Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."—Anatole France
St. Patrick was known for driving snakes out of Ireland. St. Christopher keeps many safe on their travels. Saint Roch is the patron saint of dogs and those who love them.
But what about the rest of the animal kingdom?
I know of such a virtuous soul—a saint to all animals great and small— and she lives right here in Danville.
I have known "Saint" Annalisa Fiorenza for more than a decade.
A brood of 11 Danville ducklings have her to thank for a reunion with their momma, after falling through a storm drain and being separated for who knows how long.
But her rescue efforts started long ago.
It all started when I met her at in 1999. I was the science prep teacher and had an affinity for bringing live animals into the classroom to make science come “alive.”
At the time, Annalisa, the now fifth-grade teacher at San Ramon Valley Christian Academy, was a paraeducator. When she’d come into my class with the student she shadowed, she always gave some tidbit of info to make sure I was taking care of the animals humanely.
“You know, those turtles like to eat worms,” she said, as she pointed to Pancake, my classroom's turtle.
Sure enough, the next day, she was sliding a slimy earthworm into the softshell's aquarium, instead of the pellets I bought at the pet store. He came out of his hiding place to gulp the slithery appetizer, with a wink and smile through the glass. Go figure.
She’d also told me to to add more sand to the aquarium so he could hide, just the way he wanted to.
The day I brought a jar of pollywogs in was the day I discovered what a true animal lover extraordinaire she was.
I grabbed the glass jar filled with soon-to-be frogs from my desk and walked in her direction. When I was just a few feet away from setting the jar down on the black table, it slipped through my hands, sending the dozen or so embryo Kermits sliding across the linoleum floor.
Annalisa quickly swooped up the green flopping specks and threw them in a makeshift bowl with water.
“Oh no,” she cried, “some of these pollywogs have glass in their sides.”
Without pause, my classroom became the scene of “Grey’s Anatomy."
She shouted, “Quick, hand me some tweezers.”
Without missing a beat, she removed shards of glass and said a sorrowful little prayer for each one that stopped wiggling.
Troubled animals have a way of finding my friend. From caterpillars that don’t belong on a path we walk at the Lafayette Reservoir to a small snake that will be smashed by an oncoming vehicle if not placed in the bushes by Annalisa’s hands, the entire world stops until she finds them a place of safety.
She even told me I needed to walk my dog more and have more patience when she wanted to stop and smell the roses.
Luckily for those 11 little ducklings in a Danville storm drain, she was at the right place at the right time. Again.
In downtown Danville on her day off during spring break this week, she spotted a female duck quacking inconsolably near a storm drain. Her quacks piqued St. Annalisa’s interest.
As she walked closer, she heard peeps. When she looked through the bars, she could see that all of this mommy’s babies had fallen through, landing at the base of the drain.
She called the police and while she waited, she called Jeanne Riley, a friend who lives nearby, to help her by stuffing something into the hole so the chicks wouldn't walk deeper into the drain.
Soon, a couple of Danville Parks and Recreation employees were sent to help. Tom came with a cage and rounded up the little guys.
Eventually, the furry siblings were released in the closest creek, with momma frantically following.
“I was so moved by this mom,” Annalisa said. “She was not going to leave their side and so long as she persevered, so was I.”
I love animals, that’s for sure, but people like Annalisa give "animal lover" an entirely different definition that can be found somewhere between "angel" and "godsend."
There is a saying I've heard, although I don't know its origin: "There are some angels dressed to look like people."
If there ever was an angel designed just for animals, St. Annalisa Fiorenza is Head Honchette de Danville.