Tag Archives: St. John’s

Annabel

Michael Crummey wrote of Kathleen Winter’s novel Annabel, “a beautiful book, brimming with heart and uncommon wisdom.” That’s on the book jacket. It’s true. This is a beautiful love story – of two young people, a family, friends, and a big land.

Amazon link for Annabel
Amazon link for Annabel

It was one of the books chosen for 2014’s Canada Reads on CBC Radio. Despite (or because of) the praise it received, I decided to avoid it at all costs.

Its Labrador setting interested me – but. It sounded too much like it was good for you. “Diversity” and “inclusiveness” were used to describe its story. These are words that I used to like but now make me gak like a cat with a hairball. Hearing them now used too earnestly, too combatively, too often, too everywhere.

Last time I was at the library, there was Annabel in a display rack. I stopped and looked at it, went on, then came back. I took it, reasoning that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to finish it. Too quickly I finished it, even reading and rereading as slowly as I could. I wanted it to go on forever.

People and Places of Annabel

It took a few pages to overcome my resistance and hook me. I still feared it would be a misery of a read, filled with horrible, heartbreaking things happening. And there are those. But, as the characters do, you get past them somehow. It’s how Kathleen Winter tells the story, I guess. You care about the people, and they all have something very good in them (well, all but a few of them). I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. You’ll have to take my word that it is a rare and joyful experience to read.

Annabel - Sunset-NWRiver-WikipediaYou move into the story – into the houses and the towns and the landscape. And the story moves into you. I realized just how much when I said aloud to the book “You’re up by Bannerman Park!” when a character, lost, describes what’s around him to another character over the phone.

Books can make you laugh out loud and cry. Rarely do they make you simply smile as you read passages that are so lovely you want to imprint them on your mind and memory. Annabel is one of those books. You want to know what happens after the story ends, and you also just want to remember what was in the pages.

Bathing Jamie

Jamie hated baths, indeed Jamie hated water.  He was a Collie mixed with something, clearly not a water dog.  He had long Collie hair with a thick undercoat. On his feet, legs and Jamie eating watermelon photo D Angerbackside, he had long fluffy hair. His hair knotted and matted.  Jamie also hated being brushed.

Every so often, when we’d screw up the courage or when he was particularly filthy, it would be bath time for Jamie, whether he liked it or not.  We tried every type of bath arrangement – the tub in the house, buckets of warm water and a hose outside, a combination of both.  It was very hard to suds him up and even harder to get him thoroughly rinsed.  Then brushing him!  Chasing him around trying to take a swipe with the brush.  Leg-locking him on the floor so he couldn’t get up while I brushed as quickly as possible trying to get knots out.  Cutting matted hair out.  It was not pleasant for anyone.

A friend, looking at his filthy, smelly coat one day, said “why don’t you mose-photo-Ruby-Angertake him to a groomer?”  “A groomer for Jamie, yeah right!” I said with disdain.  It was ok for her.  She had a Newfoundland dog who had a job.  He was official mascot for the Signal Hill Tattoo so he had to look good.  He wouldn’t even fit in a bathtub and, with his job, had been to groomers since he was a pup. Poodles and foo-foo dogs went to groomers.  Big old country dogs like Jamie did not.  But it was a hot summer and poor Jamie was feeling it.  He had big clumps of winter hair sticking out all over him, the dag ends on his behind were stiff with filth.  He flopped out, panting in the heat. I thought, why not?

Appointment at a groomer

I booked an appointment at a groomer.  I warned them he was filthy and did not like baths, brushing or strangers poking at him.  On the day, Jamie reluctantly entered a building that smelled of shampoo. Two massive men came to meet us.  They were the groomers.  Two thoughts popped into my head:  at least they can handle him if he bolts, and how on earth did these guys get into dog grooming.  They looked like they’d be more at home on a fishing boat than a dog salon.  I never asked them, I couldn’t think of a way to do so without sounding like I was stereotyping them or groomers.

I came up with an explanation that amused me – the welding retraining classes were full and all that was available was dog grooming. This was at the time of the cod fishery moratorium in Newfoundland and a whole new industry – retraining programmes – had sprung up.  Government and private education facilities were turning fishermen and fishplant workers into welders and hairdressers in quantities sufficient to service the whole continent.

Bathing and brushing by professionals

At the salon, I left a panicked looking Jamie in the large hands of these large men.  I warned them of his escape tricks and said to just stop and phone me if he got freaked out.  I went home and bit my nails for three hours until they phoned.  “You can come for Jamie now”, one said, “we’re just drying him.  Oh, he was perfect!”

Jamie after bathing photo Dorothy AngerI went into the salon and saw my dog standing on the grooming table, leaning into the blow dryer that was “finishing him off.”  He wagged his tail and smiled at me.  And continued to lean toward the dryer and the man holding it. When they lifted him off the table, he continued to stand very close to them wagging his tail and looking adoringly into their faces.  They looked at me like “owners, they know nothing!”  Jamie was light and fluffy, his baby-soft hair sprang out around his body like a halo. They showed me the huge pile of hair they’d cut and brushed out of Jamie.  They told me there’s a knack with the wrist motion so that you just flip quickly through a dog’s hair instead of dragging and tugging.

I paid them, twice what future visits would cost, they said, now that the hard work was done.  They tied a scarf around Jamie’s neck and he pranced out, the happiest and proudest dog in the city.  On our way back to the car, he beamed at everyone he saw. Needless perhaps to say, Jamie went to his groomers regularly for the rest of his life.  Every time, he bounced in like “hi, I’m back!

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Jan. 5, 2011

 

Giving shelter

Years ago, I went to the London Humane Society with a friend.  While she looked for a cat, I stayed at the front desk.  I was horrified – kitten-photo-D-Stewartjustifiably or not, I don’t know.  It was my first time in an animal shelter.  A man came in with a box of kittens he wanted to leave.  The attendant started processing them, and I said “I’ll take them.”  The attendant said “ok”, and the box of kittens never even crossed the reception counter.  I found homes for them all.  When I had learned more about animal rescue and the operation of shelters, I was amazed that I was allowed to take those kittens with no questions asked.

Later in St. John’s, my boyfriend and I found two beagles on a woods trail.  The male’s footpads were torn and bleeding.  He led us to the female, lying in a little nest by a tree.  She’d recently had pups.  We searched everywhere but found no pups.  The dogs willingly came with us, although we soon had to carry them.  Both were too weak and sore to walk.  My partner said “I hope the SPCA is still open”.  “No,” I cried, “not The Pound!”  I cried until my eyes were puffy, all the way to the SPCA.  But he was adamant: we were not taking them home. I did extract a promise that we would take them if they were going to be euthanized.

Only the SPCA Director was there, with her kids, doing after-hours paperwork.  After a quick look, she said to her son “get soft food and water and put blankets in that big cage.”  To her daughter, “take this little girl and get her settled in.”  Debbie cleaned the male’s bloody paws.  “Poor dog, must have run miles.”  She figured he’d been looking for food and help.  By now, I was blubbering with gratitude over how nice she was, how nice the place was.  She said, “Don’t worry, dear, we’ll take good care of them.” Their owner did find them.  They were hunting dogs and had got lost while after rabbits.  There were indeed pups, but they were weaned.  The dogs returned home.

I began volunteering at the SPCA. A new shelter was built during my time there.  The old one really was in bad condition.  The animals never lacked for anything, but the building was small and drafty.  The new one had several cat rooms so cats didn’t have to be caged.  Dog rooms had easy access to outdoor runs.  It was a ‘kill’ shelter, so there was trepidation when, on entering rooms, you saw a dog or cat wasn’t there.  Check the log book and cross your fingers you see ‘adopted’ beside their name.  But it didn’t always say that.

I went to the St. John’s City pound once on SPCA business.  I’d been there once before and it was horrible. Rows of cages along the walls of one room, dogs on one side, cats on the other.  Barking, yelping, meowing, hissing.  I dreaded this revisit and hoped I wouldn’t have to see beyond the front desk.  I was surprised to hear only music coming from the back, no overpowering smells.  The manager came out and we recognized each other.  She had been an SPCA volunteer.  “Let me show you what we’ve done,” she said.  Heart in my throat, I followed her to the back.  The dogs had large pens in the big main room with easy access to outdoor runs.  A separate large room with lots of windows housed the cats.  There were cages, but most of the cats were loose.  There were toys and beds, climbing trees and nooks with blankets.  There were separate rooms where animals could be quarantined.  The manager was proud of what she had done in a short period of time with little money and no major construction work.  “I just used what I’d learned at the SPCA and reorganized the space.”  Animals were kept at the pound only for a limited number of days and there was no provision for going to the SPCA or other shelter.  But she ensured that their time at the pound, whether a brief stay before they were claimed or adopted or their last days on earth, was as pleasant as she could make it.

In St. Thomas, the practice has long been that animals at the pound go to one of the rescue groups when their time is up.  I’ve never been to the City’s Animal Control shelter shelter dog at home-photo-D-Stewartbut I have volunteered with local rescue groups.  All our groups are “no kill”, a laudable idea. But the rescue groups and pound are limited in the numbers they can handle, and unwanted animals just keep coming. Then what happens?

There have been changes in theory and practice in shelters and pounds over the past few decades. ‘Cage’ versus ‘no cage’, ‘kill’ or ‘no-kill’ and, with feral cats, ‘trap-neuter-tame’ or ‘trap-neuter-release’ are important issues to think about.

An important, and easy, thing for shelter staff to think about and do is treat the animals as if they were your own. These are living creatures whose whole world has been turned upside down.  They may be well-loved pets who got lost and are frightened.  They may be victims of “changed circumstances” in their household, now facing life without their familiar places and people.  They may be abused animals who have learned not to trust people.  They may be paupers used to foraging for scraps or pampered princesses.  Either way, a room full of cages and other animals is going to be very frightening.  The St. John’s City pound manager knew that and acted accordingly.  She knew she was responsible for lives.  That’s the most important thing animal control officers should remember.  The city animal shelter is not the same as the car impound lot.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post.  Photos are our dog and kitten when they first came to us. The kitten was feral, the dog was on death row at a pound. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 6/10)