Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

Family Christmas with Madeleine, me and Jai.

It’s Family Day in Alberta and B.C. and a few other places in Canada. Many of you have the day off to hopefully go on some outdoor adventures or do something else cool with your clan. But it doesn’t just have to be with human family – there’s also our non-human kin.

Two of my friends recently said goodbye to their pets. One woman told me most people didn’t understand why she was so upset. It was only a cat. She could get another one. To those of us who are pet people, we understand. Pets are family.

Our cats and dogs and rabbits and iguanas and hedgehogs and snakes are part of our lives. They are our fuzzy sisters and brothers, our most consistent furry roommates and our cuddling confidants (maybe not the hedgehog or snake). They make us laugh, they make us angry, they mostly make us happy and they never ask for anything other than a pat on the belly.

When I lived in Sackville, New Brunswick 12 years ago, I had a three bedroom apartment. I did have two roommates – my cat and dog. Jai, my tiny grey kitty, came from Calgary. A farmer brought in the little girl with a club foot to be put down because the other barn cats had been beating her up. My cousin, a veterinarian in training, saw the sweetness in Jai and so I ended up with her.

Madeleine was a beagle I found along with her puppy, Ali. They had been running up and down the Nova Scotia dirt roads leading to where I grew up. My parents took Ali and I got her mama.

Madeleine had some problems, probably because she had been abused, but she wasn’t mean or nasty. She was shy, didn’t like men and I couldn’t trust her off leash. I also couldn’t trust her to be around food. If anything was in her reach it was gone. To be gobbled down in a few bites.

Jai and Madeleine didn’t like each other at first. But eventually they began to play with each other. Jai loved being chased and even though she had a club foot she was quick. Madeleine would jump around trying to catch her. They were never best friends but they were sisters.

Every Saturday morning Jai would watch the apartment while Madeleine and I went to the Farmers’ Market. It was held in the Bridge Street Café, a coffee shop downtown that was about a 10 minute jaunt away. Madeleine loved to go for walks and she would sniffsniffsniff all over the place. She was never happy when I tied her up near the café to wait for me when I went to buy my treats. She would howl and howl and people in the market would ask:

“Whose dog is that? What a loud and horrible sound.”

I would pretend I didn’t hear them. I knew Madeleine only had a few minutes longer before I came to rescue her. I only went to one booth anyway. The one that sold the almond croissants.

The baker was German and lived in Baie Verte – about a 20 minute drive from Sackville. He had the best baked goods ever and my favourite was the marzipan filled pastry. Mmmmm. I haven’t had anything like it since. The baker put the croissant in a brown paper bag, folded the top over once and handed it to me. I stuck it in my handbag and went to pick up my beagle.

Our walk home was quicker than our walk to the market since my mouth was watering thinking about the marzipan I was going to eat. Jai greeted us once we got down the stairs and into the apartment. I took off my shoes and then Madeleine’s leash and set my handbag down on the living room floor. There was no way my beagle could get into my purse without unbuttoning the top and then having to unfold the paper bag. My treat was safe while I ran around the corner to the kitchen to make tea.

Filling the kettle with water took no longer than 10 seconds. When I came back Madeleine was smacking her lips. Like she had eaten something. Strange. My handbag was where I had left it and it was still closed. My croissant was safe. She hadn’t ate it.

I picked up my purse, opened it and pulled out the brown paper bag with the tasty delight in it. Except my arm swung back wildly because the bag was lighter than I had expected. It was not heavy with the sweet crusts of an almond pastry. It was as light as air.

The bag was empty.

Somehow Madeleine had undone the button on my purse, unfolded the paper bag, ate the croissant, folded the bag up exactly as the Baie Verte baker had, done up the button on my handbag and ate my treat – all under 10 seconds. How did she do it? Jai probably knew but never told. It was a family secret.