Pets in abusive households

Nicole Messier runs a rescue unique in the province of Quebec.  Women (and it is usually women) who are reluctant to leave an abuser because they worry about the pet they will leave behind have AnimEscale to turn to.  Nicole founded AnimEscale in February 2008.  Its mission is to foster family pets while children and their mothers seek refuge in a domestic violence victim’s shelter.  Seventy-one percent of women entering shelters in Quebec state that the spouse has threatened to hurt, has injured or has killed at least one of their pets.  Forty-six percent of them said that they delayed their departure, the security of their pets being of major concern to them.  Without any subsidies or grants of any kind, Nicole built this special rescue from the ground up. She has just launched a fundraising book called Les maux dits which can be purchased on her website. (Please see my link to “Shelter for pets in domestic abuse situations”.) Les maux dits is a play on words, and I’m eager to see the English translation of both that brilliant title and the book itself.   I love what Nicole does because it serves a dual purpose:  it helps the abused make that life-changing decision to leave, and it protects her/his pet from what is almost certainly a desperate situation if left with the abuser.

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Saving our Mustangs in Canada

Bob and Doreen Henderson head up WHOAS, the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, devoted to stopping the government-sanctioned cull of mustangs in the Sundre region of Alberta and parts of BC.  I can’t recommend their site too highly–and not just for the wealth of information available on what’s left of Canada’s mustangs (Bob’s History of the Horse in Alberta stands out in particular)–but also for the stirring photos which Bob features on the site.  A few years ago, I was involved in lobbying the Alberta government (and the federal, and COSEWIC, and the David Suzuki Foundation) to change the designation of these horses from “feral” to “heritage species”.  Despite DNA evidence and archeological finds that point to these horses as the last surviving descendants of the conquistadors’ mounts, the Alberta government persists in its wrong-headed view that these magnificent creatures are merely strays who’ve escaped from domestic herds.  The WHOAS site provides much more detail on this government-abetted theft of an integral part of Canada’s history and legacy to future Canadians. Once there, I hope you sign their petition even as you relish the exceptional photos of these iconic animals.

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Which SPCA?

For years, Pierre Barnoti was the Executive Director of the Montreal SPCA, apparently the only SPCA in Canada legally entitled by the original British SPCA to use the name, Canadian SPCA.  This was his downfall–and theirs.  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  A year and a bit after Barnoti left SPCA Montreal (or was asked to leave), he still has his hands in the till, bilking well-meaning donors whose intentions are to help the animals in our local Montreal SPCA by taking over the website and having all donations delivered to another site (his), known as the SPCA International. As far as I am aware (and others in the know), there is no such organisation so…where is the money going?  Barnoti was in the news again tonight.  Apparently, he is suing CTV News Montreal for defamation and the SPCA Montreal for wrongful dismissal.  If he wins either of those two cases, I can only quote Dickens’s character in Oliver Twist:  “if the law thinks so, sir, then the law is an ass!”  Be careful to check out any SPCA to which you apply to adopt an animal or to deliver an animal.  A no-kill shelter is best; one which has a history of the animal and its previous owners; and, one which checks you and your lifestyle out before handing over an already stressed/abused/abandoned animal to your care (life-time care).  Fees for spay/neuter, deworming, and overall vet care are usual, and show that the shelter a) has checked out and cared for the animal; and, b) needs funding to keep it going.  No shame in that since most are non profit.  Some agencies will not accept certain dog breeds which are hard to place.  Nonsense.  It’s easy afterwards to claim 100 per cent placement if all you’re able to place are retrievers! Some will not even accept German Shepherds–and as for Pit Bulls, I’ll save that one for another post.  As for cats, the problem is thoughtless overbreeding by homeowners who think kittens are cute until they grow up.  Cats are predators, and have completely different needs from domestic dog breeds.  If you have a cat or cats, have them spayed/neutered–please!

My favourite SPCA is the SPCA Monteregie:  it’s a no kill, has a variety of animals to choose from, and takes excellent care of its charges.  After nearly 15 years, I still sponsor two cats and a dog (at only $10 per animal per month), and needless to say, that’s where I got my Fred from.  I have been owned by five cats in my lifetime so far, all adopted or strays, and each one has been a treasure.  I made sure all were fixed and none were de-clawed.

In any case, my point is this:  a pet is for life, and though they rarely outlive us, think before you take on responsibility for one.  They get sick, they get old; they get arthritis; they depend on us to navigate them through our urban/suburban/human lifestyles.  Before getting a pet, check out the breed’s suitability to your lifestyle, his breed’s likely health problems (and whether you have the wherewithal to pay for vet care–because, trust me, there will be vet care), and a myriad of other things.  People take more care choosing a car than they do choosing a pet (or even deciding to have a child, for that matter).  A pet is not like a sofa:  you can’t just discard it because you’ve decided that it no longer suits you.  This is something, Mr. Barnoti, you need to think about if, in fact, you are collecting money intended for the safety and welfare of abandoned pets and applying to, um, other ends.  Rant over…for now.

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Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston)

I‘ve never been a big reader of biographies except for Margaret Forster’s who has covered everyone from Thackeray to Daphne du Maurier.  Forster’s skill at drawing the reader into the life of her subject and exposing the dramas, big and little, which fill out that life without exaggeration, without embellishment, is unparalleled.  Alison Griffiths and David Cruise, authors of Wild Horse Annie & The Last of the Mustangs. The Life of Velma Johnston have met, if not surpassed, such high standards–not only for the voluminousness of their research–but also for the quality and flow of the writing. There is no hint of sentimentalism in their account of a woman scarred early on by polio who took on the US Bureau of Land Management long before animal or horse advocacy groups were part of our culture. It’s a true David and Goliath story in which a seemingly nondescript American citizen (1950s homemaker, secretary) chances upon a horse transport and is so horrified by what she sees that she determines to stop it.  As it turns out, she changes the course of american law with regard to the treatment and slaughter of the American mustang. I can’t say enough about the authors’ handling of the many characters who flow in and out of Velma’s messianic mission, nor their deft presentation of Velma herself.  As a child, I was a great reader of Marguerite Henry’s classic horse stories for youngsters:  I loved them all.  But like most young horse-lovers, I didn’t know anything about the underbelly of the horse culture nor anything about how their slaughter came about initially to feed protein to our pet dogs. As the fast food burger outlets grew during that period, more and more land was taken over by cattlemen who claimed the mustangs were pests, using up pasture they needed for their cow herds. I learned a lot about the american mustang’s displacement from natural corridors which for centuries had been his home.  As my own novel, Ground Manners, approaches its publication date, I’m glad I didn’t come across Wild Annie before now:  I never would have finished my book.  And the few grisly scenes of slaughter in GM are more than matched by disturbing descriptions in Wild Annie.  I had polio as a child–a very minor case compared to Annie’s; and she died on my birthday. Another reason I feel close to her and her passion to save the mustangs.  But mostly, I am part of a readership grateful to Griffiths and Cruise for bringing Velma’s courageous mission back to the table.

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The last resort of the dim-witted


Your morals are inconceivable glad you are Canadian not American my father who served along side the canadian royal air force and the RAF stated there were differences, now I truly believe he was right ours is a moral question yours is an excuse. This is the 21 century there is such a thing as genetics, use it, do not over breed. I will pray for your soul.

I suspect that this sort of person will only pray for an American’s soul.  It reads like that false piety one reserves for people one cannot argue with because the complexities of the issue far outstrip anything one’s feeble mind can grasp.  This was my reply–not on behalf of the Albertan breeder but on behalf of staying focussed on the main issue:


No need to be jingoistic here. The US can afford to play holier-than-thou since it banned horse slaughter on its own soil yet still sends its horses to abattoirs in Canada and Mexico, or in some cases, abandons its horses by the side of anonymous roads like roadkill. As one US auctioneer said in the Channel 13 report from Indiana when questioned about auction horses being transported to Canada for slaughter: “that’s another country. I have nothing to say about what’s done in another country”.  A minor but deadly hypocrisy there, don’t you think? And Canada and Mexico play lapdog to the US’ preening of its morality–all the worse for them. The heinousness of horse slaughter transcends national boundaries: we’re all guilty so don’t make it about national loyalties. It’s about horses abandoned, transported and eviscerated alive, or left to languish until death is their only reprieve. It’s about them.

Btw, that channel 13 Indianapolis report is one of the most balanced and most thorough I’ve ever seen.   There were many other replies to the Albertan breeder which were civil, factual, based on their own experiences as breeders, and–yes, angry and disgusted–but nothing like the silly petulance of the above which didn’t even address the issue(s).  I learned a lot about breeding from them and nothing at all from the prayerful poster.

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