Your Cold, Cold Heart

No one deserves to freeze to death

An untold number of dogs and cats have frozen to death during this brutal winter. Not just strays or ferals, but pets, those four-legged friends many of us consider family. When we hear these stories in the news we shake our heads and ask: what kind of person does that?

There is a concerted effort on the part of animal welfare advocates to raise awareness about the plight of dogs tied to chains for life. They’re the new slave of the modern world — poor, helpless, voiceless creatures at their master’s mercy. Chained behind the house in sub-zero weather with inadequate shelter, frozen water bowls, no companionship or hope, they look so lonely they break our hearts.

How would you like to sleep like this?

These dogs are also at the mercy of lax animal welfare laws, ones that state that if a dog is fed and watered daily and has some kind of shelter, no matter how bad it looks — it’s all right. Some laws are being re-reviewed to prevent the kind of wanton neglect pictured above, but animal advocates are struggling to get them changed.

Unlike Malamutes and Newfoundlands, dogs bred for working and living in winter conditions, the majority of dogs and cats aren’t so lucky — they don’t have triple thick, waterproof coats. Like us, they are prone to frostbite and hypothermia. Ferals and strays are especially prone to dehydration during long cold snaps, which leave them without even drips of melting snow to quench their thirst.

Cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothernmia

I’ve heard so many stories this winter of animals dying of neglect I’ve become increasingly angry and depressed. Sometimes I hate mankind. Researching animal abusers is probably the hardest part about writing The Patron Saint of Dogs. At times I couldn’t bear to even write a scene about them and I just couldn’t understand it – how does someone let their pet freeze to death? Or leave them behind when they move? Why don’t they care? How do they sleep at night?

The answer is sad but true. There are people on this earth with little to no conscience for the welfare of others. Whether they are sociopaths, alcoholics, drug addicts or have personality disorders, many people on this earth have zero empathy or concern for anything but themselves.

Some see their pets as objects and care no more for them than for the bush behind the house buckling under the weight of the snow. Others see their pets as extensions of themselves, and if they are self-destructive people, they don’t care about that poor creature locked outside in a blizzard, either.

Sociopaths, and those with certain personality disorders like narcissists, exist without the kind of consciences that keep good people up at night. They don’t care how their actions affect others, heck, they don’t even have the brain chemistry to plague them with such thoughts.

In a support group for abused women, I’ve heard too many stories about pets that had to be left behind when the victims fled. The animals, who were also abused during the relationship, took their place. I know of two sets of house pets that were abandoned outdoors this winter — one of whom froze to death — and of another, caged up in a garage in sub-zero weather, who succumbed to hypothermia.


Another woman, newly separated, posted pictures on Facebook of her first night out on the town with her friends since she left her abusive husband, who was stalking her. The next morning her horse was found dead, his head beaten in.

I got sick when I heard another story about a woman who jumped out of bed one Sunday morning upon hearing the screams of her young daughters and the howls of her dog. She ran downstairs to discover her husband with the control to their dog’s shock collar in his hand. He was pressing it, over and over again, as the dog cried and the girls watched in horror.

What kind of person does that? One who is all about power and control. There are people among us with charm and personality who you’d never in a million years think badly of. They seem so kind, so generous, so loving in public. But behind closed doors? Their masks fall off, and it is only their families and pets who know the evil that lurks within them.

We can’t change these people, heck, we can’t even convict most of them. But there are things that people of good conscience can do:

Every stray cat is a homeless cat

We can reach out to victims of domestic violence and help ensure their pets are not left behind to bear the brunt of the abuse.

We can be vigilant by caring enough to stop for an animal in need, and report suspected cases of neglect and abuse to our local animal welfare authorities.

We can speak up about lax animal welfare laws, too. Animal advocates need all the support they can get from the public.

We can step in when we see an animal being abused or neglected.

We can educate those around us who seem oblivious to the basics of properly caring for their pets.

We can support local rescue groups, those who take in animals in crisis or help tend feral cat colonies.

Cold weather safety

Or we can do something utterly unconventional I advocate in my tweets all the time:

If you see an animal in distress, please knock on their human’s door and ask them to grow a heart.

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” –Arthur Schopenhauer



Boxer’s Runaway Boxing Day

Boxer and his big stick

Boxer and his big stick

When I heard the news that Boxer had run away on Boxing Day his life flashed before my eyes.

Here’s a dog that has the best of two worlds: two homes, two parents who love him, multiple walks a day, great food and a plethora of friends in the neighbourhood.

But brains? Nope, he’s in short supply of those. He’s lovable, but not the sharpest stick in his collection.

I imagined him hit by a car and laying dead beneath a bush where he’d crawled to breathe his last without the love of his humans by his side…

I imagined him scooped up by a dog fighting ring and torn to shreds as bait…

I imagined him dumped at a shelter far, far away and euthanized before we located him…

Shelter Pic

And I imagined myself pummeling his other human for not getting him microchipped or ordering a tag with Boxer’s name and number on it so he could phone home…

We tend to think the worst when a crisis strikes, but in this case, I tried hard to keep the faith. His other human had taken him to the creek for a run and Boxer had taken off, no doubt in pursuit of an elusive duck, and never found his way back home.

I tried to picture him showing up at some family’s back door as they were serving their Christmas duck á l’orange and him scratching on the glass, wondering if that was his bird they’d had the nerve to catch and cook.

Or maybe some children saw him, and he bounded over in that dopey way he has and followed the scent of their Boxing Day dinner. Kids love him, so they might have lured him home and begged their parents to keep him as a belated Christmas present. Being a holiday, the shelter was closed. Maybe he crashed beside their little beds overnight and then took up position beside the breakfast table the next morning with that hopeful look on his face.

Wherever he was, for over 24 hours, Boxer was on the lam.

I got the call from Animal Services late afternoon on December 27th that I had to come bail him out before they closed for the night. I raced over in a taxi, the driver refusing to wait until I emerged with the jailbird because he didn’t like big dogs (growl!).

After paying the convict’s fines I tried hard not to look around. Being in the pound is a nightmare for its inhabitants — and this author. All those homeless animals on the verge of being killed for want of a family. All those rejected pets, missing their families and wondering what they did wrong. They are surrounded by the cries of other terrified animals, sensing death all around them, confused and alone. This is my — and the heroine of The Patron Saint of Dogs’ — downfall: Death Row isn’t a place we can bear to work, no matter how much we want to help.

Shelter death

When Boxer burst through the jailhouse doors, straining on his leash, he looked happier for a bathroom break than by the sight of a saviour. We ran outside and he did his business in seconds flat. (Maybe he’s fastidious and didn’t want to soil his dog run.)

But then he did something I would never, ever have predicted… Boxer wanted to return to the pound!

He strained on his leash and pulled and pulled, trying to go back inside. It was the damnedest thing. Was it almost dinner time and he didn’t want to miss out? Had he made friends he wanted to save? Or was there a hot blond inside whose number he forgot to get?

Whatever it was, he tried, again and again, to return to the jaws of death while we waited an eternity for a taxi that would transport a large dog.

Yes, the ladies at the pound are sweethearts and scratched his ears good bye. No, the pound wasn’t quite as depressing as I’d imagined. It was actually quite an upbeat place — if you disregard the fact that they euthanize approximately 50% of the animals that pass through their doors.

Shelter worker

It’ll remain a mystery where Boxer was and what he did during his Boxing Day adventure. When we got home, he curled up on his bed and took a nap, no worse for wear. Even when his other human arrived, he didn’t give us so much as a single guilty look.

Maybe Boxer had heard us talking about enjoying some time off over the holidays and he decided that, because it was Boxing Day, it was his day to do whatever he wanted.

Or maybe he was helping me research the novel and wanted me to see the pound, and its staff, differently, illuminated by the spirit of the season so I could bring you this message…

Shelter dogs

Please help them in any way you can.

All the best for 2015,

Colleen, Boxer and (Psycho) Kitty


If you enjoyed this blog post, here are more of Boxer’s adventures:


The Most Phobic Dog in the World:

The Happy Birthday Stick:

The Adventures of a Wet Retriever:

Dog Sharing:


Dog Sharing

Boxer: wet & camera shy

Boxer: wet & camera shy

In this age of modern families, even dogs are taking advantage of the trend.

When I grew up, most of the kids I knew were from two parent households. These days, they’re as common as single parent and blended families. Kids have two bedrooms — one at Mom’s and one at Dad’s, and many of them seem to love it.

A few months ago, Boxer’s guardian and my dear friend Ariy moved out and into his own place. He got an apartment just down the street so the dog could stay in the hood with his furry friends, his swimming hole, and me, his fairy dogmother. Ariy does long afternoon shifts, so while I’m still off work, we figured the dog could camp here part-time. The plan was Boxer would hang here, get walked and fed and groomed, then go home with his Dad at night.

Uh-uh. Boxer’s stubborn. And he’s a squatter.

At first, he stayed with me after the move because of the heat wave — I have air conditioning, Ariy doesn’t. But then, once he started coming by to pick up Boxer after work, the dog wouldn’t go!

We figured it was the a/c factor. But then the weather cooled off, so we’ve eliminated that possibility. It might be his fear of walking after dark in the summer — what with those pesky fireworks sporadically terrorizing us — but he’s getting used to them. (I can’t get him out for a late night walk either.)

Wounded, Ariy is taking it personally. For the first month he showed up faithfully, night after night. Boxer met him at the door, wagging his tail, happy to see his Dad. But once Ariy puts on his collar and opens the door, Boxer stays put.

Like his refusal to pass the creek without taking a dip, that dog plants his feet and his eighty-one pounds and stands there like a mule. We’ve bribed him with the ball, with treats, with coaxing and stern orders, but Boxer won’t go. He’s become a squatter in my home.

He stays until Ariy comes early in the morning for his first walk. They hang at Ariy’s until he drops him off before work. The only time Boxer stays at Dad’s is his one night off because Ariy has had him all day.

I’ve spent years studying dogs, and I must confess to being baffled. Maybe Ariy’s frequent moves made Boxer stubborn about changing dens. Or he likes to sleep where his stick collection does. Or I’m spoiling him too much. Or he actually likes living with my psychotic cat, who he mostly ignores.

But then it occurred to me that this just might be our Karma.

Back when I had Jules, she adopted Ariy. It’s true. She met him and his doggie bags from the Greek restaurant he used to work at and pronounced him “Dad.”

Jules and Ariy in the kitchen

Jules and Ariy in the kitchen

Fine, he’s a better cook than most people, but she was my dog! And she became Daddy’s girl. I used to get so jealous, the way she’d whine and jump all over him when he dropped by. She never welcomed me home that way. I was wounded, I’ll admit. I had saved her from a neglectful situation and this was the thanks I got. She was two-timing me.

Jules Ariy and pink bear

Jules Ariy and pink bear

So, I started taking advantage of the situation and let her spend the weekends at Ariy’s so I could go clubbing. It gave me a little freedom and I learned to love it.

Dog sharing has it’s advantages for everyone in the pack. The dog gets maximum attention while the humans get help with the responsibility. Maybe that’s what Boxer is doing: making us share him so that he gets the best of both worlds.

Or maybe he just doesn’t like to go out at night.

The Adventures of a Wet Retriever

Boxer soaking wet

It should come as no surprise that Boxer, my part-time Golden Retriever, loves the water. After all, it’s in his DNA. His obsession with retrieving sticks is, too.

So what do you get when you combine a golden retriever, a fast-flowing creek and  a stick?

A perpetual stick launcher.

After a brutal winter, it took a while before the creek’s water level subsided enough that Boxer could wade in. And I’m having a devil of a time getting him out.

A few times a day, as we venture along the Etobicoke Creek Trail a stone’s throw from my building, Boxer won’t budge past the first bench. It’s bright blue and shadowed by an ancient Weeping Willow that hides our special spot. We duck behind the tree, where there’s a slope down to the rushing water that makes a noisy business of meeting the rocks. There are piles of branches and sticks hurdled upon its banks we can use as ammunition, and a large, flat stone I cop a squat on with my book.


I only need to toss the stick once to keep him retrieving.

I aim for the creek’s deepest spot. Boxer captures it lustfully, and once he’s gotten in a good chew or two, he’ll pretend to look the other way, or roll over to ensure he’s evenly soaked.

Then he’ll look up suddenly and oh no! there it goes! Bobbing down the stream is his runaway stick!

He chases after it merrily, recapturing his prey with a thundering splash. Sometimes he’ll lay there in the water, a look of zen on his face, waiting and watching for ducks. He’s got the stick pinned between his paws, and will duck his head under occasionally to give it a disciplinary nip.

Finally, streaming water, Boxer will splash back upstream to his spot, where he’ll settle down with his stick and pretend to look the other way again until… Oh no! There it goes!

He’ll repeat as necessary until I beg him to come in.


Some days he won’t.

Delaying the inevitable, he’ll let the stick keep running away. Oops! I mean, he has to chase it, we can’t go home without it.

His next (mandated) stop is the lush grass in the park, where he puts his prey through the adoption process — he rolls on it —  just like The Happy Birthday Stick. Then we’ll play fetch until he decides he wants to finish it off, and will settle in the clover and chew it to bits.

But our forays into the deep have pitfalls.

For one thing, he stinks. Since he’s been going into the creek, Boxer has developed a robust aroma. I’m not sure if it’s the oil coming out of his coat, or the algae growing on the creek bed’s rocks, but something is making this puppy stinky. We’ve tried bathing him, but there’s still a cloud of odor around us.

He lost a stick to the rapids one day and it took me forever to convince him it was gone for good. Then there was the time we arrived upon a family of ducks cached along the bank. He made chase until he was utterly exhausted by reality — Boxer can’t swim as fast as a duck, and they like to tease.

We’ve also brought home a slimy souvenir. A retriever’s thick coat is the mother of high maintenance, and during a post-swim groom, I picked something black off his tail. I didn’t know what it was until I dropped it in the toilet — and it began to swim. A leech. So we steer clear of standing water now.

Some nights I’ll take him for a bonus swim before bed. When it’s hot and humid here I take pity on wearing fur. I try to keep these dips short, but ooops! there goes my stick again! and we’re there for a while.

And of course, there are times I can’t let him go in. It’s the end of the world. If the water level is too high, Boxer will act like the most neglected dog on earth. Sadder than sad, his big dopey brown eyes will fix upon me with a guilt-inducing gaze.

He’ll stop in front of the bench and refuse his walk. With planted feet and an ample 81 pounds, Boxer strains towards the call of the sea. He looks at me as if to say, “How can you deprive me of my destiny?”


It’s summer, and he’s been bred to swim and retrieve.

And he stinks.


 If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll love The Happy Birthday Stick:

and The Most Phobic Dog in the World

The Happy Birthday Stick

Boxer and his big stick

Boxer and his big stick

I’ve been studying Boxer’s quirks since he moved in and get the biggest kick out of his obsession with sticks.

I used to introduce him at the dog park as the Golden Retriever who didn’t retrieve. Throw a ball or stick and, sure, he’d chase it, but then he’d hang out in its general vicinity, looking around, clueless. Occasionally, he’d pick it up and… drop it. At other times he’d even trot a few feet with it, his tail wagging happily, but that’s it. He wouldn’t bring it back so I could throw it again. He was oblivious to the very thing he was genetically engineered for: retrieving it.

If I didn’t go get it, games of fetch stopped in his muddy tracks. I even wondered if he was teaching me to fetch I spent so much time getting the damn stick myself. Fetch is a great way to exercise a dog, and Boxer was portly enough to need it. So I persevered. Maybe he spent enough time in the dog park, watching other dogs get their sticks thrown again and again that he finally clued in, but I doubt it. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

I finally used the old milkbone solution. Whenever he’d pick up a stick I’d thrown, I’d call him over for a treat. If he made it to within two paces of me whilst still in possession of the stick, he got a treat. If he dropped it halfway, uh-huh, no deal, no treat. (We had a few stalemates over this technicality.)

We kept this up, week after week, until one day it seemed to dawn on him that this was his mission in life: I retrieve! Eureka, he seemed to be saying with his happy trot and wide doggie grin. And not only that, but once Boxer retrieves a stick, he adopts it.

He’s not a possessive dog — he’ll drop his stick for anybody who asks. Throw it in the park and he’ll back off if a dominant dog wants it. But when it’s time to go home — that stick is coming with us. And he won’t leave the park without it.

Boxer seems to become attached to them. The adoption process usually begins with a good roll. He likes to find a patch of fresh snow or lush grass, toss his stick down, and roll on it in glee, back and forth, over and over, until he ends up a few feet away, still rocking and rolling. Oh the look on his face when he does. (And if one of his quirks wasn’t a terror of being photographed, I’d have a ton of photos of it for you!)


Rocking and rolling on his stick

He also insists on carrying the sticks home, something that’s brought a smile to the face of many a driver passing us on the road. He trots home merrily with it, his tale wagging, showing off his prize.

I’ve put a champagne bucket by my door where we keep the sticks. What really makes his day is when I take a stick from it when we head out for a walk. He has to carry it himself, and he’ll race to the park with it, no stopping for a pee on the way. And that stick must make the return trip with us, or he won’t go home.

And in the middle of winter in two or three feet of snow, he kept losing it. I’d throw it, he’d roll on it, and by the time he stopped, he’d made snow angels on a forty foot patch and buried it for good. He’d be out there forever, nose buried under the snow, refusing to come until we’d found that stick and brought it home. I dug many a hole but we lost many sticks over the winter.

If I try to substitute another stick, uh-huh, he has to take his stick home. Sometimes we can’t take his stick home. Maybe someone — like him! — chewed it up at the park and it’s just bits of wood now. Or maybe some other dog chewed it to pieces, as if to say, Ha! It was yours, loser. Or maybe the stick is just too damn big.

Boxer adopted one stick that was so big and so long, he could barely carry it. I tricked him into leaving it behind the first few times until it finally got buried in a snow bank. But now it’s spring… and guess who found the big stick yesterday?

Well, Boxer just insisted on taking it home. Nothing would budge him, nothing could coax him, no trick would fool him into leaving it behind. It’s so long Gandalf could use it as a walking stick. Boxer struggled home with it. A ten minute walk took four times that long. It teetered lopsidedly in his mouth, one end dragging on the path. He kept stopping and dropping it and looking to me for help. I’d show him how to hold it in the middle, and off he’d go, a few more feet towards home.

When we got home, I put it in the champagne bucket with the rest of his adopted sticks. That’s usually the end of the story, until its return trip to the park. But not that big stick. Oh no. He paced, he whined, he wanted that stick. He’s a good dog, and if I tell him to go lay down, he will. But not this time.

After an hour I finally gave up and took the stick out and laid it in front of the door for him, knowing he’d chew it to bits and I’d have a colossal clean up.

Uh-huh. He still paced and whined, this time by his toy box right beside his human’s spot on the sofa. So, I finally moved it there. Then he surprised me again: he settled back down in front of the door to wait for his dad to come home from work.

Fast forward a few hours, his dad comes home and sees the stick by his end of the sofa and says, WTF?

We couldn’t figure this quirk out at first. Why didn’t Boxer chew it up? Or leave it in the bucket with the others? Why wasn’t it okay in front of the door? Why did it have to be in front of his dad’s spot on the sofa?

Then it hit me.

It’s his Dad’s birthday this week, and Boxer wanted to give that great big stick to him for his birthday.



Pedestrians beware!

Why People Love Dogs So Much

Recently a friend expressed exasperation on their Facebook page:

“I can’t believe how much attention and time and money people give to their dogs. They are DOGS for crying out loud.”

I think my friend is referring to people like this…

Tablet pics 171

There are those of us afraid to trust humans anymore because we’ve been betrayed..


Some of us have been hurt by someone we love and are afraid to love again…

Dog loves you more

And we know that dogs think we are the most important people in their world..

Tablet pics 310

Dogs bring caring and compassion to lonely, elderly people…

Tablet pics 142

And comfort to the sick and injured…

Tablet pics 160

They’re always happy to see us come home…

Tablet pics 148

And they rely on us completely…

Tablet pics 159

No matter how bad our lives get…

Tablet pics 195

Or how empty they may seem to others…

Tablet pics 188

They bring joy and fun and happiness to everything we do together…

Tablet pics 191

They always love our cooking…

Cooking bacon

Are grateful for everything we give them…

(which most people can’t say about their children)


They’re patient and teach children compassion…

Tablet pics 213

And watch out for our safety…


They protect our soldiers…


And are free of the ugly aspects of humanity…


So we can’t help hoping…

Youll meet me in the light

In our technological world, where we spend more time online talking to strangers than with our friends and family…

as we are bombarded by bad news, crime, poverty, cruelty and heartbreak…

I believe people turn to their dogs because they are pure, simple, and love us unconditionally…


If our purpose in life is to love and be loved…


…count me in as one of the people who find their purpose in loving dogs

Colleen xoxo

It’s A Miracle! The Taming of the Psycho Kitty

Psycho is based on my Kitty - a friend saved her from abusive neighbours

Psycho is based on my Kitty – a friend saved her from abusive neighbours

When I adopted Kitty she was nine months old. She was a sweet cat, affectionate and even-tempered. Considering the abusive situation she was rescued from, this is surprising in hindsight. (You can read more about her true story in Chapter 4 of my novel The Patron Saint of Dogs.)

Kitty wasn’t spayed, which we learned when she went into heat. It was sometime after the spaying, and around the time I broke up with my partner, that her personality changed.

She began attacking me and my guests. She’d wander around the house howling, like she was in distress or pain. And her habit of using my bed as a litter box increased dramatically.

Over the next few years, repeated trips to the vet didn’t uncover any underlying health issues. She had a touch of crystals in her bladder, but not enough to be causing her the kind of pain or discomfort that explained her behaviour.

When all of my options seemed to be exhausted, the vet I was seeing – Dr. W — told me my options were to either live with it, give her up or euthanize her.

I chose to live with it, but I was also choosing misery. As far as roommates go, Kitty was a nightmare. Rarely did a day go by that she didn’t scratch or bite me. Cuddling was out of the question. And when I was in need of a little animal therapy, petting her was impossible, because she’d lash out suddenly. She was demanding, insisting on attention when she wanted it, and if she didn’t get it, she’d have a hissy fit. I had to keep a shower curtain across my bed to protect it from its daily defiling. At times, I dreaded going home.

When I changed vets, Dr. C suggested I start using Feliway. It resembles a plug-in air freshener, only it mimics a cat’s pheromones to make them feel safe and secure. Boxer had just moved in, so the vet said it would take a bit more time to work on Kitty in her heightened state of anxiety with a dog in the house.

After the first month, the change in her started to show. Seven months later, she’s a changed cat. My bed has lost its shower curtain. My cat is sweet and cuddly – most of the time – and when she does have a hissy fit, it’s milder. I can’t remember the last time she attacked me and drew blood.

She’s even warmed up to Boxer – I caught Kitty touching her nose to his as she passed him in the hall one day and almost fell over in shock.

I’ve never been one to get on my soapbox and tout a product to others, but in this case, Feliway has been a lifesaver.

Sometimes, it takes a change of vet or a simple solution to solve a problem with your furry friend. Don’t give up. Kitty’s story shows that harsh alternatives weren’t the answer, and something as basic as a happy cat hormone can mean the difference between misery and blissful cohabitation.

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