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Category "Relationships"

29May

SPCA promotes human-pet bond after dog stolen from Vancouver homeless man

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Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster he is hoping will help him find his dog.


Mike Bell / PNG

The bond between humans and animals is so powerful that the mental and physical health of a pet owner can be lifted just by having their animal in their life, according to the SPCA.

Despite that, there is still some stigma toward pet ownership by people who are living on the streets, spokeswoman for the B.C. SPCA, Lorie Chortyk, said Wednesday.

The animal welfare organization is among the groups that work to support relationships between homeless people — many of whom have been through tough times in their lives — and their pets.

“Often for these individuals this is the first time they’ve ever experienced unconditional love,” Chortyk said.

“I think anyone who’s had a pet understands how powerful that bond is. But if you haven’t experienced that unconditional love, that bond is even stronger. And those individuals protect that animal and protect that bond even more.”


Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster he is hoping will help him find his dog.

Mike Bell /

PNG

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Chortyk’s comments came a few days after a white American Eskimo dog named Cutiepie was stolen from a man living on the sidewalk out front of the Hudson’s Bay department store on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.

Dave M, who declined to give his full last name, said he had left Cutiepie with his belongings while he used the washroom around 2:30 p.m. Friday. When he returned, the dog was gone. A frantic search of the surrounding streets was fruitless.

Cutiepie has been in Dave’s life for about six years. He presumed the then-eight-year-old dog had been abandoned before she arrived at his house in Mission, he said.

Asked if he knew who might have taken his dog, Dave said: “I’ve heard a couple people say (to the dog) ‘we’re going to give you a good home’, like, maybe four walls and a roof. … but I spend 24 hours a day with my dog. I take care of her. She’s my baby.”


Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street.

Mike Bell /

PNG

Dave, who has lived on the street for the past eight months, described Cutiepie as looking like a polar bear, with white hair, short little legs, a small head and a fat body. She’s a calm dog who loved being petted and she would spend hours in his lap being groomed, he said.

Dave asked anyone who has seen Cutiepie to alert the SPCA or the VPD, with whom he said he has filed a police report.

The SPCA has a program to help people who live on the streets care for their pets, and in Chortyk’s experience, people in that situation tend to be “so dedicated” to that cause.

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“Certainly, we’ve met a lot of people who will go without food themselves in order to make sure that their pets are well taken care of,” she said.

Through its Charlie’s pet food bank initiative, the SPCA offers things like nail trims, training tips, veterinary care, surgeries and referrals, as well as food, toys, carriers and leashes. The program is open to donations.

If anyone is concerned about the well-being of any animal they can contact the SPCA at 1-855-622-7722, and the organization can send out a staff member to assess the situation. If needed, they can either take the animal into care or try to help the owner, Chortyk said.

Studies and surveys around the world have repeatedly shown the importance pets can have in the lives of street-involved people, according to a 2014 research review written by Emma Woolley in her capacity as a research assistant with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Woolley referenced a 2012 paper by Leslie Irvine, titled Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People, who conducted a series of interviews at pet clinics in the U.S. and found pets had led their owners to give up drugs, escape depression or even choose to continue living.

A Chihuahua was stolen from a panhandler around East Hastings and Nanaimo St. last year, according to CBC. The dog was later recovered by police after it was spotted by a good Samaritan.

Steve Addison, a VPD spokesman, encouraged anyone with information about a crime to call police. He said VPD did not have readily available data on the frequency of pets being stolen.

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13Mar

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: ‘I want my son’s death to be meaningful’

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“There’s no way to describe the enormous shock a parent experiences when you get a phone call informing you … You lose your ability to stand, and you sink into the closest chair. Your heart stops and you just can’t believe it. This terrible wave of shock goes through your entire body.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip took that terrible call last August from his wife, Joan. She was nearly hysterical.

“The minute I heard her, I thought, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no.’ She kept saying over and over, ‘He’s gone. He’s gone.’”

It was Aug. 7, 2018, the day after Kenny Phillip’s 42nd birthday. Their oldest son had died alone in a hotel room of a carfentanil overdose in Grand Prairie, Alta.

“I don’t think he knew that he had taken carfentanil,” his father told me. “But nobody was more well-versed in addictions and the variety of drugs available than he was.

“Having gone through so many treatment programs, he had high level of expertise. He knew everything about his addictions, the pattern and so forth. Yet he still was vulnerable to the powerful call of the addiction.”

Kenny struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, and had been to at least half a dozen treatment programs. Still, his father said, “You’re never ready for that phone call.”

His son followed the usual cycle. Bouts of drug and alcohol use punctuated by detox, treatment and periods of recovery. His longest recovery period lasted nearly three years. But this time, his parents were optimistic that it was different.

He had graduated from the Round Lake Treatment Centre. He was working as an apprentice mechanic. He loved it. He had been obsessed with cars since he was a kid. One of the people who worked with him in Penticton described Kenny to me as “a helluva guy.”

After he died, a former co-worker designed a logo with two crossed wrenches, Kenny’s initials with the years 1976 and 2018, and had decals made up so that his friends could honour him by sticking them on their toolboxes.

Phillip says something happened when Kenny went up to northwestern Alberta, triggering his addiction. And given Grande Prairie’s reputation as a crossroads for drugs, he wouldn’t have had to go far to find them.

Northwest of Edmonton, Grande Prairie has had several recent large drug busts. In January, RCMP seized four kilos of crystal methamphetamine, 2.2 kilos of cocaine, 200 grams of heroin, about 5,500 oxycodone tablets and about 950 fentanyl tablets.

A few months earlier, guns, ammunition as well as meth, cocaine, heroin and magic mushrooms were seized in a follow-up to a July raid.

“I have first-hand knowledge,” Phillip said. “I started drinking when I was 15, and was 40-something when I sobered up. It was the hardest thing that I ever did, and I was an alcoholic not strung out on crystal meth and some of the street drugs.

“But I know that at the end of the day, it’s up to the person. The individual.”

Seven years into marriage with, at the time, three children — two daughters and Kenny — Phillip’s wife told him she was finished with the fighting, picking him up when he was drunk, and buying liquor for him. But if he wanted to carry on, he was free to go.

“I thought, ‘Free at last,’” Phillip recalled. “I lasted a month. I was downtown drinking with all my so-called buddies talking about my newfound freedom. One evening in a Chinese restaurant — nobody else was there — I put in an order and was staring at the tabletop. I just broke down. I started crying and then howling.

“The howling was coming from the soul. I was scared stiff.”

At that moment, he realized his stark choice.

“If kept going, I was going to die at my own hand. But to contemplate stopping … which at the time was like contemplating to stop breathing or stop eating because it was such an integral part of who I was.”

What had kept Phillip from suicide, he told the Georgia Strait in May 2018, was the thought of his son. “I thought he would have to grow up with that stigma.”

With the help of Joan and Emery Gabriel, a drug and alcohol counsellor and the only sober friend Phillip had, he got into treatment at the Nechako Centre and has never relapsed.

Every day, Phillip thanks the Creator for sobriety because abstinence has enabled him to take on the work he has done and continues to do as president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, grand chief of the Okanagan Nation, and as a board member for Round Lake Treatment Centre.

Phillip grieves for the “incredible, amazing young man who touched so many different lives” and for the choice Kenny made last August, knowing full well the risk he was taking in the midst of the opioid overdose crisis.

He speaks openly, and urges others to as well, because those who have died need champions to bring about change.

“I want my son’s death to be meaningful,” Phillip said. “The path forward has to be an abundance of resources to help those who are struggling with addictions. … More treatment centres, more programs, and a greater commitment from governments and society to pick up the responsibility for it.”

So far, governmental response has been “minimalist,” said Phillip.

“This notion of harm reduction is just kicking the issue down the road. It’s not dealing with getting people from an addictive state to where they are clean and sober. That’s what we need to do.”

As for cannabis legalization, Phillip said, “I just shake my head when I think of where we are at and the direction we are going.”

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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9Mar

Canine counsellor Mac hits paws after 13 tail-blazing years of helping

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Mac enjoys his cake at his retirement party at the University of the Fraser Valley last week.


University of the Fraser Valley

After 13 years, Mac the golden retriever will no longer wear the blue-and-yellow vest that identified him as a working dog.

The canine counsellor — the Pacific Assistance Dog Society’s (PADS) longest-serving member — retired last week after a career that saw him become the first registered therapy dog in the world to work with a counsellor in a non-residential setting.

He was also the first to work full time in a hospice and the first to work as a therapy dog with students at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“He’s a trailblazer — or maybe we should say a tail-blazer,” said his owner Dawn Holt, a clinical counsellor who works in UFV’s counselling department. “I think some of those firsts are due to him doing it for so long.”

In addition to supporting students, Mac has helped dozens of people across B.C. through traumatic events, including some of the province’s biggest disasters. He received an “Above and Beyond” award for selflessness in service after the 2017 wildfires. He’s also supported police, consoling officers during funerals, and calmed victims in crisis.


Mac hard at work at UFV.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

Mac has always had a “calm, mellow, gentle, sweet nature,” said Holt. From his puppy days, he’s been able to detect stress and sadness. “In a room full of people, he’ll go to the person who needs him the most.”

PADS trainers noticed this trait when Mac was young and began to train him as a therapy dog. A volunteer with PADS at the time, Holt began her career as a clinical counsellor at the same time Mac did. The two have always been partners, working in hospice, at UFV and in private practice.

But while Mac is officially retired, he won’t disappear from campus or from his patients’ lives. He can still be seen at the university, albeit without his recognizable vest. Instead, he now wears a UFV T-shirt.

“He doesn’t have that mantle of responsibility anymore,” said Holt.

Students have been surprised to discover that without his vest, Mac is a little more goofy. He’s now allowed to roll around on the campus lawns and sniff bushes.

“I guess he’s been wanting to sniff those bushes for the last 13 years,” quipped Holt. “He knows the difference between the vest, which he wore when he was working, and the T-shirt. He knows the T-shirt is somewhere between full-on work and relaxing at home.”

Holt explained a therapy dog works in two ways. First, they create a physiological response in patients, offering unconditional friendship, which can slow breathing, calm the body and reduce stress hormones. They also work to “build a bridge” between counsellor and patient, calming fears and building trust so the counsellor can do her work.

Mac doesn’t take his work home with him. A good therapy dog can “shake off” a heavy session, literally shaking his coat like he’s just gotten out of a lake.

“I’m so proud of him and the work he’s done,” said Holt.


Mac as a puppy. The 15-year-old golden retriever is the Pacific Assistance Dog Society’s longest-serving member.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

 


Mac receives a hug from Margaret Trudeau. Over the course of his career, the canine counsellor made 1,792 drop-in visits, participated in 6,187 counselling sessions, and appeared in over 12,000 meet and greets at gyms, arenas, and events.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

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