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Animal Rescue Has Led Me to the Great Love of My Life

I met Nathan Levinson through Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform. Now, we're engaged.

Kezia Willingham  |  May 25th 2016


When I got into animal rescue a few years ago, the last thing I expected was that it would lead to the great love of my life — and no, not just with my furry friends.

Anyone who has spent a substantial amount of time single has likely felt cynical toward the ideal of romantic love at one point or another. After my first marriage fell apart, I nearly lost my ability to believe in true love.

Involvement in animal rescue changed that, one baby step, one day at a time.

Selfie with Tank.

Selfie with Tank, an adoptable dog available through Forget Me Not, Inc. of Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

As though I was unconsciously trying to make up for all the years that I suffered with a sense of isolation and abandonment, I filled my house with rescued cats and dogs whose presence in my life took the edge off what was a rather challenging time.

Instead of wallowing in despair, I used my creative energy to invest in a side career writing about cats and dogs as well a self-education about rescue and the pet industry.

Nathan Levinson and I met online after I responded to a call for volunteers on his Facebook page, Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform. Once we started talking, we found out we had a great deal in common, particularly our passion for animal rescue and 1980’s hardcore punk rock. Our favorite bands from the 1980s include Poison Idea and the Accused (as fronted by Blaine Cook).

Nathan with Tank and Baby who are available for adoption as a bonded pair through Forget Me Not, Inc. of Sarasota, Florida.

Nathan Levinson with Tank and Baby, who are available for adoption as a bonded pair through Forget Me Not, Inc. of Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I interviewed Nathan for Dogster and Catster about his involvement in rescue because I thought his story of getting fired from the City of Bradenton for feeding a feral cat colony was fascinating. But once the interview was over, we kept talking.

Unlike many folks, Nathan was really easy for me to talk to. Both of us were single and working full-time, and we spent our time off with our rescue animals.

Shortly after Valentine’s Day, our friendship morphed into an actual relationship.

In early March, it became Facebook official. In late April, we met face to face for the very first time when I flew from my home in Portland, Oregon, to Florida.

Airplane selfie.

Airplane selfie. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I couldn’t help but feel nervous about meeting Nathan in person. Had I built an image of him in my mind that would not match reality? What if I was going to meet a serial killer who looked and acted nothing like his online persona?

Fortunately, my long-distance lover was real. If anything, he was more sweet and kind in person than I could have hoped for.

As an introvert, I really enjoy spending a great deal of time alone to process my busy, often frantic thoughts. I need a lot of down time. Would five days with my dream lover ruin what had become such a sweet part of my daily life, our virtual conversations online?

Selfie with my love, Nathan Levinson.

Selfie with my love, Nathan. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Against every preconceivable notion, Nathan and I got along even better in person than we did via electronic communication. In fact, as someone who suffers from chronic anxiety, I found myself at such ease that it was almost like my anxiety disorder completely dissipated.

One of the things I have liked most about Nathan from the moment we met was his commitment to animals. He has five formerly feral cats living with him. We got to spend plenty of time with his “babies” as he calls them, which put me at ease.

And because Nathan is an active volunteer with Forget Me Not Animal, Inc. Rescue, he arranged for us to walk rescue dogs. We also took dogs out for field trips. The first day, we took Tank and his daughter Baby out to the river. A couple of days later, we took Boomer to Lake Manatee State Park and walked until he was exhausted.

Nathan with Tank on our field trip.

Nathan with Tank on one of our field trips. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

While the Florida trip was one of the greatest highlights of my life, I think the most special part was when Nathan proposed to me at sunset on the soft white sands of Anna Maria Island.

For a woman who for many years grappled with the meaning of true love, I recognized it with clarity once I finally found it. It’s as real and true as the unconditional love we feel with our rescued cats and dogs. And without our involvement in animal rescue, Nathan and I simply would not have met one another.

My beautiful engagement ring from Nathan.

My beautiful engagement ring from Nathan. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I knew once I got started with animal rescue that it would change my life. I just didn’t realize exactly how much. Any of my long-time friends would probably attest to the softening and joy that has crept into my personality since I opened my heart to homeless dogs and cats. When I began my foray into animal rescue, I wasn’t sure what true love was. But I do now. And I like it.