Gestures of Humanity
Nelson welcomes the GAAP team to his home
Nelson is our Spotlight story this month. Nelson lives in a small, miserable shack in Valdivia (Chile) with his two cats. He is disabled and bedridden and his only comfort in life are his pets. His story is sad, but he is happy to have us come and offer preventive veterinary care to his animals. For the cost of a few vaccines, dewormers and flea medication, Ringo Starr and Candilejas are now protected from the common feline diseases and parasites we see in Valdivia. Nelson can rest easy that his companions are protected. There are thousands of similar stories, right here in our community that could benefit from small gestures of humanity.
This Holiday Season, we invite you to support Nelson as part of our “Gestures of Humanity” movement. For us, “Gestures of Humanity” means that we give wholly and completely, through understanding and tenderness, expecting nothing in return. How do we do this?
Throughout the year, we identify truly marginalized people or defenseless animals that desperately need help, support or comfort, just like Nelson. Whether it’s helping an elderly widow with the cost of emergency surgery of her cat, helping a young Mayan girl achieve her dream of attending school, or treating and rehoming a sick, abandoned puppy, these small gestures might not change the world, but they can undoubtedly change one person or pet’s world.
You can give someone hope for the future by supporting acts of kindness, just like this one. This year, our goal is to raise $5,150 so that we can continue to offer these small acts of compassion.
A man who has nothing puts animals before himself.
What happened to Nelson the street musician?
Nelson is a very well-known character in Valdivia, Chile. He was a permanent fixture in the busy downtown bus terminal, playing music to earn a living. Surrounded by the ever-present pack of dogs, Nelson serenaded the crowds bustling in and out, going here and there, day in and day out. Until he didn’t. From one day to the next, Nelson was gone. The truth be known, I quickly forgot about the musician and his dogs, until last week on our regular outing to visit homeless people and their pets.
We were asked to help an old man who had two cats that had never been seen by a veterinarian before. Warned that the cats were pretty wild with strangers, we went prepared with equipment to catch them. We were led through a small gate to a tin shack. Inside, there was a bed. And in that bed we saw Nelson, sick, unable to leave the bed, but with a big grin on his face, happy to have visitors. Sure enough, his cats were skittish around people, but while we slowly and calmly trapped the two cats, Nelson told us his story.
With a rough and abusive start to life as a child, he left home as a young adult to try and make a go of it on his own. For his whole life, Nelson has lived in various states of poverty, some situations better than others, but always struggling. It is very probable that he has never known the daily comforts that you and I take for granted, like hot showers, a clean warm bed, and a heated home on a cold winter’s day.
An important crossroad for Nelson, was when a landlord evicted him with no warning, no reason, and no time to find a place to live. That was how his life in the street began. “It’s still ingrained in my brain. I didn’t know what to do”. Although music and animals were the two comforts that kept him going, since that time, Nelson has technically been homeless. For over 15 years, he has been squatting in the shack we visited that day with only his two cats as company. We have talked to many people in similar situations to his, but something was very different about Nelson. Usually, the homeless people that we visit to talk about the comfort that their pets bring to their lives, but Nelson spoke about his obligation to the animals. They were not there for his benefit- rather he believed he was there to help them. Instead of him seeking comfort and warmth from them during the cold nights in his tin shack, instead he says to us: “My cats sleep with me in my bed. I try to keep them warm”.
Animals and music, the two loves of his life
When he was playing music at the bus terminal, one day a really hungry dog showed up. Nelson played his best songs, gave his best performance, and then with the coins tossed to him by his audience, he bought a meat empanada for the dog. He told us that people thought he was crazy. “Why would you buy food for a dog when you haven´t even eaten yourself?” But that is just the way he is.
As we fill out the medical records for his cats, he tells us their names and their history. One was named Ringo Star after his favorite musician, and the little female was called Candilejas- after the name of his favorite song about a very sad love story.
His cat was so sweet and he loved her so much!
“My cats are my companions” he tells us. “If one of them dies or goes missing, I become sick. I get depressed and I stop eating and I just cry, and cry.” He tells us about one of his cats that died about 7 or 8 years ago. “She was so sweet, and I loved her so much! I raised her and she was so lovely. While she was sick, I just held on to her. And when she died I cried for a month. I would wake up just to keep on crying. I couldn´t bear to let her go; I just didn’t want to bury her alone, outside”. We could hear the grief in his voice as he recounted the sad story from so many years ago.
A simple vaccine can mean a world of good for Nelson and his cats!
After hearing Nelson´s many touching stories about his life and his love for both people and animals, I am so thankful that we were able to catch his shy little creatures so that we could vaccinate them and hopefully allow them to live a long and happy life.
We pack up our boxes and blankets and kennels. “I love animals!” he said to us as we prepare to leave. “I have so many beautiful stories from my time playing music at the bus station”. “I believe that we all have a soul and that animals can sense that. It’s like a path that they follow – we are home for them. That’s how it works. Life is special and everything is connected”.
Inspired by the wisdom of a homeless man
Coming from a man with no money, no home, no friends and no family to visit him…this strikes me as so profound and I am seriously humbled to have met Nelson and inspired to incorporate his words of wisdom into my daily life. “If you give love to the animals, they give love back to you”. How right he is.
Will it change the world? Perhaps not.
But will it warm the heart of a person or change the life of one animal? YES!
Can it initiate a chain of compassion and caring? YES!
Can you be part of this selfless movement? YES, of course!