Monday, December 29, 2008

Celebrity devours Doll Favorite

Goodbye, Dolly -- Dollface goes face down.

Rumors are true. The popularity and attention lavished on Doll Favorite has very nearly led to her demise.

Yesterday I told you about her head popping off. Thank goodness that was
easy to fix.

But most of my nine cats grew interested in her once I set her apart for photographs and special attention. Jealousy took root, and they all began to fight for Doll. As you can see, she has reached status beyond Doll Favorite – she’s Favorite Toy. When one cat lets her go, it isn’t long before another pounces and picks her up for playtime.

All the tomcat action has left poor Doll looking like a heavy metal groupie at a Motley Crue concert.

Little C has decided Doll can be replaced for now, but I have a feeling she’ll go searching for her once night falls.

Little C placates herself with someone new as Doll carouses with the other cats.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How about a kiss, Dollface?

Little C has grown attached to dolls saved from my childhood.

By now the gifts have been opened, and their surprises sprung. But have you noticed that it isn’t always the intended items that deliver maximum impact? A kid or an animal might be more captivated by the box something came in than the toy itself.

Besides being drawn immediately to any new box that lands in the house, I’ve watched my cats get excited about cardboard toilet rolls, paper bags, sheets of newspaper and wiffle balls. Animals don’t assign monetary value to gifts, so the criterion is simple. An item must be fun.

If you’re like many pet guardians, you spoiled your animals rotten over the holidays. I’m sure they deserved the lavish attention. But as these photos illustrate, your cat or dog may prefer to commandeer toys that weren’t intended for them. Toys they grow much more attached to than anything you could think up or choose.

One of my cats known as Little C (short for Little Carreen) has taken a dedicated liking to a threesome of dolls that I played with when I was a kid. At first I tried to keep them away from her for the sake of posterity. Then I thought, why not? I don’t have a grand use for the dolls. And she deserves a chance to play, too.

Little C enjoys licking their hair down flat, flinging the dolls into the air, and carrying them around the house by their heads.

Here are the three dolls. They are battered and well-loved. As you can see, I can barely get the shot before the Black Paw swoops in to grab her favorite doll again. It feels like King Kong. I'm always finding their clothes around the house and putting them back on. Clearly a few pieces have gone missing permanently.

Little C loves her dolls so much that the other cats in the house are growing interested. Here's Sam inspecting the collection.

Little C is always comforted when I present her tiny doll.

I tried to rescue Doll Favorite back when she was snatched from the photo line-up, but as you can see, the consequences were dramatic.

Friday, December 26, 2008

In the spirit of Boxing Day, try a little tenderness

Sharing a bed is warmer and more fun.

Commonwealth countries don’t finish celebrating on Dec. 25th. In places such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Christmas links up with another holiday known as Boxing Day.

Held on Dec. 26th, the bonus day off work gives families an opportunity to share meals of leftovers between making mad dashes to shops, where they return unwanted gifts in exchange for clearance items they’d rather have. Some stores have found Boxing Day sales to be so popular and useful for clearing out unsold merchandise that they keep the slashed prices for several days, calling it Boxing Week.

But those aren’t the boxes the day was originally named after.

It was intended to be designated for giving a gift to the less fortunate – a box of something – whether food, durable goods or cash. Possibly rooted in the relationship between serf and lord, and definitely linked to the wealthy giving to the poor, it was nevertheless a moment that human beings were generous and appreciated others for their humble service.

To honor today, I’m going to celebrate by presenting some photos that give thanks to my cats. No, they aren’t pictured with their box of food, although rest assured they’ve been enjoying special snacks and catnip for several days in a row. I figure they deserve the chance to celebrate, too.

Here they are in all their glory enjoying some tender moments of pure love and companionship.

Remember the Kodak poster with the babies all in a row?

Even a headlock can be an act of love.

Group love.

Chow time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From the safety of the eagle’s nest…I’m wishing you a happy Christmas filled with peace and love

Just imagine the view from this perch. The nest is abandoned now, but I still protect the tree from attempts to cut it down. It lies just outside the periphery of my property. Maybe a lazy bird will need it one day.

The sky is blank grey-white and the snow is sheeting down. When it stops I’ll be hitting the drifts with my camera. I’ve decided to wait for a break in weather before trying again. My lens is trashed. Its scars show up routinely on every picture.

I’m so ready that I’m bundled up in my snow pants, toque and sweater in front of the window, watching and waiting from the warm indoors. Two feet of snow have fallen already. While I wait, here are a few more shots from the snow-kissed Pacific Northwest.

Please remember I’m a beginner photographer. I hope you also feel inspired to run out and get your own shots of a winter wonderland, wherever you are!

Pets work overtime during the holiday season

At this moment, millions of animals are being called into service.

For many people, the bliss and joy of the season glazes this special day with brilliant love and perpetual good cheer. Others find it’s a harsh reminder that highlights what’s missing in their lives. And that’s where the animals come in. They instinctively put their best paws forward to spread goodwill whatever the dismal circumstances.

For an animal, comforting human beings comes naturally. It’s all part of the line of duty. Those finding themselves a little lost on life’s path. The lonely, orphaned, or troubled. It doesn’t matter to a dog, cat, rabbit or hamster. They simply want to cuddle in and be there.

Even the happiest homes brighten when animals are invited.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Trails in the snow lead to creatures taking shelter

Doesn’t it look like two little animals stopped by the creek for a drink? Maybe a bird (webbed feet) and some other creature? Incidentally, the shape of the creek reminded me of the South American land mass.

Mother Nature has bestowed a seasonal blanket of fresh snow upon the Earth, laying down an icy white swath clear from the Pacific Northwest across to New England. But the beauty of her decorative good tidings is lost on travelers anxious to get home for the holidays.

Havoc has been inflicted on transportation arteries. Cars are stranded beside roadways. Buses and trains aren’t leaving their stations. Airports are clogged with passengers clamoring to get home and be with loved ones. Even the blistering hot bayou had a snowy December. On the 11th, New Orleans had its first snow since Christmas 2004. Since 1850, snow has fallen in measurable amounts in the city just 17 times, and this was the earliest recorded snowfall in history.

In my corner of the woods, the normally lush and green Washington State is frosted with wet and fluffy flakes. Everything outdoors looks just like a Christmas card. Here, snow is an infrequent event coming just a handful of times per winter. Usually it’s burned off before the layers have a chance to form. Lately, as storm has followed storm, the base hasn’t melted away.

I am thanking my lucky stars that I’m not one of those road-weary passengers on the way to getting somewhere else. Instead, I’ve spent the past couple of days tramping through the peace of the snowfall to take photographs and inspect the landscape. It’s fascinating to see the changes to my property in its rare snow-covered condition.

I live in a rural area that is developing quickly. Acreage is being snatched up one house at a time. Wild animals must find new places to make their homes, and I welcome them to my place. This piece of land sings with life. It's like being in Disney's Magic Kingdom, sitting in the audience of the Country Bear Jamboree show when the stage comes alive.

The trees are nesting places for a variety of birds such as hawks, owls and eagles. Deer and coyotes wander past the windows. Rabbits and squirrels scamper across the private road and bridges. And every November, I have the privilege of hosting precious salmon as they fight their way, torn and bloodied, up two trickling creeks to their spawning destination, instinctively continuing the cycle of life at the peril of their own.

Today was different. Under the weight of the snowfall, the property lay nearly silent. As I walked, all I could hear was my feet crunching on snow. When I stopped, it was only the sound of snowflakes fizzling as they hit their delicate targets of leaves and tree branches. It felt as if I was in a recording studio built by nature – the snow baffled and muffled the sounds, sucking extraneous noise into the insulation of the frozen blanket.

I wondered. Where did all the animals go? With the exception of the odd bird pecking at the herb gardens poking out, I didn’t see any. Some bushes rustled and dropped snow as I came nearby, so that told me animals were nestling in the warmest places they could find.

Then it hit me: Look down!

I was pleasantly surprised to find animal tracks. The trails of wildlife were all over the property. At first, it frightened me. Hunters exploit the tracks to find and shoot their helpless prey.

But then I relaxed and enjoyed the exploration. The animals are safe here. The only shooting I was doing was with my camera. And I had physical evidence of the animals, evidence that I don't usually get to study.

Check out the marks made by their little feet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A tiny tree grows – thrives, even – in the charred remains of an inner-city slum

A shred of life rises up from the blackened forest bed.

Trees are hot this time of year. The natural, non-denominational motif graces all things festive – holiday cards and decorations, wrapping paper and cookies. And of course, there is the most significant duty that awaits the coniferous tree, at least so far as humans are concerned: taking its place protecting the gifts. Ceremoniously bedazzled with ornaments, bows and lights, the tree is a celebratory reminder of the peace and generosity of the holiday season.
My personal tribute to the beauty of trees is partly why I posted today’s photo (above.) A section of the forest near my house had been cleared by loggers, and its residue burned. Fresh trees were planted in place of the tall ones that were felled. I was surprised to discover that the saplings found all they needed to nurture themselves underneath the blackened soil.

But there’s another reason the photo seemed apropos. People have been asking me why nine-year-old Calli Vanderaa’s story resonated with so many people (Girl rescues tortured puppy from inner-city war zone, Dec. 14.) Every day I come across stories that are riveting and inspiring. But Calli’s tale had more power than usual. It took hold and gathered up life and found momentum of its own. As they say in the wordsmith business, this story had legs.

When I was leafing through my photos, I realized the above shot explains why Calli’s voice was heard so clearly above the din and pomp of the holidays. There is the obvious correlation between the tree and Jessie, the seven-week-old pup Calli rescued from the dumpster. Jessie and her littermates had been placed in a box and set on fire. Calli heard Jessie’s cries. She was the lone survivor of this cruel, destructive act, a miracle dog pulled from tragic circumstances.

But this tree also reminds me of Calli. It is more striking and radiant than one you would find in a dense, healthy rainforest because it has survived in spite of the harsh elements that constantly tried to wear and tear it down.

In the midst of a barren city slum landscape overrun with gangs, drugs, and poverty, the tender sapling named Calli stayed strong and kept growing taller, driven by her own compass and her own compassion. Despite all that has been done to her – she’s been shot, fought, and verbally abused – she kept her inner light burning bright. She exhibited humanity when the situation demanded it.
We see so much ugliness every day, and much of that is the natural human response to how we’ve been treated. We spew unkindness because of the injustices perpetrated on us. Putting aside their difficult living conditions, Calli and her father extended themselves beyond an existing and overwhelming list of responsibilities to rescue (and keep) a creature who is more innocent, helpless and needy than themselves.

I am often struck when people say to me, “How can we worry about animal issues when humans are suffering? Shouldn’t all the money go to humans? Isn’t helping animals diverting money from the more important human causes?”

Calli’s story shows that this is not the case. By stimulating people to consider the human-animal bond, we help people and animals. Nurturing a creature more helpless than ourselves, watching them thrive under the care of gentle hands, taps into our human drive to save.

And just watch what happens. Other people will come out of the woodwork to be part of the saving. The inspiration and hope that springs from heroic human acts keeps the world turning. Until we start considering love and compassion and doing the right thing as an infinite resource, not a finite one, things will never get better — for us or the animals.

Jessie changed Calli’s life. That tiny, soot-covered pup left for dead in the garbage bin boosted her self-esteem, and showed her that people in Winnipeg and beyond do care about her family and their well-being. Jessie gave Calli a mission and a purpose.

She poured her love into her dog, and Jessie grew and bloomed like a beautiful garden. Or a forest of trees.

And this act of humanity gave Calli someone she will cherish throughout her childhood. A friend beside whom she can weather the world, even when it’s unkind.

Calli's dad Corey (with pup Jessie) is overwhelmed by the gifts generously bestowed on his family by readers. This photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press and Phil Hossack.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yes, Calli, there is a Santa Claus...and his name is Winterpeg

Calli gives her little friend Jessie a big kiss.

When readers learned this week about nine-year-old Calli and her rescue of a tortured puppy, the response to her act of kindness was immediate and overwhelming. (Girl rescues tortured puppy from inner city war zone, Dec. 14, 2008).
Emails from around North America started pinging my box and that of Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. People were touched by her story of survival in the inner city slums. And her devotion to her dad. But mainly they were moved to tears because of her compassion towards animals.

Calli chucked her Christmas list in favor of spending time with her dad, but thanks to the generosity of Free Press and Modern Dog readers, she’s not going without gifts this year. She’ll have a tree to put up, and it won't go bare.

Here are samples from the mailbag. There were many more, and they are still coming. I’d recommend having some tissues nearby to dry your eyes.

And your letters keep rolling in...

This story has really taken me aback. My eyes teared up after reading about Corey and Calli Vanderaa. Now here's a father who is ultimately doing his best to bring up his daughter in a loving home, albeit with the odds stacked against him. The compassion he showed in rescuing their dog Jessie is minor compared to his compassion and dedication to his daughter Calli. It's times like this that I wish I had won a "portion" of the 649 and could give to him, so that he could move into a safe and secure neighbourhood where Calli would be able to ride her bike, walk to the park, and for that matter, be outdoors without parental supervision. When I look out my kitchen window, I smile at the kids sliding down the snow hill in the park behind our home. Then I think of Calli who might never get to experience these "givens" that our kids have enjoyed. Wow, what an eye opener! I can also see that Calli is a very smart and bright young girl, who like her Dad, won't let the odds beat them down. Her poetry shows just how articulate she is! Bottom line, both Corey and Calli deserve a much-needed break!!
I would like to send a cheque to Corey so that he and his daughter can enjoy a one-on-one day, outside of their home...maybe go to an afternoon movie, do a little shopping and then dinner, to help celebrate in the Christmas season. I know the two of them would have an absolutely fabulous "Dad and Daughter Day!"

Virtually every day is a "good morning" for myself and my family. We are so fortunate to enjoy good health, happiness, have super family and friends, and live in our home in a wonderful neighbourhood. Both my husband and I work full time in secure and steady jobs, and have the time to spend with our two teenage daughters.
What I am wondering is, has Calli’s dog been neutered or spayed? If not, I would like to pay for this surgery for Jesse. I know how expensive having a pet can be and in these difficult economic times, this is a bill that even people who have a little money stored away, wince at. Please do let me know. This is the least that I can do for this precious child and her father.

If Corey ever needs help should his mother take ill, whether it is during the day, evening or even an overnighter, I would do it. I was a Big Sister for 13 yrs and a foster parent to several kids over the years. I'd spend time getting Corey's trust before I ever helped him out, that's a given. Jessie is welcome too as I just got a dog two months ago for my son and the pup would love the company...4 mths old now with monster

I just read your story about Calli and her dog. I have been a rescuer of animals since I can remember. Bringing home every wayward creature that crossed my path. Today, I foster for a rescue group and have three adopted dogs of my own. I want to do something to help Calli and her family and encourage her to hold onto her kindness in the face of a not-so-kind world. Any suggestions? Thank You.

My heart and best wishes go out to the Vanderaa family and the puppy. Can you pass something along to them for me? As long as the father has a steady income and other conditions are in place that can show there is need for decent, affordable housing, he MAY qualify for a 'hand up' from Habitat for Humanity. If he is willing to partner with Habitat, and go through the application and selection process, he MAY be eligible for an interest-free loan for a new home in a better area of town, with payment terms that align with his income level. No one should have to raise a child under those conditions but there are options for him to pursue, if he so chooses.

I read your article about Calli Vanderaa and her father in today's paper and teared up with emotion. What an extraordinary job her father must be doing to raise a daughter with such compassion amidst such conditions. I too have a daughter, actually I have 5 children, but I am writing about 1 in particular. My oldest child, Christina, is a Biology Major student at the University of Manitoba, and hopes to continue on in medical school. Christina knows that she is fortunate and it has always been important for her to give back to her community.
This brings me to my story. As I said, she is attending university and plans to for several years. As you can imagine, her room is quickly filling up with textbooks. Christina has always been somewhat of a packrat unable to part with anything. She still has a collection of Barbie furniture and an entire series of Ann Martin's Baby-Sitters Little Sister books. She has been unable to part with these as she has always taken extremely good care of her belongings and they had to go to a good home.
Although Christina always receives Christmas presents, she never really needs anything, in her words. Her one request was for clean water for a family from World Vision. I would like to give her the opportunity to help someone in her own community if possible by donating her Barbie furniture and book collection to a good home, Calli Vanderaa's home. We also have a pink and purple two-wheel bike, nothing fancy, and a GT snow racer still hanging in our garage which they are more than welcome to. I know that this would be the best Christmas present that I could give my daughter and hopefully we can help Calli believe that there are still a lot of good people in Winnipeg.

I found my 10 year old daughter (Madi) today reading the paper and crying. I asked her what was wrong and she showed me your article. Now, for Madi who is a HUGE animal lover the tears came from the abusive situation the pup was found in. She couldn't even read the whole article because it upset her too much to continue to even understand the depth of Calli's life. I read the article and had tears in my eyes. Not just because the abusive life she is surrounded by but also because there is a child who just wants extra time with her dad.
Surely there is a contact YOU MUST HAVE to Avril Lavigne to get her more than a poster. I feel compelled to send this article to Avril herself and see if anything is done about it. I realize there is a code of discretion amongst reporters and the "Stars" but I also know there is always an in as my husband was a Professional Hockey Player for 16 years in Europe. I'm sure Avril too would feel compelled to do something for this young child at Christmas.
It's worth a try seeing it is Christmas and the Spirit of giving is the air full force this time of year.
a Mother who hates to see Christmas Wishes unmet.

After reading Calli Vanderaa's story in your column today FFFAS thought that a young girl who has witnessed so much tragedy in her young life definitely deserves to be rewarded and recognized for her humanity and compassion.
The Board of Directors from FFFAS would like to provide Calli with a gift of $100 to spend as she wishes and also present the Vanderaa family with a "Little Critters" gift basket for Jessie. Her father Corey should be commended for all that he has taught her.
Friends Fundraising for Animal Shelters

I realize your column today on Corey, Calli and Jessie wasn’t a call for financial help but perhaps a look at how little one may have in a not so great neighborhood and still be able to show compassion and love for our less fortunate companion animals. As rescuers of cats and dogs in Winnipegosis we have come to know the unconditional love these felines and canines give. Calli and Corey have made their lives better by rescuing and caring for Jessie. We would be willing to pay for spaying and shots at a veterinary clinic for her if it has not already been done. Please relay this message to them and thank them for a job well done. Thanks.
Garry and Diane

Calli reminds me of my daughter, Ali; who is similarly kind and caring and who has a huge soft spot for animals. Children certainly have a way of reminding us adults about what is really important in life; spending time with the people (and animals) we love.
My family and I would like to do something for Calli; we would like to get her something for under her tree (perhaps an Avril Lavigne poster?), and we would also like to contribute some food for Jessie (or cash for food, whatever is most convenient for Calli and her father.) Thank you.

I have two little girls of my own aged 7 and 9 and I am always trying to think of ways that I can teach them lessons in life. Our family would like to offer a Christmas hamper that we will fill with gifts and food for both Calli and Jessie. I know all about Avril Lavigne as my 7 and 9 year old are fans as well.
My husband and I are both phys ed teachers in the south end. The happiness and safety of our children both at home and at our work are priority no.1. Not only would we very much love to help Calli have a great Christmas but would also like to help in any future crisis that they may have.
If you could inform Corey that if there is ever anything I could help with in terms of babysitting or merely picking up Calli after school now and again because he is busy working or his mom is too ill or unavailable to make it, I would be more than willing to help out with that. Calli would probably enjoy playing with my two daughters. We also have two dogs ourselves and Jessie is more than welcome to come to our house. We could also take the place of a kennel if ever they go away for a week or two and cannot take Jessie with them.

I find this article so very sad as I am a dog lover. I have 3 dogs and 1 cat of my own and cant believe people could do this to animals. The reason I am writing to you I was so moved by your letter about Cali and her xmas list. We would like to get a xmas gift certificate for her so her and her Dad Corey can go shopping to spoil her a little for Santa. My husband is also a truck driver and it breaks our hearts to hear about this father and his little girl. No child should go through Xmas without gifts. I would very much like to do this for this little girl. Sincerely yours
I was incredibly touched by the humane values that this girl's father has instilled in his daughter. I found it very uplifting to know that there are still amazing people in this world.
It being the holiday season, I know how tight budgets can be for many families. Growing up as a child, many years our family would turn to the wonderful people at the Christmas Cheer Board to be able to have presents under the tree on Christmas morning. At the time I did not realize that we were poor, I did not know that the presents came from the kindness of strangers. I was just a kid and I was happy to open a present.
As the years went by and my parents were able to improve our financial situation and we no longer need the Christmas Cheer Board for support. One of my favorite traditions that my parents started was making sure that not only the kids had presents on Christmas morning, but so did our pets. They'd take us out shopping and allow us to pick something out that we wanted to give to our pets. A nice toy to play with, or some special treats. They taught us that Christmas was about giving to others, not about receiving.
I wanted to make sure that Calli had a gift that she could give to Jessie for the holidays. On the way home from work today I'll be stopping by Petland to pick out a nice dog toy for Jessie.

I'm normally a guy who keeps his emotions in check, but i found myself tearing up when i read your article. As a dog lover myself, i appreciate calli's and her fathers efforts to rescue their dog. My fiance and i don't have children and are in a stable home environment with a dog i rescued 10 years ago. i told my fiance julie when she got home, that i'd like to give calli and her father presents for christmas, instead of me. I'd also like to talk to her father about the idea of getting a job where i work here in winnipeg. His drivers licence and obvious work ethic would bring him a good wage, and would let him be home every night with his daughter. can you relay this message to him?

Wow, what a meaningful Xmas story this is about Calli and her dad. Calli and her Dad, I suppose, to themselves, are a very ordinary family, doing all the day to day things they need and want to do to make their lives complete...but Calli and her Dad are not an ordinary family at all...they are extraordinary. Calli has faced challenges that many of us will never know about, never see and never understand. Her dad works hard for all the right reasons and spends precious time with his little girl. They rescued a dog from disgusting circumstances ( that no little girl should see) and made him an important part of their family.
Life is good!!!!!!!!....when you read these things.
I would like to share with Calli, what I have, by giving her an Xmas gift (or
2). Could you please let me know how to get something to her.

I read your article regarding Calli and her father and I am writing you to ask if you could assist me in providing this child with a Christmas gift. I am so impressed with the actions taken by this little girl and her dad in rescuing the puppy, Jessie, and actually providing her with a home, love and medical attention. Many others with more would have taken the puppy to the Humane Society or a Rescue but these kind people took her in and loved her proving they are in possession of very big hearts.
I realize Calli asked for more time with her daddy for Christmas which, of course, I can not provide, but I would like to give her a Christmas gift. I would like to donate $50.00 toward a gift for this little girl and I would appreciate it if you could assist me in doing this. If you could reply back to me and let me know if you remember something that was on her list or perhaps something she needs or even let me know if I could drop off a gift card at your office; anything would help me. Thank you.

By the time I finished reading your story about Calli I was crying. Not only because of amid hardships and hard knocks of life a little girl can still blossom and grow and learn compassion, but because it occurred to me I know some of these people, yet I really I don't know them at all. Let me explain. Betty and I worked together in a jewellery store located at St.Vital Mall for a number of years. In fact my husband sold her the condo she lives in and we became sort of friends. We went our separate ways but connected periodically and caught up with what happened since the last time we spoke. Over the years she spoke about all the difficulties Cory went through, and there were many, and that life was just not giving him a break and how that saddens her. She told me Cory moved to the North End with Calli but never once said how tough the neighbourhood was. She matter-of-factly related going to Cory's house every day so Calli can go to school near her home.
She was the one constant positive force in Cory's and Calli's life when so many other negative factors influenced their lives. And like I said there were many. Over the years she just related what is going on with her family, how hard Cory is working and how she is hoping all the negative events stop happening to him. Calli came with her a few times and she is indeed a bright and lovely young girl. Never once I felt she was feeling sorry for herself or wanted me to feel sorry for her, only that she is trying to help her family because that is the way it should be.
This is one deserving family who truly and finally needs a little break. I, for one would want to contribute something financially and am sure there are others who feel the same way. Thank you,

I wish that half the people in this town could have a sliver of the size of Calli's heart. Then, perhaps, we wouldn't have to read about animals or people for that matter being neglected and mistreated.
Kudos to her father for being the best dad he can be and raising such a wonderful little girl. May we all learn a lesson from Calli and her father.
May the Christmas Spirit shine bright for all to see.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Girl rescues tortured puppy from inner city war zone

Calli Vanderaa with Jessie, the puppy she rescued from the dumpster pictured. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press and Boris Minkevich.

By the time Calli Vanderaa discovered the seven-week-old puppies in the garbage dumpster stationed behind her house, the fourth grader had spent two years soaking up ample evidence of society’s dark underbelly. She’d already seen more than most people witness in a lifetime.
The little girl was tossing away grass clippings with her dad last summer when they turned to walk away. She stopped in her tracks, ears instinctively tuned to the pleading cries coming from the big brown bin. The sounds were faint but unmistakably alive.
“I asked him, ‘Did you hear that?’”
“No,” he said.
“Well, come here.”
Her father Corey found a stool to boost himself up into the tall steel structure. Thankfully Calli stayed behind.
“He said I didn’t want to see what was inside there,” she told me.
The incident of cruelty made an impression on Calli. Last month, she wrote a letter to her local newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, detailing what had happened. A poem she had composed was also enclosed.

Dear Sir
My name is Calli Vanderaa.
I’m 9 years old and I live with my daddy.
One day we found a little puppy in the BFI bin in our lane. Somebody had put 3 puppies in there and set them on fire.
Two of the puppies died but daddy and I saved one that was sitting in the corner crying.
We took her home and named her Jessie. She is happy and growing bigger every day.

Besides loving animals, I have a couple of things in common with Calli.
I spent my childhood living in and around Winnipeg, Manitoba, a Canadian prairie city known for its bitterly cold winters and warm, friendly people.
And for three years, I worked at the Free Press, the newspaper Calli addressed her letter to. It’s where I held my first full-time reporting job after graduating from journalism school. It was a former Free Press colleague and writer friend who was kind enough to share Calli’s story with me.
But the similarities between my life and Calli’s seemed to end with the geography we shared as children.
A child of economic privilege, I grew up in nice homes nestled in safe neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, Calli lives in Ground Zero of Winnipeg’s war zone, the most squalid section of the notorious North End. It’s the kind of place that people drive through and automatically reach over to lock their car doors. Solvent abuse, alcoholism, drug dealing and gang violence run rampant, ruling the streets. Poverty is a given.
A series of setbacks caused Calli’s 34-year-old single father Corey to move from a respectable suburban neighbourhood to the more affordable but dangerous inner city. It all began with Calli's mother moving to the United States and leaving her 18-month-old daughter behind. Even in the North End, Corey struggles to meet financial obligations. He’s employed as a long-haul truck driver and clears snow part time to pay the bills. He agonizes about not spending enough time with his daughter.
Circumstances would be even tougher if it weren’t for Corey’s mother, Betty. The 76-year-old drives over from sleepy St. Vital six days a week to watch over her granddaughter while her son works.
Animals aren’t the only victims of the grinding despair in Calli’s neighbourhood. Last year, six of the city's drug- or gang-related slayings happened within a two-street radius of her house. Once, a dead body turned up in her backyard. A crack house a couple of doors down used to blight the street -- until it was firebombed.
Calli has been victimized, too. Now attending Grade 4, she had to change schools when she first moved to the area as a Grade 2 student. The skinny, pretty and perky Caucasian girl stuck out as a moving target, and got into three fights in short order. One was sparked by a boy in Grade 5 calling her a “f------ white bitch.”
A few months ago, a 13-year-old boy with a pellet gun shot Calli in the left shoulder blade as she walked home from school.
“Now I take Judo. It’s for my own protection,” she said.
Despite what she's survived, it isn’t Calli’s personal plight that upsets her. She remains deeply troubled by what happened to the puppies in the garbage bin that day. Her face clouded over when we spoke about it.
“I just can’t believe someone could do something like that,” Calli said. “She had green gum up her bum. My dad had to take it out.”
The shy puppy was frightened at first, but quickly realized that she was in gentle, safe company at the Vanderaa household.
“She was really scared, but within an hour she was calmer,” Calli said. Initially she believed the soot-coated pup hiding under the coffee table had black fur until a bath in the kitchen sink revealed her true color.
“She turned golden brown. It was magic.”
Jessie quickly became part of the family.
“She gets so excited when my dad comes home that she pees in the house,” Calli said.
I asked her what she would tell the person who did this to Jessie and her littermates if she had the chance.
“I really don’t know,” she started. Then, after a pause, she finished her thought with resolve: “I would actually have nothing to say to them at all.”
Calli’s Christmas list for this year had four things on it, topped by an Avril Lavigne poster. But in the face of the family’s financial strain, Calli changed her mind about her list and took it down last week. With her father on the road six days a week, and Sundays being their only full day together, there's one gift that matters most to her.
“I don’t want anything for Christmas. I only want to spend time with my daddy. He’s a good daddy because I’m not spoiled.”
She’s also thinking about her pup Jessie, and what she needs for Christmas. The five-month-old dog can go into heat any day now, and Calli is wise enough to understand the importance of stopping the endless cycle of overpopulation. Wiser than many adults I encounter, in fact. But the procedure costs $140. It’s money the family doesn’t have.
When readers of Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. saw Calli’s story in the December 13th edition of the paper, they spontaneously stepped up to help.
People wrote that they planned to buy gifts for this family instead of themselves. They pledged cash and gift certificates. Dog food and toys. Relief babysitting for Grandma Betty that included Jessie in the deal. Even Habitat for Humanity emailed to say they could potentially help Corey purchase a house with affordable payments in a safer neighbourhood. One man was so touched that he offered to help Corey get a job at his workplace that might pay better and keep him closer to home and his daughter.
An award was promised for Calli, who will be nominated as a Humane Hero through the Winnipeg Humane Society.
One of the most important gifts pledged by three different people was for Jessie.
It’s the $140 the family doesn’t have to spay her.
It wasn’t as if Calli wasn’t trying to do right by her dog.
The junior animal rescuer was already saving small change in two coffee cans for the surgery. She understands that her efforts will help stop the cycle of death that her father had witnessed in the dumpster behind their house.
After meeting Calli and being impressed by what she’s already accomplished for this puppy, I had to ask: What does she want to be when she grows up?
“Being a teacher just sounds so cool,” she said, breaking into a big smile.
I was kind of hoping she’d say animal rescuer and writer.
But at least she’s already qualified for both.
And she hasn’t even turned 10.

“Here is my poem about my little friend,” Calli wrote to the Winnipeg Free Press in the letter she included along with this penciled ode to her dog, reprinted below.

My dog Jessie
I heard a little puppy crying
in a garbage bin
My daddy picked her out cause she was
scared and very thin.
we took her home and bathed her
then to our surprise she wasn’t
black but golden brown with big brown
puppy eyes. We took her to the doctor
and he said she’s doing fine
how can people be so cruel
Why can’t they just be kind?

Calli Vanderaa (right) with friend Sabannah Cadotte, and Jessie, the puppy she rescued. Photograph courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press and Boris Minkevich.
If you have questions about Calli and Jessie or feel driven to help, email me at

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cheap objects + creativity = happy shelter dogs

Tunnelling his way through a fabric tube builds this dog's confidence.

Scraping up funds to do anything beyond the bare minimum tends to be next to impossible at shelters, which rarely receive government funding. Crumbling facilities held together with duct tape and string is the norm.

For an invisible segment of a shelter’s population – the custody dogs – the resources available are even more scant. These animals, tucked away from public view, will sit in custody for months, even years, waiting for trials to conclude that, in some cases, will decide if they are allowed to live or die. These victims of neglect and cruelty slowly go mad behind bars, caged up with no stimulus to engage their natural instincts.

In a previous post I wrote about Corinne Dowling’s program called Give a Dog a Bone, which is operated through San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control (Oct. 1, A bone for the dogs behind the green door).

Finding ways to help these forgotten animals is challenging. When I sat down with Corinne this month, I was impressed with her creative thinking. She has honed her ability to make a play space out of basic household materials, bringing boundless joy to many animals in the process. Using common objects like brooms strung between plastic lawn chairs, milk crates, and cardboard boxes, she stimulates natural behaviors such as engaging a dog’s prey drive. And her approach isn’t limited to custody dogs – it could be applied to animals in any shelter.

“Even if your shelter is in a double-wide trailer, even if you have no money, you can still use things you’ve got lying around,” Corinne says. “Look around and see what you have.”

Check out a recent play date in the yard behind Animal Care and Control in San Francisco.

A milk crate food puzzle engages the prey drive of this curious dog.

Corinne motivates a dog to gain confidence by conquering a cardboard box.

Photos in this post courtesy of Sylvia Spiro of Vision Captured.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's exhausting running from the past

Doesn't this sum it up?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Your letters made a difference!

Council removes references to specific breeds before passing ordinance

The power of the people is alive and kicking in Monroe, Washington. More than 200 protestors converged on the tiny city (pop. 14,000) for the council meeting last night to show support for the 12 breeds that would be labeled “potentially dangerous dogs” if the proposed ordinance was enacted.

Residents joined animal lovers from nearby cities to support the innocent dogs targeted by the legislation. The protestors proved that individual voices combine to create a roar that can’t be ignored.

Several hours of testimony was presented. The ordinance, which toughens up the laws for aggressive dogs, was passed, but council stripped it of breed references for now. Dogs on the hot list will get six months of clemency while the council studies the issue. Council plans to revisit the ordinance language in 180 days. When they do, I’m sure animal lovers everywhere will be just as vocal.

If you took time out of your busy day to write in to support Kobe, a gentle Hurricane Katrina survivor, and other dogs just like him, thank you on behalf of the dogs who can’t speak for themselves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knee-jerk laws brand gentle dogs as potentially dangerous

Rita Morgan (right) with Kobe, taking a stand for their rights.

Rita Morgan is the epitome of the model pet guardian. She licenses her dogs without fail. When they go for walks, the dogs are always leashed. Morgan even helps less fortunate animals in her northern Washington State community by volunteering copious amounts of her time and energy to organizations in King and Snohomish counties, such as Pasado's Safe Haven.

And yet the 46-year-old Microsoft project management contractor will be caught in a civic dragnet if a new ordinance is passed in Monroe. Her American Pit Bull Terrier Kobe, who was rescued from New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, will automatically be branded as a “potentially dangerous dog” by the city. His breed and 11 others have been singled out in the proposed ordinance.

Mitch Ruth, a Monroe councilman, wrote an email recently calling on animal lovers to help him stop the law from passing, declaring “I vigorously oppose this law as proposed.”

“By owning a dog on this list, you understand that it has a propensity for unprovoked attacks and is a danger to humans and domestic animals,” Ruth said. “Unjust and unwarranted laws that trample upon the rights of owners of specific dog breeds diminish the rights of all dog owners.”

Breed-specific legislation is not a novel approach. It’s a typical hysteria-riddled response to isolated occurrences of dog aggression. For example, in Monroe, the proposed changes come on the heels of a series of incidents related to a single problem citizen who owns three pit bulls. The owner’s irresponsible behavior led a neighbor to ask the city to put more teeth in the laws. Instead of punishing the offending owners, the city’s revisions targeted innocent dogs instead.

“The dogs are being pre-judged,” says Morgan, adding that Kobe is a gentle dog who loves children. “These are draconian measures. This is an insidious way to govern. Council didn’t think about the people affected.”

A dog branded as potentially dangerous gets a strike against him even if he’s done nothing wrong. One small offence such as rushing a person – and this could be one person’s word against another’s, if there are witnesses at all – could cause the dog to go up a step and be branded “dangerous.” That means the dog’s owner has to build an enclosure for the dog and put up signage notifying the public that there is a dangerous dog on the premises. They must also obtain a $250,000 bond and carry a $250,000 insurance policy.

The dogs affected don’t even have to be one of the aforementioned breeds, or a mix – they just have to look like them. The other breeds affected include the following: Akita, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Tosa Inu.

Sadly, the animals who exhibit aggression – which in most cases is fear-based – are almost always owned by irresponsible, neglectful or abusive people. In many cases, these dogs are victims, not perpetrators.

We all know that a dog is a man’s, or woman’s, best friend. And just as we wouldn’t judge a man by the color of his skin, nor should we judge a dog by his coat. The heart and soul of an American Pit Bull Terrier is no different than that of a Collie or a Golden Retriever.

Do you want to help Kobe and other dogs like him?

If you are disgruntled with what you've read about breed specific legislation and would like to help innocent dogs like Kobe, take a moment to email your thoughts to Monroe city council at If the email bounces back, it might be full. Animal lovers everywhere want the councilors to know this isn't fair. Here are the individual councilors' email addresses:

Every letter counts. Please act quickly. Note that you don’t have to live in Monroe to write in. Dozens of responses have already been received from local and out-of-state animal lovers. If you live in the area, you can also attend a rally tonight. Protestors are meeting at Sam’s Cats and Dogs pet supply store at 202 N. Lewis St. and will march to City Hall at 806 W. Main St. for a 7 p.m. council meeting.

Emails bounce back -- is Monroe city council overwhelmed?

Last night I posted the story of Kobe, a gentle and innocent Hurricane Katrina survivor who would be labelled a "potentially dangerous dog" by proposed changes to the ordinances in Monroe, Washington. I just heard word from coast to coast that the emails are bouncing back from the group email address I provided in my earlier post ( I have to think the council's email box is jammed with letters from animal lovers letting the council know the facts about breed specific legislation. If you still want to add your voice to the cries of those seeking justice, try emailing the council members individually:

Don't give up!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back by popular acclaim

River, Forest and Sky aren't homeless any longer. Check out their wrap-around tails! Photo courtesy of Carol Fuegi.

This weekend I brought you the Blackberry family of cats, compliments of Carol Fuegi of the Point Roberts Animal Wellbeing Society. The response to the photograph was overwhelming, proving that these forgotten creatures can touch the heartstrings of human beings.

Carol provided another photograph for your viewing pleasure, illustrating the gentle beauty of feral cats. The kittens featured here were tamed, and Tsawwassen Animal Hospital found responsible homes for each of them. Their mother, Aspen, has since been successfully trapped, but not before giving birth to five more kittens, who all received tree names.

“During a short period here, we are dealing with 26 more kittens,” Carol recently reported to the All Point Bulletin, Point Roberts’ local newspaper. APB was enlightened enough to cover the story of the cat trappers, a community issue that is often ignored by the mainstream media because they think people don’t care to know. “It’s a never-ending cycle unless the females are spayed in time. It’s mind boggling how fast this happens.”

Carol and PAWS co-founder Wilma Donaldson, 87, tramp through fields and forests spaying and neutering colonies of feral cats, and also pick up the odd stray dog needing to be rescued.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Peninsula lacking services doesn't deter rescuers

The Blackberry family poses for their caregiver. Photo courtesy of PAWS founder Carol Fuegi.

The West Coast community of Point Roberts, Washington is a geopolitical oddity known as an exclave. Unless you fly a small plane or take a boat through Boundary Bay, the only way to get there is by driving through Canada.

In that region, Canada and the United States are divided by the 49th parallel. Because Point Roberts is south of the 49th, the three by two mile peninsula was claimed as American territory.

Life on the Point is breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by expansive views of the ocean, lush forest and mountains, the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. But the region also has its challenges. You have to cross an international border just to get on and off the peninsula. There are no hospitals or doctors. And services such as veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities, and animal shelters are non-existent.

For animal rescuers, lacking these essentials is compounded by the transient nature of the population. Typical homes co-exist alongside cottages and cabins. Located just 22 miles south of downtown Vancouver, the Point’s 1,300 full time residents are joined by thousands of Canadians flocking there in droves for holiday weekends and vacations, particularly in summer. Many of the homeless pets rescued on the Point have been lost or discarded by vacationers.

Resident volunteers who can’t bear to let the cats starve or be eaten by coyotes are devoted to cleaning up a problem that wasn’t of their own making. The Point Roberts Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) was co-founded by Carol Fuegi and Wilma Donaldson. The group holds garage sales and fundraisers to cover the costs of trapping, fixing and feeding the colonies of homeless cats.

“We find cats in crawl spaces, under cars and sheds, and every place imaginable,” Fuegi said. “Feeding them where they hang out is sometimes challenging for people our age, but the bending and crawling and hiking through the fields provides us with exercise.”

Just over the border on the Canadian side, kind veterinarian Dr. Tina Gemeinhardt of Tsawwassen Animal Hospital provides a “lifeline for the cats”, and is dedicated to helping her fuzzy American neighbors. She has been a godsend for more than 10 years, providing the animal rescuers with medical services such as spaying and neutering for free or at minimal cost.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quiet heroes lurk in the shadows

Trapper Guy Eric Phelps can't turn away from an animal in need.

When darkness falls, the shadows come alive with prowlers creeping through back alleys and deserted parking lots. They travel only by night, and avoid encountering authority figures.

These people aren’t thieves or predators, although they are renegades of a sort. And the items they seek to capture aren’t inanimate objects. They are stray cats, and the trappers who catch them for spaying and neutering work tirelessly and without thanks to break an endless cycle of suffering.

Eric Phelps recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Virginia. He soon noticed feral cats living across the street from his apartment building. He describes the neighborhood as a transient industrial area. He couldn’t turn a blind eye. Armed only with three metal traps and his kind heart, he started trapping each night to follow the nocturnal schedule of the cats. After a few evenings, he had caught six cats – a male and female adult, and four 12-week-old kittens.

A feral kitten unaccustomed to human contact is wary of people.

“It’s not that big of a deal, it’s a few minutes here, a few minutes there,” says Phelps, 38, who works at In Defense of Animals’ Pacific Northwest regional office as the audio/visual campaigns coordinator. “You see these cats, and you know you’ve got to get them off the street.”

Homeowners move away without a second thought and leave their animals behind to fend for themselves. If they aren’t fixed – which is common – the cats multiply. Feral cats are those who were born in the wild, and aren’t accustomed to being handled by human beings. It’s also possible for previously owned cats to “turn feral” after some time on the street.

A local veterinary hospital gave Phelps a great price on the six cats being fixed, and a group called Animal Aid covered half the medical bills.

Phelps has done cat trapping for years. He remembers being at a bank’s drive-through wicket, and across the alley, he noticed a tiny kitten fall out of the window of a car repair place. He went over to check it out and found a run-down auto shop filled with industrial debris. The place was crawling with cats.

“All kinds of cats were running around the shop,” says Phelps, who promptly organized a rescue mission. “The guy there said it was being sold to the bank, and they were going to demolish it.”

Phelps doesn’t know what drives him to help animals in need.

“If I knew what it was, there are times when I’d probably turn it off,” he says. “I’m just wired like this. When I see their eyes as I’m driving at night, I want to believe it’s the reflection of my two eyeballs in the windshield.”

For more information on helping feral cats in your community, visit Alley Cat Allies website at