From The Observer News (

Together We Can Create A Miracle
By Mitch Traphagen
Jun 14, 2007, 19:28

Much of Dr. Hal Ott’s life is spent helping others.  Through his business, the Ruskin Animal Hospital, he brings compassion and relief to pet owners throughout the region.  Through his tireless volunteer work with C.A.R.E., the no-kill animal shelter he helped to create, he brings salvation to pets without owners.  And even through the no-leash dog park he built in Ruskin, arguably one of the most beautiful in the area, he brings joy and solitude to hundreds of south county residents and their dogs. 

But now Ott, a longtime philanthropist, is seeking help from the community.  Late this month, he will make his tenth trip to Haiti as part of the Rotary Club to continue efforts towards bringing hope to some of the most impoverished people in the Western Hemisphere.

His missions to the country are not without risk – Haiti is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places with pockets of virtual anarchy and rampant kidnappings.  While his work takes place in an area relatively free of such problems, the poverty is extreme.  Despite the odds, despite the risks, Ott feels compelled to do what he can to help.

To him, regardless of the situation, the people there are fellow human beings and without a helping hand, they will almost certainly perish.  The challenge is immense but he is not tilting against windmills - because Haiti is not yet a lost cause.  Despite more than a century of turmoil, people like him are patiently sewing the seeds of change, and little by little, the roots are taking hold.

Hal Ott needs $20,000 to complete construction on a small clinic in a remote village 200 miles west of Port-au-Prince.  He won’t talk about his own outlay, but I’m certain the amount out of his own pocket is significant.  He isn’t the type of man to ask for help - and if he had the money, he wouldn’t ask.  Likewise, if I had it, I would give it to him - I know what is in his heart.  

There are others like him in Haiti working to begin solutions to a huge spectrum of problems – and taken together, they are bringing Haiti back from the edge.

But they can’t do it without the help of their neighbors.

That $20,000 means much more than a building.  Today in that village there is nothing.  If somewhere there is a doctor or dentist interested in donating their time and expertise, they would have nowhere to go, there would be no facility from which to work.  When the building is complete, however, the outlook changes dramatically.  Suddenly volunteers have a base from which to help local doctors.  That building could well become the focal point of change for thousands of human lives.  It is a small investment that will pay huge dividends for a long time to come.

There is something in the hearts of those who are compelled to act.  A stray dog was recently seen walking down a south county residential street.  Many of the people along the street simply shooed the dog away – it was just another in a long line of strays, after all – and you can’t save them all.  One woman, however, stopped and picked up the dog.   For whatever reason, she decided that she would try to save that one.  The woman’s first call was to Dr. Ott.  Like everyone else, Ott can’t fix them all - but he does what he can.  When he sees a problem, he feels compelled to act.  He helped the woman and the little stray puppy.

Just yesterday, an elderly woman had parked her car in the middle of a busy street - as cars lined up behind hers, she was out on the road herding a turtle out of harm’s way.  She can’t save all of the turtles, but she chose to save that one.

The walls are going up on a medical and dental clinic in a small village in Haiti. It is a project of Dr. Hal Ott and the Rotary Club. But Ott needs our help to complete this project - and for the people in the village, it is a matter of life or death. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hal Ott
The problems in Haiti are not comparable to that of a stray puppy or a turtle – but the motivation in the heart is the same.  Ott has seen the effects of extreme poverty on children – children just like yours – who are taking care of their siblings because their parents are dead or dying.  In many cases they are dying from diseases that could be cured with readily available and inexpensive medications.

The fate of Haiti is precariously balanced on a sharp precipice.  To ignore the problem will allow the balance to rapidly fall towards ruin.  If that happens, more people will suffer and die – and they will do it on our doorstep - it will all happen within two hours flying time of the greatest and wealthiest nation on the planet.  

On the other side, however, are those willing to lend a helping hand – either through building a small clinic or merely writing a check that could be used towards completing the clinic.  In either case, the weight of that act is monumental – and it directly shifts the balance of fate towards success and opportunity.  Literally, the simple act of writing a check translates to a helping hand pulling people out of seemingly impossible despair.  They may not know your name to thank you, but in their souls you will never be forgotten.

Because after all, in the case of Haiti, they can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps until they can afford to buy some boots.  And Ott doesn’t want to give them a handout – just a helping hand.

Like Ott, I strongly prefer to keep my charitable contributions private.  As a reporter, I’m supposed to simply tell the story and not get involved.  But my responsibility as a human being is greater than that of my job.  

So sometimes I do get involved – but that is not something I would discuss with even my closest friends.  In this case, however, I need to make an exception – this is a matter of life and death.  My wife and I gave Ott a check for $200.  That is one percent of the building he hopes to complete.  Now he just needs 99 others to do the same – or a thousand others giving $20 – or 10,000 giving $2.  It can be done.  Together, we can do this.  

Ott began his career as a veterinarian hoping to make a difference in the lives of others.  He discovered, however, that in doing so that it was actually his life that was enhanced.  Privately, he says the same thing about his visits to Haiti.  He has witnessed things that no one could ever be prepared for and yet returned home humbled by it all.  He is a modest and gracious man who has quietly stepped off the path of convenience to take on something that defies description.  

And now he needs our help – our neighbors in that small village need our help.  There is still time but the clock is running.    For them, it is life or death.  We can’t save all of the people, but we can save some – and don’t think otherwise because that is literal:  Together, we can save human lives.

Later this month, Ott is going to board an airplane bound for Haiti.  Even with the experience of his prior trips, I have to believe it is going to be at least a little scary.  But we can make it less so.  We can put our hands on top of his – we can be with him every step of the way by directly turning the dream of a clinic into a reality.  He’ll be the first to say that it wouldn’t be his accomplishment – it would be all of ours.

And in doing so, we can create a miracle – and I suspect we’ll find that our own lives will be enhanced because for each of our remaining days, we will know that we saved lives.  We can’t do much better than that.

Checks should be made payable to Missionary Ventures, Inc.  All donations are tax deductible and may be dropped off or mailed to the Ruskin Animal Hospital at 715 South Tamiami Trail, Ruskin, FL, 33570.

Write to me, confidentially if you prefer, to let me know your thoughts.  My email is  If we can do this, I will personally commit to accompanyng Dr. Ott on a future trip to record the progress in photographs - and I will send them to you as a reminder of what you have accomplished.  Would I be scared to go?  Yes, probably.  Would I be honored to go?  Yes, absolutely.

But if you want to help, do it today - the clock is ticking and the toll is enormous.

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