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The New York Times
October 20, 1990

About New York

muf&nromTimes212.jpg (14020 bytes)Keeping Faith
In a Love Affair With Animals

By Douglas Martin

This is a story of a relatively small abomination, the burning of an old school bus. The bus belonged to Norm and Jude Sunden of the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. He drove a cab before devoting to his life to animals. She was a secretary for a beeper service.

For two years, the bus had been used as a sort of mobile pet supply store, an information and birth-control referral center for animals, a rolling flea market to raise money for animal causes, and most , a base from which to connect homeless animals with loving owners, the Sundens’ main mission. They have so far found homes for 269 pets, including two parakeets - Lucy & Ricky.

On Sept. 6, around 7pm, the bus, which was not insured, was hit by arson. Somebody used a glass cutter to enter the rear window and ignite the fire. The motive may have been to cover up a burglary, or anger over how little there was to steal.

Or it might have been uglier. "There’s a small minority of people who don’t like animals, " Mr. Sunden said. There is no meaning here. "It’s a violent city and there’s a lot of destruction going on," he said.

But in the end, this is a tale of transcendence, of not giving up. In unison, the Sunden's recited words they have learned to live by: "One door closes, another opens."Busmufus517.jpg (26795 bytes)

Jude, Norm and Muffin standing in front of their big blue school bus, before the tragic fire in 1990. 

Their inspiration comes from a sad-eyed, outrageously big eared, half Chihuahua, Muffin.  Muffin came to them as an abused puppy, a tiny yellow sack of skin and bones wearing the sores of abuse.  So the bus, quite naturally, was called Muffin’s Pet Station.

That these people who adore animals is obvious upon entering their apartment. Muffin alternates laps. Six cats parade around doing cat things. Petchin, Tiger, Popeye, KayCee, Scooter and Coco, are of course, formally introduced. Some were found in garbage cans, some in shelters.

One wall is covered with photos of animals the Sundens have placed. There is the dog, that someone one had thrown out a ninth floor window. There is the three-legged St. Bernard now guarding an upstate chicken coop. There is a litter of Siamese kittens abandoned in the street shortly after birth. There are Lucy and Ricky, resplendent in green with red trim. And many, many more. "This is what we do that makes us feel so special" Mrs. Sunden said.

Both had lived in the building for years, but had never met, even though his apartment was directly under hers. (He favored the elevator, she the stairs.)

One day, she knocked on his door to see if was perhaps interested in some Avon products. Definitely! After -shave. Before long, she was doctoring his plants and their cats were getting acquainted. Each was delighted to find the other was a Trekkie, a ‘Star Trek’ fan.

Then three yrs. ago, Muffin arrived. The two fell almost in love with the little mutt as with each other. There was only one thing to do. On Jan. 11, 1988, they were married. Muffin, the commuter, had a single home now.

Animal Love. The Sundens gradually stopped eating meat and resolved to dedicate their lives to things cuddly. The notion of a bus popped into their minds. Mr. Sunden thought a Greyhound, given the name and all, was the ticket - until finding that a used one cost $80,000. They ultimately bought a battered school bus for $2300 and pained it pale blue.

On the weekends, they parked it on a residential street in front of their building. The rest of the time it was kept at a service station for $150 a month.

The first couple of ideas didn’t completely pan out. The plan to have veterinarians on board, never materialized, though they passed out Friends of Animals certificates for cheap spaying and neutering. A mobile pet supply store was tried, but didn’t draw enough business. The solution was a traveling Flea Market, which people donated knickknacks. Sales paid for the other half of the bus, a pet information and adoption center.

"It was starting to pick up," he said. "We were getting established, " she said.

Then came the fire, leaving the Sunden's in what they call ‘a state of numb.’ But they continue to spend days and nights arranging adoptions. And they do this according to their own vigorous formula: extensive research, conference calls, a ‘viewing’ on neutral ground - their apartment.

They think another bus would be "too vulnerable. " But they dream of a new adoption organization, ‘Muffin’s Messengers." Time has started to heal.

"The bus is going to live on bigger and brighter in memory," Mrs. Sunden said.


Muffin's PC
9728 - 3rd Ave. B 125
Brooklyn, NY  11209 - 7742

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