It started with an e-mail, a random one that ended up in the News-Argus’ general mailbox. It was chance that it landed there — and it was dicey that it would have been forwarded, not with the spam blockers and other impediments to unsolicited messages.
But somehow, it found the right place, the desk of an editor for whom the message struck a chord.
And then, fate, and perhaps even a little bit of a miracle, took over…
Angela Kuhlman’s e-mail told a story of a young family trying to stay together — and it suggested that more than a few people had told her the fight might be hopeless.
It was her last shot, a final message sent out into the Internet to see if maybe there might be an avenue she had not tried or a lead she should have followed.
My name is Angela Kuhlman. My husband is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force and has just received orders to England. I have two cats and a dog — all loved and well taken care of by my husband, baby girl and myself. I’ve rescued all of them from either a shelter or the streets.
The bill to take them with them was steep, she wrote, and a little out of their reach — especially for the family of a young airman just starting his career.
She knew it was a chance to ask.
She ended with an acknowledgement that she might be at the end of what was possible with less than three weeks before she was scheduled to fly to England.
You may think this is crazy to spend that much on animals, but they are just as much a part of my family as any other member. If you can donate any amount, it would be GREATLY appreciated. If you can’t help, please keep my babies in your prayers.
But, it turns out, this story wasn’t over.
What had seemed impossible only a few days before, just might be … possible.
That e-mail ends up on the desk of the editor of the newspaper that serves Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
She learns that it was written by the wife of one of the airmen who works on the base’s fleet of F-15E Strike Eagles.
And, since she has two furry pals of her own — and a history of work with rescued animals — it strikes a nerve.
So, she hands it to the writer she trusts for stories just like these, and asks him to talk with the young woman.
Within hours, an interview is conducted and a story is composed.
But the paper’s editor and publisher have decided to do something more — to set up a fund designed to help the family offset the expenses associated with moving three animals to a base in England.
They are hopeful that the community will respond.
And a few hours after the paper hits Wayne County homes, donations begin to come in — steady, deliberate and without any hope of gain or notoriety.
The community wants to help, and they know time is of the essence.
So, they drive down to the paper to get their offerings to the family as quickly as possible, hoping that hundreds of others would do the same.
Then, the flood hits.
They come in every possible denomination, with every possible message — tributes to the men and women who serve their country, memorials to cherished pets and fun tributes to the dogs and cats in their lives.
They tell stories, send messages to the family and offer prayers that enough people will care that William, Short Round and Schootch find their way to England.
Angela is overcome when she hears that the $5s, $10s, $20s all the way up to several hundred dollars from one special angel, are pouring in and that now, it is time to complete preparations for her pets to travel.
Every time I hear from you, I’m all sobbing within like ten seconds. This is definitely no exception, but it’s welcomed because I haven’t cried “happy tears” in so long. I just can’t believe this is happening, and from people who we have never even met.
She is grateful for all the donations, but it is the small ones, from people who could only help a little, that touch her the most. She knows what it means to want to help others.
Their stories touch the newspaper staff, too.
An elderly woman has tears in her eyes as she approaches a News-Argus employee.
Her hands shaking, she extends a $100 check.
“I hope this helps,” she says, choking up. “I hope this family gets to stay together.”
She doesn’t want her name disclosed to the Kuhlmans or the community.
Recognition is not what drives her.
“I have two sweet kitties,” she says. “My husband has passed and they are all I have.”
But that woman is not the only one who wishes to remain anonymous.
Another man walks through the door, tears in his eyes.
He drops $5 in the box.
No name, he says.
“I just want to help.”
There would be many, many more.
Within four days of publication, the Kuhlmans’ story had reached far beyond the county line.
Calls and letters had come in from Arizona, Virginia and Florida — from people offering everything from money to a home for the pets in the event the bill could not be paid.
But the community that surrounds Seymour Johnson made sure that wasn’t necessary.
By week’s end, the $3,100 goal had been shattered by an outpouring Angela still can’t quite fathom.
Some donated in honor and memory of those pets that have touched their hearts over the years — the furry companions they say are far more than animals.
Others gave in the names of family members or local businesses that pride themselves on a love for the military they say is unmatched by other military towns across the country.
Angela was stunned when she heard that her 2-year-old dog, William, and two cats, Schootch and Short Round, had been taken care of — that they would, after all, be making the trip over the pond.
“I’ve been dreading moving because we were going to lose half the family in one day. But now, I can be excited about it and plan for the great adventure we are about to go on with our WHOLE family.”
The story of the town that did not let an airman’s family down touched others, too.
Before this, I couldn’t sleep because I was too sad. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was too happy!!! This is a huge deal not only to us but to my mom, who recently lost her dog, and my dad who was considering giving us everything he had to help.
And there was a brief realization that, perhaps, there was a reason to believe in people, possibilities, and maybe even, miracles.
I honestly didn’t think this sort of thing happened in real life. I see it in Disney movies meant to make you cry, but that’s about it. The people you talk about when you give me updates are absolutely amazing. My husband is truly lucky to be one of the men who defends them and I am honored to be behind a man who does.
As of press time, the 12 Paws and a Prayer Fund had raised nearly $6,800 — more than twice the cost of shipping the Kuhlmans’ pets to England.
And as promised at the beginning of the drive, the money left over will be donated by the News-Argus to Seymour Johnson’s Airman and Family Readiness Center, with the hope that it will spare future families the heartache Angela had been experiencing until hundreds of people she has never met wrapped their arms her, her airman husband and baby daughter, and three little waifs who had all, finally found a home.
– Staff writers Kenneth Fine and Renee Carey contributed to the story.
Being the editor of a daily newspaper does not often lend itself to joyous interactions with mankind.
In fact, much of my day is occupied by politicians, crime news and what the latest Washington misstep is doing to damage the economy.
So, when I heard about the Kuhlman family’s dilemma, my sometimes reluctant heart skipped a beat and I started adding up the numbers in my head.
Whom could I call? My brother, my parents, my best friend from my first job?
Maybe if we all pooled our resources, we could make this happen.
But then I remembered where I live and work.
And I decided to ask you to help.
And did you ever.
I have been in Wayne County for almost eight years, and I have seen many, many examples of the incredible people who live here.
Your hearts are so big, and you understand that it is not enough to talk about caring for others, that you have to be there when they need you. And you answer those calls over and over again — even if your own coffers are not as full as they used to be. There is no holding back when there is a need.
Within hours of our reporter Ken Fine’s wonderful story telling you of the Kuhlmans’ plight, there were checks at our door.
Some were small, some were large, but all of them came with notations both in honor of the pets who have meant so much in your lives and offering your support and thanks to the airmen and their families at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Some of you are ex-military — and you have been there. And some of you have a child who would be lost without his or her best furry friend. Some of you even jotted down a notation to a beloved “grandpet” or told us stories of the animals who have forever etched their way into your lives and hearts.
You are dog people and cat people — and some were both.
A few of you even had pets who had made their own journeys to England — and one special memorial was made to Jubilee, who made the reverse trip years ago.
But there is one thing you all have in common — caring hearts, hundreds of them.
There were many generous donations, but there were just as many that came in small increments — and they meant just as much to us and to the Kuhlmans.
We have raised the money to send William, Short Round and Schootch to England. They leave at the end of this month. The Kuhlmans have promised to send photos, which we will share with you.
After months of worry and sadness, the human members of this family are now looking forward to their new adventure, together, as a family.
But making one family happy is not all you have done.
We have enough money to work with the Airman and Family Readiness Center to set up a way to help other families in the same circumstance. All the extra money, we will announce the final total after we have made the payments to the airline, will go toward helping SJAFB families as they defend us at home and around the world.
We will give you the details later.
But you might not be aware, you accomplished something else, too.
This story is getting a lot of attention.
We have heard from a national rescue that works with military personnel and their pets. They are considering adding a pet relocation fund to their efforts to allow them to help families like the Kuhlmans keep their pets.
We have also heard that at another agency there might be changes in the future in how pet relocation might be categorized.
And then there is the airline, you caught their attention, too.
Not a bad week’s work for a little town, huh?
We will keep you posted on the developments as they come along, but we could not let the Sunday paper pass without letting you know how much we admire and respect this community.
You came through again — and shocked this hardened, but still gooey inside, editor.
Please don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to uphold.
–Renee Carey, Editor, Goldsboro News-Argus