 669th pet portrait. Bella, a distinguished-looking chocolate lab, was the subject du jour. Bella’s humans gushed about her and the place that she has had in their family since her adoption from their local SPCA in 2009. As with every pet portrait she paints, Ashley will donate 10% of her commission to the animal welfare organization of the customer’s choice. On behalf of Bella’s portrait, Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward in Texas will receive a donation and be mentioned on Ashley’s professional Facebook page. The donations range from $19.50 on up depending on the size of the canvas the customer chooses. 

Growing up in Conway, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, Ashley first realized she had some artistic ability in second grade when she made a horse’s head out of glued tissue paper squares; compared to some of her classmates’ works, hers was recognizable as a horse instead of the  blob of tissue and glue that I would have produced in a second grade art glass. After high school she attended Edinboro University, where she discovered she had a talent for painting. Ashley recognized what she calls the childhood dream of a lonely only child, owning a dog, at age 29. After careful consideration and research, she adopted a Vizsla from a Maryland breeder and named him Sayge.

Sayge will be 14 in December this year. He’s happy, healthy, and a little hard of hearing except when it comes to hearing the hinge of the cupboard where his treats are hidden. Life with Sayge is good: “We take walks, he naps on the couch all day, tolerates/loves my two young boys when they return from school, attacks my husband with kisses and wiggles when he gets home from work,” Ashley exclaimed.

Being her first dog, he has also served as her Muse. These days, he can be found snoozing or snuggling next to her on the couch when she sketches portraits for clients, but the first pet portrait Ashley painted was of Sayge as The Mona Lisa with his paws, face, chest, and neck. She calls it “The Mona Vizsla”.  Friends and family loved The Mona Vizsla, and requests for pet portraits followed. Ashley then partnered at events with the WPA Humane society, donating 10% of commissions she received at events back to the organization.


As technology and social media progressed, a friend convinced her in 2010 to create a Facebook page for her business, Ashley Beech Reid’s Pet Portraits. Ashley continued to donate 10% of her commission to the animal welfare organization of the customer’s choice. Not only was the donation a positive experience for her and her customers, she began to learn more about the plight of homeless pets in her backyard and throughout America. “Through Facebook, I have discovered a world of animal rescue, and the people who give their time, money, sweat and tears to it, that I never knew existed,“ Ashley explains. “A dog owner myself, I had no idea that 3–4 million homeless pets are euthanized in the United States each year.”

Ashley’s business keeps rolling. She painted over 100 portraits each year for the last 4.5 years. A portrait takes about 3 days to complete and she has 3-month waiting list. She not only paints the portraits, she gets a glimpse into her customers’ lives and hearts as they give her the specs for each job. “It’s hard to convey the connection between my clients and their pets; I’ve had many clients tell me that they don’t have children and that their pets are their babies,” Ashley said. “The bond with their animal is as strong as any mother to a child.”

She has painted dogs of all ages over the years. The oldest pup that she painted was around 16 or 17 years old. For senior pet portraits, some clients ask Ashley to paint them with less gray/white on their face, while others want them painted in all their senior glory. Clients also come to Ashley to memorialize pets that have already passed. They tell her that the portraits bring tears, then comfort, and finally, fond memories and happiness. They memorialize a special time and place in the family’s life or celebrate important members of the family.

Ashley says that the best thing about her line of work is “everything!” She struggled for years to develop her own style, to find her creative niche in the art world. Being a stay-at-home mom to her two boys and a full-time artist is truly her dream come true. She calls the donations to the animal welfare organizations icing on the cake. Talking with Ashley, it is easy to see that her commitment to animal rescues runs deep in her soul. When I asked her what she would like people to know about her work and her world, she told me that she wants people to know that giving is good for the soul. “In the world of animal rescue, every donation counts, whether it’s $1 or $100, blankets, food, or cleaning supplies,” she explained. “You can volunteer to walk dogs in your local shelter, foster, transport an animal to its forever home, organize fundraisers and events—help is always needed and truly appreciated.”


View Ashley’s work at

Carrie Collins-Fadell is an executive director for United Way.  She lives in New York with her husband and cats, Lilo and Meatball.

Encore Careers Offer Nonprofits Opportunities To Benefit From Talents Of Those Living Their Passion In The Second Act

The ink on the thank-you notes from Jack Berenz’s retirement party was barely dry before he happened into his encore career. A new retiree in the spring of 1997, Jack was enjoying some time at home. His job as a pharmaceutical salesman had kept him on the road day after day, town after town, night after night.


However, his short-lived leisure time was interrupted when, a few days into his retirement, the Red River flooded, affecting North Dakota, Manitoba, and Jack’s home state of Minnesota. The damage totaled $3.5 billion and the flooding lasted for eight weeks. While he wasn’t personally impacted, Jack’s county become home to evacuees who needed shelter after being displaced from the most significant flooding in the area since 1826.


Never one to sit around when others needed a hand, Jack pitched in with various tasks to help the county’s new temporary residents, some of whom only had a few comforts of home with them. Weeks later, one of the last jobs to be completed as the relief effort wound down and life returned to normal was to deliver two semi trailers full of leftover food to the local food pantry. Jack was handed the keys and he delivered the food. From there he started volunteering at the food pantry; by 1999, he was named the full-time Director of the Becker County Food Pantry.


While he doesn’t draw a salary, Jack’s responsibly at the food pantry carries all the weight of a full-time job and then some. The pantry feeds over 250 people a week and Jack puts in over 100 hours a month to make sure this happens. Jack is on the road by 7 a.m. sharp. He is involved in transporting thousands of pounds of food and boxes for distribution, often in his own vehicle. He maintains relationships with several area businesses, enabling him to get donations of day-old baked goods and perishables. “I look forward to getting up every morning at 6 a.m. and getting things done,” he told me from his Detroit Lakes home after a full day of work at the pantry. “If you are a people person at all, you know there are some people out there who don’t have it as good as you do; helping people is what it is all about.”


Jack is on the cutting edge of a new trend, the encore career, where people retire only to reinvent themselves and take on new paid or volunteer responsibilities. As visions flooded my mind of my grandfather and great-grandfather puttering around during retirement with hobbies like photography and trying new local restaurants, it was obvious that this isn’t my grandfather’s retirement. The heck if the generation that challenged and changed all of the political and social rules isn’t going to redefine retirement now!


Jack, who is also a veteran, is an example of someone who took on an entirely different career in retirement than the one he fed his family and put kids through college with. Not surprisingly, some individuals in the middle of an encore career are finding the same challenges balancing it all that they did during their traditional careers. Some are caregivers to ill parents, have taken on significant childcare duties for grandchildren, or have disagreements with spouses about how much time to give to their new career paths. Some of the same old battles can emerge with a new twist.


Luckily, Jack still finds time to do the things that he expected to do during his retirement years. He spends time with his grandchildren, gets in a round of golf occasionally, has coffee with friends, and travels with his wife, Rose. He has even managed to squeeze in a few hunting trips to Canada, Wyoming, and Russia. “I have a great team of dedicated of volunteers at the food pantry that love to work together to help people,” Jack said. “They are the reason that this job can fit into my life.”


Jack’s retirement reinvention as a nonprofit director doesn’t surprise Diana Algra, Executive Director of the Volunteer Centers of Michigan. She chatted with me on a snowy Michigan day about the value retirees reap when they volunteer for their favorite causes or work for a stipend. “More and older volunteers are looking for fulfilling opportunities to contribute to their community,” Diana explained. “They see things that aren’t working and they want to be a part of the solution. They make their communities better places to live, not to mention that the socialization benefits that they receive are priceless to their physical and mental health.”


Royal Oak resident Ilene Orlanski didn’t have to go far to start her encore performance. Ilene retired from the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, where she served as the Respite Director, but she said that she didn’t think of retirement in the traditional sense. She came back to work part-time as the Public Policy Director and then the Volunteer Coordinator for the chapter. Her encore career is on the same stage because she loves the organization and saw a niche to fill. She said she enjoys the creativity that her new role allows. “I couldn’t walk away completely because I saw a need,” she exclaimed. “However, my part-time role gives me the flexibility to travel, take on projects, and enjoy time with family and friends.”


Florine Anchordoguy retired four years ago at age 64 and wasted no time pursuing what she knew was going to be her passion. She had always wanted to help save homeless pets, but she had never volunteered for an animal rescue before. A northern California transplant to Arizona, Florine viewed finding her encore career path as an experiment. She researched, networked, and then connected with the Lost Our Home Pet Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona. Florine felt that the overall mission of the group spoke to her. Lost Our Home works with families and realtors to rescue and re-home pets displaced by foreclosure and eviction. They also provide temporary housing for pets while displaced owners look for pet-friendly housing.


Since 2008, Lost Our Home rescued more than 2,000 cats and dogs and fed about 8,500 more, allowing the pets to remain with their families. Florine has been a big part of that success. She started by assisting with cleaning duties and now organizes a group of volunteers overseeing adoptions at a local Petsmart. She has seen situations at their worst, as pets abandoned in a house with no food or water patiently wait for their family to return, and at their best. She has opened her home to foster over 50 pets herself. “We rescue animals where we are their last hope; they are scared confused and abandoned and we get them healthy and adopted into new homes,” Florine told me after a full day of pet adoptions. “I still get Christmas cards, updates, and pictures throughout the year of the happy endings that Lost Our Home is responsible for creating. This line of work makes me happy and it is very rewarding.”


While Florine was lucky enough to have a clear vision of what her calling was, not everyone retires with a picture in mind of what their encore will entail. Maci Alboher, author of, The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, has some advice for those who may be floundering. She told me that people work through transitions differently and they need to give themselves time to wander around, take some detours and permission to get lost on the way to finding out what is next. “You may already know how you want to use your time. Or you may need to figure that out,” Marci said. “Either way, expect that it will take some time to get there. Craft a process to give yourself that time — and space — to think, plan, and try things out.”


Carrie Collins-Fadell is the Executive Director of the United Way of Cayuga County.  This article originally appeared in the February 2013 Best of Aging print edition

Susie’s Senior Dogs: Helping Old Dogs Find Their Love Connection

(Appeared on The Grey Muzzle Blog August 2014)

There’s a wiry-haired, 14-year-old Chihuahua mix taking the Internet by storm this year. Her name is Susie and she’s on a mission to help homeless older dogs connect with the family that will love them, despite their age and past – just like she did!  Homeless senior dogs from across the country are now featured on the wildly successful Facebook page created in Susie’s honor. Founded in January of this year, Susie’s Senior Dogs has already racked up 150 adoptions and is just getting started. Those viewing the Susie’s page will find adoptable senior dogs – from Oregon to New York and back again – ready for a soft bed and a family of their own. In addition to the adoptable dogs, dog owners who have welcomed older pets into their home share their stories of how adopting a senior dog changed their world for the better.

Erin O’Sullivan is the human behind Susie’s Senior Dogs. She didn’t know it at the time, but the journey towards dozens of tail-wagging success stories began three years ago when her boyfriend Brandon Stanton met, photographed, and eventually adopted the then 11-year-old Chihuahua named Susie on the streets of New York City. Brandon had never opened his heart and home to a dog before, but he was drawn to the senior dog with a quirky Mohawk. When Susie’s then owner told him that he could no longer keep her, Brandon welcomed her into his home. As the days passed by and daily life ensued, Erin had a front row seat to the budding friendship between Susie and Brandon. It was in that space that an idea was born.“It was the best decision we ever made,” says Erin. “Senior dogs are the most overlooked at shelters simply because of their age, and they are typically deemed least likely to get adopted.” The idea for Susie’s Senior Dogs was planted.

The dogs and the adopters aren’t the only ones singing – or howling rather – Susie’s and Erin’s praise. Shelter volunteers and staff who have to watch senior dogs passed over for adoption are eager to be a part of Susie’s network. Even though often overlooked by prospective adopters and left to languish in shelters, senior dogs can be the perfect pets. And the unique approach of showcasing only senior dogs is clearly working for even some of the toughest hard luck cases. While there’s
Molly, an eight-year-old battle-scarred former bait dog, still waiting for her chance at Forgotten Friends of Long Island, many other happy endings already abound. Perhaps the most touching one this summer was that of the 9-years-young pup named Brigado in California. He spent the first 8 years of his life chained to the side of a house exposed to the elements, neglected medically, nutritionally, and socially. Thanks to Susie’s network, Brigado now has a family to call his own for the first time in his life. And they insist that he live indoors with them. The shelter staff from Second Chance at Love Humane Society, who drove over 4 hours to rescue Brigado and oversaw his medical care, were thrilled when Susie’s page connected Brigado with someone else who saw that the gentle soul deserved all of the best life has to offer. Clearly Susie’s network of friends is helping dogs all over rewrite the last chapters of their story and prove that it is never too late to have it all.

Erin is committed to this cause on behalf of Susie because she knows that senior dogs have a lot of love to give and a lot of life left. She feels that a little bit of grey in the fur doesn’t mean a thing and she is happy to help others see things from her perspective. One of her converts is Britany, a mother of three from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Britany, who adopted the 12-year-old Lhasa Apso named Molly, said that she never thought about adopting a senior dog before seeing her Molly available for adoption on Susie’s Senior Dogs.  “[Erin’s] Susie’s Senior Dogs project is one example of how one person can make a difference,” says Jennifer Kachnic, President of The Grey Muzzle Organization. “I admire Erin’s passion for animal welfare and being a voice for these homeless old dogs out there that so need her!”

Erin hopes that one day Susie’s Senior Dogs will be a full-fledged 501(c)3 nonprofit.  In the meantime, she is currently fostering a 10-year-old Poodle that has earned the moniker Petey The Perfect Poodle for his laid-back demeanor.

Photos courtesy of Erin O’Sullivan.

* Susie’s Senior Dogs can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.

The Grey Muzzle Organization has recently announced that Erin O’Sullivan has been named to the Grey Muzzle Advisory Board. In addition to a volunteer Board of Directors, Grey Muzzle receives input and advice from a fantastic Advisory Board of experts from many different professions. By working with Grey Muzzle, Erin will also join a robust roster of volunteers, animal welfare and rescue professionals, and donors committed to improving the lives of senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.


About the Contributor: Carrie Collins-Fadell is a Grey Muzzle volunteer news writer. She is Executive Director of the United Way of Cayuga County, New York, and a longtime animal welfare advocate.

– See more at:’s-Senior-Dogs-Helping-Old-Dogs-Find-Their-L.aspx#sthash.PWmDOMrd.dpuf

Project 35 Hunter Hospitality House in Port Huron, MI April 2013

The mission of Hunter Hospitality House is to provide a welcoming, relaxing home away from home, steps away from the hospital, for those in need of restoration while a loved one is undergoing a hospital stay.  There isn’t much in life that is more stressful than a loved one experiencing a health crisis.  Loved ones often travel from out of area or out of state to comfort and assist those undergoing hospital treatments.  Hunter Hospitality House really fills in the gaps providing free lodging, meals, and a place to be quietly alone with your thoughts while your loved one recieves hospital care in Port Huron, MI.  I was happy to join the legions of HHH volunteers to end my volunteer experience.  I organized the literature shelves and clothing loan closet for HHH.

Cat Hammes: Moving Forward, Supporting Veterans

“Death isn’t ready for me and I’m not ready for death!” That’s the mantra of Cat Hammes, 49. In 2006, the Midwestern trauma nurse and motorcycle enthusiast thought that she had already fielded all of the plot twists that life could throw at her. After falling in love with motorcycles at the age of 16 while sneaking a ride on her older brother’s motorcycle, she had a custom motorcycle, a house, and a husband, and she owned a small but growing business. To top it all off, she had a career that she loved as a registered nurse. When Cat was on duty, you could count on her to be cool under the intense pressure of the emergency room as she handled critical care cases.

You can easily picture Cat decompressing after a grueling shift by riding a motorcycle through the idyllic winding hills of Wisconsin; perhaps the ease of the open road on a motorcycle balanced out her high-stress work environment. Then, one spring day in May 2006, everything changed. Cat woke up in a hospital to learn that a motorcycle accident had left her with skull fractures, broken bones, a collapsed lung, and extensive injuries to both legs. She would eventually lose her left leg below the knee, and she describes her right leg as two-thirds metal in a nod to the repairs that have gone into keeping it functional.

Gone in an instant was Cat’s most prized possession, an American-made 2006 Harley Davidson Fatboy, and the freedom that came with it seemed not far behind. As she struggled to heal, she had to adjust to life as an amputee; her future had become filled with question marks. There were the practical aspects of her life that changed. Her house, with all of its stairs, was daunting to return home to. Then there were the emotional aspect: every area of her life now required an adjustment. Cat, a natural people person, had taken pride in her work and the care she provided her patients, but she would no longer be able to return to work in the bustling emergency room. She was also unable to get to her small business during her extensive recovery period and found herself unable to support herself.

To meet Cat today is to meet a glowing, confident, strong, and optimistic woman. When I met her in Texas this past spring shortly after the 8-year anniversary of her accident, her smile lit up the San Antonio sky and she was surrounded by friends. Yet Cat describes her fight to reclaim her life in 2006 as the fight of her life and her fight back from hell. She was in her early 40s, a time where you should be reaping the rewards of the hard work of your 20s and 30s. Instead, in a cruel twist, everything she held dear and worked so hard for was slipping away. She had survived a life-altering accident and had to gain her bearings. But then the hits kept on coming. She lost her house and her career, her marriage disintegrated, and the small business she owned folded. Nothing was the same.

How did she get through it? At her darkest hour, she says it was her ability to connect with others and understand their struggles, honed, no doubt, during her time as a registered nurse in the ER, that carried her through. As Cat underwent grueling physical therapy, had a prosthetic leg fitted, and healed her spirit, she found herself connecting with injured veterans who were undergoing or had undergone many of the same life transitions and therapies that she was. She made herself a promise that she would do all she could to help those who were injured while protecting our freedom.

Cat became active in many different veterans’ charities and found it unacceptable that so many of our nation’s homeless, one out of every four, are veterans. She knew she had to do something big for the summer of 2014 to raise awareness and money for some of her favorite charities. And so was born Cat’s idea for a cross-country motorcycle ride: the 2014 Iron & Ash Ride for Warriors benefitting two of her favorites, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin and Operation: Cigars for Warriors. Veterans Outreach supplies personal care items, furniture, and household goods to veterans free of charge to help them secure and maintain a suitable living environment. The Florida-based Operation: Cigars for Warriors is an all-volunteer organization that sends care packages containing cigars to troops stationed in combat zones and on long-term deployments.

Cat kicked off the Iron & Ash ride on May 31 from Bulverde, Texas, outside of San Antonio. The ride took her across the country with additional fundraising and promotional stops in Alabama, Virginia, and West Virginia, and finally to Chicago for a June 15th wrap-up party. Deciding to dedicate the ride and raise money for veterans’ charities was an easy call for Cat who would also like to see Americans do more to honor Vietnam Veterans. “The reason America has all of its greatness, power, freedom is because it was secured by this country’s veterans,” Cat says. “I am not rich in monetary things, but I am in the things that cannot be measured. So I give back with time, respect & honor, my most prized possession that I have.”

And the charities, which are in increased need of resources, were happy to be a part of Cat’s Iron & Ash Ride for Warriors. Cat truly rallied the motorcycle enthusiast community for this ride and pulled in monetary donations. “The Iron and Ash ride was a very successful venture for Cigars for Warriors and Veterans Outreach: Most importantly, it was a win for our veterans, who deserve so much,” said Storm Boen, a retired member of the Army and the chair of the board for Operation: Cigars for Warriors. “Cat put together a wonderful team, especially when you consider this was a first-year event.”

How does Cat, who is known as the one-legged blonde in the motorcycle community, feel about life today? Well, in July, she posted this on Facebook: “Life isn’t going to hand you your dreams so make them happen!” And boy, does she ever. Currently, Cat tours the country participating in charity rides and giving motivational speeches. She has advice for others recovering from traumas.

When we spoke that beautiful, sunny day, she said that in her own experience with an amputation and as someone living with a Traumatic Brain Injury, there are times she still wants to scream, “I’m not a freak!” Some people make callous statements out of ignorance, or perhaps fear. If you know someone recovering, offer patience and kindness, not pity. If you are with someone going through trauma, Cat encourages you to recognize that trauma has stages of grief; her trauma was a death of everything she knew. She also encourages you that it won’t last forever. Surround yourself with positive influences and get rid of the negative ones, which are toxic to your recovery. Know that it is okay to grieve the life you lost and recognize that some people will say stupid things, but those don’t have to change your experience. Forgive them and move on.


Carrie Collins-Fadell is a United Way executive director.  She lives in New York and is on the National Advisory Board for Operation: Cigars for Warriors.

Writing for Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations

Drawing on her 35Projects experience, Carrie Collins-Fadell will be writing for the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations this year.  She will be profiling existing member organizations around Texas and discussing their community impact.  “With 35 Projects wrapping up, I am excited to transition to writing and presenting about the nonprofit community drawing on what I learned on my journey,” Collins-Fadell said.  “The Texas nonprofit community it truly unique and I can’t wait to help shine a spotlight on it.”

Project 34: Sanilac County Humane Society in Caro, MI February 2013

This project was one that came about after being inspired by a volunteer that I met during another project.  Isn’t it funny how things build on each other like that? In January I had the opportunity to interview Florine Anchordoguy for an article that I was writing on encore volunteers.  These are volunteers that retire only to redefine everything about the word retirement as they take on large paid or volunteer duties that differ from the career that they pursued. Florine volunteered for Lost Our Home Pet Foundation.  She has personally assisted in hundreds of adoptions by making homeless pets available for viewing at her local Petsmart.

Inspired by Florine, I volunteered at my local Petsmart and signed up to help with adoptions through the Sanilac County Humane Society.  I have a weekly cleaning shift that I will fulfill for as long as I live in the area.  I have met some real cute and fuzzy characters there.  Spending 2 hours a week with the animals as I help them stay clean and presentable has become one of the favorite parts of my weekly routine. It has also fueled a future ambition that I have. That is to open a shelter specifically for black cats.  Black cats are the hardest to adopt and have the highest euthenization rate.

Project 33: Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Arizona February 2013

Formerly known as Body Positive, the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention helps those living with HIV/AIDS to live productive lives, while also doing education, prevention and research efforts to stop the spread of this disease. The Center creates and sponsors programs and services for the local community. I was only too happy to contribute a silent auction item to this organization for the organization’s Illuminating the Path Night for Life celebration.