Meet Don Montes—Pet Ambulance Driver!
Plus! Fireworks are Weird! Brooklyn Heights Style Blog!
Welcome to Issue #34 of CAFÉ ANNE! And Happy Independence Day! Or, as my meditation teacher likes to say, Happy Inherent Existence Day!
I’m very excited about this issue. It has all the things: dogs, fireworks, pythons and, of course, summer style tips. Plus, this week’s feature profiles Don Montes of Queens, who went ahead and invented his own job—as a PET AMBULANCE DRIVER. Please enjoy.
CAFÉ ANNE SHOPPER
Fireworks Are Weird!
Here in New York City, because our lawmakers are no fun, fireworks are illegal. If you want to buy a bottle rocket or even a pack of sparklers, you have to break for the Pennsylvania border and smuggle in contraband like a used kidney dealer. Of course, this just makes the whole product category appear impossibly glam and exotic. Last week, in anticipation of the upcoming big-bang holiday, I enjoyed a little online thrill shopping to check the state of the backyard fireworks market. It’s very weird! Here, my top findings:
So Much the Animals!
A large number of pyrotechnic products appear to have been created by our friends in the animal kingdom. Like, really ka-razy animals!
There’s an App For That!
Ignite Firing Systems has invented a smartphone-enabled fireworks firing app that lets you program and launch your backyard show using your phone. Now you can text mom, play Candy Crush and detonate an M-80 ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
“No-Noise” Fireworks Are a Thing
F’d Up Unicorn Themes: Also a Thing
Like every seven-year-old girl worth her salt, I know that unicorns are creatures of great nobility and purity. And yet! The folks who make fireworks think it’s FUN to depict our uni-horned friends dealing with mundane bodily functions. So wrong. I do, however, dig the whole “Unicorn Apocalypse” idea. That would be SWEET.
A New Cast Of Characters
Character licensing is expensive, and the largely mom-and-pop firecracker industry can’t afford the likes of Spiderman and Sponge Bob. Solution: invent your own!
Save the Planet with Fireworks!
For a dazzling display of virtue signaling, Dominator-brand “Eco-Blast” artillery shells in eco-friendly packaging.
And introducing…the Crazy Karen!
From OMG Fireworks, a 500-gram cake specially designed to annoy your entitled neighbor:
“Every neighborhood has a crazy Karen nearby…This is sure to bring them out of their houses! 64 shots - Red crackling, blue with white strobe, brocade crown, purple with gold strobe, blood red chrysanthemums, yellow peony with time rain, red coco white strobe, blue green peony, green tip crackling tail, red-blue with green strobe, titanium flower blast green strobes. Now additional to the effects of this firework you also get the enjoyment of watching Karen have a meltdown right before your eyes! You can thank us later hahahahaha”
Click here for a directory of fireworks stores and pop-up tents just over the state line.
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS STYLE BLOG
Upon moving to Brooklyn Heights few years back, I noticed the neighborhood’s residents have their own distinctive style. Typical elements for both ladies and gentlemen include button-down shirts purchased in 1992, ball caps, and tote bags faded beyond legibility. Needless to say, I am a huge fan.
In this edition of “Brooklyn Heights Style Blog,” please meet Georgia L., who always has a kind word when I see her on the street. I finally asked her about that red visor.
You’re famous for your red visor. When did you start wearing that?
Oh, probably at least 15 years ago. I bought a black one, a blue one, a white one and a red one. But the red one was clearly my favorite. And then it got to be people recognizing me from across the street and down the block.
What was it about the red?
I always like to have one spark of color to pop out. And I think red gives me a little bit of a rosy-cheeked glow.
What happens when it’s wintertime?
I don’t wear the visor in the winter. But I do wear these sunglasses all year long.
You’ve got your prescription glasses on your face, and your sunglasses on top of your head. You told me you do this all the time—you wear them both and then put your sunglasses over your glasses.
When did you start doing that?
Maybe 40 years ago. Because I used to wear a very strong prescription and my glasses were very expensive as result. If I wore prescription sunglasses, I couldn’t have six different pairs, and I like fun sunglasses! So I said, “Let me try this.” And I did, and it worked for me. And a lot people said, “How clever!” I’ve got a few people doing this themselves. But a few do say, “How bizarre!”
How would you describe your outfit?
Oh my gosh, I don’t know. It’s like, a walking-around-in-a-nightgown kind of thing. Sleeveless, comfortable. It has a zipper but I don’t need that, so I just slip it over my head. I love things that have pockets. It’s comfy!
Where is the jacket from?
I bought it for a nickel at the New Vernon flea market in New Jersey maybe fifty years ago.
That’s so great! How about the dress? Do you remember where you got that?
I can’t reveal all my secrets. When you turn that recorder off, I’ll let you know.
Meet Don Montes—Pet Ambulance Driver!
Before I met Don Montes, who invented his own job as a pet ambulance driver, I had a whole bunch of goofball questions prepared. Does he ever let dogs drive the ambulance? Is it true what they say—that cats are the devil’s fingertips? But when we met, I couldn’t bring myself to ask them. He was such a decent, straightforward person!
Another difficulty: scheduling the interview. Mr. Montes, who founded 1-800-AmbuVet—NYC’s only emergency pet ambulance service—is on call 24/7. He never knows when he’ll be free. We finally managed to schedule a meetup an hour in advance when he drove his ambulance to my place in Brooklyn and parked at the curb.
Dressed in scrubs with his company logo in gold and a stethoscope around his neck, he greeted my dog Minnie before greeting me, and scratched her behind. “I can't do that with people,” he said. “Although maybe that would make the world a better place, you know what I mean?”
We started with a look at his ambulance. I was disappointed to learn the vehicle has no siren. In New York State, animals are considered property, he said. “So, you know, the sirens and the lights and everything else are more reserved for human emergencies.”
He does have a flashing amber light in his windshield, however, which he turns on when he needs to cut through traffic. “And if I'm in the middle of an emergency, and I'm stuck at a light, for example, I'll make sure it’s safe, then I’ll run it, I'll go!” he says.
He seldom gets pulled over—professional courtesy, you know. Mr. Montes gets called in for a lot of animal cruelty cases handled by the NYPD—animals that have been beaten, burned or shot—and the cops are familiar Montes and his work.
His ambulance, one of three pet transport vehicles he keeps in a garage in Astoria, Queens, is a white 1998 Ford E 150 van with 260,000 miles.
“And she’s the middle one!” he says proudly. “The smaller vehicle has 230,000 miles. And the one with the cages—because we've done cross-country stuff—has 435,000 miles on it!”
The van is equipped with almost everything you’d expect in an ambulance for people: stretchers, oxygen, restraints, masks and isolation gowns to minimize contagion.
Most of Mr. Montes’s trips aren’t actual emergencies. He gets a lot of calls to transport pets from veterinary offices to pet hospitals, for example. But when folks call his 1-800 hotline, it’s usually a tough case.
“Most of the time, it’s, let's say a 150-pound Rottweiler,” he says. “It’s up five flights of stairs, right? Broke his leg. And, ‘Oh, by the way, he just bit my husband in the face. It's three o'clock in the morning. Can you help us?’ ‘Yeah, sure. No problem. I’ll be there!’”
The family man (his wife works in finance, his son studies mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology and his terrier, Lucy, is an expert greeter) has been interrupted in the middle of everything from movies to dinner parties. He never says no, often works 16-hour shifts, and has slept in his ambulance countless times between calls.
“This is a lifestyle,” he says. “I love what I do, and I wouldn't change it for the world. This is my contribution to my city, to my town, to the dogs, you know, to the cats, the birds, the iguanas!”
Mr. Montes grew up in Forest Hills, Queens in a house crowded with cats, dogs, ducks and squirrels. His mom, who did international sales for a big watch company, was an animal rescue queen. He caught the bug from her.
He was working as vet tech for an animal doctor in the East Village when he saw an older lady trying to lug her German Shepherd down a flight of stairs. He thought, “Why isn’t there an ambulance to help with something like that?”
In 2001, he bought a van and made the rounds of local vets and animal hospitals to market his services. His second day in business was 9/11. He drove his van, loaded with medical supplies, to Ground Zero and got waved through. He spent the next ten days tending to rescue dogs in the rubble. “I was like, ‘Man, if you're not giving me a sign from above, I don't know what else! I don't know what else!’ I never looked back.”
He now employs a team of three licensed vet techs, plus five assistants who are on call. It’s a good living, he says. And while he’s seen rival pet ambulance services emerge from time to time, they seldom last long. He suspects few folks are up for the job: “You're dealing with blood and piss and guts and things like that, you know what I mean?” he says. “Some people may assume we're rolling around with puppies and kittens. Well, that might be the case sometimes. But that’s not generally what it is that we're doing. We're seeing hit by cars, we're seeing end-stage cancer, we're seeing animal cruelty.”
Most of his clients are large dogs that their owners can’t transport themselves, though in the summer months he gets a lot of small, snub-nosed dogs—pugs and such—who need emergency wheels and oxygen when they have trouble breathing. Cats tend to have heart issues. He’s transported a 12-foot python to the Queens Zoo and rescued a pig from a hoarder’s home in Long Island. His biggest job was transporting 13 cats, including three with diabetes, for a lady relocating to Colorado Springs: “That was definitely a trip.”
The animals are typically patient and stoic, he says. It’s the humans who freak out. “When extreme emotion hits a person, you'd be surprised at how they react,” he says. “I've had people like, hysterically laughing. I've had people angry before I even touch the animal and grabbing at us, like, ‘You have to do something!’”
But he also sees the bright side. His work following Hurricane Sandy stands out in his memory. It was his job to deliver dogs from temporary shelters back to their owners in Queens and Staten Island. In many cases, the people’s homes had been destroyed. “But their animals are coming back to them, and they're greeting them, and these animals are flipping out, the people are flipping out,” he says. “Everybody's on the floor, rolling around, the people are on the floor, the animals are on the floor, everyone’s rolling on the floor! I was like, ‘Wow, man, look at that human-animal bond!’ It doesn't matter what happened! They're rolling around with these animals like it’s their life.”
I asked Mr. Montes how he avoids burnout or freaking out in a traffic jam when there’s a dying dog in the back. The answer, it seems, is his supreme confidence that he is doing the right thing with his time on this earth.
“There's no shading it at all,” he says. “This is my life. Just the way it is—this is what I was put here to do.”
“You have to lead your life in a way that is positive for humankind, right? Especially now,” he adds. “The world is on fire—there's no way else to describe it. And if you're looking at the politicians, and you're looking at other people to change things, that's all fine and good. But it starts right here, it starts with you and me doing something positive. And maybe the person across the street sees what you're doing, and it inspires them to extra positivity. You know what I mean?”
CAFÉ ANNE is a free newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!
I'm in. The feels too, thinking about my sister's 135 pound Bernese Mountain Dog, transported to the animal hospital for her hip replacement. What a mensch! Here's hoping he gets some of those scallion cream cheese. Bagels for a tip sometimes. I'm also singing "Here he comes to save the day! That means that Don. Monte is on the. Way!"
Don Monte's heart is the only firework NYC needs. Good grief, so many tears for me!