They can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, and they won’t outrun a train, but these neighbors do out-of-the-ordinary things that improve our lives. They don’t act heroically for recognition — they typically laugh away the notion they’re heroes at all. These neighbors simply give of themselves because that’s how they tap their own sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
DOG’S BEST FRIEND
Cari Weinberg and her boyfriend have an understanding. Any time either of them sees a stray or lost dog, they stop and help it. She once came home with a terrier, and he once brought a Great Pyrenees home. But about a year ago, Weinberg decided she wanted to do more for animals than giving shelter to the lost.
“I noticed that the shelter at Cedar Creek Lake was in big trouble and running out of food. They were going to have to close,” she says.
The community rallied to raise money and donations for the shelter, which is called the Cedar Creek Humane Society and is about an hour from Dallas. Weinberg went to work there as a volunteer.
“I can’t take in another dog, but I can do that,” she says.
She started out listing the shelter animals on PetFinder.com to try and find them homes, but she wound up also making extraordinary differences in the lives of a few castoff dogs.
“She’s a writer, and her write-ups [for petfinder] are hilarious,” says Krista McAnally, the shelter manager. “She has driven out here in any kind of weather to take pictures of the dogs.”
The shelter, which is always full and euthanizes animals that have been there for months without being adopted, was a shock to Weinberg. Shelter workers often arrive to find that someone has thrown a dog over the fence overnight. They work long hours to help as many animals as possible in the space and time available. And sometimes it’s not pretty.
“It’s been such an eye-opener to see how people discard their pets, and how unforgiving they can be of behavioral problems,” she says. “Someone brought us a lab they didn’t want anymore because it had chewed through two garden hoses. And that was it for them.”
She took special interest in a Shar Pei mix named Casey whose “number was coming up.” Weinberg posted Casey’s story and pictures all over the internet. She emailed everyone she could think of who might be willing to help. At one point, Casey was adopted, but was returned because she didn’t agree with another dog in the house. Finally, a woman in North Carolina agreed to pay for the dog to be boarded to save her from euthanasia. Weinberg had submitted Casey’s story to Best Friends Dog Rescue, a unique no-kill rescue in Utah, which takes two dogs a week out of hundreds of applications. Casey “won the dog lottery” and was accepted. The same North Carolina patroness met Casey at the airport in Las Vegas and drove her to Best Friends.
“I had been trying for years to get a dog into Best Friends,” says McAnally. “And Cari did it.”
Another time, she adopted a dog who was scheduled for euthanasia. And once, she arranged for five beagles to be flown, by private plane, to a shelter in Aspen, Colo., which had room because the population of stray and unwanted dogs there is low.
Weinberg beams when she tells the story. “And now, they’ve all been adopted,” she says. “They were all on the clock.”
She says she’s shed a lot of tears in the past year. She can’t save all the dogs from euthanasia.
But, she can save the ones she can save.
“It’s great to see a dog that was written off become such a great companion for someone,” she says. “I love to see those connections happen.”
THE NEIGHBOR FROM HEAVEN
Judy Liimatainen is that lady tooling around in the bright yellow Mini Cooper with her 15-year-old Kairn Terrier, Zurk, and Boomer, the Westie pup.
She’s the petite 60-something blonde with the big smile and fabulous shoes who stops and talks to just about everyone she and Zurk and Boomer meet on twice-a-day walks in their M Streets neighborhood.
To across-the-street neighbor Allison Lee and her family, Judy Liimatainen is “the Dallas Grandma”.
Call her the perfect neighbor. Liimatainen will water Lee’s houseplants, play with her dogs and feed her husband while she’s away. Liimatainen and her husband, Michael Evans, drove to Houston for Allison’s sister’s wedding, “because they were invited, and they’re just that nice,” Lee says. And Liimatainen once stayed up all night with her while she passed a kidney stone.
“This woman is a great neighbor,” she says.
Liimatainen volunteered in Lee’s kindergarten classroom two or three days a week for three years, and she was a beacon of love for the students, Lee says.
“I can assure you their lives were forever changed having known her,” she says.
For Liimatainen, whose son and daughter-in-law just had a baby, children and animals are the jewels of life.
“If you can touch someone’s life just a little bit, it really can make a difference,” she says. “Even if all you can do is make the school day happier for them, that’s making a difference.”
She always has kind words and listening ears, especially for young moms like Lee, whose family is far away.
The Liimatainens raised their kids mostly in California, on the opposite coast from most of their extended family.
They moved to Dallas from sunny San Diego five years ago, and even though they’re about 560 miles from the nicest beaches in Texas (which ain’t no Malibu), they feel more at home here than in all their years way out West.
“Everyone here is so friendly,” Liimatainen says. “And we love living in the M Streets. We have the most wonderful neighbors.”
Many of Liimatainen’s neighbors would rank her at the top of the wonderful list.
But she says she’s just giving back what others have done for her. Her husband travels the world for his work and was away from home a lot when they were raising kids. But she had good neighbors she could lean on.
“I know what it’s like when you have to take a sick child to the ER in the middle of the night,” she says.
Neighbors know Liimatainen will answer the phone any time. And they know she loves them.
“That’s what makes it a community,” Liimatainen says.
THE CLEAN-UP MAN
Barring a blizzard or a rainstorm, Darrell Wood can be spotted every morning purposefully walking the streets of his White Rock Lake area neighborhood.
“If you drive along Easton in the morning — every morning — you’ll see him picking up trash in the median for blocks and blocks. Keeping this neighborhood garbage-free seems to be his goal,” says Reba Liner, who works at Central Lutheran Church on Easton, which is on Wood’s daily route.
Trash removal isn’t Wood’s sole goal — he’s also on the lookout for crime and suspicious behavior.
“When I’m out there, I have my cell phone with me and I’m actually doing my neighborhood crime patrol on foot,” Wood says. Once, he says, he caught two guys breaking into a storage building. “Picking up trash is a good cover for crime patrol,” he says with a smile.
Woods, since moving to the area 1973, has served on the neighborhood crime watch and his homeowners association, where he was president in 2006-2007. He is on both the Garland Road Vision committee and the Dallas Crime Watch executive board. He rallies his neighbors to get involved, and he helps train others for volunteer organizations such as Citizens Helping in Parking Solutions (CHIPS) and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Wood’s extraordinary amount of involvement is rooted, simply, in a desire to keep the neighborhood he and his wife, Kay, love “safe and sound,” he says. Most recently he saw the fruits of one of his endeavors as neighborhood association president come to fruition at the dedication of a playground in the Dixon Branch area.
“I went to a lot of meetings, worked closely with our city councilman and [other neighborhood associations] … and worked to get funding,” he says. The father of four and grandfather of 12 credits the neighborhoods’ collaborative effort with making the state-of-the-art playground a reality. “We have a very active community and a lot of really good people.”
TERESA KEENAN AND GEORGE EMEZA
RIDING FOR THE CAUSE
George Emeza needed a new sport.
A running injury five years ago left him sidelined from his longtime exercise of choice. So he decided to train for a century bike ride with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, which readies athletes and novices to participate in endurance events and raise money for blood cancer research and care.
“At first, it was much more of a personal goal,” says Teresa Keenan, who started dating Emeza five years ago.
After meeting people affected by blood cancers and hearing their stories, inspiration took hold, and their focus became more about “the cause”, and their personal fitness became the perk.
Keenan and Emeza took Team in Training workshops and loaded up their bikes every weekend for long rides with their teams. They completed 100-mile rides in California and Arizona, coming close to their goal of six hours. They threw fundraising parties in Lakewood with the help of Times Ten Cellars, Lakewood Tavern and singer/songwriter Stan Crawford.
Together, they would raise about $30,000 for cancer research and care.
After the first season, Emeza became a mentor and later, a team captain.
“And then, this past summer, I was certified as a cycling coach,” Emeza says.
His first assignment was to train a team of cyclists for a century ride in Arizona. Keenan would be the team captain.
Just as training started, Emeza noticed that he was “feeling a little fatigue-ish.”
“It turned out that I have lymphoma,” he says. “I was diagnosed in July and started chemo in August.”
The couple stepped back from leadership of the team, but neither wanted to stop training for the Tucson event.
Emeza was too weak to train on the week of chemotherapy treatments. The next week, he could take a couple of short rides. Then he could ride about half the distance of his teammates, and by the fourth week after treatment, he could keep up with the team’s long training ride.
Then came another chemo week. No treatment went by without several of his Team in Training friends tagging along for support.
“It was almost party-like,” Emeza says. “My friends were a great support, and it made a very difficult situation much more bearable.”
On the Saturday before his final chemo treatment, Emeza and Keenan rode 109 miles in about 10 hours.
“It wasn’t about time,” Emeza says. “It was really about enduring chemo and fighting the fight. It was about the challenge of the disease and facing it.”
He was the “honored hero” that day, riding as the living inspiration for others.
The couple flew back after the race, and Emeza had his final chemo treatment two days later.
On the day he was interviewed for this story, Emeza’s doctor told him his cancer is in remission.
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