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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A connection to animals has been a lifesaver to local groomer

The little girl with both hands cupped around a wounded bird, walked toward her father. "We need to fix it," she lamented.

The father knew at the onset that his child had taken her first steps toward a unique and symbiotic relationship with animals.

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Yolanda paused as she reflected on her story. "My dad was a beautiful man," she said. "It was his patience that allowed me to pursue my love of animals."

You may well know Yolanda, and if you don't, I'm sure you've seen one of her trucks driving throughout the community. Conspicuous large and colorful letters down the spine of the truck proclaim "Yolanda's Mobile Pet Grooming." Inside her truck there is a complete grooming facility. Yolanda Gartside has been in the business of grooming and training animals for more than 30 years. I feel lost as I am not in sync with that special and unique world of animals. Subsequently, my attention turned toward what I believe to be is her Zen-like persona in relation to her work.

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The tale of someone's life begins before they are grown. She was raised on a small ranch outside the town of Ensenada, Mexico, often referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, the Cinderella of the Pacific. The ranch, which was nestled along the Pacific coast, eventually became the small resort called the Mona Lisa.

She grew up collecting animals. "The animals rescued me," she said. "The animals would follow me on the beach and, at 12 years old, I owned 13 dogs."

Yolanda told of an incident that happened when she was 14. She was riding her horse along the ocean when she noticed a young woman beyond the breakers, struggling to stay afloat.

"I can do this," Yolanda said to herself. She proceeded to ride into the waves, attempting to rescue the woman. She explained that a big wave took both her and her horse down. Yolanda found herself underwater and her life flashed before her. Something grabbed her arm, she said, and she was righted on the horse's back.

"Got to go back," she thought. She then rode back into the waves and this time rescued the woman. Afterward, she noticed teeth marks on her arm where her horse had used his mouth to drag her from the depths of the ocean.

"If you have a connection with animals, they will save you," she told me.

I was enthralled by Yolanda's story and, throughout her telling, her mother Elisa Sandoval Michel de Farrell seemed to relive her daughter's brush with death. Listening to such a story as told by the child of a mother who is present gave insight into a memory that happened long ago yet is still seen in color by both mother and child.

I appreciated Yolanda, and I found her to be at peace with her lot in life. "To have a career where I am with animals, what did I do to deserve this?" she said.

Life has been difficult for her as she lost two of her boys, Trevor and Lance. Yet she views life in totality. "The house of the Lord is everywhere we are," she said.

She rescues animals from death row, volunteers at the Glendale Humane Society, specializes in older animals with medical needs, and one day envisions owning a small ranch where she will rescue dogs and pets.

My conversation with Yolanda and her mother lasted for the better part of two hours. After they left, I thought of something A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, wrote: "Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though."

Yolanda Gartside has that special Zen where she not only listens but also understands.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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