Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Helping Hand | the Houghtalings Are 'Foster Parents' to Rescue Dogs, Some of Whom Endured Awful Conditions

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Helping Hand | the Houghtalings Are 'Foster Parents' to Rescue Dogs, Some of Whom Endured Awful Conditions

Article excerpt

THE WHTE FLUFF RANCH

SARASOTA - Of all the yapping canine voices__ alerting to the approach of visitors, only one fails__ to join the chorus. Her name is Grace. Like many__ of her excitable roommates, Grace is a toy Maltese.__ Unlike her roommates, she remains huddled at the__ rear of her pen, ignoring the open door.__ Mike Houghtaling, a 20-year military veteran,__ Army and Air Force, knows how to work it. He__ reaches inside, cradles the stoic lapdog in his__ arms, and makes the introductions. Sometimes__ the pain that factors into his 100 percent service-connected__ disability manifests in a breathless__ grimace or labored gait. But physical discomfort__ may be the least of it, and for that reason, Mike has__ a special connection to this diminutive creature.__ Don't ask for details about his history. He deflects__ attention to his wife, Joan.__ "The story isn't about me," he says. "Joan's the__ creative one - you should focus on her."__ Joan Aaronson Houghtaling is a former Ring-ling__ College of Art and Design instructor whose__ favorite medium is quilting, but the acrylic paintings__ on the walls showcase her diversity. Her quilts__ have toured with the American consulate in Cuba,__ and as part of the U.S. State Department's Art in__ Embassy Program, she traveled to Rwanda in__ 2003. That's where she shared her techniques__ with female survivors of that nation's genocidal civil war in 1994.

After arriving in Kigali, Joan worked with Tutsi and Hutu women, side by side, holding hands, listening to their prayers, fixing sewing machines, visiting mass graves. "I was crying like a baby when I left. I asked through a translator, why aren't you crying?" she recalls. "She said we've cried all our tears already.

"I thought, if I can do this, I can do anything."

Like everyone else, Joan, 64, and Mike, 57, carry wounds from the past. Joan had chronic abandonment issues as a kid. As an Air Force pararescue operator, Mike's mission was to save lives in peril; the failures are the ones that haunt him. The two met in yoga class five years ago and bonded over a love of dogs. The result is what they call the White Fluff Ranch. …

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