Family Lines

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Tag: cats

No Bones about it

Me and a dog,.

Me and my buddy Bones. Photo by Don Aubrey.

A few years ago, I walked the dogs and patted the cats as a volunteer for the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. There were a lot of stray animals in the tiny Northwest Territories town. It’s especially imperative there’s a haven for animals there because of the extreme cold in winter. Once the dogs and cats are in the shelter they get tons of warmth and love from the volunteers.

I went to the shelter on weekends and sometimes during my lunch hour on weekdays. When I first started working at the shelter I got teary eyed every visit thinking about all the abandoned pets. But I kept going because if I wasn’t there, who would take my place?

Most of the cats enjoyed a pat or 30 (I ended up taking one of the kitties home.) They purred and cuddled and played with me in the cosy kitty room. I always had to hurry to shut the cat room door when I was leaving because they’d try to follow me out.

The main room was where the dog pens were housed. There were huskies and Labs and even a mini Pinscher that I wanted to adopt. There were old dogs and middle-aged dogs and puppies. There were adorable dogs and funny-looking mutts and dogs I couldn’t walk because they were too large and too strong and they walked me.

There was one big guy named Bones at the shelter and if you met him in a dark alley you probably would run the other way. He only looked scary. I’m not sure what breed he was but he was definitely a cross between a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. He had the brown and black colouring of both canines, the ears that stuck straight up in a Shepherd and the snout of a Rottie. He had the strength of a horse and even his tail could pack a mighty thwack if you walked past him. Bones wasn’t meant for fighting though and it showed through in his soft, kind brown eyes and friendly demeanour.


In the cat room.

Bones could have been a bad man but he was the sweetest dog in the world. He enjoyed people and pats and going for walks. I loved him a lot. We used to wander around the snow-covered paths in winter looking for new sights (for me) and new smells (for him). Bones was my best buddy. I’d tell him all kinds of stuff and he never butted in with unwanted opinions or advice. Ever. He just kept silent and let me do the talking.

It took a while before Bones was adopted so we had a pretty long relationship. He even chaperoned a couple of dates I went on with a human. Bones wasn’t the jealous kind and he let my soon-to-be boyfriend tag along with us.

Bones went to live with a local family in Smith and was often seen hanging out at their shop. I went to see him a couple of times and he’d always stand on his hind legs and give me a bear hug. He knocked me over each time as he was almost the same size as me.

Thus year, 2017, marks almost 10 years since I last saw him. He was hit by a vehicle a while after I moved from Fort Smith to B.C. I heard the news through a shelter friend and I cried over the loss of my big, furry friend. I still miss him.

Love at first sight



I saw him from across the room. A handsome guy with an intense stare. I decided to go over and say hello. That’s when he head-butted me.

It was my introduction to Tomas, a cat at the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. He knew he was going to be mine the moment he laid eyes on me. And he wasn’t about to let me go.

I was trying to pat the other kitties in the shelter’s cat room. There were a lot of them and everyone needed at least a couple of hugs. Tommy didn’t think so. He wiggled his way into my arms and told the others to scram.

This was my first visit to the shelter since I had moved to the Northwest Territories a couple of months before. Dixie Penner, who runs the shelter, also worked with me at the paper I had come to be the editor of: the then Slave River Journal. She suggested I volunteer at the animal sanctuary and so I was there looking around.

Tom followed me around, hissed at the other kitties, and mooed at me to pay attention to him only. (Tomas doesn’t meow, he makes cow noises but since he’s from the north we say he’s making bison noises.) After that day I started coming back to visit him and play with the other cats, well, if I could get near any of them. I walked the dogs too.

A few weeks after helping out, Dixie asked me if I wanted to foster Tom, a squat boy with several shades of grey granite on his white fur body. He wasn’t getting along with the other cats and needed to be on his own. I asked my landlords if I could bring him home and they said OK so I said OK to hosting Tomas for a while.


One of the dogs I used to walk. She was eventually adopted.

He moved in one November afternoon. When there was snow on the subarctic ground and the sun was beginning to hide for most of the day. I thought he’d be a regular guy, hang out with me, eat some food and then go to sleep at night. But oh no, he turned into a bad guy.

Tomas would run full-tilt at me and then attack whatever part of my body he arrived at first. Usually my legs. He was vicious and for the first two weeks I walked around with giant pillows so he could assault them and not me. One night I got a nasty surprise in the dark just as I turned out the light. Tommy leapt up and grabbed my arm, scratching and tearing until I managed to pull him off.

Even my friends were afraid of him. When one buddy came over Tom would hop into his lap, waiting for pats. He wouldn’t get many as my friend was frozen solid, afraid to move a muscle in case Tom sank his fangs into his flesh.

Family_Lines_Tomas_oneOver a few months Tommy became a sort-of nice boy. He stopped the attacks and bit only when I left him on his own for a while. He’s a very social cat. After a year I decided to adopt him because even though his poster was all over the territory, even in Yellowknife, no one has asked about him. (I’ve never told him this though.) He’s a great guy now after mellowing for 11 years. Just don’t whistle around him. He’ll bite you.

Families include furry folk too

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.







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