I’m running for Parliament in Canada’s October 19th election as a candidate for the Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party – AA/EV – for the Toronto-Danforth riding. Though the AA/EV is one of Canada’s tiniest political parties, I represent billions more beings than my fellow candidates. These beings include not just the thousands of voters and residents of Toronto-Danforth but also Canada’s billions of animals: our wildlife; the dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds and other creatures we live with as companions; the unlucky members of those same species imprisoned in facilities that torment them in the name of science; and the billions of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, goats and fish condemned to factory farms where they endure brief, wretched lives that end in terror in slaughterhouses.

factory farming I carry the interests of so many creatures on my shoulders!

I also advocate for the well-being of the environment whose destruction humanity – and other political parties – seem bent on permitting, by failing even to acknowledge – much less address – the biggest contributor of all, the factory farming that continues to gobble up Canadian family farms.

They do not protest against how the effluvia from factory farming pollutes neighbouring land and the waterways it seeps into. Nor, when discussing health care, do they express alarm that before slaughter, the tormented and sick animals are given antibiotics – 80% of antibiotics are used for animals, only 20% in human health care – and so everyone who eats their flesh is also exposed to antibiotics, leading to the widespread resistance to these once wondrous drugs that threatens to leave us unprotected against diseases that were once easily manageable. Nor do they cry out against the hormones given those animals to boost and hasten their growth and slaughter and that, in the humans who eat them, are linked to breast and testicular cancer, among others. Nor do they worry about the pesticides the animals ingest in their feed that is grown with many carcinogenic chemical pesticides.

That’s the tip of the iceberg of what I stand for, and doesn’t even glance at the economy, the TPP, health care, immigration, terrorism, privacy, Bill C51, democracy itself in Canada. silence

Yet in an upcoming television All-Candidates debate on Rogers TV, we are each allowed exactly one minute to introduce our programs. How is that possible? A one-minute speech is no more than 140 words, and I’ve taken nearly triple that already.

And then last Sunday in church, reciting the Apostle’s Creed, I had an epiphany. That creed, (King James version) which encapsulates the core of Christianity and even wraps it in a bit of narrative, is 110 words! If Christianity can be expressed so succinctly, so can the world-view that has driven me to enter the political arena.

My creed: I believe in a world where humans respect, protect and enhance the environment they depend on and share with animals and plant life, and where progress is measured not as macroeconomic units of growth but always in terms of justice, equity and sustainability. Humans are inextricably linked by biology and ecology to non-human life, and when humans harm other life forms, they harm us all, not just physically and emotionally but also ethically and spiritually.

Our best science shows that the economic course that humanity is currently pursuing will—left unchecked and unreformed—result in drastically altered ecosystems and catastrophic events far worse than we are already witnessing and enduring around the world.

I believe in Canadian sovereignty and mourn its sacrifice at the altar of globalism via the TPP and previous cross-border deals, increasingly crafted in secrecy from voters but not from special interests, including lobbyists.

TPP silence (And, if I speak as fast as the speed of light, I can also include) I believe Bill C51’s acceptable features are far outweighed by its potential to silence dissent, invade privacy and crush ethical whistle-blowers and animal advocates like myself as “terrorists.”


It’s (barely) do-able. Perhaps, in the capable hands of the folks who produced the Book of Common Prayer version of the Apostles’ Creed, mine could be reduced to one minute, articulated without rushing. Until that happens, I’ll zip along as fluently as I can, and rely on answering questions – I’ll have 30 seconds for each! – to elaborate on my world vision.

Thank you for speed reading for the most crucial of causes: animals and the environment.


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I’m running for Parliament to shout out Inconvenient Truths

For all the electioneering chatter about the environment and about greening Canada, there’s a huge element missing in the discussion and the political pledges—the inconvenient truth about animals and factory farming. I’m running for Parliament in the upcoming October 19th elections to tell those truths, and to speak out on behalf of animals.

animal rights correct human wrongs

Have you, too, ever wondered why even green-oriented politicians avoid or (at best) give glancing attention to the 650 million farmed animals slaughtered every year? Do they take their direction from former American Vice-President Al Gore, whose wildly influential documentary An Inconvenient Truth omitted to flag methane as the single greatest contributor (18%) to global greenhouse gas emissions and also failed to urge us to eat less meat as a way to save the planet?

Poppyo and I at vigil Jan. 2013the-horrors-of-factory-farming-21349353Why did Gore do that? In trying to figure out how such a convincing environmentalist could betray his own mission, I imagined a conversation in which Bill Clinton, whose near-fatal heart attacks had by then converted him into a vegan, grilled his friend and colleague Al Gore on that very issue.

Bill Clinton: Let’s talk about the illogic of claiming to be a Green Guy who cares about the environment when you don’t even mention animals! Sure, you laid it on thick about the other major villains—fossil fuels, the destruction of the world’s forests, and so on—and you challenged people to make small personal changes that would add up to big differences to stop climate change. And you called it a moral issue, not a political one. But you left out the mother of all inconvenient truths—the human treatment of animals and what that’s done to the environment.

Hey, don’t shrug your shoulders! You know the facts as well as I do. (He scrolls quickly on his tablet.) Just to refresh your memory: Factory farming is a major generator of greenhouse gases. Let me put it even more starkly. Sixty-five percent of human-related nitrous oxide comes from manure, and has 296 times (that’s 29,600%!) times the Global Warming potential of Co2. And factory farms account for 34 percent of all human-induced methane—Can’t you just smell those toxic cow farts?—and methane is 23 times (or 23,000%!) as warming as CO2! Then there’s the ammonia, most of which comes from these same factory farms. Besides the agony it causes the animals who are forced to breathe it in every day of their short lives, that ammonia is also responsible for widespread human illness, including respiratory disease.

Canada factory farm cow               Baby cow killed for cheeseloverCanada factory farm hamburger

Shall I go on? How about the irony that 33 percent of the world’s global arable land is devoted to producing crops to feed animals that are raised to be killed and eaten?

Al Gore: Stop! You know why I glossed over all that, Bill. It was a strategic decision. I figured that if I could convince people that climate change is a looming disaster but assure them that they can fight back against it by making small changes in their behaviour, then maybe they’d do it. But asking people to drive a hybrid car and to turn off the lights is a far cry from asking them to urge their government to make drastic changes to the way their food is produced. Come on, Bill. You’ve always told me to watch out that the agro-industrial lobby doesn’t clobber me and to make sure that I keep my eye on the pulse of the people, who are every bit as carnivorous as I am!

Bill Clinton: Sighs. You’re right, Al. How could you ask government to take on corporations like McDonald’s and all the other fast food outlets that are such wonderful customers of factory farmed animals?

kfc-scary-photo-3That imaginary conversation contains several Truths, all of them about political expediency and will. The thought of promoting the most Inconvenient Truth of all is so daunting that even the greenest-oriented political parties dismiss it, leaving it to Canada’s tiniest party – the Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party – to enter the political fray with the most urgent message of all.

I am carrying that message to voters in my riding, and that message is resonating. Everywhere I go, people stop to encourage me and, often, to tell me stories about their personal epiphanies about factory farming. I’m winning! I won’t win a seat in Parliament, but I’m winning the battle to force the winners to confront my Inconvenient Truths.

When you go to vote, don’t vote for me,” I tell my audience at political rallies and meetings. “Vote, instead, for Canada’s millions of farmed animals, for animals tormented and trapped in useless laboratories, for our wildlife, our endangered species, our domestic animals, our marine animals. On voting day, remember that an X beside my name is a promise to millions of animals that finally, someone is speaking out for them and is committed to protecting them and to preserving the environment they share with us.”

AAEV Elizabeth Abbott 2


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In the relentless battle to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome lost, abandoned or owner-surrendered dogs and cats, the Frontier Animal Society in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is a success story. Placing animals in forever homes is at the heart of their mission, and hundreds of once-homeless dogs and cats now live comfortable lives with loving families.

That’s wonderful news, but it means that sometimes the shelter has empty dog stalls. What better use to make of them than to fill them with homeless dogs from outside their immediate neighbourhood, needy dogs their rescue network promotes and seeks help for? Many of these dogs, most of them young and docile, come from First Nation communities in Eeyou Istchee aka James Bay, where life isn’t easy for canines and can be abruptly terminated in cyclical culls.

In the North, the best stray dogs can hope for from most humans is indifference, but disdain and outright dislike are much more common. Northern dogs must rely on their own resources, and it’s survival of the fittest. Even in sub-zero winter temperatures they have no shelter, and at all seasons they eat what they can scavenge, often going days without food. Because there are no veterinarians to spay or neuter them, they reproduce prolifically. And, because they are not vaccinated, some carry diseases that alarmed humans fear they will spread to other animals and to humans.

When a community decides it is overrun with dogs, or when packs of dogs have either attacked humans or are suspected of harboring contagious disease, the usual procedure is to announce a “dog-shoot,” when dogs not identified as someone’s property are shot.


BamBam, a Northern dog

But recently, dog-shoots are being replaced as the usual solution to these problems. After much time and effort devoted to create trusting and respectful relationships with them, several First Nation communities now turn to outside groups they invite to “extract” or remove large numbers of dogs who are then transported and adopted out in the South, and to spay, neuter and vaccinate as many of the remaining dogs as they can.

Among these groups is Sarah Saintsbury and her Forever Homes Rescue, which community representatives have repeatedly invited to “extract” large numbers of dogs to be taken South to enjoy new and easier lives. Several times a year since 2010, Forever Homes volunteers make the long trek up to Eeyou Itschee, a grueling trip in any season and even worse in winter, when they have to drive through snow storms and over icy, rutted roads in a caravan of trucks filled with empty crates that will soon transport dozens of lucky dogs to safety.

Forever Homes, the source of the Frontier Animal Society’s Northern dogs, adheres strictly to the protocols mandated by the local community Band Council. These protocols include letters of permission, advance notice to community members by way of radio, local newspaper and public posts throughout the community weeks prior to arrival, escort by Public Security Officers at all time throughout the extraction period and owner surrender forms for those giving up their animals to rescue. Any dog picked up in error is neutered and vaccinated, and then returned to its owner.

As soon as the truckloads of crated dogs reach home, the Frontier Animal Society and other rescues open their doors and hearts to the Northern dogs. Many are timid and fearful in their strange new world, but it takes very little time for them to respond to the comfort of their spacious stalls and exercise runs and – most remarkable of all – reliable supplies of nourishing food and water. Before long they are eagerly welcoming the volunteers who evaluate, groom, train and socialize them into the eager-to-please and loving dogs whose adoptive families almost universally rave about their great good natures and adaptability. As FAS volunteer Caroline Kemp observes, “Despite being born into such harsh conditions, these dogs just want what every dog wants: love and companionship.”


Meegan, a kindly Northern dog

To date the Frontier Animal Society has taken in nearly three dozen Northern dogs, including pregnant dams and their litters. One trusting nursing mother even led her rescuers to the hole in the ground where she had hidden her puppies, who then joined her on the road trip to safety.

Gentle Jenny, whom Kemp remembers as “an incredibly sweet German Shepherd Dog mix,” was rescued in the fall of 2014 and days later, gave birth to a litter of ten healthy puppies. Three weeks later, Jenny and her pups arrived at the FAS, her first real “home.” At first Jenny shied away from people, “but we could see how desperately she wanted to settle in and be loved,” Kemp says. “And though she was a wonderful and patient mother, Jenny was so tired! As soon as we could, we weaned her pups from her so she could take some well-deserved time for herself.”


Jenny, mother of ten healthy puppies

The pups were quickly adopted, some of them reserved for approved families even before they had been weaned and could leave the shelter. Finally Jenny, estimated to be between four to six years old, could recuperate from the travails of her past and of motherhood. She was also spayed, because the FAS promotes sterilization, “the best way to prevent overpopulation of cats and dogs,” as a key feature of its mission.


Jenny with her human family

The FAS began to interview applicants to adopt Jenny. The family chosen includes two young boys who adore their new companion, and Jenny reciprocates their affection. She loves to play ball, her people report, she loves to be brushed, and she is very friendly with other dogs. Like so many of her fellow Northern dogs, Gentle Jenny has overcome her rocky beginnings to embrace life as a cherished family dog, and as an ambassador for all those Northern dogs who will be transported South to seek their fortunes with families just like hers.


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The Frontier Animal Society in Quebec’s Eastern Townships was selling my book, Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash to raise money, and I was invited to speak about the healing power of dogs. But before the event, I wanted to visit the shelter I’d heard so much about for so many years.



It was Sunday morning, and though I arrived early, several volunteers were already busy exercising and training the dogs. Just a few minutes into my visit, I had to beg Brenda Pratscher, the dog-walker and adoption co-ordinator, not to allow me to adopt Becky, the waggiest, gentlest senior dog. Later, visiting the Cat Room, I added another creature to my list: dear old Max, the fifteen-year-old cat who gazed fixedly at me, begging to be noticed. I had come only to observe, document and support. But other visitors were there to adopt, and I was lucky enough to witness a mother and her daughter’s second meet-and-greet with cocker spaniel Tina, whom they were carefully considering as a permanent addition to their home.

The meet-and-greet, out in the exercise yard, was informal. For Tina, rescued from a wretched life as a breeder in a puppy mill, it was a non-threatening romp outside with gentle people as fellow canine residents of the shelter raced up and down beside her. Tina was a glossy black dog, cautious but playful and as gentle as her new human companions. I liked them at first sight, and applauded the sentiment and humour displayed on the daughter’s tee-shirt” “Sorry I can’t, I have plans with my cat.”
Just imagine that only months ago, Tina was imprisoned in a soulless and uncaring dog breeding factory farm, one of the puppy mills that is a blight on the province of Quebec, and the focus of so many dedicated animal activists. But under the patient care of the Frontier Animal Society’s dynamic volunteers, Tina no longer cringed with fear. Instead, she wagged her tail trustingly, knowing she was among friends.

On my way to the shelter’s housing unit I passed a statuesque German Shepherd Dog in training with a volunteer who used my presence to reinforce the No Jumping on People lesson. “Good job!” her trainer exclaimed, and was rewarded with the waving of a fluffy tail.

Inside the shelter, a dozen dogs crowded the front of their outdoor runs to greet me, and I spent a few minutes with each one. It was as I gazed into old Becky’s soft eyes that I demanded – urgently – that nobody permit me to walk away with her. But I wasn’t leaving her in a sad concrete bunker like so many other shelters. Frontier Animal Society is modest but open and sunny, surrounded by trees and foliage, and the dogs inhale real country air and glimpse wildlife on a daily basis. Add to that the core complement of three volunteers, Brenda, Dominique Simon and Caroline Kemp, reinforced by a few more on weekends, and the resident dogs aren’t badly off, though life with a family of their own would be much more fulfilling.

Dominique Simon with Babe, adopted from the Frontier Animal Society

Dominique Simon with Babe, adopted from the Frontier Animal Society

2015 Dog Walk

2015 Dog Walk

In the building’s core, I saw vast heaps of laundry – “cat stuff” – bedding and soft nesting fabric kept clean by volunteers who maintain a routine of endless laundry cycles.

There are also two quarantine rooms where incoming felines undergo blood work and temperament testing. They are distinguished from the general population by the yellow collars that signify their veterinary status. But many hate their collars and remove them, and are identified by name. Once they graduate, they enter the Cat Room, a delightful and sunny room exposed, like the dog runs, to the sights and sounds of nature. In winter, when the mercury plunges, heated panels are installed on the windows, warming the frigid space.

But the cats aren’t confined to the Cat Room. They have free range of the laundry room as well, and several of them enjoy overseeing volunteers as they operate the industrial-size washing machine and wash the mountain of stainless steel dog food and water dishes. “For the health of the colony,” chief volunteer Brenda Pratscher says, “the number of cats should not go over twenty.  So before we can accept more, we have to find homes for the cats we have.”

Last year (2014), Pratscher told me, the Frontier Animal Society had an excellent record: one hundred and one animals adopted out, including ninety-three dogs and eight cats. Only four dogs were returned and all four were subsequently adopted out again, successfully.

And how many in 2015?. And what about Tina? I inquired a week after my first visit. My question evoked a great sigh of happiness. “Yes, Tina went off to her forever home a few days ago.”

I checked my notes. “And so that makes how many adoptions this year?”

“Tina was the thirty-fourth out of thirty-five dogs and four cats. Next week, who know? But it’s a slow and steady process, because placing our animals in forever homes is at the heart of our mission.”

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July 14, 2015 · 4:25 pm


At first glance, Sarnia (Ontario)’s recent walk for the Humane Society could have been mistaken for that long-ago march into Noah’s Ark, as dogs, cats, miniature horses and a hedgehog strolled, strutted and snaked around the park-like grounds. Beside them were their people, raising money for the Society with every step they took.

I was one of those people, the out-of-town author invited to share, speak and sell and sign books at a special stall hosted by The Book Keeper’s Susan Chamberlain. Susan and Donna Pyette, the Humane Society director, partnered to invite me because they believed that the Humane Society walkers and supporters would feel a strong connection with my book, Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash. Sarnia event smallI hope that happened, because the connection I felt with their Pets was powerful! The first was Tory, a miniature stallion sporting a painted-on stencil on his rump who tossed his flowing mane with annoyance when I tried to scratch his head, and had pooped in the van transporting him to the event, his human Chantelle told me. Thirteen years old and packing over three hundred pounds in his compact, muscular body, Tory runs obstacle courses, jumps and even pulls carts.

Stephanie Lorette’s Mudpuddles, a multi-talented miniature dwarf horse, was a revelation for this city slicker. Twelve years old, two feet tall and several hundred pounds, Muddy is a trained therapy horse who rests his head on the bed or laps of the hospital patients he visits, a calm and gentle creature until he goes home and instantly assumes his other personality. In his own paddock or stall he flirts with mares, challenges stallions and seems not to know he’s knee-high to all of them. “He is one very special little horse,” Lorette says.

Stephanie and MudpuddlesMuddy and friend Tori out for a strollAnd then the dogs, the highlight of the day as I watched them greeting each other orifice by orifice, their sniffing interrupted by the occasional snarl or growl. One of those dogs was Sandy, a Shih-Tzu whose lifelong person had died, leaving him bereft and homeless. Kiersten had taken him in as a foster dog, but years later, he remains with her. Was Sandy a “failed foster?” I inquired. Kiersten, smiling, nodded her head.

Milo the Golden-Doodle and I even became friends. After he and Paul Rooke walked for the Humane Society, Milo hung out with me at the book stall. Later on, we played ball at his house and he showed me all his favorite spots: the couch, the window seat and best of all, Susan and Paul’s big bed, which Milo shares.

Milo gets a tattoo at the Pets and People WalkSometimes, at 2:30 a.m., Milo gets greedy. Not for food, but for the spot Paul is sleeping on. When that happens, Milo goes into action. He whines and wriggles out of bed and paces the floor, play-acting the role of a dog desperate to be let outside to pee. Paul obliges groggily, shuffling toward the door to accompany Milo downstairs.

This is where the action gets tricky, because Milo takes the opportunity to leap back onto the bed Paul has just vacated, and to settle his long plush body into the fast-receding warmth of the Paul’s sleeping place. Either dreaming or scheming, lying cozily between his humans, Milo stakes out Paul’s side of the bed, and fools Paul into ceding it.

You may know Milo. He’s one of the Oodles of Doodles who greet their boys and girls after school, leaping onto them and lavishing slobbery kisses and boundless love.

That’s what dogs do. That’s what’s in their DNA: loving their humans. That’s why I wrote a book all about them: Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash. That’s what happens when a dog and human love each other.

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It’s a Dog’s Life at Slobberfest

More than a million people attend Slobberfests all over North America – from Lynchburg, Virginia, Erie, Pennsylvania, Redmond, Washington and Rochester, Minnesota, to Toronto, Ontario, to name just a few of them. Slobberfests honor and entertain dogs and their humans with such events as the “Peanut Butter Lick” favored by the Droopy Basset Hound Rescue of Western Pennsylvania, or the Canine Hot (Veggie) Dog or Ice Cream Eating Contests I witnessed in Toronto. The Best Canine Trick tested skills, but other competitions judged only nature’s endowments: the softest and roughest coats, longest and shortest ears or tails, the tallest and shortest dogs. One lucky dog could even aspire to be crowned Slobber King or Queen in the Pack Parade. Slobberfest 2015From early morning to mid-afternoon, hundreds of dogs roamed up and down the Board-walk with their humans, greeting each other and playing, and visiting the dozens of stalls where volunteers sold food, treats and dog-related paraphernalia, all for the benefit of scores of breed and all-breed rescues, or advertised services from dog-walking, grooming and boarding to invisible fencing, Smartphone Apps and basic fast food for hungry humans.

That`s what Slobberfests are all about: paying homage to dogs and their people, fundraising, networking and reconnecting with other dog fanciers. That’s what I did with Maureen Jennings, who gave the world Detective William Murdoch and the Murdoch Mysteries. As Maureen strolled along the Boardwalk with her dogs Murdoch and Varley, an elderly spaniel-daschund rescue, she noticed me perched next to a pile of my recent book, Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash, that I was selling at Slobberfest to profit Big on Beagles, an Assistance Agency for Beagles Experiencing Troubled Times.

dogs and Underdogs for Karen darkWe embraced and chatted, and then Maureen asked Murdoch in a commanding voice: “Murdoch! On a scale of one to FIVE, how do you rank Elizabeth’s book?” Her friendly Austalian Chocolate Labradoodle responded instantly, barking loudly five times and then wagging his tail hard as we praised him for his literary discernment. (Maureen was cheating. She had endorsed my book, and she must have mentioned it to Murdoch.)

Slobberfest was packed with dog rescues. Canadian Chihuahua Rescue and Transport (CCRT) was nearby, and among the little dogs being showcased for adoption there was a pair of Chihuahua brothers who could not be separated. Though this reduced their adoptability, it honored the depth of their relationship and ensured their emotional well-being. Chachi-and-Pablo-010-150x150

CCRT was founded in 1996, after a Texas breeder developed Alzheimer’s disease and forgot to care for her seventeen Chihuahuas, who deteriorated and needed rescue – and transport to wherever rescue was available. A Chihuahua lover from British Columbia had a crazy idea: “if only we could organize a network of volunteers who would foster and drive Chihuahuas to new homes!” Twenty-four hours later, dozens of people volunteered to do just that, and the crazy idea became the rescue’s foundational goal.

Back at Big on Beagles, a woman walking an Italian greyhound with a protruding tongue stopped to chat with me. The little dog was not yet three-years-old, a worn-out breeder rescued from a puppy mill in Kentucky. Her tongue lolled because the horrendous state of her oral health had left her with no teeth at all, and she also suffered from other health problems. But now she was happy and secure, and the Slobberfest she participated in would raise funds to rescue and care for other dogs still incarcerated in puppy mills throughout North America.

Big On Beagles has a hundred stories about the transformation of sad and often ailing dogs into contented and cared-for family dogs with slobbery smiles on their age-whitened faces. A few, too old and sick for adoption, live as permanent residents of Sheba’s Haven, which offers palliative care. Some of these were unloved underdogs chained outside at the mercy of the elements. A few were once-loved victims of their humans’ divorces or deaths. Others were abandoned or mistreated because they failed as hunters, like Sweet Emily, just beginning to shed her anxiety and skittishness in her foster home at Speaking of Dogs rescue. Sweet Emily failed hunterJust before closing time, Murdoch and Varley nudged Maureen towards me for a second visit. She’s a Slobberfest enthusiast, and walking with her dogs, and doing agility training with Murdoch are two of her life’s greatest joys. And because we were in a Slobberfest frame of mind, we discussed the veggiedog eating contest and the upcoming release of The Peanuts Movie, starring the beagle Snoopy.

That’s what Slobberfest is all about: unabashedly celebrating the bond between canine and human, the immeasurable satisfaction of rescuing dogs in need, and the joy of living with them afterwards.

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A few years ago, I flew from Toronto to Ohio to pick up a dog I’d adopted after falling in love with him on Petfinder. My Bonzi Billy Beagle was at the Columbus City Center mall, where Beagles’R’Us was holding an adoption event with the help of eager high school volunteers. After I introduced myself and met my whirling dervish of a little dog, two of those students regaled me with questions.
“You’re from Toronto? Do you know the cast members of DeGrassi: the Next Generation?” I hung my head. “You don’t? Not even one?” They were crushed. Their shared dream, they told me, was to graduate from high school and join the DeGrassi crew or cast, and live happily ever after.

If only I’d known then that years later, I would be able to tell them: “Yes! I know a DeGrassi actor, and it was our dogs who introduced us. Her name is Imali Perera, and she has the distinction of playing two characters: the massage therapist Svetlana, and the nurse, Mariel.”

I met Imali years in the dog park where she was tossing Frisbees to Quincey, her sleek Doberman Pinscher. Quincey was one lucky dog! Imali was such a dedicated dog mom that she never walked her less than three times a day, two of those times for an hour or more. Quincey accompanied Imali everywhere, and knew her commands: sit, stay and come.

As a child, Imali had acquired a life-sized toy Doberman on a family road trip to California. She dragged “Dobie” everywhere with her, and vowed that when she grew up, she would adopt a real Doberman. That happened in 1993, when she was a third-year opera student in Montreal. On a visit to her hometown of Calgary, Imali convinced a Doberman breeder that she would be the best kind of caretaker for the female puppy named she named Quincey.
Together they flew back to Montreal and every day, Imali and her growing puppy played Frisbee or chased snowballs in a nearby parking lot and then explored a monastery garden that brought rural tranquility to the city. On the streets of Montreal, Quincey also learned the street smarts she never forgot: Sidewalk Good, Road Bad.

I met them years later, when Imali was an emerging stage, film and television actor and Quincey was a mature, sweet-natured and muscular dog who bounced alongside my dogs, none of whom could keep up with her. Imali and I talked Dog Dog Dog, with occasional digressions into my current book project and her career path, which at that time did not include DeGrassi.

Then Imali moved away and I never saw Quincey again. She died, I learned years later, of a congenital heart disease common in Dobermans and since then, Imali has never again had a dog. “I really wanted to be a good parent to her,” she says. “I would never want to give a dog less than I gave Quincey.”
Professional success comes at a cost, and Imali no longer has a dog to greet her at the end of an exhausting day’s filming. There is too much work, too many long hours, too much traveling.

The gig that most fascinated me, of course, was DeGrassi: The Next Generation. “Oh, do I have stories for you!” Imali chuckled. If only I could let those girls in Ohio know! I can only hope that, if they are still obsessed with DeGrassi, this blog will come their way.

Here’s a story about Imali’s onscreen adventure with Drake, now a famous rapper but then just Little Jimmy Brooks on DeGrassi, a basketball star transformed into a paraplegic during a school shooting that mimics the real-life massacre in Montreal’s Dawson College. Trina, his girlfriend, is also paralyzed from a rock-climbing fall.

In the episode where Imali plays the massage therapist Svetlana, Jimmy consults a doctor about his inability to achieve an erection when he wants to make love to Trina. Penis erectile dysfunction is common with paralysis, the doctor reassures Jimmy, and recommends massage therapy for relaxation.

Enter Svetlana, who massages Jimmy so effectively that soon the sheet he is lying under swells up – thanks, Imali laughingly recalls, to a piece of foam held in place with gaffer tape. Jimmy is mortified and, as Svetlana pretends not to notice, attempts to hide his erection. Afterward, he returns to the doctor. “Svetlana gave me a woody even though I’m not even attracted to her,” he complained. But as the doctor anticipated, the incident liberates Jimmy’s libido, and he and Trina go on to enjoy sex together.


When she first read the script, Imali had anticipated a lot of laughter on set. That didn’t happen. Instead, the scene was played matter-of-factly, without a single titter.
But now she’s reading another narrative – my book, Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash – and whenever she encounters a canine character she and Quincey used to know back in our dog park days, long before I ever dreamed that I’d meet a cast member of DeGrassi, Imali Perera laughs out loud!

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Filed under DeGrassi: The Next Generation, Dog Rescue, Elizabeth Abbott, finding happiness, Rescue dogs, Uncategorized

Dear Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: You’ve airlifted your two Yorkies back to their American homeland because, as Australia’s Agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce warned you in no uncertain words, if you didn’t arrange for them to “bugger off,” he’d order them seized and euthanized. You understood, albeit a bit late, that Australia’s laws about importing dogs are very strict and that in violating them, you risked fast-tracking Pistol and Boo over the Rainbow Bridge.

Make no mistake: the Australians weren’t bluffing. They are very proud that Australia is free of the deadly rabies virus, and they have worked hard to keep it that way. To refresh your memory, here is a link to what that means in terms of bringing a dog into their territory – and as it makes clear, even dogs rigorously screened in the U.S. must spend a minimum of ten days in quarantine.

The UK only modified its stringent regulations about dogs entering in 2012, in deference to EU standards. Back in 1968, dog-loving actors Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Richard Burton, opted not to sneak their two Pekinese and two Yorkshire terriers into London while Burton filmed Where Eagles Dare near London. Instead, they rented the 1,200 foot Bolivian luxury yacht Beatriz where Cuthbert, George, Oh Fi and E’en So could tough it out while waiting for periodic visits from Elizabeth and Richard, whose primary residence was a hotel suite.

Don’t think that the English authorities trusted the famous couple not to sneak the dogs into London anyway. A Port of London policeman was assigned to make bi-hourly checks to confirm that the dogs were still on board. Fortunately for all concerned, they were.

The cost for avoiding but not evading the UK’s strict regulations was not cheap. The Beatriz cost $2,400 a week for two months, the equivalent today of $16,187.72. For the Taylor-Burton team, this astronomical sum was a price well worth paying to ensure the safety as well as the proximity of their four dogs.

But this triumph of glamorous entitled film stars over heavy-footed authorities all but obliterates something bleaker: that throughout the world, infected dogs are the carriers of the almost always fatal rabies disease. As they succumb to it, crazed and dying, they bite humans, and those humans, too, will die a horrible death.

Seasoned travelers know that as a rule of thumb, the easier it is to legally transport dogs into a country, the likelier it is that that country has an elevated rate of canine rabies. That’s why, if only they could speak, those dogs would thank Johnny and Amber for calling attention to their plight, no matter in how roundabout a way!

Unlike Australia and Antarctica, other continents are afflicted with rabies, with Asia and Africa the hardest hit. Several animals are carriers, but homeless dogs are a primary conduit for the virus. The majority of the 55,000 people who die each year from rabies, about forty percent of them children less than fifteen years of age, have been bitten by unvaccinated and usually free-ranging dogs.

Because of rabies and the fear that it will spread, an estimated twenty million dogs – 38 dogs every minute – are killed every year in jurisdictions that rely on mass culls, usually in the form of massacres, as the way to stamp out the rabies virus. But massacres don’t work. Vaccinations do. If at least 70 percent of a dog population is vaccinated, the rabies virus will die out.

That’s why Australia requires all arriving dogs to be vaccinated and then blood tested to ensure the vaccination provided adequate rabies anti-body levels. It’s a tightly scheduled regimen, and anyone traveling to Australia with their dogs has to begin it six months earlier, in their home country. By failing to do that, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard offered the world’s dog-loving media the opportunity to speak out for all the dogs who aren’t blessed with caring human families. That includes the millions of homeless dogs who will die because they have not been vaccinated, a few of whom will become infected and sow terror and panic in officials who will retaliate against all dogs and kill as many as they can.

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Jane Goodall, Rusty and Me

Jane Goodall had no experience with chimpanzees before she set out on her lifetime’s mission of studying them and advocating for them, but she was well versed in the rudiments of animal behavior. “I had had a marvelous teacher in animal behavior throughout my childhood – my dog, Rusty,” she recalls.

Jane and Rusty

Jane Goodall and her beloved dog, Rusty

Rusty taught young Jane that dogs remember and think about absent objects, for instance a ball tossed from an upstairs window that he could not see and could fetch only by figuring out a series of strategic moves inside the house and then outdoors. Rusty had a sense of justice that drove him to acknowledge his own bad behavior but not to accept Jane’s occasional lapses into irritation or unfairness. He was clever at performing tricks and enjoyed being togged out in pajamas. But if anyone laughed at his attire, Rusty stalked off, trailing his garments behind him.

The most important lesson Rusty taught Jane was to ignore contemporary scientists, who denied that animals had individual characters, emotions and brainpower. Instead, she named her chimpanzee subjects – Fifi! Flo! David Greybeard! – and documented and interpreted their behavior and activities in ways that ultimately changed the way science would come to understand animals. Her vision and her methods, once denounced as the scientific sin of anthropomorphism, were gradually accepted into the canons of scientific research and ultimately, adopted as the gold standard.

When I conceived my book Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash, Goodall’s revolutionary scientific work had established writing about animals as individuals as a legitimate pursuit and not a sentimental conceit. Thanks to her, those of us who live with and love them have no need to prove that dogs feel joy, love, jealousy and fear, or suffer pain they express in clearly recognizable ways. We know, too, that many of their behaviors so closely resemble our own that we easily identify them. Like the humans they live with, dogs can be noble, loyal and empathetic but also greedy, cunning, ingratiating, and so on.

As a writer who loves them, my goal was to give the dogs in my life their own unique voices. In the narrative of each dog’s life story, I would not be “his master’s voice” but rather the human interpreter at the other end of the leash.

When my dog Joey, an English bulldog, became my confidant during a marital crisis, I knew that he grasped the intensity if not the cause of my unhappiness. Sometimes, when I hugged him and wept onto his hefty shoulder, he’d lean against me as if he were grieving for me and offering me comfort. But later on, after I gave birth to my son, Joey expressed his displeasure at the squalling intruder by pooping outside the nursery door – right in front of me. Soon, though, he embraced the little newcomer as another creature to love, and never again felt the need to rebuke me for (as he saw it) ignoring him.

Decades later, my beagle-mix, Bonzi, came into my life burdened by a difficult past. He and two female puppies had been rescued from an abusive owner who was later convicted of cruelty and neglect. The puppies were soon adopted. Bonzi, however, remained in the shelter much longer and became notorious for escaping as often as he could and then sprinting into the cat room where the staff would find him nuzzling and licking the kittens.

Even if I hadn’t been told about those puppies and kittens, I would have known that Bonzi loves baby animals, though I could not have explained what inspired his passion for them. For the past ten years I’ve seen him in the dog park, eagerly greeting puppies and playing with them with tenderness and patience. Bonzi’s persona as Nanny Dog is in marked contrast to how he stridently challenges big, scary dogs. Almost certainly they remind him of the big, scary dog who long ago, before he was rescued, tormented him and the helpless puppies.

As for Rusty, whether learning tricks in record time or slinking away from mocking observers in his pajamas, he remains the great teacher of animal behavior. He is the dog who inspired his beloved Jane Goodall to rewrite the canons of science by listening to and giving voice to the creatures at the other end of the leash.

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Coming in late April: my memoir (it could also be called a dogoir) of my life with rescued dogs. Here’s a short version of the catalog copy for DOGS AND UNDERDOGS: FINDING HAPPINESS AT BOTH ENDS OF THE LEASH, Penguin (Can.), April 28, 2015.


Catalogue Copy – Dogs and Underdogs

Elizabeth Abbott had always shared her life with dogs.  But when worlds collided and her beloved dog Tommy was left behind in Haiti, she set out on a journey that took her from the soulless concrete corridors of an American prison to the halls of Mount Sinai Hospital and the ruins of post-war Serbia, and taught her essential truths about the power of hope and redemption among people changed forever by a wagging tail and a pair of soulful eyes – and dogs who found a new lease on life with devoted human companions.

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