This article was originally published on May 27, 2009 on Medill Reports.
Twister, a refugee from Beirut, had just stepped off a flight from Paris at O’Hare International Airport. Joanne Greene, 59, of the Northwest Side, was there to welcome him into her home.
“He came off the plane with his friends and he hopped in my car and we took him to Pet Supplies Plus and got him toys and he never saw anything like it,” Greene said.
The toys may have helped Twister, a cocker mix, forget, at least for a little while, what he has recently been through.
During the 2006 Lebanon War between Israeli and Hezbollah military forces, Twister along with hundreds of other dogs were displaced from their homes with Lebanese families, in an animal shelter or on the streets of Beirut.
“[He had] no food, no water, no shelter, people throwing rocks at him, cursing him, just no place to go, no place that he’s wanted,” said Greene, who has been rescuing animals from natural disasters to war since 2005. “And then should they catch the animals, they abuse them, they maim them, poison them.”
Greene, who does landscaping and runs a dog-walking service for a living, traveled to Beirut in 2006 to help rescue animals left to fend for themselves during the 34-day Middle Eastern conflict. She returned to Beirut in 2007 because she said there was simply too much left to do. She knew from previous rescue missions in Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike, and a 2007 tornado in Greensburg, Kan. how much work needed to be done to help the stranded animals.
“I went to Beirut with the bombing to make sure that I could lend a hand,” Greene said. “As in any other disaster the people who were rescuing were all overwhelmed and oftentimes the animals are the last to be looked after.”
The rescue effort was “mayhem,” Green said. Animals were being pulled out of wherever rescue workers could find them, and relocated to an abandoned pigsty to the north of Beirut near the Syrian border. The local organization Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals rescued Twister. And had they not rescued him, Greene doubts he would still be alive.
“I can’t imagine [dogs survive] much more than a year on the streets there,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine what is life would have been like there.”
Surrounded by hundreds of dogs, Greene says Twister chose her. She said he would move her hands to pet him, and would shoo others away. She knew they were meant to be.
“The best he could have hoped for was to be adopted to a Lebanese family that treats animals differently than we do,” she said.
Greene acted fearlessly during the rescue, said Helena Hesayne, the president of BETA. When most Americans might stay in the safe-zones, Hesayne said Greene did not wait in the background. She would go along with the BETA volunteers whenever and wherever they were needed.
“She’s very courageous,” Hesayne said. “At a time when everyone was leaving the country, she came to the country as an American, which is not easy.”
Five months after Greene returned, Twister arrived in the U.S. with shrapnel in one of his legs, as did many of the other rescued dogs, and had to have his front left leg amputated just a few weeks after he arrived.
But even on three legs, Twister’s life in Chicago is anything but a “dog’s life.”
Everyday at 7 a.m., Twister goes outside and says hello to his cat friends, looks for squirrels in the backyard, and then in the front yard. On Mondays and Fridays, he goes to doggie daycare at Central Bark in Avondale where he runs, swims and plays with other dogs. Greene says on these days Twister gets so excited that he forgets to eat breakfast. After a long day of fun, Twister is out of steam.
“Then he’s tired for the evening, and tired for part of the next day, and then after that he’s looking for trouble,” Greene said.
Now at 3 years old, Twister is used to his surroundings and his home that he shares with Greene, and their other pets Chip the cat and Glenda the Good Witch, a 22-year-old rescue dog.
“He just harasses Glenda,” Greene said with a smile. “But he looks to Glenda and Glenda looks to him as she gets elderly to guide their little team.”
Even with his loving family, Twister’s battle scars have not completely faded.
“Obviously there are trust issues,” Greene said. “He’s never forgotten the street.”
Another resilient member of their family is Louis Milne, a cat Greene found on Milne Boulevard in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
Louis was the neighborhood stray in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. When the levee broke, Louis was caught in a trap, and rode out weeks in the heat with no food or water.
“He swirled in the chemicals that came in off the gulf,” Greene said. “He still has chemical burns on his stomach, in his throat, his ears. No fur has grown on his stomach or in his ears and he has problems eating certain things.”
Her greatest fear was realized after seeing people struggling in New Orleans. She said it took her a few days to make the decision to pack up her car with provisions and drive down to Louisiana. Once there, Greene signed on with the Humane Society of the United States National Disaster Animal Response Team.
“It was haunting. It was upsetting,” Greene said, fighting back tears. “We were able to save a lot [of animals], but we could have saved more if we had known what was happening.”
In New Orleans, many families had no choice but to leave their pets behind. The water level rose very quickly when the storm approached, not leaving enough time for people to safely evacuate.
After leaving town, few people could return to their homes as the city was shut down for more than a month, Greene said. She said most people only knew enough to leave food and water for a couple of days. The situation was “not pretty.”
And while the situations take a toll on her personal finances and her emotions, she finds it very rewarding.
“It’s a very interesting opportunity to rescue, and to feel needed, and worthy.”
As for Twister, he’s just looking for his next adventure.