Once titled "Vegan in Suburbia," this blog used to document my vegan adventures in a Montréal suburb. Now vegan for 15 years & living in Toronto for the past 6, I figured a title change was in order. I'll let my finely-tuned Twitter bio tell you about me: I'm a "multilingual vegan, word nerd, teacher, reader, writer, & meditator seeking to live with intention, drink all the espresso, & pet all the dogs." Welcome, friend. I hope you enjoy your stay.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Chainlink cuddles: a short true story
A view of our 'hood
I’ve had kind of a rough week. It’s pretty personal, and, of course, these kinds of moments and periods happen to everyone, but suffice it to say that this
week found me frowning about as often as smiling, a proportion that is rare for
me (and thank goodness for that. Smiling is fun yaaaaay. Also, please forgive me for this apparent complaint; my life’s otherwise frakking rad. Finally, please don’t
worry: I’m just fine.)
Is it fair to say that I’m better now? Yeah. And, sure, Friday
sometimes is the harbinger of F**KING AWESOMENESS! but… sometimes, it’s just
another day. And yesterday was just another day… until it wasn’t.
Some background’s probably necessary, right? I’ll back up
from where and when I am, away from ella’s uncle café (the lower-case is
intentional, because that’s how the name is stylized very prettily on the sign)
on Bloor Street West, near Ossington Avenue, and rewind more than twelve hours.
Dane and I were seated at our kitchen table, talking about
our respective weeks and their various challenges: his healing from having all
four of his wisdom teeth removed; my work at the university and the strike and
the tensions involved; physical and emotional exhaustion. It was this last
point that had us start talking about our always-inconclusive and recurring
conversation about getting a dog and what kind of dog we would adopt, since a
dog’s presence would ease isolation and make all frowns turn upside down.
Thank you, Snapchat, for allowing me to draw on everything.
In my fatigued demeanour, I explained to Dane that a package
had arrived at our door for me a few days prior, but when the postal worker
rang the doorbell, I decided not to answer, because I hadn’t been expecting
anyone or anything. So, I still needed to pick up the package from the post
office where it had been transferred for pick-up at a later date.
I confessed to Dane (and, later, to my mum, who laughed a
lot and said that I had “an amazing imagination”) that I had this secret hope
that the package was a puppy. Of course, shipping a live animal through Canada
Post would be cruel and awful and I’d never
actually accept that to happen, so I explained myself: “You see, the puppy would
be sent from whatever its origins were all the way to Toronto via a chainlink
of cuddles from human transporters.”
You can picture it, right? One tight hug, then pass it on;
one tight hug, then pass it on; one tight hug—you can see it now, right? Sure,
these thousands of people probably have way
better things to do than form a human chain to send a canine to a bummed-out
PhD student in Toronto, but what are hopes and dreams for if not to be totally
It was at this point in our conversation that Dane and I
heard barking and whimpering eerily
close to our house. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t, for the tiniest moment, believe that my
post-office dog had found its way to our very door. In all seriousness, though,
the bark was way too deep for it to
belong to a creature that could be cuddle-shipped across Canada; that bark
belonged to a big dog.
The neighbour to the south of us has an adorable pug (I
believe I’ve mentioned him before. His name is Puck and I’d be happy to hug his
smooshed face all day), and although it is not rare to see dogs on our street,
none of our other immediate neighbours have dogs. So, when we heard this deep
bark so close to our house, we were surprised and perplexed: where was the dog?
Whose was it? When could we I meet it? Though the sun is starting to set
later these days, seven o’clock was too dark to see the depths of our yard
(which we avoid in all seasons, really, because the former tenants and/or
landlords weren’t especially tidy, so there’s a lot of construction nonsense that’ll
need to be dumped come summertime). Anyway, it was really cold out yesterday, but, thankfully, the temperature had started
to increase as the night went on. Nevertheless, I knew that it wasn’t normal
for this dog to be outside for this long. We couldn’t just sit around with this
dog freezing and possibly in pain and continue with our night.
I called my good friend, Barbi, to find out whom to call.
She suggested Toronto Animal Services. They were closed, so I dealt with 311,
and, boy, are they ever a wonderful and truly helpful bunch. Their hands were
tied by permits and permissions and bureaucratic limitations, but they’re a
compassionate group of people and they really
wanted to help doggerino. (In case you’re unfamiliar with my pooch terminology,
“doggerino” and “pupperino” [and, sometimes, “dawgy-dawg-dawg.” I know: it’s
weird. Heck, my dog, Brandy, that I had when I was little, never got called
“Brandy”; she was “Hadjabouti”—and still is!—to me. Juuust… don’t ask.] are
words I use to affectionately refer to dogs. The end). I called 311 at 9 p.m.,
and then 10 p.m. They would try to send someone over from Animal Services as
soon as possible, but their after-hours crew might decide to check in only on
the following day, and since we thought that the dog was in the neighbour’s
yard, they couldn’t come to “seize” (ugh. I dislike this terminology, but it’s
what’s used) the dog without permission to access the neighbour’s property. They
said they would call us if or when they would come by.
So, I went to take a nap while Dane played video games. He
woke me up at 1:30 a.m. and the poor canine sweetie was still barking outside.
My heart and Dane’s heart broke. In our pyjamas, Dane and I went outside to see
if we could see the dog, to ascertain whether the dog was chained or stuck or
hurt or if it was small enough that we could have it stay the night at our
house until the following day.
I couldn’t see the dog in the darkness, so I whistled until
the dog responded, but it didn’t. We were scared it’d jump out at us, but Dane
soon spotted it to the right of our shed, and he and the dog made eye contact.
It was a big dog, Dane confirmed. (Dane is 6’1’’ and I’m 5’1’’, so my ability
to evaluate the situation was limited by my height. Of course.) Although doggerino wasn’t growling or making any sound, menacing
or otherwise, the way they’d locked eyes without the dog’s reacting in any way
made us both very uneasy and scared us enough to go back inside. We both have
had unsettling experiences with strange dogs in our lives, so our legs moved a
little faster than our brains. But we weren’t about to give up on this dog.
That was at 1:30 a.m. We called 311 again when we got
inside. They were spectacular again, but still, their hands were tied since we
didn’t know if it was a stray or if it belonged to our neighbours or whose yard
the dog was actually in. This was frustrating to everyone—me, Dane, the
operator—because the dog was clearly in distress, but no one wanted to ruffle
anyone’s feathers; I say RUFFLE THEM ALL! Nonetheless, they said they’d get
back to us as soon as they could have a team out to check out the situation.
Dane and I went to sleep with the dog’s barking echoing in our ears, its
whimpers filling the empty spaces created by the separated pieces of our broken
hearts. (Vomit. It’s dramatic, I know, but we were distraught.)
I even had a dream about the puppy: Dane and I were able to
get to the other side of the fence, but I got there first and had patted the
puppy on his back, near his hind legs, and I instructed Dane to do the same,
saying that that’s usually the first spot I pet when I meet a new dog, because
it shows I’m a friend and, also, it protects me from its snout: should it feel
threatened, my hand would be far enough from its face to be able to withdraw in
time. Dane pet the dog and after the dog gently showed us that he, too, was our
friend, Dane gave the dog a full-body hug. I’ve seen Dane do this in real life,
and it turns my heart to mush instantly. It was sunny in the dream, and I don’t
know how it ended.
I awoke at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of our smoke alarm doing a
maddening test beep. Between its deafening beeps, I heard the dog barking.
I got up and actually saw the dog from the kitchen. He is a big dog. He’s a boxer. He’s beautiful. And he’s staring at me
through my kitchen window, shivering as he stands there barking and whimpering.
I wonder why he’s not sitting or lying down. I also realize that he’s not in
the neighbour’s yard at all (our neighbour to the rear of us), but in a weird
neutral zone between the two, separated from our yard only by a very short wire
fence—the cheap kind people put around their gardens to keep rabbits or
raccoons out. The dog was wearing a red windbreaker and clearly had a collar
and a leash. This was no stray; this dog had people who cared about him.
I called 311 again and gave them the number for the file
we’d opened the night before. They listened, patiently, and told me the same
story that the other kind and compassionate operators offered the three other
times I’d called. They insisted on receiving confirmation that the dog was
accessible from our yard before they sent Animal Services over. I went outside
in my pyjamas, the operator on hold, to investigate. I cooed to the puppy. He
looked at me, silently shivering. I promised him we’d get him home and that he
wasn’t along. His leash, as it turns out, was somehow frozen into the snow
beneath his trembling body. I still don’t understand how he got there.
I went back inside, confirmed that the dog was on our
premises, and the operator told me to call back at 8 a.m., when Animal Services
opened, so that they could transfer me (and my file) directly to Animal
Eight a.m. rolls around. I’m patched through. I speak to
someone at Animal Services. He asks what colour the dog’s coat was. I assume he’s
using “coat” in the sense of “fur,” but he’d actually been referring to the
jacket the dog was wearing. (Hahaha.)
“It’s red,” I said after describing his gorgeous
“And it’s a big dog, right? Like, a boxer?”
“Yes! Very big.”
“Did you see his paws? Was he wearing black booties—with one
“Uuuuhhh… I didn’t see his paws.”
“Okay. This dog went missing yesterday afternoon at
Dovercourt and Davenport. We were wondering how it never showed up. I’m going
to give your number to the owners and they will contact you to pick up the dog.
His name is Bentley.”
Holy shit, man. What a RELIEF.
First, what a relief—as awful as this sounds—that Bentley
survived the night. Thank GOODNESS that the colder night was on Thursday; I
don’t know how he’d have fared otherwise.
After I got off the phone with Animal Services, I took my cell
phone and a bowl of water outside. I went to sit with the dog and reassured him
that his family would be there soon. I offered him the water, but he just lay
there, regal though shaking, looking at me as I tried to comfort him by using
his name. My phone rang and it was an excited, audibly relieved woman on the
other end of the phone.
“Is this Christina? You have Bentley? Thank you SO MUCH. We
live at ##. Can we just knock on your door?”
“You’re so welcome! Actually, I’m just sitting in the back
with him; you can come through the back yard. Be careful, though: it’s icy!”
As it turns out, she lives just a few houses south of us.
She had been within reach this whole time and spent a sleepless night at home
with her children and husband, wondering where their dog was.
Myriad thank-yous followed and they were on their way.
Seconds later—literally—I heard a house door slam and a chorus of animated
voices drawing nearer. Bentley noted this at the same time as I did and he stood
up on his front paws to rest in a shaky sitting position.
“Your family is coming to get you, Bentley! You’re going to
be okay. You’re going to be sooo warm sooo soon. It’s going to feel sooo good.
You’re going to be warm. You’ll be with your family soon.”
The family, all five members of them, one by one entered our
yard. Bentley’s echoed name preceded them before their faces appeared. My heart
sank as, for a second, I worried that it wasn’t their puppy at all—but it was.
It was! I backed up against the fence
to leave the family room to see and access their dog. The woman who had called
me, K., beamed with gratitude and grabbed my hands to thank me. “You have no idea what kind of night we had!” I
could only imagine.
I chuckled as one of the boys, who was in his pyjamas like
the rest of us, lost his shoe in the snow and had his bare foot exposed as he
tried to regain his balance on one leg and replace his shoe on his wet foot. He
was barely fazed, overcome as he was with happiness to be reunited with his
K.’s husband leaned over the fence to pick up the huge dog
(what an image: this dog who weighs about the same as I do, if not more, being
cuddled and… passed along over linked fencing, much like my fantasy post-office
dog). As K. and her family left, the youngest of the family, who is maybe nine
or 10, looked at me and uttered the most genuine thank-you I think I’ve ever
received. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget her sparkling eyes as she said this.
Her mum looked at me as K.’s husband walked away cradling Bentley. She reached
out with both arms and hugged me before I knew what was happening. She uttered
a million thank-yous and said I’d made her day; I said she’d made mine! She walked away with her family
and I walked towards our back door as Dane emerged, just missing the family. I
walked inside and broke down as Dane held me.
I couldn’t get over how much the dog had suffered and how scared
he must have been and how grateful the family was to have their dog back with
them and how delighted I was that this dog had survived the night. I was
And then we had pancakes.
It’s amazing how quickly our fates change, isn’t it? From
talking about dogs to taking steps to try to save a dog’s life… From freezing
in the unforgiving cold to being cradled by one who spent a sleepless night
worrying about your whereabouts… From locking eyes with a homeless, trembling
canine to sharing grateful, sparkling glances with a child who’s taking her dog
home… From starting your day with pleasant exchanges with human strangers to
having said (former) strangers insist that, if you need anything, just knock on
They came back later, our neighbours, while I was at ella’s
uncle, while I had already started typing this story. K. called me to ask which
unit was ours because they had brought over a token of gratitude and wanted to
make sure that they rang the right bell. I expressed how sweet that
was—imagining a bottle of wine or muffins or something—and that we were on the
main floor, that Dane was home and would answer.
They brought over cash.
Dane, the polite darling, refused three or four times, but
Bentley’s family insisted, and Dane said that it felt rude to decline, so he
finally acquiesced. He felt like he didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t believe
it, when he told me. We agreed that it was totally unnecessary, but I
understood the family’s insistence: you can’t put a price on a loved one’s
well-being. I called them to thank them, and the gratitude was bounced back and
forth like a volleyball over the neighbourhood fences.
Before coming to this café, I went to the post office to
pick up my mystery package (“please be a dog. Please be a dog”). The package
that awaited me at the post office was flat and tiny. Could it contain the
world’s tiniest Chihuahua? No: it was my 10-year passport that I’d renewed a few
weeks ago, in preparation for a vacation in May that Dane and I are planning to
celebrate our two-year anniversary and his birthday.
Well, it turns out that I had been totally wrong about a
puppy in the mail sent to me by chainlink cuddles. Today, I was wrong not only about
the item being delivered, but, also, the dream item’s method of delivery; I was
right about this, though: a dog was
delivered, directly to warm, loving arms, over a chainlink fence. And this rough
week had the happiest of endings, the kind that sometimes manifest only in