In Memoriam: Mark Dodge
Our friend and colleague Mark Dodge succumbed to the ravages of ALS and passed away last Monday.
I first met Mark and his wife, Karn Myers, in the fall of 1998 at a Best Friends benefit in Los Angeles. Silva and I were running our Los Angeles programs at the time, and Karn and Mark were there to pitch a new volunteer project aimed at supporting the local TNR (trap-neuter-return) activists. Over the next few weeks, we worked out the details and Best Friends invested $10,000 in equipment and surgical supplies for what would become Best Friends Catnippers, a free, MASH-style spay/neuter clinic for community cats staffed by volunteer vets, volunteer techs and a squadron of volunteer worker bees.
Catnippers, which is still going and is now a program of FixNation, is a study in doting efficiency and reflects Karn and Mark’s own style.
Mark had a very successful career as a high-level corporate attorney and served as general counsel for Financial Corporation of America (NYSE) and Western International Media Corp., and, for a time, provided legal services for Best Friends. With the launch of Catnippers, his life and Karn’s took up an orbit around the ongoing demands of funding and organizing an entirely free spay/neuter service. Mark handled the business side of things and spent as much time writing grants as he did working at his law practice.
In 2007 the couple took a leap of faith, parlaying their Catnippers experience into launching the nation’s first full-time fixed spay/neuter clinic dedicated entirely to community cats. The clinic, FixNation, stepped into a much-needed role that it continues to occupy.
In 2010, Mark and Karn, wearing their FixNation hats, were part of the founding membership of the NKLA Steering Committee, helping to guide the formation of the coalition that has led Los Angeles to the threshold of becoming a no-kill city.
Catnippers, which holds clinics on alternate months, has fixed more than 18,000 cats since its start in early 1999. Since 2007, FixNation has provided services, including vaccines and wellness exams, for more than146,000 cats, including nearly 129,000 spay or neuter surgeries.
Those numbers are even more impressive when Mark’s health in recent years is considered.
Five years ago, Mark experienced a sudden respiratory failure that landed him at UCLA medical center for emergency treatment. The diagnosis was shocking and hard to fathom, as I’m sure it is for every victim of ALS, their loved ones and friends. The disease skipped the usual preliminary symptoms of weakness and numbness in the extremities and hit his diaphragm. Mark couldn’t exhale to clear his lungs of carbon dioxide. From vague and nondescript symptoms, he plunged straight into the life-threatening stage of the disease.
Despite the personal trauma of his circumstances, Mark continued to work for the animals. His courage throughout his experience with ALS was inspiring and humbling, but knowing a bit about his past, I wasn’t surprised.
He was recognized as a hero by the U.S. Army long before he became a hero to the stray and free-roaming cats of Los Angeles. Here is an excerpt from his memoir about serving in Vietnam, composed with eye-tracking software in 2013 after ALS had taken his voice and the use of his hands.
“On the convoy back to Vietnam (from Cambodia – FB) while riding on a tank, we were attacked by Viet Cong soldiers firing AK-47’s and grenades, hidden by trees and bushes lining the road.
“Mounted on the forward, totally-exposed section of our tank was a 50 mm machine gun, under the control of our tank commander, firing away.
“Suddenly, the weapon popped out of its mounting, lying there and held in place only by its ammunition belt. Our commander’s seating position prevented him from reaching the gun, but I had clear access.
“Realizing that our survival very likely depended on having this weapon to defend us, I immediately and without concern for my personal safely, jumped, under enemy fire, onto where the gun lay, grabbed the burning hot barrel and re-mounted it. Instantly it was fully functioning again.
“Back in Ku Chi, for my courage and scalded hands, I was recommended by our tank commander for a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.”
It was so like Mark, being generally low-key and modest, to have never mentioned this incident to me, even though I had known him for 15 years. But the story filled in a lot about his dedication to the animals, his loyalty to friends and his determination to end the killing of animals in shelters.
The eye-tracking gear and much of his sophisticated life-support equipment was provided by the V.A. in consideration of the fact that while serving his country, he was doused with the militarized herbicide Agent Orange, which was deemed a likely contributor to his neurological deterioration.
It is difficult to express the sadness that all who knew Mark feel at his passing. We love you, Mark, and genuinely thank you for your service.