Annual TUAPA Appreciation Dinner

Christmas Eve 2011 was a disappointment, and I let everyone know all about how terrible it was for me. I got sick, had a disabling headache, and missed a Christmas party I’d been looking forward to for a full month. Christmas Eve I was the Grinch, and I was ready to rain on everyone’s Christmas.

Christmas Day was the Annual TUAPA Appreciation Dinner in Taichung. I was self-medicating like an addict with DayQuil and Advil, my nose was a runny mess, and my sneezes blasted the eardrums of anyone within a ten-foot radius. Wallowing in self-pity, I took the high speed train down to meet Johanna and Joey and go to the dinner. Part of me wanted to cancel and mope around in sweatpants at home, but the commitment had been made. I was just going to make sure they knew how miserable I was.

We arrived at the small convention center, where dozens of volunteers and venue staff were setting up for the event. The dining hall was uncomfortably stuffed with tables and chairs, all of which would be full of TUAPA supporters within a couple of hours.

I watched the volunteers set up a merchandise table.

I spent a lot of money here.

I watched the chairpeople mingle and greet donors and volunteers. I watched Joey and Johanna step in and coordinate the behind-the-scenes action. I watched brief clips of Cesar Milan working with TUAPA dogs on a giant screen as Joey tested the media.

Quietly, I emerged from my pity party.

Joey and Johanna, married for 17 years, are two of my favorite people on this island. Jo likes to ham it up in front of the camera just like me.

Being surrounded by generous people who are genuine in their words and actions made me refocus.

TUAPA is a small, dedicated organization that has hundreds of people who believe in its cause.

I sat at a table across from the Chairwoman of the Board, an incredible woman who devotes time, energy and finances to Taiwan’s homeless animals.

Here she is addressing a crowd of approximately 700 people. This woman is outstanding.

To my left was Johanna, who sacrifices her health and sanity to loving the animals; I often worry about her stress level when we’re away from the dogs. When I see her with them, though, she has a joyful, fulfilled look on her face. The dogs know her love and love her. Because of her, I now understand dogs more than I ever have, which helped me one night when I was charged by a stray dog during a run. Had it not been for what I’ve learned from Johanna, the encounter would’ve had a very different outcome.

TUAPA was melting my coldheartedness towards Christmas.

To my right was Josie, a volunteer I met in November. She jumped into the deep end of the TUAPA pool, immediately adopting a dog and fostering another. As dinner service began, she popped into the seat next to me with a gleeful giggle and showed us the dress she’d bought for her TUAPA dog, Luna. She laughed with pure happiness, sharing how she knew Luna would hate the dress.

Josie looked chic and statuesque, while my cold made me feel like I resembled the Abominable Snowman.

That’s the thing about TUAPA volunteers. Johanna, Joey, Josie, Rachel: they all fight so hard for the animals in Taiwan, and they have so much love, so much compassion for them. You see them argue for the their best interests and struggle to make sure the animals receive the best care available. Then you see them with the dogs, cooing at them, burying their faces in fur as the dog leans into their arms. It’s not an empty battle for them.

At TUAPA, you meet people who don’t believe in lip-service. Dr. Jimmy, Nick, Vicki, and all the volunteers say what they’ll do and then do it. They don’t believe in empty promises or careless acts. Everything has a purpose, every word has meaning, every action has a result. These people are careful to be genuine, with generosity that has no ulterior motive.

That’s what Christmas should be about. It’s not about gifts or pretty things. It’s about generosity beyond words. It’s about making the world a little better by being absolutely honest and open and acting to make the lives of others, two- and four-legged both, better.

Ever since I saw this picture in my Facebook feed, I've wanted to meet this puppy. I should finally meet her this Saturday!

Thank you, TUAPA. Through my sneezing and nose-blowing, you reminded me of the real reason for the Christmas season: ultimate generosity.

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