Just when we think we have it all figured out and have settled into what we believe to be the best, most rewarding and loving existence possible, life throws us a curve ball. For a select, unfortunate few of us, that’s followed by a fast one and then a knuckle ball that we never saw coming. The key is to accept what life pitches to us and sometimes striking out can lead to a home run down the road. This month’s pet contributor faced adversity head on, losing the love of her life unexpectedly and being let go four months later from her long-time corporate position in NYC. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop her and she found the strength to reinvent herself in order do what she always loved as a dog owner herself. Joanne DeJoy Alessi started working at a pet rescue center, picked up some dog-walking clients and started throwing balls and frisbees —sometimes in deep mud that soiled her clothes and hair— to her canine friends. As a result, she hit a grand slam out of the park, couldn’t be happier and now has new and bright “leash” on life…her story is inspirational.
My name is Joanne Alessi and I live in New Jersey but have worked in Manhattan for 32 years. For ten years, I commuted to NYC with my now deceased husband. Shortly after his death from a painful battle with pancreatic cancer, I was laid off from my job after 15 years of loyal service to a company I thought would never let me go. But, when it comes down to dollars and cents, a long-time and devoted employee becomes insignificant. Still grieving over the death of my husband, I now faced the shock of losing my job, my identity and so many friends I saw on a daily basis; originally from New York, my friends outside of work remained there.
So depression set in and I struggled to find another job in the corporate world and obviously with the economy, that was not going to be easy. Within the first six months, I was forced to move, downsize and have a moving sale. While still looking for work I decided to volunteer at an animal rescue. Why not? I learned how to be a caregiver, but I did not want to work with people because that was just too close to home.
I started walking dogs every morning at a local rescue where I met new and wonderful people and, most importantly, dogs that needed me. I still wanted to feel needed like a wife, a worker and a caregiver does. I got involved in fundraising events, adoptions, fostered dogs and started caring for the cats at the rescue. I needed to fill my days with unconditional love, fun and dedicated people, which I found all at the rescue.
As a dog owner, I had a dog walker when I was working and I called her one day to ask her how I could go about walking dogs to make some money to pay my bills. She was kind enough to give me some work and, although it was not enough to pay the bills, it was enough to make me realize I loved it. Knowing that she did not have enough work for me, she called another woman in the business that needed help as well. Shortly after that, she heard about another woman who needed help also. I looked forward to getting up every day and caring for dogs and cats—my days sitting at the computer and looking for a job were over.
My depression over my personal loss and being unemployed was now something I could put behind me. My life had a purpose again and I felt a different kind of joy and a unique kind of happiness. I automatically put my personal life on hold and go to each client whenever and wherever they need me. Through my experience and with the women for whom I work, I have been able to find my own clients along the way and some day in the near future I can say with confidence that I will have my own pet service business.
Perhaps then, I can make the money I used to do in a corporate environment, but that just doesn’t seem important anymore. What’s imperative is that I now do what I have grown to love. Caring for animals fills my heart, which was broken, and inspires my mind. Now I have a purpose, have my life back, and most importantly, I have found myself again. I don’t wake up on a rainy day and dread going to work because I know I am going to see those beautiful faces and they are going to be so happy to see me. I don’t sit in front of a computer anymore because now I walk, play and get lots of kisses. These animals have saved me and I will be grateful and devoted to them the rest of my life.