Tag Archives: St. Thomas/Elgin

Wilma the Cat

In honour of Wilma, cat colony princess, who died yesterday in St. Thomas ON. Reposted from St. Thomas Dog Blog, March 29, 2012.Wilma and other cats 2016

Wilma was a homeless cat who was instrumental in the creation of the Charity Cat Project. That initiative has provided food, shelter and neutering to innumerable feral and stray St. Thomas cats. Charity Cat and other rescue groups worked with St. Thomas City Council in establishing animal welfare programmes. Among these are low-cost pet neutering and maintenance of feral cat colonies. So, Wilma, thank you.

Wilma's broken front toothWilma had surgery to remove her damaged teeth and a hernia in her abdomen. She’s recovering nicely. She has domesticated herself and it seems she would love to live indoors. But in her present home, there are dogs who really wouldn’t do well with her presence inside. So a foster or, ideally, a permanent home for her would be wonderful. Contact ABCR or me if you have a place in your home or barn for a lovely cat.*

Turns out she was already spayed, so she had been lost or abandoned. I don’t know which, but there are a lot of Wilmas in our city. They need help. There are also a lot of truly feral cats who Wilma 2012 likely will never allow themselves to be tamed. They too need help.

It’s not just helping the cats. It’s helping people. Having feral cats around their houses distresses cat lovers. Cat haters certainly don’t like cats hanging around. And unneutered cats produce kittens, usually twice a year. So that one cat who’s taken up residence in your back yard is going to produce more, and those kittens will also reproduce. You start out with one stray moggie and, before you know it, you’re in Cat City.

TNR for feral cats

Trapping wild cats and having them fixed is a time-consuming and Drowsy Wilma sitting in suncostly business. I know, I’ve done it. And if you do remove those cats, in all likelihood, more will simply come and occupy the territory. That will happen whether you feed them or not. Homeless cats need somewhere to settle and your backyard might seem as good as anywhere to them. So better to keep those you know, and are neutered, than constantly have new ones moving in and establishing their claim.

St. Thomas needs a TNR programme – trap, neuter, return – for wild cats. Other cities have such programmes or services in place and we have just as many feral cats as anywhere else. Wilma’s person Wilma eating on porchcounted the cats in the gully near their house a month ago: 103 that she saw. That’s before this spring’s litters of kittens are born.

St. Thomas also needs a programme to subsidize spay and neuter costs for dogs and cats of people who cannot afford the full price. Again, many other cities have such subsidy programmes or low-cost clinics offered so many times a year.

It seems cheaper to just have the kittens or puppies than to have your pet neutered. It’s not; it just spreads the costs over a longer period of time – once or twice a year for as long as the animal lives. Neutering is cheaper for all of us just in costs to municipalities of caring for, or killing, unwanted pets.

Abcess on Wilma's gumsPeople have contributed to Wilma’s medical costs, but her rescuers are still footing over half the bill themselves. If you can help, please contact ABCR or me. And let’s start helping all the Wilmas by setting up a spay/neuter subsidy fund. We’ve seen over the past year, with STDOA’s Caring Pet Cupboard, that our community will help people feed their pets.  Now let’s move on to the big task: preventing unwanted puppies and kittens.

*Wilma stayed where she was, for which everyone she knew is thankful. She will be greatly missed by her people and her cats. You can see her legacy on the Charity Cat Facebook page. (See 10 comments on original post below.)

Training at the Dog Park

This week in May 2010, we in the St. Thomas Dog Owners Association were doing a final spit and polish on our new Lions Club Dog Park.

The Lions Club Dog Park had its grand opening on the May 24th weekend – one day of rain, one day of beautiful sunshine. A pretty good time though, I thought.

Recall Training

I picked up some pointers on dog training from Anne MacDonald of K-9 Concepts Saturday afternoon. She gave a workshop on recall training, one of the hardest and most important things to teach.recall training by Anne MacDonald St. Thomas dog park

My two are pretty good about coming when called, if they feel like it. And that, of course, is the problem. If they don’t feel like coming when called, it’s because they’re doing something way more interesting like chasing a rabbit or, in Leo’s case, eating poop – things I don’t want them doing. So your objective is to make coming to you a better option for them, and make them believe you have the power to make them come even if they don’t to.

The ‘carrot’ part of this is lots of good treats. Don’t be stingy, Anne said. Give them lots of the really yummy treats for a good recall. Many people, she said, give just the same amount of treat for a sit, a shake paw or a recall. With the recall, because it’s so important, give more and make a huge fuss over them for doing it well. I make a big fuss, but I just give the same small amount of treat that I do for anything else.

I worry about them gaining weight from too much “junk food” so only give them a teensy bit of dried liver or whatever as a treat. But I hadn’t thought about it from their perspective – why should I interrupt this interesting thing I’m doing for the sliver of treat she’s got. So now, lots of treats, different kinds of treats, lots of hugs and fuss. We’ll see how it works.

Be a slot machine

Anne MacDonald at Lions Club Dog Park“Be a slot machine, not a vending machine,” Anne said about training. Sometimes they get a lot, sometimes they get a little, sometimes they get nothing – they never know for sure. So like people sitting for hours feeding coins into a slot machine, hoping against hope that it will give the big payoff, a dog will be more inclined to keep coming back in hopes of hitting a mother lode of treats.*

But don’t do it every time. If the dog knows you’re going to give a treat every time, after the first time you don’t, the dog might treat you like a broken vending machine. If it doesn’t produce, you don’t go back to it. When Leo knows I’ve run out of treats (which he seems to have a sixth sense about), he thinks about whether he’s going to come back or not. If he feels like it, he might but not with as much alacrity as when he knows there’s a treat waiting. If he doesn’t feel like it, well, he doesn’t until he’s ready.

The long leash

When they don’t feel like coming back, that’s when you need the “I am all-powerful” tool. Anne uses a long lead, a soft rope much longer than a regular leash. Just let the dog drag it (obviously not in brush areas where the dog can get caught up). Give the recall command, if dog doesn’t react, say it again and step on the leash. Don’t go to the dog, pull the leash back to you.

Keep the treats in your pocket, not your hand. But act fast when the dog comes back. “Good dog”, pats and hugs and quickquick into your pocket and treat to dog. That reinforces the connection between the dog’s action and the reward, but lessens the chance of the treat being a bribe instead of a reward. That’s where my training with Leo fell down. He saw the treat in my hand often enough that he started looking for it before he’d decide whether or not to do what I asked. With him, it’s not even a case of bribery, it’s more like negotiation. With Charlie too, it’s negotiation. If he knows I’ve got treats he really likes, he’s more likely to do what I ask. If he doesn’t like them, he just sniffs the treat and walks on past. So for recall especially, have ones they like a lot.

Competitiveness

Sometimes they get into competition to see who can get to me faster. Anne says you can use that competitiveness in training, and reward only the winner. The dog who does it right gets the treats and the big fuss. The other gets nothing. I have a hard time doing that, the other one looks so pitiful that I end up giving him a treat Charlie doing recalland pat too. She says be tough so they see that if they don’t do the work, they don’t get the prize.

So I learned a lot, mainly how much I’ve let “pretty good” be good enough for me. As a result of my back-sliding, my very willing-to-learn poodle is only about halfway to well-trained and my smart but obstinate terrier pays attention and then does what he wants. Both of them like playing “the training game” as they see it. And both have learned a lot since we’ve had them. Now I’m going to do my part to help them learn more. Thank you, Anne, for some helpful tips and reminders.

First posted May 25, 2010 on the St. Thomas Dog Blog.

* On CBC’s The Current, Mon. May 15/17, Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked, said about social media likes: “This idea that a reward is just within reach but it’s never guaranteed. Paradoxically when you guarantee someone a reward, they get bored and they stop doing something quite quickly, whereas when you build in just a small dose of uncertainty… is very hard for humans to resist.”

Hanover Horses

Waco Hanover and Donnie MacAdams photo Barbara LivingstonA Facebook share – Waco Hanover celebrates his 40th birthday in 2017. He’s a Standardbred pacer, living in Vermont.

From his name, I knew he was of Hanover Shoe Farms. I’ve read Donald P. Evans’ Hanover: The greatest name in harness racing. It tells the story of a Pennsylvania racing and breeding stable that the Hanover Shoe Company owners started at the turn of the 20th century.

About ten years ago, after reading the book, I read online about Ralph Hanover who won the US pacing Triple Crown in 1983. He was the only Canadian-owned horse to do so. I learned that Ralph Ralph Hanover racing photo Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famehad lived at Grand Royal Farms near Calton, Ontario. It is a magnificent property, one you know has seen days of glory. It was past those days when I knew it, but it was still a working horse farm.

So Ralph Hanover and Grand Royal, what were their stories?

The story of Grand Royal was easy to find. It had been a large Standardbred stable in southwestern Ontario. Then it went to Thoroughbred racing. Then it changed hands several times and its racing days were over.

mare and foal Grand Royal 1980s photo Elgin County Archives
Standardbred mare and foal, Grand Royal Farms, Calton ON, late 1980s

Finding out about Ralph Hanover proved more difficult. I googled and asked anyone I knew in the horse business. He went to Kentucky to stand at stud. Then he’d gone to Prince Edward Island, maybe. Alive? Nobody knew.

Reading about Waco Hanover now, I wondered how closely related he was to Ralph. My go-to horse pedigree site told me Waco Hanover, born 1977, is the son of Tar Heel and Wanda Hanover. Tar Heel was son of Billy Direct and Leta Long. Wow, Billy Direct was the horse who matched Dan Patch’s record 1:55 mile in 1938.

Tar Heel was Ralph Hanover’s maternal grandsire. Ralph was born in 1980, sired by Meadow Skipper out of Ravina Hanover. So Waco and Ralph’s mother are half-siblings, making Waco Ralph’s uncle.

Ralph Hanover Waco Hanover pedigree by Dorothy Stewart
Ralph and Waco Hanover pedigree chart (click for larger view)

Then I google Ralph. Right at the top are articles about his death in October 2008 at the age of 28. He lived in Dutton, West Elgin, Ontario. In 2008 I lived in St. Thomas, a half hour drive from Dutton.

West Elgin Horse Farms

In July 2008, we went on a tour of West Elgin horse farms. One was a harness racing stable. I talked to the owner, but did not ask about Ralph Hanover. If I had, he likely would have told me that Ralph lived a few concession roads over. Ralph lived on the Mac Lilley farm.

One of the owners of Grand Royal Farms in its harness racing heyday was Doug Lilley. Googling hasn’t given me the connection between Mac and Doug, but the Mac Lilley Farms website says it’s a three-generation operation.

Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples horseracinghalloffame.com/1986/01/01
Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame 1986 inductees

So the lesson from this? Google, drive around, ask – and keep asking and driving. One good chat at the Western Fair race track probably would have told me where Ralph Hanover was. And keep googling. I might not have found out about Ralph until he died, since that’s what most of the results were about, but at least I’d have known eight years earlier.

Finding Ralph, too late, has made me think about the famous horses meeting their fans at the Hall of Champions in the Kentucky Horse Park (see my Cigar). And Dan Patch’s towns, Oxford, Indiana and Savage, Minnesota, making sure that visitors know they’re entering hallowed horse racing ground (see my Dan Patch). Ralph Hanover was among the elite of racehorse champions. Dutton deserves to be proud of being his final hometown. I only wish I’d known he was there, so close by.

Happy Meals

Grayneck with sister hens in garden summer 2016In Memoriam: In honour of our Phoenix hen Grayneck. On Dec. 23, 2016, Grayneck died of natural causes, aged 4 1/2 years. She is survived by her four sisters.

The girls are the first hens I have had since the ones I write about here. This was first posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on June 13, 2010.

Hens and Roosters

I used to keep chickens. Mainly bantams who produce lovely little eggs. They also are very broody, meaning they will easily sit on eggs in order to hatch them. When you have chicks, it’s 50/50 whether Favourite of all roosters Baby Rooster D Stewart photosyou get hens or roosters. Any chicken coop can only handle so many roosters, I found. They get along with each other if they’ve been raised together, so fighting isn’t the problem. Hens and roosters both sort out their place in their pecking order.

Aside from fertilizing eggs and guarding the hens, the roosters don’t do anything productive and they eat just as much as do the hens who lay eggs for their keep. Roosters crow at all hours of the day and most of the night, and they don’t leave the hens alone. They all want to be the “egg-daddy” it seems. So every so often, some roosters have to go.*

One way they can be useful is in the stewpot. I never did the killing. I was the hanging judge. I decided who was going to die.  My then-partner did the actual dispatching, while I went in the house and washed dishes and cried. My tears didn’t make the chosen rooster any happier about his fate but, up to that moment his life had been very good. They had a nice spacious coop, an outdoor run and often they had days out loose in the yard, eating berries and pecking for bugs.

“Ugly Duckling” Chicks

Bantam/Leghorn cross with chicks photo Dorothy AngerWe also raised turkeys, putting fertilized eggs under broody bantams. The hens looked after their “ugly duckling” chicks as well as if they’d been regular bantam chicks. And the great big chicks followed their mothers and slept under their mothers’ wings even when they no longer really fit.

With the turkeys, in the fall we’d feed them lots of berries and nice vegetable scraps. The birds loved them, and it actually made the meat taste sweeter when we ate them at Thanksgiving or Christmas. So we all got a treat.

I think it’s important that the animals I eat have had good lives. I look after my pets’ health and make sure they have fun and exercise and good food because I know it’s important to their well-being. So why should it be any different for farm animals that lay down their lives in order to provide me with a meal? And, beyond the ethical issues of humane treatment of living creatures, you know there are no chemicals, hormone additives or dubious food going into naturally-raised animals. Also the end product simply tastes better.

One of my egg customers, when I had my chickens, paid me double my asking price. He said my little, fresh bantam eggs were so flavourful that he wanted to give me what he’d pay for large supermarket eggs.

Elgin County Farms

We’re lucky in Elgin County to still have a lot of small farms that grow vegetables and rear animals in the traditional way. And, as interest in organic and local foods increases, the number of those farms is also growing.

At the St. Thomas Library, I picked up two pamphlets. One is “Fresh from the Farms in Elgin County”, published by the Elgin Business Resource Centre, and the other is “Local Organic! Farms” by London Area Organic Growers. Both pamphlets list producers and sellers of vegetables and berries, meat, wine and honey in Elgin and London areas. They have the addresses, phone numbers, seasonal hours and what they sell as well as maps showing where each is located. The London one also includes area restaurants that use organic foods. When I started trying to find local sources for good (in all senses of the word) meats, I made up my own list of “happy” animal farms and organic vegetable growers. But these brochures have a lot of places I didn’t know about. Good resources to have!

me with Baby Rooster D Stewart photos* My husband said, after reading this description of roosters, that I’d just summed up at least half  of the North American male culture.

Babyrooster and Babyhen, pictured here, were my first chicks and my pets. Despite his very small size, Babyrooster was vigilant in looking after his hens. After a good long life, he died defending the hens against an attack by dogs.

The Dog Park

old road going into dog parkWent to the dog park yesterday with the boys. It was a mauzy day, light rain and cool. I figured nobody would be there, and I was right. It was beautiful.

Charlie and Leo trotted along, happy to sniff at stuff. Another dog and his person joined us. Dogs sniffed each other, then went back to whatever else they were sniffing. A young dog came careening around the path to the meadow, ran around like a whirlwind trying to get the others to play. No luck with these three, so tore off up the hill looking for somebody more fun. I hope more dogs came, willing to play with him.

steps in path from meadow in dog parkWe went up the steep hill, muddy and slippery. But I could make it up fast enough to keep an eye on the dogs, thanks to the steps that Albert built into the slope. Back up at the top, I looked around. I felt proud of our little dog park.

Just two years ago, it wasn’t like this. Oh, it was just as pretty. But it wasn’t fenced, there were no picnic tables or bag dispensers or garbage containers. No steps, no trails cleared through the hillside. It was a wooded ravine with a meadow by the creek. Not many people went there. Now, it’s often very crowded with people and dogs. I wonder what the deer and neighbourhood cats who had it all to themselves for so long think about it. But sometimes, like yesterday, it’s the same as when I first went there with a dog years ago. Except now I don’t have to remember my own poop bags.

The STDOA did this – got a fenced dog park in our city. I was one of the founders of the group, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I no longer go to the ravine very often. My dogs are too anti-social for large group activities. But I love seeing social dogs chase each other and wrestle, having so much fun. Pups on their first visit, intimidated at first then realizing they can act as wild as they want and tumbling around with other dogs. It’s lovely to watch.

sign for dog park meeting Oct 16 2 pmBut the steps and bag dispensers didn’t get there by themselves. Volunteers built the steps and keep the park clean of litter and dog poop. The STDOA raises money for poop bags and dispensers and for building and maintenance materials. The STDOA needs your input and participation. Money and energy – that’s what’s needed to keep the Lions Club Dog Park running and get another one in a different part of town.

In Memory of Forte, Dog Park Dog

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Oct. 13, 2011. For Forte, one of the original STDOA and dog park dogs. Forte passed away this week at a good old age, surrounded by his family.

forte-may-2016
Forte waking from a nap, May 2016

An All Breed Canine Rescue dog, Forte was at first fearful and mistrustful due to abuse he had suffered. But he lucked into the best home he could have asked for. His people lucked into the best dog too. Forte became a foster dad in turn to many more pups and adult dogs who joined his household as ABCR fosters. He will be missed.

Spot the Fire Muster dog

Spot the Fire Muster Dog at STDOA booth photo D StewartI decided to do a little creative grooming for the Fire Muster.  White Poodle plus Fire Muster Dog Show equals Dalmatian Look-alike contender!  So I checked with my groomer, a Poodle grooming specialist, a hair dresser, a pharmacist and online creative grooming sites.  The consensus was anything temporary, without bleach and safe for children’s hair would be ok.  There are specially formulated vegetable dyes for dogs available, but not at any supplier near me.  Food colouring and Kool-Aid is also ok, but I wanted black colouring so needed something else.

I got a temporary dye spray bomb designed for kids and fancy dress costuming.  I cut different sized circles in a small piece of boxboard and sprayed Leo’s hair.  I didn’t spray his legs, near his eyes or under his belly – avoided sensitive areas and anywhere he could easily lick.  I figured better safe than sorry. Kids aren’t likely to lick their dyed heads, so “safe for children” isn’t exactly the same as “safe for dogs”.

Charlie, Leo & Magic in line for dog show photo D StewartI found out the dye is indeed temporary and, even when dry, easily smudges when touched.  So I had to keep retouching him after people patted him, and finally learned to say “you’ll get dye on your hands if you touch the black spots”.

At the registration table for the dog show we’re told there’s no category for Dalmatian look-alike this year.  Years spent watching dogs in black-spotted t-shirts and Border Collies wearing firemen’s hats walking away with that special prize!  Leo and I had no exhibition trick worked out, no Plan B.  I knew we didn’t have a chance at “Cutest Dog” when I saw the Chihuahua in the little ballerina dress and silver booties.   The Chihuahua did win, as did a beautiful German Shepherd as “Older Dog” and a gorgeous little Dalmatian in the “Puppy” category.  A Shepherd-Husky won “Best Trick” and a little Papillion won “Best Overall”.  We won only a lot of attention and oohs and ahhs.  Leo was perfectly happy with that.  Charlie went in au naturel, hoping for “Cutest Dog”.  But even he can’t compete with a I'm gonna wash that 'Dal' right outa my hair photo D StewartChihuahua in a tutu.

Later, Leo got his spots washed out.  Charlie watched, relieved that he was passed over for bath time.

 

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 7, 2010.

Fire Muster

The Fire Muster is this coming weekend – Labour Day Saturday and Jack and judges, Fire Muster dog showSunday – in Pinafore Park, St. Thomas.  A chance to see fire fighters, fire trucks old and new, classic cars, and dogs.  There are always lots of dogs at the Fire Muster.  On Sunday afternoon, there’s a dog show.  It started as a Dalmatian show, and there are still special prizes for Best Dalmatian and Best Dalmatian ‘wannabe’.  Dogs wear costumes, do tricks or just walk across the stage.  The first time our late dog Jack I won!entered, he won Best in Show.  I don’t know who was proudest, us or him. Later, he happily rooted around in his prize hamper from Hartz.

From then on, every time we were at Pinafore, he wanted to walk across the bandshell stage. Strut across it, reliving his moment of glory.  I’d sing “here she comes, Miss America”, and he’d look out over the cheering audience that only he could see. The year they tore the old bandshell down he was crestfallen.  I took him to the new one at the back of the park, and he walked across it.  But you could see it wasn’t the same for him.

He lining up for the showentered the dog show every year, never won again, but always enjoyed it.  As soon as he’d see dogs heading for the registration table and lining up, he wanted to join them. He liked going to Pinafore Park any time of the year, but he would get especially excited when he’d see the ladies on the boot toll at the gate.  He knew it was Fire Muster time.

For several years, my husband and I worked at the souvenir t-shirt booth.  Jack loved being there, meeting and greeting dogs and people.  One year, though, he Jack the muscle dogwasn’t really happy.  We’d made him his own tshirt.  He didn’t like walking around like a canine advertisement but, in his black “muscle shirt”, he brought a lot of attention to the booth.

The new dogs, Leo and Charlie, were at last year’s Fire Muster for the first time.  They both entered the dog show.  Didn’t win, but they didn’t care.  They were happy with their participation gift treats.

First published Aug. 31, 2010 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog

 

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)

Death and Repose

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 13 2010 – in memory of Jack who died 7 years ago today

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of my old Collie-mix Jamie and tortoiseshell cat Cedric.  They were put to sleep together, due to cancer and crippling arthritis, and they’re repose at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery Eden ONburied together behind a house I used to live in.  The present occupants of the house know they’re there, but in future no one will know the significance of that small bed of orange and white dahlias and tiger lilies. Now my animals have plots at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery just south of Eden. The first time I went there, I was in the area with a bit of time to kill.  I was driving around Calton, Richmond and Eden, looking at the places that were home to my parents’ families a century ago.  On the Plank Road (#19 Hwy), I saw a sign for the pet cemetery.

So in I went. I quickly used up all the tissues in my pockets and was using old napkins from Tim graves at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery photo Jim StewartHortons that I found in the car, then my sleeves to wipe my eyes and nose. It’s the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen.  And active!  Seasonal flowers, small toys, photographs, solar lights and notes left on beloved pets’ gravestones.  It’s lovely and gut-wrenching. There are people’s graves too, with their pets.

I looked up the website and contacted the owners, the Cowans.  I broached the subject with my husband.  He thought it was a good idea for the pets.  Then I moved on to the subject of us.  Expecting his response to discussion of our own mortality to be Jack at Sandy-Ridge- photo Dorothy Stewart “lalalala my fingers are in my ears I can’t hear you”, I was surprised that he heard me out and thought about the options. His family is from Kentucky, so the family plots are there.  My family plots are in London, Tillsonburg and Dorchester – not places with any real connection for me or him.  The scattering of ashes over a waterfall or lake is a romantic idea, but leaves no mark of your existence.  He realized that some ‘I was here’ marker mattered to him, at least for the sake of his sons.  I realized it was important to me because I do genealogical research and gravestones are a solid connection with the past.  They tell you something about individuals and families.

So we bought a family plot for us and pets.  Too soon we had to use it.  January 30th 2008, our German Shepherd Jack died.  He was buried the charlie and me at pet gravesnext day.  We, our mothers, my sister and the Cowans were in attendance.  A month later, Henry, the oldest cat, joined him.  It was a bad, sad winter.  Eventually, we’ll all be there in this plot demarcated with granite ‘S’s at the corners.*  And it feels ok, knowing that others like me will walk along the path and read names and dates and reconstruct bits of family history.  And cry.

*In 2012, the Ontario government demanded the removal of the human graves.  Human ashes only were there, but they and the gravestones had to be moved away from the spots the people had chosen for their final repose.

Turcotte, the movie

If you live in or are from New Brunswick, if you’re Canadian, if you like horseracing, the dvd cover Secretariat's Jockey Ron TurcotteNFB has a film for you:  Secretariat’s Jockey:  Ron Turcotte (2013).  In 1973 Mr. Turcotte, already well known in racing circles, became famous world wide as the man who rode Secretariat.

The Triple Crown has been won only eleven times since it was established as the pinnacle of Thoroughbred racing in America.  Never has a horse won it in such jaw-dropping style as Secretariat did.   And Ron Turcotte was on his back for all three rides.

As a young man in northern New Brunswick, Mr. Turcotte worked in the woods with his father and brothers.  With a downturn in that industry, he moved to Toronto in search of a job.  He had worked with horses at home and knew them well, and he was a small man.  Still, working as a jockey was a suggestion that came from someone sports illustrated cover 1973 with Secretariat and Ron Turcotteelse.  He tried it, liked it and found he was good at it.  Eventually he went to the big leagues – Kentucky.  There he met Penny Chenery and her horses and the rest is wonderful horseracing history.

His riding career ended horribly in 1978 with a race accident that paralyzed him.  But he stayed associated with horseracing, not as the trainer that many said he would have been so good at, but as an ambassador for the sport and for jockeys.  He knows firsthand the physical, psychological and financial costs of such a risky occupation.  He also knows the hard work of training, and the thrill of race days and wins.

Ron Turcotte takes us to the races

Mr. Turcotte takes us on a road trip to Kentucky.  There we meet the other two jockeys of those five years of three Triple Crowns, Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew 1977) and Steve Cauthen secretariat running the belmont stakes(1978 Affirmed). We go with him to Churchill Downs on Derby Day 2012.  We go on to Maryland, where Triple Crown talk is in the air when I’ll Have Another wins the second leg.  Then to New York and the dashing of hopes when I’ll Have Another is pulled from the Belmont Stakes due to the threat of laminitis.  The Triple Crown wait continues, a much longer dry stretch than even the 25 year one after Citation in 1948 that Secretariat and Ron Turcotte broke.

Ron Turcotte at Ron Turcotte Bridge Grand Falls NBWe go back home to Grand Falls, NB, driving over the magnificent falls on the “Ron Turcotte Bridge.” We meet his family and friends and go to his home.  Seeing the photographs, trophies and statues in his living room, I thought of the house of a man similar in many ways to Mr. Turcotte.

Dale Dufty, harness racing driver

It is a small house near St. Thomas where the late Dale Dufty, a retired harness racing driver, lived.  I had the good fortune of Harness racing driver Dale Duftybuying a saddle from him.  Good fortune both because I really like the saddle and because I got to meet him.  His house was filled with awards, photos and memorabilia of his favourite horses.  He repaired and made tack and racing harness, usually while watching races on a specialty channel.   Like Mr. Turcotte, his love of horses and the sport of horse racing never disappeared. He too was happy to share his great knowledge of horses and tracks, owners and fellow drivers, great risks and great joy.

Click for Amazon link to The Will to Win book
If you want to learn more about Mr. Turcotte, he and Bill Heller wrote his life story in The Will to Win.  It is an excellent read. (click cover for Amazon link)

For my take on the 2012 Triple Crown run, see I’ll Have Another.