My Animal Welfare Inspiration: My Grandmother

Animal Welfare at Helen's Heart

Animal welfare, less formally known as compassionate living and a love for animals, was a fire lit within me by my grandmother. Helen encouraged me to respect all living beings at an early age, never by telling me to do so, but because she led by example. My father had a significant influence as well, but since he too learned from her, today I remember the source of that love – in celebration of Helen’s birthday.

Alzheimer’s ruthlessly robbed valuable pieces of Helen’s memory over the years, and I have long missed my connection with sweetest woman I have ever known. Now that her beautiful soul has flown, I believe her spirit has been set free to soar through the ethos, no longer bound by earthly separation and limitation. And I am free to remember the woman who was and who is now whole again, not the still-darling but deteriorating woman who no longer knew me.

Memory. Relationships depend upon it. And so I remember.

Becoming custodian of thousands of family photographs, it became obvious during my sorting that most were taken by my grandmother – as typically noted by her absence from the frame. As much as I’d love to see more images of her, I take tremendous pleasure in seeing the world that she loved through her eyes. Here are some of Helen’s favorite memories from 1948 to 1969, the years her children were growing up with their many animal friends.

Helen's View

What Alzheimer’s could never steal away was Helen’s love for Ralph, her beloved husband and my grandfather, and every small, sweet being that she and Ralph had ever encountered. Animal Welfare wasn’t a term these two would  likely use. But whether they encountered dogs, cats, crows, geese, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, or children, they loved (and often fed) them all. And where children and animals connected, Helen and Ralph’s cup runneth over.

Even in assisted living, as Helen’s vocabulary began to slip away with her memories of Ralph’s passing, she sometimes worried. She worried about where Ralph was … and whether the birds outside her window would survive a Western NY winter without her scraps of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert.

This is truly a tribute to both of my grandparents because each took pride in teaching their family together. They were a unified front in guiding the best interests of their children and grandchildren and in caring for one another.

Helen and RalphHelen and Ralph

To leave Helen and this earth in 2003, after celebrating a November birthday in the hospital, was incredibly difficult for Ralph. When his birthday in the great beyond came this November, he received the greatest gift of all, my grandmother.

Ralph and Helen

Ralph has been waiting, Dear Helen. May your eternal love bring you together once more. I imagine you young, as in love as you’ve been since you met, and with the whole world set before you. Enjoy the dance.

To you both:
I love you for who you are.
I thank you for making me who I am.

Photo (right): 1943 – My grandparents, Ralph and Helen, freshly married and on a date at the New Como Club in Western, NY.


  1. Oh, Kim! I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to a clearly remarkable woman. How incredible to have all those photographs, too. The one of the child squeezing the cat… priceless! Her memory will live on in your memories and this thoughtful remembrance.

    • Thank you, Maggie. Remarkable, yes, and memorable. We’ll be hosting a memorial reunion in the Spring, when the whole family can commit to coming in celebration of these two beautiful lives. I’m so looking forward to the flood of memories that brings.

      The child squeezing the cat is my Aunt Karen. She recently challenged the law to rescue a dog from an abusive situation … and that dog now owns her. It clearly wasn’t just me who was greatly influenced. 🙂

  2. What a lovely memorial! I think it’s important to remember people as they were in their prime, not as the frail shells they later become. She sounds like a wonderful woman who help mold you into the woman you are today.

    • @vscook I agree, Vicki. I don’t think my Gram would have liked the way things ended. She loved being surrounded by the people she loved, making her home hospitable and taking care of everybody she knew – including herself. In the end she became, as my father describes, pleasantly confused. I’m not sure how pleasant it was as she clearly seemed flustered at times, but she appeared to be in minimal distress these last 5 years. For that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful that my memories aren’t bound to this stage of her life.

  3. What a lovely tribute to a very special woman. Your love and respect for her and the woman she helped you become shines through in every word. Just as you were blessed to have her, she was blessed to be loved by you Kim. I lost my Grandmother this year as well and I miss her so much. I can’t wait until I feel strong enough to pore over our family photos and create something as beautiful as you have. ♥

  4. Doing my best to type here, through tears….I’ve never read a more beautiful, touching tribute! It explains so much of who you are, Kim. No doubt she is a guiding spirit in your daily life, an inspiration we all can learn from – just like you are. What a fabulous woman! Happy Birthday, Helen!

  5. What a beautiful post! Thank you for introducing us to your grandmother.

  6. Mary E Haight says:

    Grandmother’s are wonderful at teaching such lessons=)

  7. Amy@GoPetFriendly says:

    The anniversary of my grandma’s passing is coming up next week. It’s hard to believe the time as passed so quickly. Like your’s, my gram taught me a lot about life and the person I strive to be. We were both lucky to have had them in our lives.

  8. wantmorepuppies says:

    Absolutely beautiful and touching post – it’s really a special way to remember your grandmother. It’s one reason I love photographs so much and always take so many – it helps me maintain that connection with loved ones lost. Your grandmother sounds like a truly wonderful woman – and the evidence is clear in you, her granddaughter.

  9. MicheleCHollow says:

    Kim, you are one of my favorite bloggers. This is simply beautiful, and it is important to remember. Thank you.

  10. @kolchakpuggle I’m so sorry for your loss. You will feel stronger in time. Although my grandmother passed just recently, I felt like I had lost her roughly 5 years ago. I suspect that’s why I can write this now. I know not everybody in my family feels the same. Some are more raw than others. At times, I’m still raw too. You’ll find the stride that’s right for you in due time. When you do, I’d love to read what you write and I hope you’ll share.

  11. @KimT Thanks for sending your birthday wishes and helping me to celebrate Helen’s life rather than her death. What was most interesting to me was realizing that my grandmother was always documenting our lives through photography – a task I have clearly adopted with my own family. I never thought of Helen as a photographer, but she was, as limited as her equipment was. I now know why I feel so compelled to shoot and share every situation. I have this post to thank for that.The animal connection was also taken for granted until I began writing. There were far more domestic animals while my grandparents had their children in the house and, once the children left the nest, my grandparents paid more attention to the neighborhood wildlife. I suppose I’ve taken on both domestic and wild with the same fervor, but the connection, again, wasn’t so clear until I began to write.Thanks for being the eyes to see me figure it all out.

  12. @BoSoxAmy Thanks for getting to know her, Amy.

  13. @Amy@GoPetFriendly I feel lucky to have been in your life to hear your memories about your gram after she passed. And I’m equally lucky to have had you hear stories with about my gram. Thanks for sharing and listening, my friend.

  14. @wantmorepuppies Thank you, AJ. Memories are so much easier to hold on to with an image, at least for me. I’m such a visual person. I feel so lucky to have so many images going back to the 1800s, if only to remember my family history, if not the actual people from it who I’ve never met. It sounds like we appreciate the value in much the same way.

    • wantmorepuppies says:

      @Kim Clune Definitely. I’m very visual as well – it’s how I learn (a lecture with no visual aids is my idea of torture), and it’s how I connect with people and events from my past and present. I think that the picture-taking gene runs in my family – I love going through old photographs and hearing the stories that they bring to mind.

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