Traveling Afar to Find Your Family

By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in the Santa Monica Star)

Some two decades ago, I married into a family originally from Riga, Latvia. I was completely unaware of this city’s glorious fame as “the Paris of the North,” which coincidentally was a perfect match for my birthplace, Shanghai, often called the Paris of the East. Like most Americans, my life became an interesting melting pot and Latvia added a new element to it.

 

I, however, had never seen Latvia until this December when Uncle Arvids invited my husband and me to Riga for his 90th birthday celebration. Overcoming the fear of winter’s fury in Northern Europe, we decided to go for a visit that was long overdue.

Before this trip, my knowledge of Riga was as abstract as the wood carving that my father-in-law Talivaldis Stubis had made of this city’s skyline, commemorating Latvia’s independence from Russia. I knew little about this country beyond the fact that it was next to the Baltic Sea with Riga as her capital.

 

All this would soon change as our plane from Frankfurt was getting ready to land at the Riga airport. I looked out of my window and enjoyed the first glimpse of the city in her winter splendor, for she was dressed in her veil of silver-grey mist laced with white snow.

Riga is a city of beauty and dignity. Like honor guards, her many church steeples, all dressed in unique suits of armor, have watched over the city for many centuries and witnessed many wars as the Latvians fought for their freedom. The Daugava River, like a deep, dark green belt, calmly flows through the middle of the city, with her old town, dating to medieval times, lying on its right bank.

There we found many gorgeous buildings, such as the Riga Dome Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church, all connected by streets paved with cobblestones. I wandered into my first European Christmas Market, where iron pots of soup were heated over open fires and stalls were stocked with festive holiday gifts. We also visited the Central Market inside zeppelin hangars from the 1920s. There, we tasted cheeses and breads, and feasted our eyes on many exotic fruits and fishes.

Riga’s architecture is original, ornate and graceful, and the city has one of the greatest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. We couldn’t walk a block without staring in awe at the magnificent stone carvings above windows, under balconies, and on rooftops.

I felt like a child standing in a shop filled with layered wedding cakes, each decorated with its unique creamy sculptures of lions, comic faces, floral designs and interesting patterns.

At Uncle Arvids’ birthday party, we met many old relatives and new friends. We drank and sang. We feasted and partied. We even learned some folk dances accompanied by Latvian music. When the party was over, I chanced to meet Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the first female president of Latvia, who happened to celebrate her 80th birthday on a floor below us. We chatted and, of course, I gave her a warm birthday hug.

With the help of our dear family members Indra Samite and Arnis Dubrowskis, who served as our exuberant and expert guides, we toured the old city, visited the Bauskas Castle that has been painstakingly restored from its ruins, made the trip to Rundales Pils, a gigantic baroque palace modeled after Versailles, got an insider’s look at the spectacular new National Library of Latvia, and paid solemn homage to the Freedom Monument in memory of the Latvian War of Independence. On its base, there are carvings of war heroes, one of whom is Voldemars Stubis (center below), my husband’s grandfather.

Seven days passed all too quickly, and soon we had to say goodbye to a city that has given us so many of our family members and cultural traditions. As I have learned again and again in life, sometimes you have to leave and travel around the world to fully find your family, your roots, and your home.

You can always reach me at qstubis@gmail.com.

 

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Study: Therapy Dogs Can Help Families of Kids With Cancer

Dogs have long been called Mankind’s best friend, but a major new scientific study now indicates that a dog may also be a family’s best friend in times of their greatest need.

Following seven years of pioneering research, American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, revealed the results of its long-awaited “Canines and Childhood Cancer Study,” the first and largest randomized, controlled clinical trial to rigorously measure the effects of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in the field of pediatric oncology. The results, published today in the Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, furnish evidence that regular visits from a therapy dog can provide significant psychosocial benefits to families of children undergoing treatment for cancer.

The data indicates positive effects on parents, including improved communication within families as well as between parents and medical staff, which can lead to better medical care, and reductions in their levels of stress, specifically as it relates to their emotional functioning.

“This study advances our understanding of the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals,” said principal investigator and American Humane National Director of Humane Research Dr. Amy McCullough. “We believe the findings may further increase access to therapy animals in hospital environments, enhance therapy dog training and practice, and improve well-being outcomes for families facing the challenges of childhood cancer.”

For decades, there have been tantalizing stories about the power of animals to bring comfort and help in the face of illness. And while studies have suggested the benefits of AAT, the majority of these findings have largely been anecdotal and have lacked scientific rigor, thus hindering the ability of AAT to be recognized by those in the research, funding and healthcare fields as a sound treatment option. Additional key research gaps – such as the impact of AAT on therapy animals – also exist, which rendered AAT best practices incomplete.

In 2010 American Humane researchers, with funding from Zoetis, began the Canines and Childhood Cancer (CCC) Study to rigorously measure the effects of AAT for children with cancer, their parents, and the therapy dogs who visit them. Additional funds to study the effect of therapeutic visits on the therapy dogs themselves were received through a grant from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) Foundation. American Humane created a three-stage scientific study with a:

i. Comprehensive Needs Assessment (launched in 2010): The research team conducted a comprehensive literature review to determine the current state of research in the fields of animal-assisted therapy and pediatric oncology, as well as focus groups and interviews with pediatric oncology patients, parents of children with cancer, hospital staff, and animal-handlers who visit with their therapy dogs in pediatric healthcare settings. Collectively, these findings shaped the rationale and ultimate goals of the study, culminating in the full clinical trial.

ii. Pilot Study: Next, we executed a pilot study (data collected between January and June 2013) at two hospital sites (East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida) to help inform the design and implementation of the full clinical trial.

iii. Full Clinical Trial (data collected between January 2014 and September 2016): Third and finally, American Humane conducted a full clinical trial at five sites across the country: St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida; Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, Oregon; UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, California; UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center/Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts in Worcester/North Grafton, Massachusetts; and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.

The research study followed 106 pediatric patients newly diagnosed with cancer, including 60 who received regular visits from therapy dogs (the treatment group), and 46 who received standard treatment (the control group). Children in the treatment group received 20-minute sessions with a therapy dog about once a week for four months, in addition to their standard care. The patient population was children, age 3-17 years, who were newly diagnosed with cancer and who received regular chemotherapy treatment in the outpatient clinic. The study employed a range of physiological and/or psychological measures to assess stress, anxiety, and health-related quality of life among patients and their parents.

The researchers found no significant differences in overall stress and anxiety for children and parents or in children’s HRQoL between study groups. However, data indicated that disease-related worry and anxiety among patients who had regular visits from therapy dogs remained stable, while children in the control group became significantly more worried over the course of the study. Additionally, parents in the treatment group reported that their children had significant improvements in school functioning.

“When designing the study, we intentionally sought to establish a rigorous challenge and demonstrate that multi-centered, prospective, placebo-controlled studies are possible in the area of animal-assisted therapy,” said J. Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, Executive Director, U.S. Companion Animal Marketing at Zoetis. “The Canines and Childhood Cancer Study addressed one of the most difficult challenges in this area – assessing the impact of service dogs in helping children suffering from a severe illness. The results give us important insights into the power of the human-animal bond and will inform future research in this area.”

As a humane organization, American Humane researchers also worked to gauge the effects of such interventions on the therapy dogs themselves, measuring the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the dogs’ saliva after visits. The data show that participating therapy dogs showed no signs suggesting that the activities caused distress or harmed the welfare of the animals. Funds to study the effect of therapeutic visits on the therapy dogs themselves were received through a grant from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). These findings are published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

“This research project is important because now we have strong evidence that with proper training and handling, the welfare of therapy animals in hospital settings is not adversely impacted,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “In addition to these promising findings, it is important for therapy animal organizations, handlers and the health care facilities where they serve to meet high standards of care and welfare for the animals involved.”

“This study is an important step forward in identifying and understanding perhaps underused weapons in the war on childhood cancer,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane’s president and CEO. “After years of anecdotal evidence pointing to its effectiveness, we were finally able to examine in a rigorous manner the scientific underpinning of the benefits of animal-assisted therapy on families of children with cancer. We hope this examination will spur further rigorous research and eventually the increased use of this accessible adjunctive therapy providing invaluable help and support to the families of more than 10,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year.”

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Holiday Love, Holiday Pain

By Qin Sun Stubis

(Originally published in The Santa Monica Star)

The end of 2017 is drawing near. It is only proper that we each reflect on the unique path we’ve just walked this year. As we always do with the passage of time, we gain knowledge through our successes and learn from our mishaps. We want to celebrate and share the wiser us with those we love who have contributed in our lives.

We are Americans. In spite of our differences in religion and culture, we all embrace tradition, family, and friends. It is the time of the year we express our affection and appreciation to those who love us and those we love back, those who accompany us on our journey and whom we depend on to succeed in life. No words are too trivial and no gifts too extravagant to show our thanks.

For those of us who have lost a precious family member or friend this year, our wounds are still fresh, our lives devastated, and our holidays never the same again. And yet, we have to go on living, carrying our lost loved ones with us, their smiles and words, their memories and deeds.

As I do some soul-searching this year, I cannot stop thinking about my dear sister, Min Sun Bamfield, whom I lost tragically and suddenly this May. Though two years apart, we were as close as inseparable twins. I still remember how during our teen years we wore identical clothes and were amused when people couldn’t tell who was who.

After we both settled in America and started families, the holidays drew us even closer, being the only family members who were here for each other. Min was a loving aunt to my children. She always made sure that there was a mountain of presents under our Christmas tree.

Right now, it is hard for me to look at a shopping catalog or compile a holiday gift list without thinking of Min. “Min would love this,” I say to myself, only to realize that I cannot buy the present and send it to her any more.

I miss her so much more now that it is the holiday season. Thinking about her has become the only channel for me to express my gratitude for having had such a wonderful sister.

For those who have lost a loved one recently, carry them in your heart as you celebrate this holiday season, and make toasts or holiday wishes on their behalf, for now they live within you and they breathe through you. For me, this is the way to celebrate my love and ease my holiday pain.

You can always reach me at qstubis@gmail.com.

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Help for Animals Caught in California Wildfires

American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Banfield Foundation, Zoetis, and philanthropist Lois Pope today made it possible to deliver more than a ton of love and emergency relief to animals taking refuge from California’s deadly Thomas Wildfire burning in the state’s Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

American Humane’s new animal rescue vehicle brought 3,000 pounds of free Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food to help approximately 160 lost dogs and cats at the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC), which is Ventura County’s first and only “no-kill” animal shelter. These animals had been evacuated last week from the shelter to escape the smoke and flames, but were safely returned to the shelter after the fire was beaten back.

The donation is part of a national campaign by American Humane and Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food called “Fill-a-Bowl … Feed-a-Soul™” that aims to deliver one million meals to shelter animals in the greatest need. The campaign has benefited the animal victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, as well as those caught in flood-devastated Louisiana.

Internationally renowned philanthropist Lois Pope underwrote the new American Humane Rescue vehicle, which is dedicated to helping animal victims of disasters and abuse throughout the state. Banfield Foundation is funding operational costs as part of its Disaster Relief Grant program, which is available to nonprofit animal organizations and local or state government agencies whose communities suffer the impact of disasters. Such grants continue to make a positive difference, most recently funding such efforts as veterinary care for pets impacted by wildfires and pet relocation following catastrophic flooding relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Leading animal health company Zoetis helped sponsor the rescue vehicle used to deliver the food.

“We are so grateful to American Humane, Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Banfield Foundation, and Lois Pope for this generous donation,” said Nicky Gore-Jones, executive director of SPARC. “This food will help many of our area’s best friends in their worst times.”

“Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food is committed to supporting pets in need and provides over 1 million meals per year as part of our nationwide Fill a Bowl… Feed a Soul™ program. We are pleased to be a part of this inaugural trip by Amercian Humane’s newest rescue vehicle by donating 3,000 pounds of our premium pet food to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue,” said Chris Mitchell, Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food CEO. “We know that this donation will help so many pets that have been affected by the devastating wildfires in the Santa Paula Community.”

“This campaign helps animals when they need help most,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “On behalf of all the beloved pets across the country, a big thank-you to Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Banfield Foundation, Zoetis, and Lois Pope!”

To help, visit: https://secure2.convio.net/aha/site/Donation2;jsessionid=00000000.app276b?df_id=7361&mfc_pref=T&7361.donation=form1&s_src=FY18YEHOMETOP&NONCE_TOKEN=0B394AC8C9DE8D39C99FADC2EDA7FA57

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Puerto Rican Pets Displaced by Hurricane Reunited With Families

American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, which has been first to serve in the rescue of animals in disasters for more than 100 years, joined forces with Wings of Rescue, The Sato Project, and the Humane Society of Broward County to help reunite 19 dogs and cats with their owners who relocated to the United States from Puerto Rico.

On November 11, a Wings of Rescue plane filled with pets and more than a little hope touched down at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport where a 50-foot American Humane Rescue vehicle was waiting to greet them. The pets were transferred to the giant truck and transported 13 miles to the Humane Society of Broward County, where the vehicle set up in the parking lot to serve as a Mobile Reunification Center so that owners who also recently flew to the U.S. could claim their pets.

One of the dogs brought back is blind, 7-year-old Zion. Sweet and friendly, he likes to play and he loves the beach. In the last two years, he developed ulcers in his eyes and lost his sight. His family hopes to get him medical treatment in the United States for the ulcers in his eyes. Others who arrived today were surrounded by crying members of their families, overwhelmed by having their best friends back.

“Wings of Rescue believes that pets are cherished family members,” said Wings of Rescue President and CEO Ric Browde. “Puerto Rico has endured a catastrophe that has ripped families apart. Food, water, electricity and medical care are scarce. We want to do our part in bringing families together so they can truly be able to celebrate Thanksgiving.”

“Coming on top of the devastation of their homes and communities, the separation of these pets from their families has been very difficult for the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “We are honored to work and make a difference with these other wonderful groups in order to bring these animals to safety and back into the arms of their loving families.”

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Waking Up in Santa Monica….

By Qin Sun Stubis

(Originally published in the Santa Monica Star)

This September, I spent a memorable night here in Santa Monica with some of my dear friends. It was a rare moment during which we laughed and chatted face-to-face, just so happy to be together again. Then I went to bed in a room with a wall-to-wall window facing the direction of the ocean. Though the Pacific was still quite a distance away and no rising and crashing of waves lulled me to dreamland, I smelt its salty presence in the air.

I woke up the next morning to a grand view of the sky laden with heavy, dark clouds framed by that expansive window in front of me. Having just arrived from the East Coast, I reflexively thought how an overcast day lay ahead.

I have spent many summer weeks on Fire Island, a barrier island off the New York shore, where the sun rises over the ocean and the first glimpse of the sky at dawn often foretells the weather for the rest of the day. Only the evening dusk has the power to conquer the ocean’s grey mist, rolling out a dark blanket to cover the land as the setting sun heads westward until sky and water blacken to one.

As I lay quietly that morning, though, I could detect a slight motion in the horizontal grey blur, slowly, silently ebbing away in the direction of the ocean until a hint of blue magically appeared on top of the clouds, now rimmed with a rosy hue, unmasking another sunny California day coming my way.

Soon enough, birds started chirping, traffic flowing, and Santa Monica was wide awake. The sun, rising over the vastness of America, had pushed her way to the West, finally touching the sleepy sea and driving the departing grey band further and further into the distance until it disappeared from my sight.

Being in Santa Monica for the second time, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d seen this color transformation before, and that here, the first glimpse of sunny California I have experienced always seemed to start with ocean grey, so grey that I could not tell where the water ended and sky began. I had to wait for the sun to arrive and separate the two. I’ve also learned that I need not worry, just watch patiently and confidently as another bright day announces it is on its way.

At the moment, against the purest form of blue a sky could offer, a towering palm tree waved gently as if greeting me as it stood high above the roof of a neighboring house. Its handsome green leaves soared toward the sky while its shaggy, dried-up branches hung low, disappearing behind the persimmon roof shingles, like an old man’s long, precious, unkempt beard.

“Good morning,” I whispered to myself. “I’m waking up in Santa Monica.”

You can always reach me at qstubis@gmail.com.

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Keeping Pets Safe On Halloween

Halloween is in just a few days, which means frightening family fun—from costume contests to trick-or-treating—is right around the corner. Although Halloween is filled with light-hearted tricks and treats, it’s important to keep safety in mind for every member of the family—including your pets. Halloween can pose a number of potential safety hazards for pets, who tend to experience high levels of stress due to the hustle and bustle of the holiday. Here are a few tips from American Humane to keep you and your four-legged family members safe and happy this Halloween:

• Costumes, while cute, can be dangerous for pets. Costume contests are popular around Halloween, and it’s tempting to want to dress up your four-legged friend in their own costume. After all, who can resist dressing up a pet in a cute witch’s cape or antlers? But if you do choose to dress your pet up in costume, make sure they can move in it comfortably and most importantly, safely. Avoid costumes that require tying anything around your pet’s neck that can choke them, or costumes that hang to the ground that they may stumble over. Let your pet be the judge. If they struggle and are uncomfortable, then maybe it’s best to let them stay dressed as a Corgi rather than a ghost!

• Keep your pet away from harmful Halloween candy and food. Before you give in to your pet’s pleading eyes and feed them that Halloween candy bar, be aware of the harmful consequences of feeding human food to any animal. Chocolate—especially baking chocolate—can be deadly to a dog, so keep all such goodies well out of reach. The other lurking danger during Halloween is a substance called Xylitol. This is a low-calorie sweetener found most commonly in gum and candy. It can be potentially lethal when consumed, even in small quantities. To reduce temptation, feed your pet before any guests arrive so they will be less likely to beg and steal food. Tell your guests of any house rules regarding your pet, such as not feeding them scraps from the table.

• If nicotine and alcohol will be consumed in your home this Halloween, be extra vigilant to keep these items out of your pet’s reach. These substances can be highly toxic—even deadly—to animals.

• Keep your home a safe space for your pet. Animals can get stressed with the hustle and bustle of guests and trick-or-treaters. It’s best to keep your pets indoors and provide them with a safe, quiet, escape-proof room where they can be removed from the energy and excitement of the holiday. Remember to provide plenty of food and water, and let your pet catch up on some Zs!

• As trick-or-treaters come to your door, there will be many opportunities for your pets to slip out unnoticed. Make sure that your pets always wear current identification tags, consider having your pets microchipped if you haven’t already—and watch the door!

Halloween, and all the spooky fun that accompanies the holiday, is best enjoyed when the entire family is safe and happy. Follow these tips, and your pet will have just as much fun as you and your kids this Halloween! Be sure to visit our holiday tips page for even more helpful advice to help you and your pets with some of the other upcoming holidays.

About American Humane
American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization, founded in 1877.

For more information please visit http://www.AmericanHumane.org.

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