I somehow doubt that the Second Amendment was intended to cover the right of mass murderers to purchase assault weapons. It appears that Bill Moyers agrees with me.
Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.
But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.
"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."
She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.
"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."
Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.
"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.
"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."
Courtesy of Judy Vaughan
Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."
Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.
Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.
"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."
And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.
A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.
And so far, the program is a resounding success.
92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.
Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.
"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."
When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)
In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.
So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...
A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"
Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.
But that's not all. After he hurls the wild animal away from him, he pulls a handgun—that's right, a handgun—from his hip and yells, "I'm gonna shoot the f*cker!" as he chases it around the yard. The last thing we see is the bobcat running under the car and the man running around it, gun in hand, yelling "A bobcat just attacked my wife!"
Still modern Americana, honestly, but on a whole other level.
This was a wild 46 seconds https://t.co/jIHQg0G4qU— Sada (@Sada)1618515681.0
The video has been viewed more than 10 million times on Twitter. Undoubtedly, many of those views are looped viewings because there's nothing funnier than seeing this bobcat-throwing, handgun-wielding, f-bomb-dropping man go from an adrenaline-fueled, "A bobcat just attacked my wife!" straight back to a chipper "Good mornin!" without missing a beat.
It's just the kind of real-life drama we've come to expect these days—too wild and too unbelievable to even pass muster in a TV drama writing room. That would never really happen. It's too over the top. The guy is packing heat while sing-songing "Good mornin!" in his suburban driveway? Come on. Let's tone it down a little.
In reality, though, the whole encounter begs for an explanation. Thankfully, a bobcat expert chimed in on Twitter to offer just that.
Imogene Cancellare is a conservation biologist who spent years studying wild bobcats, and she was happy to have the opportunity to talk about her area of expertise.
"I feel like I've been training for this my whole life," she wrote.
So it looks like a juvenile bobcat was sitting under a family’s car and got totally freaked out by human activity a… https://t.co/roNaP0JWzj— Imogene Cancellare (@Imogene Cancellare)1618536698.0
Bobcats are medium-sized felids that range from southern Canada thru most of the contiguous US down to Oaxaca, Mexi… https://t.co/HzGqYWoKbu— Imogene Cancellare (@Imogene Cancellare)1618537266.0
"Bobcats are medium-sized felids that range from southern Canada thru most of the contiguous US down to Oaxaca, Mexico. They thrive in a variety of habitats, from swamps to deserts to mountains, and can survive alongside urban environments.
As habitat generalists, they also have a generalist diet and will eat all manner of small rodents, rabbits and hares, birds, squirrels, and even deer (brave adults only). They are solitary-ish, but collar data suggests, like many carnivores, they tolerate others fairly well.
Bobcats are primarily crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. They spend a lot of time resting during the middle of the day, but it's not out of the ordinary for them to be out and about, nor indicative of illness if you see one."
Let's just pause for a moment to appreciate the word "crepuscular." Brilliant.
"Bobcats are opportunistic hunters and will kill small pets, but I'm not sure how common it is for them to actually eat a pet dog or cat vs killing it to eliminate a threat. Carnivores do that sometimes, sorry.
"Bobcats are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, tho some research suggests populations are declining in much of the US. They are often hunted without limits, both as non-game animals and furbearers. One issue that's becoming concerning: anticoagulant rodenticides.
Long-term research on California bobcats found that 90% of the cats tested positive for anticoagulant rodenticide post-mortem. The cause: eating rodents in urban areas that have ingested rat poison. This doesn't always kill the cats, but it does make them sick.
Bobcats can contract feline distemper from unvaccinated domestic and feral cats. They can also contract rabies. The CDC doesn't list them a main vector in the US, and many biologists think these animals rarely survive rabies to the point of attacking people."
Stopping to add here that the bobcat in the video was later caught and killed by authorities, and did, in fact, have rabies. So obviously a super rare occurrence, but not impossible. Also not the only reason to avoid an encounter with a bobcat, as Cancellare explained:
"That said, a bobcat doesn't have to be sick to totally ruin your day. When I was live-trapping bobcats, as with any animal, we took extreme care to ensure the safety of both human and animal. The reality is if a bobcat bit down on my hand, I'd be unlikely to use it again.
Case in point: me wearing Kevlar gloves while handling an awake 6week old bobcat kitten a farmer called the police… https://t.co/iH2uQcLfC8— Imogene Cancellare (@Imogene Cancellare)1618539156.0
"But, bobcats don't normally seek out humans. Most interactions we hear about are with cornered animals found in buildings, or when pets are attacked. Bobcats are intense, loud, and obnoxious, but they are defensive animals, not offensive animals.
In the video that's currently trending, it looks to be a juvenile cat. I initially thought it was underneath their car and got spooked, but some have pointed out that the cat first crosses the street and runs into the woman, then grabbing onto her legs.
I'm not here to say what the man should or shouldn't have done—having been screamed at by bobcats myself, I totally understand their panic. Tossing the cat as he did isn't great, but what are you supposed to do when you grab onto an apex carnivore like that?"
So glad she said that, because more than a few people have chastised the man for chucking the cat. It had just attacked his wife. The instinct to throw it was totally understandable.
As for rabies and what to do if you find yourself face-to-face with a wild bobcat, Cancellare went on:
Rabies is not common in bobcats, but we have seen a rise in cases in the last few years. Unfortunately when these interactions occur, few options exist.
The only way to test for rabies is to examine the brain tissue, which means killing the animal.
Both people in the video will likely get a rabies vaccination series. If the cat can be trapped, it will likely be euthanized.
It's also possible the cat was running from something across the street and got surprised by the woman and attacked her.
Some people are also saying she was holding a pet carrier with a cat in it. I haven't verified that but it seems like a reach behaviorally for a bobcat to cross the street to attack a cat with humans around.
Sidenote: bobcats don't hybridize with domestic cats. A bobcat is very unlikely to charge you. If it does, it may feel cornered, be protecting young, or, in rare cases, have rabies.
With 1 inch claws and 1 inch canines, a bobcat attack risks deep lacerations. You'd need stitches, but it's unlikely a bobcat could kill a human. If you are approached by an aggressive bobcat, make loud noises, wave your arms, and throw things at it.
I would also stomp loudly a few ft in its direction as a bluff charge. The goal is to appear bigger and madder so the animal decides you aren't worth it.
If you are attacked by a bobcat, keep it off your face and neck. Not because the animal is going to suffocate you by biting you, but because you could lose an eye. The claws are just as effective as the teeth.
I feel bad for the bobcat in the video because he got THROWN, but we're not going to vilify the guy for protecting his wife. If I was holding a bobcat that was trying to bite me, I would absolutely throw it away from me!"
The best way to reduce the spread of rabies in your area, for any species and for any rabies variant, is to 1. vacc… https://t.co/m8FdMz3j8l— Imogene Cancellare (@Imogene Cancellare)1618542612.0
"The best way to reduce the spread of rabies in your area, for any species and for any rabies variant, is to
1. vaccinate your pets and
2. not feed wildlife, or feral domestic pets.
When animals congregate, they are more likely to contract disease. I don't have tips on identifying rabid animals as there is a lot of variation between species and among individuals. An aggressive animal (comes to you) is more likely to be rabid than a defensive animal (trying to get away from you), but not always."
Well, you learn something new every day. It's just not usually because a guy dropped his brownies and pulled a handgun on a rabid bobcat after throwing it across his front yard. It's just too much. Thank goodness for security camera footage, because no one would believe this tale without it.
Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.
In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:
Photo courtesy of John Scully
When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.
"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.
John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.
"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.
"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."
Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.
In March of 2020, the world shut down because the COVID-19 pandemic was raging across the country and the world. Once again, people didn't know much about the virus — and they didn't really know how to keep themselves safe, except to just lock themselves in their homes and avoid other people, so John and his wife hunkered down in their Florida condo, miles away from their children.
"The most challenging aspect of the shutdown was just the feeling of helplessness," he says, especially as the pandemic began to take a toll on his family.
"My son is a pilot and hasn't been able to fly since the lockdowns started," he says. "My daughter and her husband had to work from home while taking care of their 9-month-old baby because their daycare had shut down. Then later, both lost their jobs. [Editorial Note: John Scully is the author's father.]
The hardest thing, though, was being unable to visit his mother, who was 104 and living in Minnesota in an assisted living facility for all of 2020. They talked on the phone every day to help her cope with the isolation but it took a toll on her. By January of 2021, her eyesight had deteriorated, she had a few bad falls, and it was clear she needed extra care. So he and his siblings made the decision to move her into a nursing home.
Within a week, she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and she died on January 30, 2021 after a 10-day battle with the virus. "I was angry when my mother got COVID," he says, "because it felt like massive incompetence. Over 100 residents and staff got COVID in the facility where she died."
It hurt too that this loss came around the same time as hope seemed to be in sight: Vaccines had arrived and he and his wife were eligible. They got their shots at a drive-thru site. He celebrated by seeing his grandson — who was now 21 months old — for the first time since December of 2019. "We got to be there for his first swimming lesson in our pool," he says.
For John, his experiences living through both the polio epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic in his lifetime have driven home the importance of vaccines for public health. "I am much less worried than I was in 2020, and I am becoming more optimistic as the success of the vaccine effort is being realized, but I am still concerned about how many will resist getting the vaccination," John says. "And I'm worried about the viruses out there that we don't know about."
"But I'm confident science can find a way," he adds. "I'm hopeful for the future."
Photo provided by Walden University
Dr. Alvin Cantero has always wanted to help others. He had been a physician in his native Cuba and, after immigrating to the United States in 2009, he decided to get his degree in nursing practice to provide for his family back home. He also wanted to help underserved communities, so while working towards his master's degree in nursing science and doctoral degree in nursing practice at Walden University, he opened a clinic in a Hispanic and African neighborhood of Houston, Texas.
"The aim was to provide quality care to underserved people, like the homeless, veterans, immigrants, refugees, and all the people who don't have enough resources to find other care," he says.
When the pandemic hit Houston, a number of clinics shut down. But he refused to shut the doors of his clinic. He knew his patients didn't have anywhere else to go.
"A lot of my patients got very scared. They had nowhere to go and they started getting infected after believing that the pandemic was just like the typical flu or a cold," he says. "Then, when people started dying, they got even more scared."
"My patients increased from 10 to 15 patients a day to 50 to 60 a day," he continues.
"I offer my clinic as a shelter for those patients," he says. And in the process, he says, he fulfills an important role when he gains their trust: he helps educate them about the importance of preventative care while combating misinformation about science, healthcare, and the role of vaccines in keeping people safe.
He first encountered this kind of misinformation when he was working on his doctoral thesis on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines at Walden University. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, which can lead to six types of cancers later in life. He encountered a number of parents that were hesitant to administer the vaccine to their children. "They were afraid it would induce early sexual relationships," he says, "or have negative psychological effects."
This experience with vaccine hesitancy, he says, was invaluable in helping shape how he would later approach educational efforts about preventative care with his patients at his clinic — especially after the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.
"I have some patients that told me they don't want the [COVID-19] vaccination because they heard things that aren't right," he says. "They believed a lot of conspiracy theories."
So he does what he can to educate them — which begins by telling them why he got vaccinated, himself. "I tell them, I have to protect you, I have to protect my family, I have to protect my community, so I got the vaccine" he explains. "I show them my vaccination card and then I explain about the benefits [and risks] of vaccination and why the conspiracy theories are not true."
"You cannot be pushy," he continues. "You have to be patient. You have to do it through family intervention and you also have to do it through the community." That's why, Alvin says, he regularly goes to the YMCA and local churches to speak about the importance of vaccines.
"Vaccinations are a very important part of preventative care nationwide and we still have a long way to go in educating the population and discontinuing the spread of misleading information that has no scientific basis," he says. That's why it's important to "work closely with community leaders who can help us change negative perceptions of vaccines within underserved communities. This can prevent further outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as measles."
So far, Alvin is optimistic that the future of medicine will see less fear around vaccines. "More patients and families are coming into my practice seeking help and guidance to register for their COVID-19 vaccinations," he says, "and they're also inquiring about continuing regular immunization schedules for their children and teenagers."
"I'm very optimistic," he continues, when asked whether he thinks these educational efforts will pay off post-pandemic. "There will be a huge positive change in primary care moving forward."
Photo courtesy of Ingrid Scully
Pfizer scientist Ingrid Scully (no relation to John Scully) has never doubted the importance of vaccines.
"To paraphrase a great scientist in the field of vaccines, after the provision of safe drinking water, vaccines have had the greatest impact on human health," she says.
In fact, this is part of why Ingrid went to work in vaccine research and development after her postdoctoral fellowship.
"I have always loved the natural world and we watched a lot of PBS at home," she says. "My grandparents bought me National Geographic books, and I would memorize facts about different animals." Later in life, educators helped foster her love for science, including one who introduced her to immunology, the study of the immune system.
"What I loved most about immunology is that everything is connected," she says.
Ingrid has been working at Pfizer for 16 years now. "I lead teams that develop tests to see if the vaccines we are developing 'work,' — whether the vaccines cause the body to make an immune response that fights the germ, or pathogen," she says. "We are trying to understand what immune response patterns correlate with protection against a given pathogen."
"The ultimate goal is to be able to predict whether a vaccine will be protective early on in development, and to be able to tailor the immune response to a pathogen and to a certain population," she continues. "One exciting new application is the development of vaccines for pregnant women, to protect their newborn babies from diseases, like respiratory syncytial virus, which makes it hard to breathe, and group B streptococcus, which causes sepsis in newborns."
In addition, she says, "I'm very excited about our ability to harness mRNA technology for vaccines. This is a very flexible platform that has the potential to revolutionize vaccines."
For Ingrid, the most exciting moment in her career has been working on the COVID-19 vaccine — and being a part of a critical rollout. "It's humbling, exhilarating, exhausting. Maybe not in that order," she says.
"We've seen this past year what a profound impact infectious disease can have on everyday lives, how much energy is required to stay safe," she continues. "We have not seen so clearly the impact of what we do as we have in the past year. It drives us scientists on."
That's why she's confident that science will win — and make the world better by improving human health.
"I hope that the silver lining of the pandemic is that more young people, from all backgrounds, will choose to become scientists," Ingrid says. "The best thing in the world was when my 6-year-old daughter told me, 'Mama, I'm so proud of you. You're helping beat the virus.'"
That gives her hope.
"When we put our minds to it, we are empowered through science to find ways to address healthcare problems," she says. "There are thousands of dedicated scientists working on vaccines. We do this job because we want to make the world a better place. To help protect babies and grandparents around the world. To unlock human potential by reducing disease."