An Open Letter To Shadia Amen Of “All-American Muslim”

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    From Simone Reyes, One Reality Cast Member to Another…

    When I read about Lowe’s pulling advertising on your show All American Muslim after objections from a conservative Christian group, I was shocked and horrified, so I immediately sent the article to my boss, Russell Simmons, who serves as the President of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and has dedicated his life to righting these kinds of wrongs.

    He made a promise that he would sic every civil rights organization on them until Lowe’s straightened this out. I believe him, because Russell is a man of his word. But this open letter isn’t about that controversy, it’s about last night’s episode and the heartbreak it has caused myself and your viewers due to your actions and what you did to Wrigley.

    Let me start at the beginning, last night I settled in to watch the show as I usually do, cozy in my bed with my old dog Cassidy curled up under the covers. I have grown to care about the cast and am always rooting for all of you to live the best lives you can. As the show aired, I kept an eye on Twitter, sending Russell updates about all the support his actions against Lowe’s was drawing from celebrities such as Mia Farrow and the general public. He called me a few times during the program which he himself was unable to watch live, given he is in Australia in a different time zone.

    By the end of the show I had turned off the program, too upset to watch anymore. At this time my phone rang again and Russell found me in tears as I tried to explain to him what you had just done to your family dog, Wrigley.

    He suggested I write about it and this blog was born.

    For readers who missed last night’s episode of #AAM, cast members Shadia Amen and Jeff McDermott are a newly married couple who are moving into a new home with their family. Jeff, Shadia’s new husband (who converted the Islamic religion when he met Shadia) came into the marriage with Wrigley, an adorable elderly dog whom he has loved and cared for the last ten years. Wrigley lived with the family for a short time despite the fact that many who follow strict Muslim law, by custom, considers dogs “najes,” or unclean AND the fact that Shadia has allergies to dogs. When they decide to move into a new home, regardless of the so-obvious-you-could-cut-it-with-a knife tension giving away the dog was clearly causing the marriage, Shadia begins putting up fliers to re-home the dog.

    It was at this point in the show, my heart started to ache. By the time I saw little trusting Wrigley’s tail wagging when he arrived at his new home, (a farm with other animals) all I could think was he is probably thinking what a lucky dog he is … and that the family was taking him on a fun new adventure instead of dumping him there never to return. Wow, what a compassionate thank you for his years of loyal companionship to Jeff.  

    When it became clear that there would be no made for reality TV moment where the family wakes up and sees the situation clearly, grabbing their little boy and kissing him as they realize they could never abandon a family member, my heart was beating outside of my chest with sadness and rage. Then, it became personal. The one thing people learned about me from doing our reality show Running Russell Simmons is if you mess with an animal I’m coming for you. So, here I am and I’m calling you out.

    Apparently Wrigley’s heart wasn’t the only one you broke last night. I began to see tweets coming in from all over the country saying things like “thanks #AAM my child won’t stop crying over your dog” and “keep the dog, dump your wife” -even, “boycott TLC until they take back Wrigley.” Shadia, let me explain to you why there is such a public outcry about Wrigley, if your heart isn’t open enough for you to understand it yourself.

    First of all, as you yourself admitted, has little to do with your culture or your religion. Wrigley was living in your home already as a member of your family. Clearly you were finding a balance between your spiritual/cultural life and the fact that you shared your home with a dog. This is about love. Love is about loyalty, compromise and good ol’ fashioned doing what’s right. And doing what’s right can at times be challenging, inconvenient and even tricky, but clearly, at least for a while, you were making it work.

    I do not by any stretch of the imagination consider myself an expert on ANY religion much less yours, but after doing some research the suggestions offered to Muslims who do choose to share their homes with dogs included using a different garments to pray in (like the Malays are said to do, changing their still clean garments into their ‘sarong’, etc. every time before prayer – even in mosques), using a sajjada (prayer rug), removing as much as humanly possible any dog hair from their body and clothes, etc.  However, you stated yourself that this WAS NOT the main reason you were trying to get rid of Wrigley AT ALL- it was your allergies. If your allergies to dogs are truly making your life miserable get to a good allergist like the thousands of other dog guardians who are dealing with this issue successfully every day in every city, every country all over the world. The way most of my friends deal with their allergies include establishing an ‘allergy free’ zone in their home that is dog free, usually the bedroom, installing High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters (HEPA), purchasing impermeable covers for your mattress and pillows, cleaning often and thoroughly to remove dust and dander, by washing furniture covers, curtains and other cloth items as often as possible, buying HEPA vacuum cleaners, washing their dogs often, getting  allergy shots, antihistamines and using NAET Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique( kinesiology and acupuncture) etc.

    Let’s be brutally honest, Wrigley is an old dog so it’s safe to assume you wouldn’t have to deal with your issues for very long anyway … then you could decide to not get another dog after Wrigley lives out his lifespan. Fair is fair.  

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    Personally I could never respect a man who gave up their animal for another ,person no matter what the circumstance. My gut tells me that at some point this decision that you made on behalf of your family will make your husband resent you. Animals have died from broken hearts just like people have. What happens when Jeff gets the call, sooner or later, that Wrigley has passed away? At that point it will be too late to make amends. When that day comes, I promise you there will be tears, not just of loss, but of guilt- the most stinging tears of all.

    I learned quickly that when you are on a TV show people look to you as an example. So, what message does getting rid of a beloved companion animal that has only shown unconditional love, companionship and devotion to your husband for over a decade give to your child? That selfishness is acceptable? That people/pets must be perfect (whether they have control over it or not) or they are unworthy? That when a family member becomes a burden you make him or her someone else’s problem? Children, as most parents will easily agree with, become quite difficult during their teenage years, should they be cast out? Aging parents end up in Depends unable to do simple things for themselves like bathing/eating etc. should they be shunned from the family? If we accept that abandoning an animal is OK, where does it end? To what law are we being held accountable? The universal law of LOVE tells us to love unconditionally. That’s what Wrigley did and now he is at a farm separated from the only people he has ever known or trusted- no doubt wondering where his Daddy is ..where his FAMILY is.

    The photos I’ve used for this open letter are of me and my beloved dog Stevie who passed away a few months ago. Hers were the first eyes I looked into every morning and every night for the better part of the last sixteen years. She was there for me during every trying day at the office, after every heartbreak and during every lonely moment I ever had, making it all better simply by offering me her loyal presence. If you ask your husband I bet he will tell a similar story about Wrigley. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on her care and am still paying off that debt. When she got too old and weak to walk I moved to an apartment with a yard, when she had lost bowel control I slept with a waterproof mattress cover on our bed and when her suffering became something I couldn’t control with palliative drugs I found the strength to let her go. I stayed by her side, sleeping on the floor next to her for weeks at the end. Why? Because I OWED it to her for all the care she had given me unconditionally over the years. That Shadia, is called love.

    But the good news is there’s still hope for Wrigley and your family. Maybe viewers will tune in next week and you will have had a change of heart, or if not, you can still be a hero. You can still march right back to that farm and get Jeff’s beloved baby back. Send a message of love, tolerance and light to your viewers. Be an example of doing what is RIGHT.

    It’s all on you.

    Do the compassionate thing. The world is watching … and Wrigley is waiting.

    Simone Reyes

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