Cats on the Hill

By Shannon Preston
We always secretly knew that cats ran the world, but in Ottawa it’s plain to see. Right next to Parliament there are miniature versions of the beautiful historic buildings presided over by (you guessed it) cats! They might not pass bills or discuss legislature at any great length, but these federal felines certainly have their own agendas.
Instead of being the political epicentre of the cat world (but hey, who knows?), these quaint little buildings are actually a cat sanctuary. It all started in the 1970’s when a woman by the name of Irène Desormeaux began to feed the stray cats that hung around Parliament. Rumour has it that these cats were first brought in to help with the rat problem in the government… er, I mean, government buildings. They might even still be performing this service today, but they like to keep their business to themselves.
These constitutional savvy cats are well cared for, being fed and watered every day and taken to the vet whenever needed – a task that fell to René Chartrand after Desormeaux passed away in 1987. Chartrand feeds them twice a day, every day, carrying bags that weigh up to 10 pounds despite the fact he is well into his 80s. The whole enterprise gets rather pricey for one man to handle, since caring for the 28 resident cats costs around $6,000 a year. Thus, donations are heavily relied upon to keep the littlest Parliament doors open. The government does not provide any funding towards the care of these cats, but does permit Chartrand to go about his work without interference. In fact, now government workers will even clear a path to the sanctuary in the winter to allow him to fulfill his duties to the kitties more easily.

By Shannon Preston
Chartrand built these now rather famous felines their own buildings to help them survive the harsh Ottawa winters. Despite their fancy digs, however, they are free to roam the grounds and do so quite often. They might appear quite domesticated in their posh houses and too-cute-to-be-true names, like Bebe and Max, but it is important for visitors to remember they are still stray cats and it is best to remain cautious around them.
Each of the 28 cats is spayed or neutered to keep the population number on the Hill to a minimum. However, Chartrand will occasionally add another cat to the sanctuary, but only from a shelter when they are about to be put down and there is no other option. Even though the sanctuary was set up to care specifically for cats, other animals in the area have profited from it as well. Squirrels, raccoons and other wild animals enjoy the scraps left behind by the cats. The birds aren’t forgotten about either, as Chartrand will often bring bread crumbs for them to join in the feast too.
The sanctuary has become quite the tourist attraction in the capital and even gained Chartrand the nickname the ‘Cat Man of the Hill.’ So the next time you are in Ottawa and have finished your obligatory tour of Parliament, check out the cats right next door and maybe make a donation to help ensure that they continue to receive the excellent care Chartrand provides.

By Allison Vorstenbosch

Super Dog! To the Rescue!

By Tyler Pollard
When one googles the definition of “hero,” the first result we are given is “a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength.” The list goes on to describe champions, a mathematician, song titles, Greek mythology and even a type of sandwich, but nothing mentions our selfless friends in the animal kingdom. Time and time again there are instances of pets saving human lives, yet these acts of bravery aren’t always given the recognition they deserve. Fortunately, the Purina Animal Hall of Fame exists to raise awareness about pet heroism and to ensure these amazing acts of bravery are honoured.

Founded in 1968, the Purina Animal Hall of Fame is one of the longest-running pet-recognition programs in Canada.  The year of its conception three dogs were inducted into the hall of fame for performing extraordinary acts of bravery, intelligence and devotion which had gone beyond the human-pet bond and saved lives. Pat, a Labrador Retriever, towed his owner in an oarless boat for almost four hours in the rough waters of the St. Lawrence Rivers.  Then there was Tippy, a Shepherd/ Lab mix, who pulled an eight-year-old child from the icy Niagara River.  Lastly, little Bambi, a Chihuahua, saved a visiting friend of the family by awakening her after a fire started in the house. Today a grand total of 142 heroic Canadian animals have been inducted in to the Purina Animal Hall of Fame: 117 dogs, 24 cats, and even one horse!
The Hall of Fame’s long history has brought attention to many life-saving acts and each animal’s story is quite unique. From warning humans about deadly carbon monoxide emissions, to warding off bear attacks, to drawing attention to stroke victims, pets have given a heroic paw to all sorts of dangerous situations.  In 1994, a one-year-old Labrador Retriever named Belle was one of several heroes credited with saving the life of three-year-old, Ken.  The young boy fell into an icy channel of the Lunenburg Harbour in Nova Scotia and spent 30 chilling minutes under water.  The boy was saved from the water after his father spotted Belle in the water too, acting as a marker.  Local rescue and medical teams were able to restart Ken’s heart two hours later and to the amazement of doctors, Ken awoke from a coma after 48 hours in hospital. That same year, Sam, an eight-year-old German Shepherd saved her owner when she fell through a frozen river in Mississauga, Ontario. Her owner, grabbed Sam by the collar, who was able to pull her to safety.
By Tyler Pollard
 Unfortunately, not all heroic acts have such happy endings. Chance is a nine-year-old Dalmatian/ Fox Terrier and was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame just this year for trying to save the life of his seven-year-old autistic owner, James. In December 2009, James was playing with Chance in their backyard when the pair suddenly went missing. The community searched for them long into the night, sadly without any luck, and there was still no sign of either James or Chance in the morning. To make matters worse, a snowstorm hit the region and little James had no jacket. Two days later, Chance returned home, leading search and rescue teams directly to James, who was unconscious and was suffering from severe hypothermia. He was, however, miraculously alive! Medical teams at the hospital where astonished that he had survived the blizzard and credited his survival to Chance staying by his side. Tragically, James succumbed to hypothermia and passed away later that day. Although James is no longer with his family, Chance kept James alive until he could be found and gave his family an opportunity to say their goodbyes.
The Purina Animal Hall of Fame also awards the noble Ralston Purina Service Dog of the Year Award.  This award was inspired in 1992 by Tracker, a 10-year-old German Shepherd owned by Sergeant Larry Bigley. During his time spent serving in the Sudbury District, Tracker had been involved with about 500 missing persons searches, criminal, drug and security details. It became evident that canine involvement with the force was extremely beneficial to fighting crime and helping officers perform their duties. The first five Police Service Dogs to receive the prestigious Service Dog of the Year Award were Cato (1993), Ewo (1994), Keno (1997), Caesar (1999), and Bandit (2001), while Keno (2002) was the first non-police dog to receive this honoured distinction for finding Ryan Radchenko beneath two meters of snow.
While our furry heroes may be overlooked by many, the bond we share with our pets is unarguably inspiring and can save lives.  To nominate a Canadian hero, either a pet or service dog, send your story to Purina.  The 2011 inductees will attend a private ceremony in the spring at PawsWay in Toronto. PawsWay, home to the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, is open six days a week and admission is free (and canine friendly)!
By Krystinne McKinnon

Lower Fort Garry Goes to the Dogs

Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada
Just North of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Highway 9, there is a little slice of land where it is always the summer of 1851 and, on the second Sunday of June, dogs take centre stage.
This past June 13th, there were more than just the historical interpreters who were bright of eye and bushy of tail as the gates opened at Lower Fort Garry, a National Historic Site run by Parks Canada. Outside the beautiful limestone walls of this old Hudson Bay Company (HBC) Fort, a number of eager visitors and their dogs were waiting patiently for the “Big Stone Fort’s Second Annual Dog Day” to get underway.

Lower Fort Garry’s Dog Day celebrates the importance of dogs in the pre-fur trade and fur trade era of North America. Kim Larcombe, Acting Volunteer Coordinator, explained to me why the Fort decided to organize a day focused on dogs in the fur trade:
“There are many reasons why we decided to celebrate dogs here at Lower Fort Garry. First and foremost, dogs have long been an important part of this country’s culture. Used for centuries for transportation, hunting, protection and companionship by European and Aboriginal people alike, their history is an integral part of Canada’s history and we felt that it should be showcased. Second, as a dog-owner I can vouch to the fact that there are not too many truly dog-friendly destinations. The fort is very popular with local people who bring their dogs here for walks, so extending this opportunity to a wider audience seemed natural.”
Dogs have always been welcome on site at Lower Fort Garry, but on Dog Day our four-footed friends are give a rare chance to step inside most of the buildings with their owners. Dogs are also given the opportunity to step back in time and try various activities that their ancestors may have done. In the company of historically costumed interpreters, dogs can pull an Aboriginal travois, a sort of A-framed carry-all; they can pull a miniature Red River Ox-cart; or even wear a tuppy, a traditional dog blanket.
During the day there are also a number of other activities and events. Owners can enter their dogs into various competitions held throughout the day, such as a fashion show judged by the Governor’s Wife, a talent show judged by the Governor himself, or a look-a-like contest. There is also an all day K9 trade show and presentations from the Diamond Disc Dogs showcasing tricks, a mushing demo, as well as agility and Frisbee freestyle routines.
If that were not enough, visitors can wander over to the Northwest bastion and step into the Fort’s bake house (where the HBC made hardtack for the Company’s tripmen) and get a special treat just for their dog!
Larcombe, who helped facilitate the first Dog Day at the Fort in 2009, told me that, “Dog Day has had a resounding positive response from the staff, volunteers and the public,” but wanted to also let people know that, “while Dog Day at Lower Fort Garry is specially dedicated to canines, the site always welcomes well behaved animals.”
If ever you find yourself in Winnipeg, Manitoba on the second Sunday of June, jump into your car, or a York Boat, with your furry friend and head North to the Big Stone Fort for a day that is sure to please you, your family and your dog.
By Kevin Mogk

Happy Canada Day!

By Urban Bent Studio
July 1st is upon us and with it fireworks, red and white fashions, barbecues and flags galore! How do you celebrate the nation’s birthday with your pet? Write to us and share your best Canada Day stories! We’d love to know!