Many of us have had the privilege of sharing our home with animals. We remember the day we first met them and the great joy and immense love they bring us. Unfortunately, animals don’t live as long as we want or need them to, and eventually we have to say goodbye.
But sometimes an animal outlives their human, and then what happens? Will a relative come forward and care for the dog, cat, rabbit . . .? That is probably the best scenario for the grieving animal—to be taken in by someone they already know.
However, that is not always the case and many animals end up shelters, waiting for another person or family to love again.
This difficult situation happened to Joan Almond back in 2017. She received one of those dreaded phone calls—her brother Brian was in the hospital. Sadly, Brian passed away, leaving behind his beloved cat Tiger. The family not only had to deal with their own loss, but also had to figure out what to do for Tiger.
Joan shared her experience with me. Here is her story.
Joan has always loved animals, but like many others, held back from taking on a pet because of the costs and responsibilities. This all changed in 2017 when her brother Brian passed away, just nine months after Joan had lost her mother.
Brian’s celebration of life was packed with friends and family, but there was also someone else represented—a framed photograph of Tiger, Brian’s beloved cat.
Neighbours and friends chipped in and helped take care of Tiger for the first couple of weeks after Brian’s passing. But a more permanent solution was needed.
“I’m taking him!” Joan said without thinking.
“Cat hair!” an older sister said.
“I don’t care!” Joan said. “I want him!”
As Joan drove home with Tiger crying in the back seat, she thought, “What did I get myself into?”
That night, Tiger slept at the end of Joan’s bed, on his favourite blanket.
There were adjustments, like the 5am wake up time, lots of scratched furniture and the cost of taking on a pet—vet bills, grooming, boarding, litter, and food.
Regardless, Joan says Tiger is her Best Bud, even though, like most family members, he does frustrate her somedays.
Joan has learned so much from Tiger, including how to share space, how lovely it is to be greeted at the door when she comes home, and of course what it means to be loved unconditionally.
Joan, like many of us who welcome animals into our homes, often wonder who adopted whom.
I asked Joan if there is one thing she could change about the world, what would it be? Joan’s answer—That we humans learn to love, like Tiger does- unconditionally – not caring what we look like or what the colour of our skin is – what we’re wearing, or how much money we have- or even how successful we are – forgiving each other when we step on each other’s tail (accidentally.)
One of my favourite parts about this blog, is connecting with people who use their skills or talents to help others. Eric Walters is a prime example of such a person.
Eric was born in Toronto, Canada in 1957. He went on to become a social worker and then in 1992 earned his teaching degree. It was his experiences as a teacher that first drew him into writing.
In 1993 when Eric was teaching a Grade 5 class, he realized many of his students were what he calls “reluctant readers and writers”. In an effort to instil them with a love or at least a willingness to read and write, Eric wrote his first novel, Stand Your Ground. The story was set in the school where Eric taught and many of the characters were named after his students. He hoped by making the story personal and relatable to his students, they would be encouraged to read it.
He was right! His plan was a success and thus began Eric’s career as a writer.
In 2006, Eric transitioned from full-time teacher to full-time writer. To date, he has published 111 novels and picture books. He has won more than 100 awards for his writing, and in 2015 he received the Order of Canada for his contributions to literacy and social justice.
Eric’s novels are available throughout the world: New Zealand, Australia, India and Nepal. He is what some might call a workaholic—although Eric would say, “that when you love what you’re doing it’s never really work.” In addition to finding time to write, Eric manages to do approximately 500 presentations in schools and libraries each year. So far, he has presented to more than 1,800,000 students across North America and internationally in Japan, Kenya and Germany.
Most people would find it difficult to maintain this schedule, but Eric found a way to fit in even more.
In 2007, Eric and his son travelled to Kenya to visit with the family of a close Kenyan, Canadian friend. This trip lead to a chance meeting with a young orphan boy – Mutuku – in the marketplace of Kikima, Kenya. Eric discovered that Mutuku was one of more than 500 orphans spread across the Mbooni district in rural Kenya.
Kenya has the fourth largest HIV epidemic in the world. The disease has devastated the population, leaving behind approximately 1.1 million orphans; far too many to live in the existing number of orphanages. Thus, many orphans are homeless and forced to live in the streets.
Eric wanted to help Mutuku and discovered the best way would be to pay for the boy to be taken in by an orphanage.
Once Mutuku was settled into a proper orphanage, Eric wanted to help more orphans. And he did exactly that!
Eric, along with his wife and friends, Ruth and Henry Kyatha, founded the Creation of Hope in 2008.
Hope currently supports close to 200 orphans as well as indirectly helping hundreds of other impoverished children throughout the area.
Support is provided in the following ways:
Many of the orphaned children within the program still live with their guardian families like their aunts, uncles or grandparents. Food distribution allows children to remain in their homestead with their loved ones and ensures they and their family are receiving food. Whenever possible, Creation of Hope tries to keep children within their own homestead as to not take them away from their community, school and family. Monthly distributions of food give families the opportunity to function independently.
Providing food is necessary to avoid starvation. However, providing a source of water, could prevent the risk of starvation from arising at all.
Creation of Hope has formed partnerships with communities to create water projects. The charity provides many of the supplies and outside expertise, and the community provides supplies such as sand and gravel, as well as labour. The projects are overseen by a local committee.
This partnership means that community members are not only invested in the project but are intimately involved with how to maintain the project. If there are problems that evolve, they have the expertise and the ownership to fix it. In addition, labourers are paid a fair wage for their contributions.
The Rolling Hills Residence
In 2019, Creation of Hope built The Rolling Hills Residence. It is now home to 79 orphans. These are children who have lost both parents and also have no one within the community who is able to provide support.
There are four separate dormitory rooms in the residence – younger boys, older boys, younger girls and older girls – and a large dining hall, study and gathering area. Additionally, the residence has a large kitchen which has one of the very few ovens in the entire region. They produce cakes, breads, and muffins which are sold to local stores and schools to provide additional income for the project.
Another unique feature is a community conference room which can be rented out, or used by Hope staff.
All materials to build the residence, wherever possible, came from community sources. This includes locally manufactured bricks, quarried stone, fabricated metals, furniture made in Kikima, and local trees with a replant program to avoid deforestation.
During the almost three years of residence construction, Hope was one of the largest local employers. Hope continues to value and utilize local resources, materials and labour to benefit the community and its people.
Creation of Hope sees itself as more than a charity. It is an opportunity; a way to invest in the future of these children, their community, and ideally Kenya as a whole. The program is run “on the ground.” Decisions are made by a local board of directors. While Eric and his wife are members of the board, they are only two voices on a committee of twelve. The community has embraced the program, and in some years, almost half of the funds come from Kenyan sources.
When I asked Eric about his foundation, he was very humble and made a point of talking about the contributions of others. But when he spoke about the children and their successes, his voice shined with pride.
Currently, they are 79 children residing in the main building, receiving food, shelter and education. There are a further 64 children/young adults in high school, college and university, also supported by Hope.
Since the project began, 44 people from the Hope project have graduated from post-secondary education and have gone on to become teachers, hair dressers, carpenters, electricians, auto mechanics, business people, a research assistant, an IT specialist, and a banker.
One of the most gratifying parts of this foundation must be watching the graduates return to the residence and take on roles of mentoring and tutoring the other children. The graduates give back to the program that gave them a chance to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Eric says the charity will financially support the children for as long as they need.
The first child in the program, Mutuku, was also one of the first graduates. He received a business diploma from a college, but went back to his ‘calling.’ Mutuku has created an academy and church, where he is the director and pastor. His inspirational story of being abandoned, orphaned and living in a garbage dump to where he is now and what he has achieved, lifts many spirits.
Eric and his wife, Anita are major contributor to the charity. They personally donate their own money in addition to Eric securing donations from the hundreds of schools he visits each year. However, the pandemic has prevented Eric from visiting schools and thus donations have fallen.
Unfortunately, like so many charities, Creation of Hope has suffered due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. There has been a drop in donations from schools, and several other donors and sponsors have also had to back out due to their own financial hardships.
Eric is working hard to secure more sponsors and donors. The children are counting on him and he is committed to helping them.
He is grateful for the on-going support from sponsors in Canada and the United States. In particular, he would like to thank the people in the writing community for their continued dedication to help these children. People such as: Teresa Toten, Natasha Deen, Lorna Nicholson, Deb Ellis, Valerie Sherrard, Carol Matas, Margriet Ruurs, as well as regular contributions from Martha Martin and Marina Cohen. Eric would also like to thank Amy Black of Penguin Random House and Andrew Wooldridge of Orca Book Publishers for their sponsorships. Plus, a special note of appreciation to Penguin Random House and their on-going donations related to Eric’s novel, Walking Home.
If you would like to learn more about Eric’s books, Creation of Hope and how you can help, please visit his website at http://www.ericwalters.net/
One of the great joys in creating this blog post is hearing how these stories of kindness touch and inspire others. I was incredibly heart-warmed when Marilyn Helmer, who had already shared her story, Random Acts of Kindness, told me she enjoyed reading one of my other posts.
As a dedicated cat lover, Marilyn was particularly taken by the post titled, Kate and Her Cats.
“Although I haven’t had anywhere near the number of cats Kate has had, I can certainly relate to her love for them. I particularly enjoyed her story about raising the young kittens”
In 2003, Marilyn was blessed with the opportunity to rear a litter of abandoned kittens her son rescued from inside an air conditioning vent. Chris and his girlfriend brought them home for Marilyn to raise. With the help of her daughter, Sandra, also a devoted cat lover, and advice from the animal clinic where Sandra was working for the summer, all four babies survived and thrived.
Marilyn was delighted to have her story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul in 2017. With their permission, Marilyn shares that story here for us to enjoy!
(originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Cat Really Did That?)
The phone rang while I was busy preparing dinner.
“Hi, Mom, we’re heading home now.” It was my son Chris. He and his friend Jenn had been out of town the day before.
“Great,” I replied. “We’ll expect you in a couple of hours.”
“Wait, Mom, I have something to tell you.” Just then my oven timer dinged.
“Tell me when you get here,” I said. “Pie’s ready. Got to go.”
As I started to hang up, I heard Chris say, “We’re bringing some extra company.”
Extra company? Yikes! Would there be enough food to go around? “How many?” I asked.
“Four,” said Chris.
“Four? Chris, I can’t feed four extra people on such short notice!”
“Good news, Mom,” he replied cheerfully. “You don’t have to feed people. The company I’m bringing home is four abandoned kittens.”
“We’re stopping at Sandra’s on the way. She’s getting formula for them.” My animal-loving daughter had a summer job at the local veterinary clinic. “They’ll have to be fed every four hours. Don’t worry, she’ll explain it all to you.”
“Explain? Explain what?” Too late. Chris had hung up.
The timer dinged again. My pie! I yanked the oven door open to a burned-apple smell. Too late for the pie too.
I made a cup of tea to calm my nerves and phoned Sandra.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Apparently four newborn kittens,” I replied.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I got the formula and bottles. The vet said they’ll have to be fed every four hours. I’ll come and show you what to do.”
Show me what to do? “Sandra, I don’t know anything about caring for newborn kittens.”
“I’ll help,” she said. “But I work all day so I can’t look after them full time.”
And I don’t work all day? I’m a writer. Writers work day and night. Well, sometimes.
“I have to go,” Sandra broke in. “Chris and Jenn just arrived. See you soon.”
I love animals passionately but being caregiver to four newborn kittens was more than I could handle. I resolved then and there to follow that sage advice, “Just say no.”
I was working on it when the front door opened. “Mom? Come see the kittens,” Chris called from the vestibule.
I went downstairs, silently repeating the “Just say no.” mantra.
In a basket in Jenn’s arms lay four tiny kittens, snuggled together.
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“We heard cries coming from the roof of our motel,” Jenn said.
“The guy in the office said a pregnant cat had been hanging around,” Chris jumped in. “He kept chasing her away but he thought she’d had her kittens on the roof.”
“He said he hadn’t seen her for several days so he figured she’d been killed on the highway and now he was stuck dealing with them. We knew what he meant by dealing with them,” Jenn said ominously.
“I told him we’d look after them,” Chris said. “I borrowed his ladder and got up on the roof. Somehow the mother cat managed to get inside the air conditioning unit and had her kittens there. She must have been desperate and thought it was a safe place.”
I quickly blocked out the thought of what might have happened to the kittens if Chris and Jenn hadn’t come along.
At that moment, the smallest kitten gave a faint squeal. Before I knew what I was doing, I reached in and picked it up.
“He’s the runt of the litter,” Jenn said. “He may not survive.”
“Unless he has the best care possible,” Chris added. “Care only a mother can give.”
“I am not a mother cat,” I reminded my son as I wrapped my sweater gently around the unbelievably tiny bit of life in my hands.
The door opened and Sandra came in. Her eyes went to the sweater-wrapped bundle in my arms. I didn’t miss the knowing smile she, Chris and Jenn exchanged.
“I brought everything you’ll need for the kittens – formula, feeding bottles, wipes,” Sandra rhymed off. “We’ll work out a schedule and we’ll all help. Mom, look at them.” She picked up the white one with orange and black markings. The kitten obligingly wobbled her head and managed to look sweet and pathetic at the same time. “How can you resist?”
The bottom line was, I couldn’t.
In no time the kittens were awake, filling the house with their hungry chorus. My “Just say no.” mantra vanished in the twitch of a whisker.
That afternoon, Sandra walked me through the steps of kitten care. “They have to be fed every four hours. Then there’s the toileting.” I won’t go into details but suffice it to say disposable diapers do not work on kittens.
And so I became a kitty mama. If I thought my children had been messy eaters, the kittens outdid them, hands…er… paws down. And bathing a kitten is no easy job. Imagine a body so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, with twig-like limbs and paws the size of a dime. Imagine toweling them dry, taking care not get tiny claws snagged in the cloth.
When I was on my own that night for the ten o’clock feeding, reality hit. There were four of them and only one of me. When one kitten woke up, its hungry cries woke the others. Suddenly I had four little pink mouths emitting heart-rending pleas. Begging the one I was busy feeding to hurry so the others could have their turn fell on deaf ears. Last but not least, every towel and blanket that lined their basket had to be washed because no one was toilet trained.
Fortunately, as the days went by, I did have help. On alternate days, Sandra took the kittens to the veterinary clinic where the staff argued over who would get look after the adorable quartet. Strangely no one offered to do the night shifts though.
As well as feeding the kittens on schedule, we had to keep track of every gram of formula they drank. I couldn’t bear to list them as Kitten 1, 2, 3 and 4 so I named them – Bailey, Zoli, Chloe and for the littlest one, the biggest name of all – Leo the Lion-hearted.
Once named, the kittens developed individual personalities overnight. Leo certainly lived up to his name. His heart stopped twice, thankfully when he was in my daughter’s care. Using two fingers, for that was all that would fit on his tiny chest, Sandra managed to massage his heart back into action.
Good news! They all survived and thrived. Zoli and Bailey were adopted by Sandra’s mother-in-law where they are presently living a life of leisure. Chloe went to live with a friend of Chris’s and wee Leo was adopted by a client at the veterinary clinic.
Seventeen years have passed since those four unexpected visitors arrived. Looking back, I am thankful beyond measure that I had the opportunity to play a part in their survival and to observe up close, the miracle of life.
If you would like to learn more about Marilyn and the wonderful stories she creates, please check out her website at http://marilynhelmer.com/
A while back, I reached out to my writing community in hopes some people would share their stories of kindness with me. I was so happy to receive this story from author Marilyn Helmer.
I feel this story is particularly relevant as we deal with the reality of living through a world-wide pandemic. Though many who are infected with Covid-19 recover, the virus can be deadly to the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. As a result, many hospitals and nursing homes are no longer allowing visitors. This restriction has been implemented to save lives, but that doesn’t mean it is void of any hardships. Patients, residents and their families must miss being able to see each other.
Marilyn’s story is a reminder of how important kindness and human interaction is for those living in nursing homes.
I asked Marilyn if there was one thing in the world she could change what would it be. Her response: I’m not sure that this can be considered an actual change, but my wish would be simply what I said at the end of my story – that people would become more aware of the blessings of simple acts of kindness, for both the receiver and the giver.
Here is Marilyn’s story, in her own words. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope soon families will once again be able to visit their loved ones.
Years ago, when my mom moved into a nursing home, I visited her two or three times a week. During these visits, I got to know some of the other residents. This was a blessing, because it gave me the opportunity to see how even small, unintentional acts of kindness can bring joy to people who do not have a lot to look forward to.
The first Christmas Mom was in the nursing home, we brought her home to celebrate Christmas with the family. A few weeks ahead of time, visitors were asked to consider contributing a small gift for residents who would not be going home for Christmas due to dementia or family who lived too far away or simply weren’t interested in visiting. I asked Gina, the head nurse, for gift suggestions. To my surprise, one of the items she suggested was a stuffed toy. She said sometimes people with advanced dementia would relate to something they could cuddle.
When I was shopping a few days later, a particularly adorable teddy bear caught my eye. I hesitated, wondering if a teddy bear really would appeal to an adult. Then again, it had appealed to me, hadn’t it? I bought the teddy bear and donated it. Shortly after Christmas, Gina told me that the lady they gave it to suffered from advanced dementia and rarely communicated at all. When they gave her the teddy bear though, she put her arms around it and said, “Oh, my Christmas bear!” She still had the teddy bear when she passed away a few months later.
Another resident, Lorna, was fifty-five years old and wheelchair bound. Lorna suffered from physical and mental challenges so she couldn’t live on her own. Her family lived far away and no one ever came to see her.
When I visited, I always stopped at a nearby Tim Hortons to pick up a coffee for Mom and myself. Our routine was to take the coffee and cookies to the Social room, a bright, cheerful room that was usually empty. One day, Lorna wheeled herself in and joined us. She noticed the coffee Mom and I were drinking and asked me where I had gotten it. When I told her Tim Hortons, she said, “I love Timmies’ coffee but I can’t get there myself. The next time you come in, bring one for me too. Make it a double/double.”
I later mentioned this to one of the nurses. She rolled her eyes and said, “Lorna asks everyone who visits to bring her a coffee from Tim’s but she doesn’t have any money to pay for it. Just ignore it. She’ll forget she ever asked you.”
The next time I stopped at Tim Horton’s, I remembered Lorna’s request. It was such a simple request and I was already there, buying coffee for Mom and myself. It didn’t take any extra time or effort to order another double/double. I remember that first time I did it. Lorna was delighted when I handed her the coffee but when she took the first sip she told me that it was cold. “Take it to the kitchen and have them warm it up,” she said. She rarely said thank you but Gina later told me that Lorna often asked her, “Where is that sweet young thing who brings me the free coffee from Tim’s?” Actually I was a few years older than Lorna at the time.
My mom’s roommate, Sylvie, was a warm, cheerful person whose only issue was mobility. Her husband, who also had mobility issues, visited her as often as he could. Sylvie took my quiet mother under her wing, chatting with her and reading to her. She told me that although Mom rarely responded, she smiled a lot so Sylvie knew that she was happy. As well, Sylvie gave me a full report on how Mom was doing and what she had eaten each time I came in.
One thing my mom really enjoyed were cookies from Marks & Spencer. I made sure to keep a tin in her room to have with our coffee whenever I came in. One day Gina took me aside and told me that I should start hiding Mom’s cookies because she had caught Sylvie and her husband “feasting” on them a couple of times when he visited.
I told Gina that as long as the cookies weren’t harmful diet-wise to Sylvie or her husband, just let them enjoy them. Cookies were such a small reward for the kindness and attention Sylvie gave my mom when I wasn’t there.
Another resident, ninety-nine years old Gord, was an amazingly with-it man who looked forward to chatting with my husband when he came with me to visit Mom. Gord had all his mental faculties about him. As soon as he spotted my husband, Gord made a beeline for the Social room to chat with him. Gord had been through two wars and had fascinating stories to tell. All he needed was someone to listen.
The Random Acts of Kindness Day was created in the United States in 1995. Since then, it has grown in popularity, making us aware that kindness can be shown in many ways. The acts don’t have to be time-consuming or of great importance. Things as simple as a smile, a kind word or a cheerful greeting can brighten someone’s day
Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. To share our time with someone who needs it doubles the value of our time. One of the greatest rewards in life is knowing that you have done something, no matter how small, to bring joy into someone else’s life. Random acts of kindness are a gift, both to the receiver and to the giver.
I’m delighted to bring you part two of my wonderful story about my dear friend and animal lover, Kate Thompson.
In my earlier post, I shared some of Kate’s animal rescue stories, from raccoons to squirrels to a sweet dog. Though Kate loves all animals, I think cats hold a particularly special place in her heart. Kate has shared her heart and home with so many cats, I thought it best to dedicate an entire post to Kate and her beloved cats.
Here is the heartwarming story about Chester . . .
Kate and her ex-husband used to travel north once a year to a small town between North Bay and Sudbury, to stay in a cottage community on Deer Lake. One summer when they arrived for their week-long vacation and were unpacking the car, Kate saw an orange and white cat approaching. He came right to up to her and was really friendly. Like all animal lovers, Kate wondered if the kitty had a home. She soon discovered that people in the adjoining trailer park had moved away, leaving behind the poor cat.
Kate’s first instinct was to bring the cat into the cottage. But she had brought along her own cat and didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Instead, she started feeding him, sharing her cat’s food. However, the cat was more interested in eating Kate’s Cheetos, so she started calling him Chester.
Though Kate considered bringing him back home with her, she first decided to canvas the people in nearby cottages to see if anyone wanted to add a lovely kitty to their family.
One of Kate’s cottage neighbours was a super sweet family, with a boy and a girl around five and seven. Kate made friends with them and soon broached the idea of Chester. To her relief, they seemed slightly interested— definitely not a hard no, anyway. Kate offered to go into town to buy a cat carrier and some supplies for them. Much to her surprise, the dad decided to come along, and when it came time to buying the supplies, he pulled out his wallet. It was then Kate knew Chester had found his new forever family. Kate is still friends with the family on Facebook, and although sadly they lost Chester a couple of years ago, he brought them so much love. They often sent her pictures and told her what a wonderful cat he turned out to be.
Though Kate couldn’t keep Chester as her own, she did end up keeping so many others. Spooky was one of those fortunate cats. When Kate first met Spooky, she already had been sharing her home with two black cats for a few years. Kate wonders if Spooky saw the other two cats laying in the bay window and knew he, too, would be welcome. He started showing up at her place a few days before Halloween and Kate instantly knew his name had to be Spooky—though he was anything but. Kate says he was the friendliest cat. The relationship began as many of Kate’s relationships with animals do—feeding him and putting a cat carrier outside, made cozy and comfy with soft bedding.
Spooky came whenever Kate called for him, and after only two days, would happily be picked up and cuddled. He was so friendly Kate thought he must belong to somebody. She called the local Humane Society to find out if they’d had any reports of missing cats. The receptionist said there hadn’t been any black cats reported missing, and if Kate was planning on giving him a home, she should do so immediately, because people can be cruel, especially around Halloween to black cats. Horrified at the thought, she scooped him up and brought him into the house. For the safety of her other two cats, Spooky spent the weekend in Kate’s spare room, happily receiving lots of cuddles.
First thing Monday morning, Kate took Spooky to her vet to have him checked out. As soon as she was given the all clear, she started introducing the newest member of the family to the others. It didn’t take long for everyone to meet. The other two cats were very interested in who had come into their home, and Spooky just wanted to make friends. Once he was allowed into the “general population”, he would climb into bed with the other two and insisted on cuddling them. Before long he had made himself very welcome.
Sadly, Spooky passed away in 2019, at the young age of eight. He will be forever missed. Somehow Kate always knew she wouldn’t have a lot of time with him, but that didn’t stop her from giving her heart to this special and loving cat. She fondly describes Spooky as “an old soul and my angel.”
I was fortunate to watch one of my favourite Kate-cat rescue stories play out first hand. It happened about seven months after Spooky joined Kate’s family. A client of hers had stumbled upon two abandoned kittens. Knowing Kate’s willingness to help animals, she brought them to Kate’s place. Though Kate had rescued many cats, she’d never rescued ones so young, but she knew someone who had! Her rescue friend came over and offered helpful advice. Kate learned the kittens were about 12 days old. She immediately went out and bought bottles and replacement milk, and began the task of bottle feeding them every three hours. Kate doesn’t have kids, so this was the closest she ever came to feeding babies, and describes it as ‘exhausting’.
At first, she thought they were doing okay, but after a day they were exhibiting signs of severe dehydration, and their tiny little bodies were almost lifeless. Kate rushed them to her vet, and was disappointed to discover her vet was not as kind and sympathetic as Kate had thought. The vet didn’t have much time for the kittens as they were “just barn kittens” and “don’t have a very high survival rate”. The vet gave them subcutaneous fluids, and sent Kate home telling her if it didn’t work she could try Gatorade.
Unwilling to give up on the kittens, she immediately called her rescue friends, and they directed her to the vet they use. Kate rushed to get the kittens to the vet before the clinic closed. The vet immediately put them on an IV drip, and sent Kate home with the IV and drip equipment, so she could continue with fluids for the next 24 hours. Kate says she will be forever grateful for Dr. Dev and the Fourth Line Animal Hospital in Oakville, because they saved her babies.
Kate already had a house full of cats, and thought at most she would be a foster mom for these sweet kittens until they were old enough to leave home. No one was surprised that Kate couldn’t part with them and almost eight years later they are still her babies!
As if this story wasn’t wonderful enough, Spooky made it even more special. From the moment the kittens came into Kate’s house, Spooky was desperate to see them. So desperate, he actually needed veterinary treatment because he kept pushing his leg under the door and damaged his paw.
When the kittens were old enough to meet Spooky, Kate wasn’t surprised at how gentle he was with them. Spooky quietly walked up to one of them, nudged the kitten onto his back and started cleaning him. From that day on, Spooky was both their mom and their dad.
It had been quite a while since Kate had left the house, as she was worried about leaving the kittens alone. But when she finally did go out, she left Spooky in charge and he took his role as caregiver very seriously. He made sure the kittens didn’t get into any trouble. Anytime they would roughhouse, he would referee. It was quite a sight to see! Spooky took care of those babies right up until the day he passed away. He is, and will always be missed.
A couple of months ago, Kate was out fixing her garden when a sweet little cat ran up to her, rubbed up against her legs and purred. Kate noticed the kitty was limping. Being the kind and caring person she is, Kate went inside, grabbed a carrier and set it in front of the cat. Amazingly, the kitty went right in.
Kate took her to the vet. Good thing too, as it turned out she had a pus-filled uterus and was in critical condition. On top of all this, the cat was FIV positive, which meant Kate wouldn’t be able to bring her home after the surgery, because it would put her cats’ health in danger. With no other option, the animal control officer was called. They picked up the cat and took her to a local rescue, where her she would continue to be cared for. Even though this story didn’t have the ending Kate hoped it would, her decision to step in and take the cat to the vet was the right thing to do. The vet told her the cat would have died a painful death within the next twenty-four hours had she not been brought to the clinic.
Kate has shed many tears for this kitty. As all animal lovers, she wishes she could have done more. As heartbreaking as this must have been for Kate, I hope she is comforted knowing her loving actions at least saved this cat from a lonely, painful death, and possibly allowed the cat a chance to live a happy and healthy life.
Now we come to Kate’s most recent rescue story . . .
Kate and her husband live in a small rural town in Indiana. Their house is nestled up along the forest edge. Kate often sees stray cats come and go, but early last winter, one started coming around and became a regular at her house.
Kate says these situations always start off the same way. Her husband is a great guy with a huge heart, but he always leads with “don’t feed them”, which then it turns into “ok but only feed them at the edge of the property”, and finally . . . “Okay, but keep them out of the garage”
So began the relationship between Kate and this new cat. Kate describes her as a Maine Coon, only quite a bit smaller than your typical Maine Coon. Kate called her Boujee because she was just that! Fancy, fancy, fancy!
Kate had been feeding her for about four months, when one day she noticed Boujee had a friend in tow. This friend was a pitiful looking little cat. He looked so sad and had these ears that folded all the way down. Kate wondered if he might be a Scottish Fold, or maybe the cauliflower ears were a result of many fights.
This new visitor would just follow Boujee around and hide when he heard any noise whatsoever, so Kate never got a chance to look at him up close. She started feeding both of them, realizing the second cat was hiding in the rafters of her garage. After a month or so, the weather started to getting warmer, and Kate was able to spend more time outside. This gave her the opportunity to slowly gain the trust of the cats. Boujee’s friend was beginning to venture closer to the house, still keeping a distance, but looking longingly in the windows.
Kate eventually got close enough to see a nasty cut on his neck. It was about a three-inch open wound, going right up into his jaw line. Even from a distance, Kate could tell it was bad.
Her chance to help him came one day when she was bringing food out for the cats and he came right up to her. Kate knew this might be her only opportunity to get him. She brought out her well-used cat carrier, lined it with a bed and a blanket, ready to put food in there the next day.
Shockingly, the following day, she was able to get him into the carrier. The cat hated it, but he needed to go straight to the vet. This all happened during the Covid-19 quarantine time so the protocol at the animal hospital was to pull up to the door and telephone the clinic. A veterinary technician would then come out to the car, take the carrier inside, and call to discuss the prognosis and treatment.
Kate was right, the cut was a bad one. The vet stitched up the cut, but that wasn’t the end of the treatment. Kate paid to have the cat neutered, treated for fleas and lice, and have some dental work done.
Kate has her own hair salon, and due to the quarantine, she’s currently closed. As such, she was able to bring Ewok, as he is now called, back to the shop for recovery. Ewok was terrified of course, and hid under a cabinet for three days, only coming out to eat after Kate was gone. Kate laid out cat beds, a litter box, blankets, towels, and everything she could think of to make Ewok comfortable.
On the morning of day four, the magical moment Kate had been hoping for happened. She was sitting on the floor of her salon, as she had been for a few hours every day to get him comfortable with her—and this time he finally came out. Ewok came right to her hand and let her pet him. Every day since, he’s become more loving and more trusting.
After about a week, he started sitting in Kate’s lap. He loves to be loved. To Kate’s absolute delight, her husband agreed that once Ewok was cleared by the vet, he could live with them and their other three cats.
Kate says she is grateful for this little cat, who has become such a light in this time that is so dark and uncertain for everyone. Every day, she posts about Ewok’s progress on Facebook, and every day hundreds of people respond with positive comments and reactions, saying that he really has brightened up this time for them.
As for Boujee… she seems quite content living outside. She has a lot of protection around Kate’s house, in their garage and also the screened-in porch. And one weekend, her husband built a fantastic cat house with a magnetic door so that Boujee could be safe from nighttime predators. She wears a magnetic collar so only she can get in and out.
Kate wishes she could save them all, but she does continue to give Boujee love, food, and does her very best to keep her safe. And who knows what’s to come in the future… Kate says her husband seems to be getting quite fond of Boujee, so maybe they will have another house mate before long.
When asked the one thing she would change in the world, Kate’s response is, “I would just wish for everyone to be kind.”
Ewok Update: Twelve days after Ewok’s rescue, he moved into his forever home. He was an absolute angel going into the carrier for his trip to the vet, got a clean bill of health, and his transition is going very well. He made friends with Kate’s husband, but the friendship with the other cats will have to go at bit slower. Knowing Kate’s history of bringing cats into her family, I can’t imagine it becoming anything less than a full success.
I have known Kate Thompson for almost 25 years. She started out as our family hair dresser, and quickly became a wonderful family friend. We loved having our hair cut by Kate. Where else could you get a wash, trim and cuddle a cat at the same time?
Though Kate has since moved to the United States, we keep in touch via social media. It’s not the same, but it’s something. I was so happy when Kate agreed to share her numerous and amazing rescue stories with me.
I’m sure Kate, like all animal lovers, has often been told ‘she can’t save them all’. As you will soon discover, it’s never stopped Kate from trying.
Kate was born in England. After living most of her life in Canada, she moved to Monticello, Indiana three years ago with her husband.
Kate has always been a huge animal lover. It’s just a part of her character. She says, “If being an animal empath is a thing, then I’m that.”
Over the years, Kate has had many opportunities to rescue animals in need, and thankfully for the sake of the animals, she always follows through. Kate jokingly wonders if she has a homing device for all needy animals.
Kate has rescued many animals—domestic and wild. I remember sitting in her salon chair, getting my hair cut, mesmerized as she told me about her daring rescue of a baby raccoon.
It was a stormy day and the small creek behind her house turned into a raging river. She heard screaming (almost like the sound of a baby crying), and ran outside to find a family of baby raccoons huddled in a tree trunk, clinging to the branches for dear life. Unfortunately, one of the babies had fallen from the tree, into the river, and was being swept away.
Not thinking about her own safety or the fact that she had just had her cast removed from her broken leg, Kate jumped in. She did so despite thinking, “This might not be one of my smartest decisions!”
The water was above her head, but somehow, she was able to rescue the baby raccoon. He was gasping for breath so she laid him down on a blanket in hopes he would be okay. After about an hour, he slowly got to his feet, shook himself off and climbed up into the tree with his siblings. Kate describes the moment as “magical”.
For years after, the raccoon came back to visit Kate, or at least she likes to believe it was him. He would let her hand feed him. In return, Lucky, as Kate called him, gave her the most amazing photography shots. It was almost as if he was posing for her.
Another one of Kate’s lovely rescue stories was about Murphy the squirrel. Kate’s hair salon in Canada was an old Victorian house. The salon was on the main floor and she lived upstairs. One day, a customer came in telling her there was a baby squirrel on the front porch. The customer had tried to shoo him off, but the squirrel wouldn’t go.
Clearly, the customer didn’t know Kate very well. She never ‘shoos’ an animal away. Kate immediately went outside and put her hand down to the squirrel’s level. Knowing he had found someone to trust, the squirrel stepped right into her palm.
Kate played with him for a minute but she had to get back to work. She made him a little bed in a plastic tote, turned it on its side and put in some Cheerios and peanuts. After work that night she went out and was thrilled to see he was still there, happily resting in the box. She put her hand in and once again he climbed on, gently running up her arm. Kate decided to name him Murphy. She couldn’t believe how friendly he was. She kept his little house on the porch and would visit with him many times a day. Kate kept this up for many days until one morning she woke to find Murphy was gone. Kate hopes his family somehow found him and Murphy went home. She reassures herself with the knowledge that Murphy was big enough to take care of himself. Kate believes Murphy is out there somewhere, alive and happy. She remembers this experience as one that brought her so much closer to the animal world.
Unfortunately, rescues can sometimes be difficult and don’t always have a happy ending… Last September, one of Kate’s local Facebook groups had a lot of chatter about a dog that had been seen limping badly in and out of a cornfield, and who wouldn’t go to anyone. Kate’s heart broke thinking about that poor, scared dog. She knew she had to do something. She went to the grocery store, bought a bag of dog food, and drove to the cornfield armed with food and some water. As soon as she turned the corner to the location of the field, the dog came right out onto the road and stood in front of her car. She immediately pulled over and got out. The dog continued to move toward Kate, snarling. Most people would have quickly returned to their car, but not Kate. Somehow, she knew the dog wouldn’t hurt her, that he was just reacting that way because he was scared and injured. Feeling the urgency to gain the dog’s trust, Kate didn’t bother with bowls, she quickly poured the food straight on the ground. Clearly, this was the exact thing to do. The dog went over and started eating. He still had his collar and leash on, so Kate was able to hold his leash and phone the police. They had been involved in the conversation on Facebook earlier so they already knew which dog she was referring to.
The dog must have instinctively known he’d met someone who only wanted the best for him. Kate sat with the sweet dog and cuddled him in the rain, while they waited for the animal control officer.
Now that Kate was able to be close to the dog, she noticed his leg was badly injured. He had a huge cut in the joint closest to his foot and whenever he tried to walk, he would limp with his foot just hanging. The reports on Facebook had described the dog as vicious and unwilling to go to anyone, but Kate disagrees. All she could see was a sweet dog who was desperate for affection.
His collar had a phone number on it, so once the animal control officer arrived, he called the number. After about two hours a girl showed up who didn’t seem very nice, and apparently was the sister of the owner. It seems that a couple of weeks back her brother had given the dog away to somebody who had gotten into a car accident, while Chiko (the dog) was also in the car. Terrified, poor Chiko jumped out and had been missing for almost 2 weeks.
Kate couldn’t believe it. She says, “If that was my dog, I would’ve been camped out at the accident site and looked for him every single day.”
Kate was shocked and devastated that Chiko’s family didn’t seem to care. She wished she could have taken Chiko home herself, but it was too late. Chiko went back to the owner, who from all reports around town was not a very nice person. Kate often thinks about Chiko, and it was months before she could think about him without crying. She did contact the owner to see how he was, and was sent some pictures. Kate was relieved to see Chiko looking good and safe. Kate tries to convince herself that maybe the owner wasn’t such a bad guy after all, and that Chiko will be okay.
Perhaps it’s true, we can’t save them all, but I’m grateful there are kind people like Kate, doing all they can to help as many animals as possible. Kate has rescued so many animals, that I’m going to continue the rest of her heartwarming stories in my next blog.
The world is a different place since I posted my last blog. The virus known as Covid-19 has created a world-wide pandemic. Many businesses and schools are closed. Those who can are working from home, while many others are facing devastating financial difficulties.
However, in this unsettling time, there have also been countless examples of kindness. Such as, neighbours offering to deliver groceries to those not well enough to do so, expressions of gratitude to the front line workers who are put themselves at risk to support and care for others, and those who continue to help the many animals in need.
I hope this lovely story of kindness brings you joy during this difficult time in our history. Knowing that people like Eleanor Ann Peterson are doing all they can to make the world a better place for animals gives me hope. Hope that not only will we get through this pandemic, but perhaps come away with new found insight about the importance of letting animals live as they are meant to—wild and free.
This is something Eleanor has always believed—that animals deserve to be loved, respected and treated with kindness. She has devoted her life to helping as many animals as she can.
Eleanor was born in Ottawa, Canada on Christmas Day! Her mom was a single parent and couldn’t take care of Eleanor and her two sisters, so the girls moved in with a French family who lived in Orleans, about 17 km from Ottawa. Eleanor grew up running after wild animals hoping to make new friends. She often brought home pigeons and other injured animals, and Maman never complained. Eleanor would nurse them as best she could—feeding them, tending to their wounds and keeping them safe from predators, including their own family cat. Not all the animals survived, but those who did were released as soon as they were fit to go.
Eleanor fondly remembers spending her summers waking up early, having a quick breakfast, and then rushing outside wearing only her shorts. She’d head straight for the swamp and played there all day. Eleanor discovered many things—including bullfrogs hiding in tree stumps by the river and a turtle with a head injury. Wanting to help the turtle, she plucked off all the bloodsuckers, then watched as the turtle went back into the river.
Eleanor finished high school when she was sixteen. She moved to a small town in Quebec and rented an apartment that was owned by a veterinarian. Eleanor was thrilled! Like many animal lovers, she wanted to become a veterinarian and was delighted to be able to help the vet whenever she could.
Eleanor learned many things about animal care at the clinic, but unfortunately her family couldn’t afford to send her to college, so she never realized her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
However, Eleanor didn’t let that deter her passion to learn about and help animals. She now lives in Italy and is an author and illustrator of children’s books. This allows her to share her love of nature and animals with her readers. In addition to writing about animals, Eleanor continues to rescue many animals.
Walter was one of the many stray cats Eleanor rescued. He was about two months old when she found him at the side of the road.
Soon after, Miguel joined the family. While hanging laundry outdoors one day, Eleanor heard a feeble cry come from the bushes in the woods. When she finally found him, meat flies were everywhere. The mother had been killed by a wild animal. Eleanor brought Miguel to the vet for a checkup. He didn’t have worms. Instead, there were fly larvae that had damaged his tissues in his behind. Without a mother licking him clean, the flies took advantage of the helpless kitten. Miguel lived a pretty long life with Eleanor, until he was infected by FIV, a virus, which is similar to AIDS in humans.
Knowing he had found a loving home, Walter wanted to share his good fortune with other cats. He found Macchia roaming around the backyard, and soon Macchia followed him into the house. Lucky Macchia was adopted by Eleanor and her family in 2013.
It appears word spread about Eleanor’s compassion toward animals. Willy was left at her door in a cage with food, a hair brush, and a note saying “my name is Willy, I’m sterilized,” and that they would bring more food for him. Willy became part of Eleanor’s family as well.
Blacky joined Eleanor’s family in 2015. He was one of four puppies born to a 14 year-old dog! At first, Blacky was a happy puppy, eating slippers or chewing on anything he could find. Then, he suddenly had epileptic seizures. Eleanor later found out that the vet had given him the wrong shot. He was afflicted with distemper. He was given other medications to help, but they didn’t do much. Poor Blacky could hardly walk by the time he was five months old. His knee caps were out of place. Not ready to give up on Blacky, Elaine slept with him all week, making sure he didn’t move too much. Then she sewed a sort of harness that held his hind legs above the ground so they could go on short walks. From there, physiotherapy began, where he would walk a few steps at a time on all fours.
Two months later, he was good as new. He ran and played with a ball. Even though he still has seizures now and then, he has a happy life where he and Eleanor are practically inseparable
Eleanor and her family have opened their homes to other animals too. Given her love for animals, it’s not surprising that Eleanor has instilled this love for other species in her children.
In 2014, her son found a sweet rabbit roaming the streets of Arquata Scrivia, Italy, and little Birru was welcomed into Eleanor’s family.
Not to be outdone by her brother, Eleanor’s daughter brought home a hedgehog, who was found in downtown Genoa. The vet had said he didn’t have enough fat to survive the winter months. Eleanor’s family adopted him and named him Gigi. Because of their love and care, he grew big and strong—so strong he was able to be set free after seven months.
Eleanor saved Attila, an Eurasian Jay, from a hungry cat. Poor Attila had hardly any feathers. Eleanor fed him with tweezers every two hours even at work. He lived with the family for five years until other jays began to visit his large cage. Eleanor noticed that Attila was getting nervous and anxious to get out. She realized it was time for him to join his feathered family. When she opened the cage to feed him his worms, he swiftly escaped, sat on the railing, and stared at her as if to say goodbye. Eleanor tried to go near him, but he hopped further away. He would come back now and then for a snack but eventually no longer returned.
Eleanor misses him. Attila could mimic the squeaky sound of the clothesline and the phone ringing. When Eleanor would set the dinner table, he would call for her husband.
Sadly, not all rescue attempts have happy endings. People who help animals, know this can happen, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
One day, Eleanor heard her dogs barking. When she went outside to see what was going on, she saw a beautiful Roe deer walking toward her. The deer’s nose was bleeding, so Eleanor picked her up and fed her goat’s milk. Eleanor contacted a vet, who told her that she couldn’t keep the deer and had to contact the Provincial Police. In Italy, people need a permit to keep a wild animal.
Eleanor phoned the police and an officer came by to pick up the deer, whom Eleanor had named Lola. Though the officer promised Eleanor that Lola would be okay, sadly this was not the case. Two hours later, when Eleanor called the Wild Animal Care Center to see if Lola had arrived sound and safe, she was given the devastating news. Lola hadn’t made it.
Though there is always the chance of heartache whenever you give your heart to another being, Eleanor still believes in rescuing and helping as many animals as she can. She says the best part of rescuing an animal is “the love they give back and the trust they have in you.”
When asked the one thing she would change in the world, Eleanor says there’s actually two. “Abolish hunting and intensive factory farming. If people insist on eating meat, they can breed their own chickens or calf in their backyard. I very much doubt they would kill them once they realize how human animals are and that they have feelings, dreams and fears like humans.”
Today, Eleanor shares her home with five animals— three dogs and two hens. Though Eleanor didn’t achieve her childhood dream of becoming a vet, she still found a way to help improve the lives of many animals. I’m sure each and every one are grateful for her perseverance and especially the kindness she has shown them.
If you would like more information about Eleanor, please visit her website.
At 23 years of age, Hannah Russell is a published author and the founder of Russell Rhino, an online clothing and accessory store, dedicated to raising awareness for rhinos. So far, Hannah estimates she has raised well over £100,000 for charities, including those who help save rhinos. Incredible!
Hannah was born in 1997 in Scarborough—a northern coastal town in England. For as long as she can remember, animals have been a part of her life, including many she has rescued and rehabilitated. She credits her mom, Sharron for inspiring her love of animals.
Hannah now lives in Yorkshire Dales, which she describes as ‘a very scenic part of the UK’. She shares her home with sixteen animals—horses, guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits and dogs!
One of her animals has become rather famous. Little Alf, a miniature Shetland pony, is the subject of eight books for children Hannah has published. At 28 inches tall, Little Alf is the size of a large dog.
When Hannah was sixteen, she wasn’t certain what career path to pursue, but thought teaching sports might be a good match for her. As such, she studied sports education at college. Unfortunately, she developed severe back pain and had to drop out of school.
As is often the case, when one door closes, another opens. For Hannah, this new path led her to writing the first of eight books about Little Alf. Her first book, The Magical Adventures of Little Alf—The Discovery of The Wild Pony, was published in 2014, when Hannah was seventeen years old!
In addition to being a successful author, Hannah knew she wanted to do something to help animals. With her knowledge of business (Hannah has had businesses since she was 16 years old) she founded Russell Rhino in January of 2018.
Russell Rhino donates 100% of all the profits to Helping Rhinos, an organization dedicated to rhino conservation.
Hannah creates all the designs for her clothing line. Though she doesn’t have a background in art, she most likely inherited her natural talent from her mom, an artist.
I personally own one of Hannah’s gorgeous creations—a T-shirt of a mother rhino and her calf.
Rhinos aren’t the only animals Hannah is dedicated to help.
Like many of us, Hannah was heartbroken to hear about the devastating forest fires in Australia. As an animal lover, she was determined to help the wildlife. Using her business savvy and creative side, she designed a line of clothing featuring koalas. And just like she does with her rhino designs, Hannah donates 100% of the profits from the sales of the Australian clothing line to charities helping animals injured by the wild fires.
When I asked Hannah what inspired her to help the animals in Australia, she said,
‘I’m an animal lover and knew a way to help so I did. There isn’t anything special about what I did. I kept seeing the ongoing emerging images in the news of the horrendous wild fires and couldn’t stop thinking about the animals getting injured and killed but also the long-term effects of them losing their homes and habitats, it’s awful. I thought of a way to help through my creative side so set about it and worked on some Koala designs.’
To date, Hannah has raised over £65,000 for this cause.
Hannah has already done so much to make the world a kinder place for animals. I look forward to cheering her on as she continues to find ways to improve the lives of so many animals in need.
If there is one thing in the world Hannah could change, she would want ‘everyone to be nice to animals and one another. We have one shot on this earth and it takes nothing to be nice to someone. Just smiling at someone can make there day. Equally for animals, I have always said they were here before us. We are the ones who have come along and disturbed them. We need to leave them alone in their habitats. We have no need to hunt, to poach and to distress them.
It’s a sad world and unfortunately there is more and more sad news emerging each day about what someone has done to another person or an animal, and it’s awful.’
Hannah is right—there is much sadness in the world. But I also believe there are people like Hannah, who do everything they can to make a positive difference in the lives of animals and other people. Hopefully, these caring people will inspire others to do whatever they can to help those in need—both human and non-human animals alike.
Elaine Philpott grew up in the United Kingdom. For as long as she can remember, animals have always been a huge part of her life. As a child, she shared her home with dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters.
Given her love of animals, it makes perfect sense that she trained to become a veterinary nurse. She worked at a practice in Coventry for 17 years, becoming head nurse, and then at a practice in Scotland for another 13 years.
Next to animals, Elaine’s other love is travelling. She has visited places like Morocco, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Australia, but her favourite destination has always been India.
It was on one of her many visits to India that she met Rachel Wright, an English Veterinary nurse who founded Tree Of Life For Animals (TOLFA). TOLFA is an animal hospital and rescue centre in Rajasthan (a state in northern India). The two women had a long chat, and Elaine offered to help the animals in any way she could.
Several months later, when Elaine had returned to the UK, she received a postcard from Rachel telling her about a shelter in Udaipur called Animal Aid Unlimited. The shelter was looking for a nurse to train their staff and Rachel wondered if Elaine would be interested.
Elaine took six weeks unpaid leave from her job in Scotland. Her boss said she could go, “as long as she promised to come back.”
Elaine looks back fondly on her time volunteering at Animal Aid Unlimited. She describes it as “the happiest she had ever been.” After the six weeks, she returned to Scotland and resumed working as a veterinary nurse. But her experience in India had profoundly changed her and what she wanted from life. “After much soul searching, I gave in my notice, sold my small flat, and returned to Animal Aid Unlimited.” She spent two years volunteering at what she calls, “The best shelter in India.”
After about two years, Elaine took a short holiday to a small fishing village in the southern India called Mamallapuram. There is no veterinary doctor in Mamallapuram, so Elaine, armed with a small medical kit that she always carries with her, spent her holiday treating the many sick dogs in the village.
One of the dogs she treated was a female who gave birth to her puppies under a table where Elaine was sitting. One of the pups wasn’t breathing and Elaine resuscitated him, much to the shock of those sitting beside her. Once she explained she was a veterinary nurse, they were happy and even paid for her meal.
The owner of the café made a shelter at the back of the building for ‘Mama’ and her babies. As mid-wife, Elaine visited every day to check on them. One day, Mama wasn’t there. To her horror, Elaine heard that Mama had been killed by a fisherman because she had been sitting on one of his nets on the beach. To this day, bodies of dogs are found on the beach, killed for simply sitting on fishermen’s nets.
The death of Mama made Elaine realize how much the animals in this village needed her. For the next six months, she commuted between Udaipur and Mamallapuram, spending a month at each location. This was not a simple trek, each way involving a three-day journey by train.
Eventually, Elaine made the difficult decision and said goodbye to Animal Aid Unlimited to devote all her time helping the many animals in Mamallapuram. That was twelve years ago.
Elaine credits her mom, who is 87 years old, as being her most keen supporter of the work she does in India. “She is the one I turn to when I need to talk to someone. We have shed many tears over the phone.”
A big part of Elaine’s day is spent befriending the stray dogs. She walks into town every day and visits the dogs, feeding them biscuits, cuddling, and just being with them. Sometimes it takes months to gain their trust.
But once she has it, she’s able to vaccinate them against rabies, distemper and parvo viruses. As there is no local vet, she has to take the stray dogs to Chennai, about an hour away, to be spayed and neutered. She has teamed up with Blue Cross of India to help catch and transport the dogs to Chennai. To date, Elaine estimate she has spayed or neutered 700 dogs.
As there is no animal shelter in Mamallapuram, after the dogs are vaccinated, spayed and/or neutered, they are returned to the streets. However, there are occasions when an animal is too sick to leave unattended. In those cases, Elaine or someone else will take the animal home until they are well enough to be released.
Sometimes, Elaine has even been able to find homes for the dogs. She says she has “lost count of the number of pups I have taken home, treated, and then re-homed.”
One of the wonderful outcomes of Elaine taking care of the dogs, is that her compassion for animals has spread to others living in the community. “People have changed their attitude toward dogs We are always being told if there is a dog with problems in need of treatment.”
In fact, Elaine now has a team helping her take care of the animals. Christina Wong, a woman from Switzerland, has lived in Mamallapuram for many years. She not only takes in dogs, but also supplies dog food to the many people feeding the local street dogs.
A woman named Susheela, who lives in Mamallapuram part of the year, looks after the village dogs and played a huge part in raising funds to buy an ambulance. And a local man, named Murali, feeds and cares for the street dogs, and drives the ambulance.
Though Elaine’s main focus is helping the street dogs, she also cares for other animals, such as cats, monkeys, birds, and owls.
Charley was rescued when he was just a kitten. He and Elaine have been sharing a home for twelve years.
Gizzy was another kitten Elaine rescued. He was gravely hurt by dogs when he was just six weeks old. And though he recovered, he is paralyzed on one side of his face. But like Charley, there is a happy ending for Gizzy as well. He now lives with Elaine’s ex-landlord and is “thoroughly spoiled.”
Recently, Murali rescued a monkey who had been electrocuted. The poor monkey suffered very serious injuries. Murali took him to a shelter in Chennai, where he is recovering from major surgery.
For Elaine, the best part is taking in sick dogs, helping them heal, returning them to the streets, and watching them run off and join their friends. She loves seeing dogs she has known as puppies reach the age of ten or twelve years old, living happy contented lives on the streets. She is also delighted when she sees them being cared for and fed by local shop owners and food stalls.
Elaine has made strides in improving the lives of stray dogs but she knows there is still much to do. One of the hardest parts for Elaine is witnessing the dire condition of many of the stray dogs—mangy, emaciated, ill. It is also incredibly difficult to see people being deliberately cruel to dogs—hitting them, beating them, even killing them.
Elaine says there is no comparison between the way animals are treated in the west to the way they are treated in India. She believes part of the reason is because many people are struggling to survive themselves and can’t worry about the dogs. But she is hopeful things are improving.
She believes attitudes about animal welfare are slowly changing for the better in India—especially with the younger generation. Many shelters and NGO’s are now making themselves heard, as they give voice to the animals, who for far too long have been terribly mistreated.
When asked the one thing she would change in the world if she could, Elaine says, “I don’t expect everyone to like animals, but to go out of your way to be cruel and hurt them, for me, is very difficult to tolerate. I wish people would accept that a dog wants to sleep in the shade, or lie in front of a shop or house and just let them be.”
Animal advocate and award winning author Rob Laidlaw has devoted his life to helping animals. While not everyone can commit as much time and effort as he does to helping animals, Rob believes all of us can make a difference. “Anyone can help.”
I learned about Rob and his charitable organization Zoocheck many years ago. So, when author and friend Sylvia McNicoll shared her story about Rob and how kind he was to her, I took a chance and emailed him, asking if he would be willing to share his story for my blog. Not only did he agree, he offered to speak with me!
While he spoke, I scrambled to make notes. Everything he said hit a chord with me. I didn’t want to miss any of it. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much I did writing it.
Rob Laidlaw was born in Toronto, Ontario. As far back as he can remember, he was always interested in animals and the environment.
As a kid, Rob read every book about animals and the environment in both his school and public library. He laughs that, back then, there weren’t very many such books.
The more he read, the more he learned, and the more his appetite for knowledge grew. He wrote away to groups such as Compassion in World Farming, Beauty Without Cruelty and the Animal Protection Institute, hoping to learn more about animal protections issues. This was pre-internet, pre-email, but eventually a long-awaited reply would arrive in the mail. With his growing knowledge of animals and how they were treated, Rob decided he wanted to do something to help them.
In 1981, he attended an early incarnation of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). He saw a film called The Animal’s Film, a disturbing documentary that provided a comprehensive look at the exploitation of animals in modern society. Rob described the film like this, “Imagine the worst things humans could do to animals, and what the film showed was 100, maybe 1000, times worse.” It detailed explicit and systemic animal cruelty and neglect, such as what animals endure on factory farms. Fortunately, it was not just an endless account of human cruelty. The film ended with a call to action. It featured groups trying to help animals in various ways.
Rob left the film with one thought, “I can’t know all of this and not try to help.”
Thus, began his search for groups to work with. But back then, there weren’t many animal advocacy groups in Canada. Groups like PETA didn’t exist.
With no animal advocacy groups operating in Toronto, he began his own investigations of animals in laboratories, factory farms and slaughterhouses.
In 1984, Rob was driving around the south shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario when he came upon the now defunct Wasaga Beach Game Farm. Rob was horrified by what he saw. Bears, primates, big cats and other animals trapped in grossly inadequate makeshift cages, some standing on deep beds of concrete-like excrement and being fed cheap, garbage food, including what looked like restaurant waste. There was also a bear cub, chained by the neck in a travel crate. She was crying. Rob asked about what was to happen to the cub, and was told she was going to another zoo, not too far away. Rob stopped at the other place. It was even worse.
Unable to simply walk away from what he witnessed, Rob followed up with complaints to the humane society and whatever government agencies provided oversight to places like this. He soon discovered there were no rules and that anyone could start a zoo. No license was required, no expertise or experience was needed, and there were no animal housing, management, care, welfare or safety standards— animal owners could do what they wanted. To make matters worse, there was no agency to receive complaints about the terrible conditions these animals were forced to live in, and no record of how many such zoos even existed.
Rob’s response to this blatant lack of accountability was to start the Zoocheck project in 1984. He traveled the province finding zoos, visiting them multiple times and documenting what he saw.
While the goal of Zoocheck was initially focused only on helping captive wild animals in Ontario’s zoos, it has expanded throughout the years to the goal of promoting and protecting the interests and well-being of wild animals, both in captivity and in the wild, across Canada and around the world. Today, Zoocheck uses investigative campaigns, legislative initiatives, legal actions, animal rescues and capacity building activities to achieve its goals.
Zoocheck’s efforts have played a significant role in ending the era of the roadside zoo to the east and west of Ontario. Unfortunately, Ontario has been particularly challenging and is still the only province that lacks dedicated laws, regulations or policies governing the keeping of exotic wildlife in captivity, but Rob is confident that will soon change.
Throughout the years, Zoocheck has also worked on hundreds of local bylaw campaigns aimed at stopping the use of wild animals in circuses, traveling zoos and the keeping of exotic pets. As well, at the provincial and federal level, Zoocheck has pushed for new or improved laws and regulations to protect wildlife in captivity and to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada. The group also has international campaigns, conducted collaboratively with other organizations, to improve the lives of captive animals.
Rob and his colleagues also fight to end the systemic abuse and exploitation of wildlife in the wild particularly by government agencies. Zoocheck has successfully pushed to establish bear rehabilitation and release across the country, to challenge the outdated wildlife management practices that threaten the existence of wild horses in the Canadian west and to combat the systemic persecution of double-crested cormorants in the Great Lakes Basin. Wildlife elsewhere are on the agenda too, as Zoocheck has expended considerable funds on anti-poaching efforts to protect elephants and rhinos in Africa’s wilderness.
Here are some of Rob’s memorable campaigns that Zoocheck has been involved with.
Several years ago, Rob was contacted by a US organization trying to help an elderly sixty-nine year old elephant named Hanako. She had spent nearly all of her life alone at the Inokashira Zoo in Japan, living on a concrete slab. Elephants in the wild live in familial groups for their entire lives, and are extremely active and wide-ranging.
Unfortunately, Hanako died as the campaign was building speed, but the US group wanted to capitalize on it to help other elephants. Zoocheck arranged for a world-renowned elephant biologist to examine Japan’s other solitary elephants and to produce a technical report about their plight and then to cooperatively do the follow-up work in Japan. A comprehensive report was released and attracted a great deal of attention, leading to a new policy statement by Japan’s national zoo association and changes to the way elephants are kept. But changing the value system and perspectives of humans takes time, so in the case of Japan, Rob estimates it could take another five to ten years of effort to substantially change the paradigm for Japanese elephants.
Another memorable elephant campaign was waging a fierce multi-year political battle against the Toronto Zoo and then relocating their three surviving elephants to a massive, world-renowned elephant sanctuary in California. Their lives were vastly improved and videos of them roaming the hills populate YouTube.
Another meaningful animal rescue for Rob involved Eugene the macaque monkey who had spent 26 years living alone in a room in a Quebec pet store. “He never saw the light of day or another monkey until we got him out of there,” Rob said. Eugene spent his final years at the Fauna Foundation sanctuary near Montreal. (An amazing place—my daughter & I visited a couple of years ago). He had lots of room, stimulation and he enjoyed simple things, like rolling his blankets up into a bed and then lying in the sun. “I’m so glad Eugene got to do those things before he passed.”
Wild Horses in Alberta
An issue that has always been close to Rob’s heart involves Canada’s wild horses. He led a difficult campaign against the Department of National Defence in the mid-90s over the fate of 1,200 wild horses on a military base in Alberta, the largest herd of wild horses in the Canadian west. Unfortunately, those horses were rounded up and the majority were sent to slaughter.
Fast forward to today and the fight is on to save another wild horse population, the last remaining herds in the foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Rob says these beautiful animals, that should be correctly considered as reintroduced native wildlife, are being ‘managed’ into extinction. The main issue is with the ranching industry as they perceive wild horses as competing with their cattle for forage on public lands, so they don’t want them there. And the ranching industry has a heavy influence on government. Despite this, efforts to stop the wild horse roundups have been successful for a number of years, but the risk to their survival is still ever-present.
There are all kinds of other memories, some negative, but many that are positive. Such as achieving legislation that reduced the number of zoos, stopping new zoos from opening and closing facilities like the outdated Storybook Gardens zoo, a 1950s children’s zoo in London, Ontario and the Springwater Provincial Park zoo that had existed for more than 80 years.
While Rob’s name is often associated with these campaigns, he wants to stress that campaigns are nearly always a collective effort with co-workers, colleagues, other organizations, law firms, bureaucrats and elected officials. No one can do it alone.
When asked what is the most difficult part of running an organization that campaigns for change, Rob’s answer is, “Losing a campaign.”
When asked what is the best part, his answer is “Winning a campaign.”
He expanded by saying he is focused on winning campaigns for the animals. For animals who are being exploited, winning is all that matters. Winning can mean that an animal’s life is improved or an abusive practice, business or institution changes or is closed. At the end of the day, Rob wants to know that his efforts have at least raised the bar in how animals are treated and that he has pushed the issues forward.
I think everyone would agree that animals are much better off with Rob Laidlaw being involved and working tirelessly to improve their lives.
In addition to being the founder of Zoocheck and an animal advocate, Rob is also an award-winning author of children’s books. He writes about topics he’s familiar with, so his books are about helping animals and the environment. He hopes children who read his books are inspired to get involved in making the world a better place for animals, the environment and for people too.
I asked Rob if he had a magic wand and could change one thing in the world, what would it be —his answer, “I wish every person would get engaged in the things that affect their own lives, for themselves, their children, and the animals and environment. Many people have no idea how laws and policies are made, they’ve never spoken to their elected officials and many people don’t even bother to vote. For the world to improve, people have to get active and engaged in the processes that govern their lives.”
Rob strongly believes there is truth in the famous Edmund Burke quote, (which I have rephrased to make gender neutral) ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’