How much do we love our pets? There are more than 16.5 million dogs and cats in Canada (not including the horses, the gallons of fish, the rabbits, the birds, the hamsters), with millennials leading that ownership.
They’re not thought of as possessions. No. ‘Animal Companions’, the name encouraged for use instead of 'pets', are thoughtful additions to our families.
Fostering bonds with animal companions is integral to our lives. Who hasn’t felt at times that the most honest relationships we have are those we share with our pets?
The building blocks of love, playfulness, friendship, and respect, of course, nurtured through interactions with my family, was, in a more measured way, picked up through my connections with animals. They allowed me to watch and learn from them at my own pace, and they were easily authentic in their behaviour.
I grew up as one of four children to a family in a country setting surrounded by animals. I remember exploring the fields and small cedar bush with the dogs, creating cardboard houses for cats, and often helping Dad with his cat-obstacle course (I was really just the cat-holder) that our Tuxedo cat had to complete in order to get his prize: a can of cat-food.
Our parents, Maureen and John, had very diverse connections with animals. Mom grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Tavistock, Ontario, Canada, where the Holstein cows were the heart of her family’s business. Uncle Boyd, ‘Unc’ as we called him, took over the farm operations from his father, and was as considerate and kind to the fifty cows, cats, and dogs as he was to all of us; he fostered a farm of contented animals, humanely taken care of and appreciated. The twenty-five farm cats and ‘Bingo’ the Border Collie lived in the well-groomed barn where I spent my visits trying to win over Unc’s calves, the pony, and the semi-wild cats.
Our dad had a very 'bohemian' relationship with his animals.
He worked in the city of Woodstock for a cement company, driving a mixing truck and, for a time, hauling concrete block to construction sites. With hands thick and strong from manual labour, he had a heart that softened at the thought of an animal in need.
During the 70’s there weren’t places that advertised pets for adoption but Dad had ‘rejected dog-radar’ which must have blundered once when he returned home with a large black rabbit.
Mom, with always much to do, seemed to take it all in stride.
Some of our cats, numbering about ten over the years, were drop offs from the city-people’s cars.
These animals became his amusements and his friends, and so ours too, living along side us with the freedom to roam wherever they liked. The rabbit, never caged, was retrieved by me (maybe too, by my other siblings?) a couple of times from the McDonalds’ farm (not kidding) just down the road. Hop, hop, hop.
Both Mom and Dad’s families were musical, artistic, and avid readers. From a young age I was given sketch books or scribblers and coloured pencils, and drew whatever I saw. Sometimes I sketched the animals on the farm or the ones we watched on ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’. Creative encouragement in those very early years sealed the direction of my lifelong pursuits: the designing and building of things, always keeping busy, pursuing artistic and creative endeavours, and of course, connecting with animals.
A portrait done at age 12, and a newly painted 'Fluorescent Yellow' Abstract Pet Paintings.
Fast forward through my professional years, some great jobs and rewarding careers; a graphic illustrator, twenty years as a freelance commercial designer, and an abstract painter. Pause poignantly for effect at life’s most worthy reward reflected in the eyes of my two very capable and pleasant daughters. I live now in London, ON, close enough to take a nostalgic drive to the farm and three houses where John and Maureen raised and took care of their four children, dogs, cats, and a wandering rabbit.
My parents live on through my art and fondness for all that is…and is not…human, as illustrated in this photo of Annie, the former homeless neighbourhood cat, with whom I made friends and helped find a home.
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