Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Dog Walk with David Gandy (by Lisa Rosenberger)

A Walk In the Park

A gift. That's what the folks at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home call the animals left in their care. They are gifted to the center. Gifts. Why are they called gifts? Because having been brought to Battersea, they have been given the gift of a new life. Given to the center by families whose circumstances have changed; lost, mistreated or abandoned pets found by someone and brought to Battersea for care. Their stories are many and varied. What never waivers, what never changes, the one constant for these beautiful animals, is Battersea. What is a true gift are the employees and volunteers who work at Battersea, day in and day out. Their love and dedication to these lost souls is truly astounding. I had the great honor of visiting and touring Battersea while in London, and meeting David Gandy, Battersea's first Ambassador.

My journey started in November of 2013 when it was announced that David Gandy would be auctioning off a dog walk with himself in an effort to raise money for Battersea. What a deal I thought! A dog walk with David Gandy and helping Battersea. A win-win, as they say. When the auction started, I told my competitive side to take it easy, my brain was going to lead this effort and I was going to bid smart. There's plenty of time to bid. Wait to see how high it goes. Don't bid until the last few minutes. Yeah, well, apparently my competitive side is much stronger than my brain, because I placed a bit right after the auction opened. The bidding went back and forth and when the end of the auction came, I was still in second place. I was sad, but I felt that the auction was a huge success. Battersea would benefit greatly, not only from David's walk, but the other walks which had been donated and bid on. I went back about my business not even giving the auction a second thought.

Second chance offers. I had no idea that eBay could offer second chances. Apparently they can. Who knew? A few days after the auction ended, I was checking email, when there it was... "You've been sent a second chance offer by eBay”. No way, was my first thought. No freaking way! My stomach dropped. My heart pounded and my brain said: "This can't be real, it's a scam." I even hesitated to open it thinking it could have a computer virus attached to it and I'd fry my computers motherboard. So I checked eBay's website and the Internet to make sure this was a legitimate email. And when I was reasonably sure it wasn't a hoax, I opened it. And darn if it wasn't a second chance offer from Battersea. Could I please contact them? The first winner was unable to fulfill the contracted bid and would I be interested in accepting the second chance offer?

It was like I was the second runner-up in the Miss USA know: "Should Miss USA be unable to fulfill her obligations, the second runner-up will take over responsibilities that come with the Miss USA title."

So many thoughts ran through my mind. When I recovered brain function, I sent an email back saying that I was indeed interested in the second chance offer. And, that as they say was that. I was the winner of the David Gandy dog walk for Battersea!
The only people I initially told about the win were three close girlfriends. I was a bit panicked and overwhelmed. I need someone to hold my hand while I'm there I thought, so I asked my friend Melissa if she would come over to London with me. We could make it a girl’s vacation. There are no words to say how much of a blessing it was to have her with me on the trip. I was a nervous wreck during the ensuing months. So worried about meeting David.

My contact at Battersea was the lovely and very patient, Jo Morris. The walk was a challenge for her to schedule. I could only come to London during the summer, because of family commitments, and David's schedule…, well, if you follow him, you know he always seems to be working. After some back and forth, the date was set for July 21st.

The night before the walk, Mel and I looked over the directions to Battersea and decided that there were way too many train transfers for our liking, so we had the concierge ordered a taxi for 8:30. That would give us plenty of time to get to Battersea for my 9:30 meeting time with Jo and the dogs. David was set to arrive at 10.

I didn't sleep more than two hours the night before the walk. Too many thoughts going through my mind. Would I talk too much? Probably. Too little? Probably not. Would I be my usual graceful self and trip over an invisible speck of dirt on the walking path?
I must have checked the alarm on my phone every hour on the hour to make sure the volume was up, that I hadn't accidentally slept through it. That would be just my luck! I get to meet David Gandy and I sleep through the alarm. But at 6:30 a.m. the alarm went off right on time. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I had my outfit all set out, along with the gifts I'd brought from home for David and Jo. Do you know how hard it is to put make-up on while your hands are shaking? Thankfully, my hair had made up its mind to cooperate on some level that morning, and I didn't have to do much to it. When my make-up and hair were done, I looked in the mirror, and to quote Bob Fosse's character in "All That Jazz", told myself: “It’s show time.”

We managed to make it down the lobby just as the taxi arrived. We got in the taxi, told the driver where we were going and I sat back thinking, “I'm meeting David Gandy in a few hours and I haven't had any coffee. I need to find coffee.” I don't remember anything about the taxi ride really, except I kept tapping my fingers on my purse.

As we got closer to Battersea, a quiet kind of calm came over me. It was going to happen in spite of my worries. I just had to go with it. Be me. What we thought would take an hour, in reality took less than 40 minutes and we were way too early. The taxi left us off in front of Battersea. The street and area actually quieter than I would have thought. Our plan for that day also included meeting our friend Lorena that morning, but she hadn't arrived yet. Since it was too early for me to go in, Lorena hadn't arrived, and looking around we didn’t see a coffee shop, Mel and I decided to walk over to Battersea Park where I assumed the walk would take place. 
(Photo: Lisa with Melissa (L) & Lorena (R)

We walked the short distance to the park and found a bench to sit and wait. It was beautiful, like a green oasis in a brown world. So peaceful and quiet at that moment that whispering seemed the only way to speak to each other. The weather in London during the week of our visit had been absolutely glorious. As if Mother Nature was on my side wishing me well with her gift of sunshine. That morning was no exception, slightly cool in the early morning, but perfect for a walk in the park. As we were chatting, a man approached us and struck up a conversation. He told us the dog he was walking had been his mother’s until she passed away and that he had kept the dog after her passing. He said they walk through the park every day. He also said I looked 26, which made me laugh and think that I must have done a pretty good job on the make-up after all. 
After saying good bye to our new friend we saw that the time was close enough to start walking back to Battersea, and hopefully find Lorena. I remember starting to shake just a little. You know that shake that's only inside you. No one else can see it, but it vibrates through your whole body, like an internal shutter. We found Lorena waiting for us in front of Battersea. She and Mel were going to wait in the park until after the walk. When it was 9:30 am, we walked to the guard station, I told the guard who I was there to see and he had a badge for me, after that I turned to say goodbye to my friends. A quick hug and I was going through the gates.

When I came out of the second gate, I stood for just a minute, unsure where to go, what to do. Looking to my left I saw two women coming toward me. Thank goodness it was Jo and Jane Warden (Celebrity Liaison Manager for BDCH). It was so surreal. Finally being inside Battersea. I'd seen it on videos before, but I was actually here. I still shake my head when I think of it. Bless Jo because her second question after "You must be Lisa" was, "Would you like some coffee?" It was arranged that Jane would take me for coffee while Jo went to fetch the dogs for the walk. As we walked back with our coffee, I know I looked around but I really must have been in a daze because I just remember talking with Jane, seeing Jo and the dogs, and hearing the words, "Oh! There's David." What went through my mind was, don't rush over, be cool, for once in your life be cool.

I saw his Jaguar, a brown bag sitting on the trunk. I tried not to look as he said “Hello” to Jane and Jo. And then it was my turn. I know there was noise around me, but I swear I didn't hear a thing, just saw him put out his hand to shake mine and lean down (yes, he's that tall) to kiss my cheeks and whatever cologne he was wearing smelled to me like sunshine. Clean, pure golden sunshine. I said: "You know what, I'm a hugger" and he said, "Me, too", and I hugged him.
Where I found the courage I don't know, but I knew then that he was just like me. Another human being, and I wasn't even the slightest bit nervous anymore. I know he wore a light weight grey summer sweater and blue pants, but honestly, I wasn't looking at his clothes, but into those pure blue eyes. If he smelled like sunshine, his eyes were the color of the sky the sun was shining in that day.

It gets a little fuzzy after that. We met the dogs and just like you would expect, David kneeled down to the dog’s level to pet them and ask questions about them. I was distracted at that point, not by David, but by a little ball of energy that was Fragel. An adorable little mutt who's hind quarter was almost bald because his hair had fallen out from stress. His white tipped tail was wagging a mile a minute. David was petting the beautiful, and regally calm, Staffie named Maisie. Well, anything was calm next to Fragel!

Jo asked which dog I'd like to walk, and there was no question in my was Fragel. I told them that I was not allowed to bring anyone home in my purse, but if Fragel was missing they knew where to find him! After sorting out where to store my purse and bag of gifts, we were off to the park. We left Battersea and crossed over to the park. I know Jo and Jane were with us, but in my mind there was only one person there on that street. It was like a little bubble surrounded us. I knew my time was finite so I wasn't going to miss a minute of it by focusing anywhere but on talking to David.

During the walk we talked about so many different subjects. It's hard to remember everything, and some things will stay only in my memory. Only for me. But let’s see, I think the first thing we spoke of was my son’s ice hockey nickname. I explained to David about his training schedule and how he got his new nickname, Bone Crusher. He used to be the Beast I told him, but after a little incident, yeah, he's Bone Crusher now. He asked me why the referees let the players in the NHL fight for as long as they do. I said I thought it was to let them get some of their aggression out or maybe because they're just too afraid to get in between them when they're fighting. I suggested that if he ever went to a game not to sit in a box, but to sit in the stands so he could hear the noise of the game. The crunch of a check against the boards, the sound the skates make as the players are coming down the ice. 

He asked how long I'd been married, what my husband did for a living. I told him the name of the company he worked for, and he repeated it, like he was trying to remember it. At least that's what I told myself. We talked about how Mel liked to tease me because I'm not good on escalators, and Lord knows London has enough of them, getting behind me and pretending to push me. We laughed because we both have a habit of tripping over things that aren't there. Fortunately for me, I didn't fall flat on my face at that point which is what usually happens. But thinking back on it, if I had fallen, David would have had to help me up. Maybe that wouldn't have been so bad.

I told him how Mel warned me about "squirreling" on him. I tend to start talking about one thing, and then I start talking about something completely different all in the same conversation. Like the dog in the movie Up. Thankfully, he knew just what I was talking about and we both said "Squirrel!" I explained that at home they don't call it squirreling, they just say I'm shiny. I'm pretty sure that made him laugh. He asked about my trip to London, what Mel and I had been doing. I told him all the touristy things, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament. Funny, we both said, how you never do the touristy things in your own city. He in London, me in Washington, D.C. At some point a couple of people started walking along side of us, but David didn't even turn his attention towards them. Just kept talking to me. Like I was the only person in the world at that moment.

We discussed animal cruelty, including the Michael Vick case from here in the States, and how we felt about it. Needless to say, neither one of us can abide by any kind of cruelty towards animals. I told him about my two dogs, Shady Lady and Champ. My cat Killer (I explained that she's a mouser). Everyone seems to get a chuckle out of Killer's name, and David was no exception. We stopped for pictures under a tree, a typical English park background someone said, but David laughed and said, except for the Chinese pagoda in the background. Taking a picture with David Gandy and two cute dogs? Um, can you say intimidating? I said, “I hate having my picture taken,” and he said he did, too. I had to laugh because, you know, he has his picture taken on a routine basis for work. But I wasn't talking with David Gandy the Male Super Model. I was talking with David Gandy, they guy from next door if you will. It was so easy. Talking with that David. I could have been talking with one of my hockey coaches or a neighbor.  I could have done it all day.

We finished with the pictures and continued on our walk. He talked about his Mercedes restoration, that is took longer than he thought it would. I told him about the 1969 Mustang Fastback my husband and son are restoring. He told me funny stories about himself, and no, I'm not telling those to anyone. Those will stay only in my memory. As far as I'm concerned they were told to me in confidence, and they will stay that way.

I don't remember passing Mel or Lorena, although they told me they saw us pass by. They told me later that I was smiling and talking, and yep I sure was. Smiling until my face hurt. I guess we'd walked a circuit around the park by that time, because all too soon it was time to head back to Battersea.
We all walked back as a group. Back across the street. Past the gas station. People stopping to look at our little group. Was it because of David? Or was it the dogs? Or was it because of our laughter? I like to think it was the laughter, the lightness and joy that I felt the entire time we were walking, making people look our way to try and share in that joy. In reality though, it was David. There is something about him that makes you turn your head, that draws you to him. A confidence or maybe just a glow that emanates from his soul. Whatever it is, it's unquantifiable and the man has "it" in spades.

Truly, what stands out in my mind, and always will, is that David laughed at my jokes, and I think he got my odd sense of humor. When we were finally back at Battersea, I thought we were done, time to say goodbye. Suck it up, I told myself, you knew it would have to come to an end. You've been blessed with something special today, don't go and get greedy. Well, I am greedy, so when I was invited upstairs to have coffee and some more time to chat, I'm shocked I didn't start doing a happy dance right there in front of everyone. And how embarrassing would that have been? We went up to Jo and Jane’s office, where I was introduced to Claire Horton, Battersea's CEO. While she showed David how the new kennels were progressing, Jane and I went to get some coffee. When we got back we settled in around a conference table and chatted a bit more about traveling, my kids, his nieces and nephews, more about cars. He took his phone out and showed me pictures of the Mercedes. Just handed me his phone. Let me scroll through the pictures. The fact that he trusted me with that still amazes me. Such a personal thing to do with someone you've only known for an hour. But he did it none the less. I think it was David who said that he brought me a few gifts. You see, that brown bag on the back of his car was actually for me. You can't imagine what a sweet surprise that was. How David shyly saying, "I wasn't sure what to get you, so I brought you..." made me feel. He didn't have to do that. Not at all, and it didn't really hit me either until I got back to the hotel. He brought them just for me. In my mind he went to the store and bought that gift bag just to put the gifts for me into. I just couldn't stop smiling. They're put away now that I'm home. Safe and sound in my nightstand drawer. 

I'd also brought him a few items from home. I wasn't sure what to bring him either, but my mother always told me you never go to someone's house for the first time without a gift. Since I live in Virginia, and we both love architecture and design, I decided on a couple of books on plantation houses in Virginia, and a ball cap from my son’s hockey club. I can almost guarantee that he's the only person in London with a Piedmont Predators Hockey Club ball cap. I told him it said Predators on the back, and he laughed and said he was hoping it was signed by Bone Crusher. After a few pictures on my phone (one very silly one done just for Mel), it was time for David to leave. He was catching a flight to New York. We walked downstairs and said goodbye. A quick hug and thank you, and a true gentleman walked away from me.

 David Gandy with Lisa Rosenberger

One of the things I had asked when I won, was if I could have a tour of Battersea. After David left, Jo and Jane took me on my tour. What a marvelous place. I was shown every aspect of Battersea, from intake, to the clinic, to the adoption kennels. I was first shown the intake area where dogs are brought to be assessed. Kennel cough is always a concern, and dogs are separated into those who have it and those who are well. So many dogs. So many eyes looking at me with an unbelievable amount of trust despite what may have brought them to Battersea. Some dogs so stressed by their new surroundings that we couldn't pet them. These babies are the ones who have stayed in my mind. But the volunteers and employees at Battersea will calm them. Help them find the quiet in their little souls. Then keep them safe until they can find them a forever home. Because Battersea is a no kill facility, unless the dog is so ill that's it's better to put them to sleep peacefully so they are longer in pain. Or if they are Pit bulls. And this they do only because it's the law in the UK. You see, the one baby that I can't get out of my mind, was a gorgeous Pit, who eyes were sweet and trusting. Who, for no other reason than his breed, will be put down. He will stay in my mind forever. But what will also stay in my mind, is what I call Happyland. The adoption kennels. Where my friend Fragel was living with a note on his profile (each dog has a profile) saying that he had indeed found a his forever home.

This is what Battersea is all about. Finding just the right home for each and every animal, dog or cat, that comes to them. As many of you may know from following David, Battersea is in the process of building new kennels for the dogs. They have an ongoing giving campaign to help raise money to pay for the new facilities. The new kennels, intake and clinics will be state of the art. Each dog having a sound proof kennel with a run of their own. Construction is expected to be completed within the next six months. These new kennels will be a blessing for the dogs that are gifted to Battersea.

I'll end with a portion of one of my favorite poems:
And on the 9th Day
God looked down on his wide eyed children and said they need a companion
So God made a Dog
God said, I need somebody who would stand at your side when the world around you  collapses.
Somebody to lie next to you during the long nights of pain and sorrow when it hurts to move, or talk, or think, or be.
Somebody to stand guard, play games, snore for hours, and repeat as needed.
Somebody to give you strength when you have none of your own.
Somebody to fight when you have no fight left, to hold onto your soul as if it were their favorite toy, playing tug of war to keep you in this world.
Somebody to be your companion and guide in this world and the next.
Somebody to wait for you on the other side or stand guard in your absence until they can
join you for eternity
So God Made a Dog

It takes a significant amount of money to run Battersea every day. If you are at all in the position to give, please consider Battersea.

PS: At this moment, Fragel has been succesfully rehomed and Maisie is still waiting to find her new family


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