A good soul
Anneke Vos needs more time in the day so she can get around to writing her autobiography. Born to Dutch parents who sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Nazi resistance, she has been a journalist, stewardess, mother, art dealer and guardian angel to as many as 45 animals a day. At age 79, Vos devotes much of her energy these days to taking care of the animals at Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes facility for the homeless.
How did you first become involved with helping animals?
I think I was born with the feeling that I wanted to have animals, and I wanted to take care of them. But it was about 15 years ago that I started at Loaves & Fishes. It was a place where the homeless could come and eat, and then I started to take care of their dogs. Before that, I would rescue them. If I found them, I would find homes for them. … I had dogs and cats, goose and chicken, the whole deal.
What was your first pet?
I’m Dutch, so I lived in Holland. My father had five Danish bulldogs. And because I was little as a child, I could ride on their backs! We always had animals. Only, in the war, of course, there was no food. The only thing that was left was a cat, and there was no food because we had nothing.
Can you tell me about your experience during the war?
Well, that was very bad. We were occupied in Holland. My family was very much against the Nazis. They were in the resistance. So, they went to jail and were killed. It’s difficult for me to talk about it. That’s a very painful subject.
You spent time in a camp?
It’s difficult for me to … sometimes they say it’s good for me to talk about it. But I have a sister in Holland, and for us, it’s a taboo subject. Once in a while, we say something, and we both immediately know, and then we let it go because then it is difficult to go back with your life. Because there’s no explanation for it. There was no explanation for all the horrible things and hatred that happened. It’s not possible. You see it now again, of course. You see now how there’s so much hate again. … Everybody hates somebody.
You were a reporter at one point?
I took some courses in the history of art at the Sorbonne in Paris, but my father thought it was more for my entertainment, so he gave me two years, and then I had to come out. And then I became a reporter. But I was not cut out for it. I was very shy.
And then I was a stewardess for 10 years, and then I married and came to America in ‘58.
How has Sacramento changed since then?
At that time, it was so small, and you could sit nowhere outside. It was forbidden to sit outside in a cafe; they never heard of it. Everything was dark inside. You would go somewhere—you had to feel around in order to find where you are.
So, you prefer it now?
Oh yes. Now it’s more European, more cosmopolitan. It’s the feeling of a big city. It’s more alive.
One of your colleagues told me about a dog named Tony who needs a home.
Sometimes people go to jail for a long time, or God knows what happens in their life, but with Tony, the owner died. And the dogs, they don’t go away. They stay close to their owner. So, he waited until the owner went away, and then he came to us. … At Loaves & Fishes, we always need somebody for adoption or a foster home. Desperately. And the vet bills—last month they were $4,000! [Vos says people who want to know more about adopting pets or donating to Loaves & Fishes’ animal-emergency fund can call her at (916) 925-0907.] So many animals, so many accidents. You know, the broken legs because of traffic, the glass, the fishhooks along the rivers that they have in their mouths and in their feet and everywhere, tumors. Spaying and neutering—that is our condition, that if you bring the dog to my kennel at Loaves & Fishes, I’ll pay for it, but they have to be spayed and neutered.
In taking care of their dogs, do you end up interacting with homeless a lot?
Every day. They have to know you and to trust you.
Talk about man’s best friend.
Yeah, for the homeless, it is their family. And even though they can’t take care of themselves most of the time, that is their family, that is who they talk to, their last resort. I have to tell you that, every day, something sad happens. Yesterday at the clinic, we had the saddest man. He is another homeless guy, and he was hiding between cars, but he wanted his dog to be seen. He is convinced that people are going to kill him. He was in full camouflage outfit with so much gear he looked like a pack mule. He’d hopped the freight train from Seattle with the dog. And he was paranoid with fear, but he wanted his little dog to be seen, so he was hiding behind cars. The saddest man. I think about him all the time now.
Are all the animals you deal with benign?
Yeah, sometimes people make them mean and very protective. But most of the time, they are all nice, sweet animals. They know you. They are not all sweet, but to me they are all good souls.