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‘Something much bigger:’ Calgary pet charity hopes to expand to keep kids with pets


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CALGARY — A mother whose family has been struggling financially and emotionally is giving thanks to a pet charity that helped pay for medical treatment for their injured cat during a particularly dark time.

Shannon Miller says her 18-year-old son, Jordan, has just finished chemotherapy for a rare form of bone and soft tissue cancer.

“It’s been insane. It’s been a really rotten year,” Miller said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Her 14-year-old son, Josh, has an anxiety disorder and has been taking his brother’s illness particularly hard. Miller said Josh turned to his feline friend, Nala, for emotional support but she needed expensive surgery to repair a broken hip joint.

“Nala has been his absolute comfort. When he’s feeling anxious, he pets her, he sleeps with her. Even right now she’s confined to a tunnel in our living room and he’s sleeping in our living room because he can’t sleep without Nala.”

Miller and her husband both lost their jobs due to COVID-19. She said help from friends and a GoFundMe campaign wasn’t enough to pay the vet bill.

“When she called me … I would call her just broken down,” said Melissa David, founder of Parachutes for Pets, which provides subsidized pet care, including food hampers and medical treatment, to pet owners in need.

David said Miller was worried about what would happen to her son if the family lost the cat. “It was his mental health at that point,” David said.

Miller said it looked like Nala was going to have to be euthanized.

“We thought we were going to have to put her down for a good three days and all (Josh) did was cry. He was devastated. It was not a good time,” she said. 

“Now he’s thrilled. Just overjoyed. For a teenage boy to be overjoyed means something.”

David started out providing 25 to 30 hampers a month last year. In December, after she revealed she was receiving letters from children asking that Santa help their pets instead of bring Christmas gifts, the demand exploded to more than 600 hampers monthly.

After 4,000 responses in a three-day period, including from 35 social workers across Canada, it became obvious more had to be done.

“There are currently no programs in Canada that are helping children keep their pets when they are removed from their home. I was contacted by many children’s agencies,” David said. 

“It became apparent we needed to dedicate a program solely to helping children keep their pets.”

The first step, said David, is in April with the help of Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund. The NHL player lost his dog, Lily, earlier this year and the Lily’s Legacy campaign will urge the public to buy Easter hampers for kids and pets in need.

“It’s solely to help children that are going to be separated from their pets. We’re going to commit to helping this child and this pet — whether it’s leashes, collars, vet care, vaccines, licensing … until they can go on their own.”

Backlund, who in the past has donated hockey tickets to the charity, said losing Lily was hard on him and his wife and he was happy to help out.

“We thought it would be a great idea to do something good in our little princess’s name,” he said. “It’s a great way to start it with Easter baskets … and helping these kids keep their pets and hopefully raise some money so we can keep this program rolling.”

Volunteer Kelly MacQuarrie has been delivering the charity’s pet hampers with the help of her six-year-old son, Camden.

“He loves, loves animals. He thinks it’s sad that maybe some kids can’t afford to keep their pets,” she said.

Camden, who said he prefers ginger kitties, understands why hampers are being delivered for pets.

“Because they need the food or they might die. It’s good to help their pets.”

David said she’s hopeful the charity can be expanded across the country over the next three years to keep children and pets together.

“It’s heartbreaking to think there have been so many kids that have experienced this with no help.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2021.

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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta’s Walker into Hearts semifinal with 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jones

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CALGARY — Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship at night.

Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Let ‘er buck: Study suggests horses learn from rodeo experience, grow calmer

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CALGARY — Rodeo fans love the thrill of a bronc exploding into the ring, cowboy temporarily aboard. How the horse feels about it hasn’t been so clear.

Newly published research out of the University of Calgary looks at three years of roughstock events from that city’s Stampede in an attempt to peer inside the mind of an animal about to let ‘er buck.

“I try to understand the animal’s perspective,” said Ed Pajor, a professor of veterinary medicine. “We asked the question whether or not horses find participating in the rodeo to be an adversive experience or not.”

Pajor and his co-authors — Christy Goldhawk from the University of Calgary and well-known animal behaviourist Temple Grandin — studied 116 horses in bareback, novice bareback, saddle bronc and novice saddle bronc events. They looked at animals about to be loaded into a trailer and taken to the ring. They also observed how the horses behaved while in the chute waiting to be unleashed.

Horses have all kinds of ways of showing they’re unhappy, Pajor said. They might move back and forth, chew their lips, swish their tail, defecate, roll their eyes, paw the ground, toss their head, or rear up in protest.

The researchers found that the more people were around them, the more likely the horses were to show unease. That’s probably because they spend most of their time in fields and pastures and aren’t used to the bustle, Pajor said.

The other factor that affected behaviour was experience. If it wasn’t their first rodeo, the horses were much less likely to act up.

“We didn’t see a lot of attempts to escape. We didn’t see a lot of fear-related behaviours at all,” Pajor said. “The animals were pretty calm.

“The animals that had little experience were much more reactive than the animals that had lots of experience.”

There could be different reasons for that, he suggested.

“We don’t know if that’s because they’re used to the situation or whether that’s because of learned helplessness — they realize there’s nothing they can do and just give up.”

Pajor suspects the former.

“When the cowboys came near the horses, they would certainly react and you wouldn’t really see that if it was learned helplessness.”

The researchers also noted that the horses’ bucking performance, as revealed in the score from the rodeo judges, didn’t seem to be reduced by repeated appearances as it might be if the animals had become apathetic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the horses are having a good time, said Pajor, who’s also on the Stampede’s animal welfare advisory board. There are a couple of ways of interpreting active behaviour in the chute, he said.

“An animal might be getting excited to perform. Or an animal might be having a fear response.”

“Understanding if animals like to do something is a tricky thing to do.”

Pajor knows there are different camps when it comes to rodeos and animals.

“People have very strong opinions on the use of animals for all kinds of reasons. I think no matter what we’re going to use animals for, we really need to make sure that we treat them humanely.

“My job is to do the research to understand the animals’ perspective.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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