Writing

Real Men Love Cats: Navy Veteran and State Parole Agent Jack Leonard
- Animal Friends Blogspot/Jeff Geissler/Communications Assistant

If you think only wimpy men love cats, then we triple-dog-dare you to say that to Jack Leonard!
 

This highly-devoted Volunteer Cat Handler for Animal Friends served in the Navy and worked as a state parole agent for 20 years. He was the lawman who tracked down the nasty convicts and crooks who broke parole.
 

He’s retired from chasing bandits, but is still active with law enforcement. He trains Allegheny County Police Cadets defense tactics and subject control. In other words, he teaches the cops how to overpower the bad guys.
 

And when he’s not teaching heroes how to handcuff hooligans, you’ll find him waving a feather toy in front of our fluffy feline residents.
 

“I’ve had enough of dealing with people and problems,” the strapping gentleman said through his deep voice.
 

When he’s not here at Animal Friends, you’ll probably find him with his cat Remy - named after Remy McSwain, the fictional detective from the tv show The Big Easy.
 

Jack Leonard, the self-described “Man with Two First Names,” still serves and protects our community, but you might find a kitty treat or squeaky toy in his arsenal.
 

If you're a macho man but you don't have a cat yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to meet adoptable cats: http://www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org/cats

Animal Friends’ Pet Therapy Teams Visit Veterans
- Animal Friends Blogspot/Jeff Geissler/Communications Assistant

A veteran clad in Steelers garb vigorously spun the wheels of his chair and glided down the hallway at the Southwestern Veterans Center in Pittsburgh.
 

“Is that a dog I hear? Do we have a dog here?” he cheerfully grinned while asking the nurses.
 

Ricky, a 5-year-old chocolate Lab, sauntered out of a resident’s room to greet the man. The veteran reached down and scratched Ricky’s silky smooth ears as they both sported oversized smiles.
 

David Mitchell, Ricky’s owner and Animal Friends volunteer, introduced the Pet-Assisted Therapy dog to the veteran.
 

Then it was show time. Ricky sat down on all fours with his front legs pointed forward. David placed a treat on his paw.
 

“Say ‘now’ when you want Ricky to grab his treat,” David told the veteran. He peered down from his wheelchair and paused for a second while the well-trained dog waited for his command. 
 

“Now!” the veteran called. Ricky snatched up the treat. His new friend bellowed a lively laugh that filled the hall.
 

Ricky, a certified Canine Good Citizen, then traveled down the hallway to spread his cheer to the other residents, many who are terminally ill and are grateful for the friendly greeting. 
 

Some residents were bedridden, so Ricky stood up and rested his front paws on their bedside and inspired a faint but thankful smile. Others were wheelchair bound with limited movement. A few had missing arms, most likely the result of battle. But they all did their best to give the Ricky a pat on the head. One resident, who walked with some difficulty, grabbed Ricky’s leash and joyfully walked him down the hallway. At the end of the trek he rested against the nurse’s station. 
 

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” he repeated with slightly winded breathing.
 

Ricky even pulled tears of joyful and sentimental memories from one resident.
 

“I once had a Cockapoo,” he cried while rubbing Ricky’s head. He was elderly, in a wheelchair, and had bandages and braces covering both arms. With effort, he slowly reached for a bag of pretzels, pulled one out and took a bite. He then offered Ricky the other half. Even though Ricky had a belly full of treats, he was eager to share the fare.
 

 “Thank you for coming in,” the veteran choked between tears.

The Former Bradberry Building Will Be Home To 16 New Apartments
- Jeff Geissler for The Northside Chronicle.

Sixteen newly renovated apartments are coming to the Garden Theater block at the corner of Reddour and Eloise streets next to the former Masonic Hall, now City of Asylum Bookstore at Alphabet City.

The historic Bradberry Building will become the 16-unit Bradberry Garden under the direction and partnership of Trek Development Group and Q Development. Demolition, construction and upgrades on the building began in May of 2017. They plan to open the four-story building in March, according to Rachel DeVemey, assistant property manager at Trek Development. The apartments will range in price from $993 to $2183 monthly.

“We have four two-bedroom units, and the rest are one-bedroom. And we do have four units that will be affordable housing,” DeVemey said. In 1904, Allegheny City resident William Bradberry, president of the Anshutz-Bradberry Stove Co., hired prominent architect and fellow Allegheny City resident Frederick Osterling to design the residential building. Osterling was inspired by the Renaissance Revival style, a popular form at the time inspired by Italian classical details such as rounded arches, columns and decorative supports carved out of stone. The noticeable decorative brick along with wide square and semi-arched window openings adorning the facade of the building is a testament to Osterling’s creativity.

In addition to the Bradberry Building, Osterling also designed a number of buildings throughout Pittsburgh, including the Senator John Heinz History Center, the Union Trust Building and The Cork Factory Lofts.

Renovations include a shared courtyard where the back section of the Garden Theater was located. This will create an open, airy space in the dense urban area. Twelve of the 16 units have a view of the courtyard, and four units only have views of Reddour Street.

New apartment layouts, wall replacements and an elevator will modernize the aging building. This is a step forward for the Garden Theater Block, where developers and their proposals have come and gone for almost 30 years. Q Development and Trek Development Group first partnered in 2014 when the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh requested proposals to develop the block. The developers submitted plans to renovate the area, but zoning disputes in the area blocked their project ideas.

“When the full development proposal was overturned in the zoning court case, the development team agreed to pursue just the Bradberry,” said Rick Belloli, principal with Q Development. “We have a particular affinity for Frederick Osterling’s work.” Both firms hope to continue working with the city to renovate and develop that block.

“Currently, the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) still owns and controls the other five vacant buildings on the block as well as vacant lots, and we continue to work with them on the future of that portion of the block,” Belloli said.

Coffeehouse Is Part of the Community
- Jeff Geissler/The Albuquerque Journal North 

While Burl Ives croons Christmas cheer over the sound system, Jim Johnston taps his laptop computer, flanked by freshly cut stargazer lilies and a tall cup of coffee.

“I come here to break up the monotony and answer e-mails,” Johnston said.

Johnson, the director of a nonprofit medical research organization, was taking advantage of the free wireless Internet at The Lucky Bean Coffee House and Goods, which doubles as an unofficial community center for the Rancho Viejo neighborhood on Santa Fe’s southern edge. “I usually come in around lunchtime,” Johnston said from his seat at the bright red community table. “Her salads are killer.”  He was referring to Joan Glover, an owner of The Lucky Bean.

About two years ago, Glover searched for a spot to open a coffee house. Looking downtown proved fruitless, so she looked elsewhere. She contacted an agent with Rancho Viejo who explained to her that the development had surveyed its residents and found that many wanted a coffee shop nearby. Glover believed the business would also help create a sense of community, similar to the shopping center in El Dorado.

So, in April 2006, Glover opened The Lucky Bean in Rancho Viejo. Along with its selections of organic, fair-trade coffee, Glover offered breakfast burritos and pizza and was soon surprised to learn that people wanted more.

“People usually don’t ask for a menu from a coffee shop,” Glover said. “The demand was here. People needed lunch.” So Glover added salads, paninis, and tuna melts, along with a variety of tasty goods from a local bakery. And the popularity of the coffee house grew along with its menu.

“I come in here and dance and sing,” said Lisa Vakharia, a manager of a local plumbing company. Because of her popularity and lively spirit, the enthusiastic regular is known as the unofficial mayor of Rancho Viejo. Every morning at 7:15 a.m., she arrives at the shop after she drops her kids off at school and leaves at 7:55 a.m. to make it to work next door by 8 a.m. In the afternoon, she picks up her kids and takes them to the shop for hot chocolate and brownies.

“We see the same people every day and we learn life stories and pet names,” said Vakharia, who has also been crowned by Glover the official spokesperson for The Lucky Bean. Customers vacation pictures, from Hawaii to Martha’s Vineyard, pet portraits, including one local dog dressed as Superman, and even an award are posted on the shop’s refrigerator.

A customer named Kate has a small certificate naming her as the client who needs the least amount of maintenance. Artwork from a variety of mediums, including photography, painting and pottery, adorn the walls. Handmade scarves are for sale along with homemade dog biscuits. All of it was created by local artists whofrequent the shop.

Three cork boards covered with business cards alert customers to the many services available in the area, everything from window-washing to pet-sitting.

Glover recently applied for a liquor license, something she says customers are very eager for. Along with the libations will come later business hours, live music, and art shows, Glover said. Just one more way Glover keeps customers coming.

“The clientele is really spectacular. I guess we got lucky,” said Glover. And all her efforts are appreciated. “She unites all of us,” said employee Micaela Buckingham. “It’s like a family.” 

Pyrotechnist Shares His Explosive Skills
- Jeff Geissler/The Sun News

Rick Burton had an explosive situation on his hands Friday night.
 

As thousands of people waited nearby, Burton worked very care­ fully amid more than 1,700 miniature explosives. But the situation wasn't deadly.
 

"When  you  see what  will go on here, you' ll be real proud,"  the North Myrtle Beach resident told his crew, as he pointed toward the darkening sky. The pep talk was directed to 15 friends and acquaintances of Bur­ton's before they shot more than 1,700 shells of multicolored fireworks over Grand Strand Regional Airport near Barefoot Landing.
 

Burton, a licensed pyrotechnist, dazzled thousands with his craft during Friday's Fourth of July celebration.

Throughout the day in the pounding heat and  thick humidity,Burton and his team or thrill-seekers dug holes, tied fuses and rehearsed drills to prepare for the
night's event.
 

"Safety comes before anything," Burton kept reminding his crew as the members carried explosive shells to their designated spots.
 

Nearly 800 mortars - 3-foot­ long wooden tubes aimed toward the sky - were  carefully  placed in a SO- square-yard perimeter. The mortars ranged in diameter from 3 to 10 inches to accommodate shells of the same width.  The larger the shell, the more impressive the explosion. Each shell was loaded with gun­ powder and chemicals that caused a powerful boom followed by a colorful burst of sparks. The explosive balls are designed to form  patterns in the sky, such as palm trees, waves, tiger tails and flowers.
 

When the fuse is lit, a blasting cap in the shell blasts the explosive out of the mortar. An internal fuse ignites the mass of gunpowder when the projectile reaches 250 to l,000 feet in  the air.
 

Show-time duties were divided between  crew  members. Shooters were in charge of igniting the fuses with road flares after reloaders placed fresh shells into the mortars. Spotters kept an eye out for unexploded shells.
 

Burton has been decorating the skies of South Carolina for the past six years. To earn the required license, he worked as an apprentice during six fireworks shows under a licensed pyrotechnist. The state fire marshal then  administered a written test, followed by a supervised demonstration of Burton's knowledge at a show.
 

Teny Mullis is studying under Burton in an effort to earn his own license.
 

"I like  the  noise  and  the lights," Mullis said about the fireworks. " I played with them ail my life. This way, it's legal."

Runaway Cat Leaves Broken Bond With Brother, Servant
- Jeff Geissler/The Sun News

Every morning I bike through the leaf-strewn streets of North Myrtle Beach searching for her curious light­ green eyes. I hope to find her resting on a stranger's porch, sleeping under a parked car or perched in an autumn­ colored tree.

After returning from each failed trek, I look to her brother who is usually warming his lazy, gray-striped body in the sun.

"Where's Lady Brett?” I ask Ernest, my slightly pudgy feline friend. He just stares up at me with the same green eyes as his sister. 

I'm not surprised she ran away. Being independent in mind and wild at heart, she always loved exploring the world outside my apartment. There she would chase butterflies, pounce on grasshoppers or nudge crawling June bugs with her tiny nose. 

Sometimes she would exercise her prankish side by climbing a tree and tease squirrels as they stocked supplies for the winter. Every now and then she'd challenge the neighbors' dog to a fight. But having more brains than muscle, she'd quickly retreat to the bottom of my porch.
 

For those reasons I named her Lady Brett after the free-spirited, self-reliant woman who had a zest for life in the Ernest Hemingway novel "The Sun Also Rises." The name fit her perfectly.

More than a year ago, a friend found a pair of abandoned kittens on the side of Forestbrook Road in Socastee. She tried to persuade me to take in the two palm-sized tabbies. Being a dog lover, I was a bit apprehensive because I thought any one who loves dogs should hate cats. I always viewed cats as wimpy, boring creatures, devoid of personality. 

But I wanted a pet, and because my schedule doesn't give me the time to care for a dog, I decided to take the kittens. I was told they would practically care for themselves. 

During their first six months in my apartment, they slept, ate, played and used the litter box in tandem. But before they reached full size they began forming separate personalities that made them the characters they are today. 

Ernest meows endlessly, begs for food, rubs against my feet and sleeps at the end of my bed.
 

Lady never meowed, never begged, hardly showed affection and slept on the far left cushion of my ragged gray couch.

Every morning Ernest squats with his belly flopping over his back legs and stares at me until I surrender and give him a spoonful of my cereal.

Lady Brett would spend her mornings pawing at the window, hissing at rabbits and other creatures until I freed her to my front yard. 

Ernest loves to have his head scratched when I cradle him.

Lady Brett would strike me with a look of disgust when I lifted her. 

When he's finished eating, Ernest thanks me by licking his paws at the foot of my chair. 

After her dinner, Lady Brett would run past me with scarcely a glance in my direction and leap to her couch.
 

Their individual personalities led me to become Ernest's best friend and Lady Brett's servant. They became a constant in my life that formed a bond in my lonely apartment - which is now severed. 

I hope she is out there enjoying life in nature's endless theater of possibilities, something I would do if I had her fearlessness. 

But I hope she'll find her way home when she finishes her adventure.