Tag Archives: Elizabeth Abbott

Political Apprenticeship 101: Losing to Learn

Ned Taylor 1

Ned Taylor, candidate for Saanich City Council

Ned Taylor is eighteen years old, a recent high school graduate, a veteran political campaigner and (with a bow to Leonard Cohen) a beautiful loser. How does this all fit into his grand plan to become a politician? Very nicely, I’d say, and as someone who’s been following Ned’s progress since he was a sixteen-year-old political novice just beginning to volunteer on campaigns, I’d venture to predict that it’s one of the first chapters in a political success story!

Ned is an issues-driven politico, and when he jumped into the Saanich municipal election of September 23, 2017 as a candidate, he focused on issues rather than personality: housing affordability, reducing waste, fighting climate change, expanding car-free transportation. Ned even took the opportunity to get some animal related issues, and his own views on them, into the conversation.

Should Saanich deal with the deer overpopulation that causes car accidents and ruined gardens? Ned strongly opposes culling deer, one common suggestion. “We have to co-exist with wildlife,” he insists. “Culling them simply isn’t effective.” Instead, he proposes long-term population reduction such as sterilization. “Deer never wanted to be around humans, but they have now become comfortable in our environment.”

Ned Taylor 2

Ned also proposed some unique ideas to tackle the housing crisis in Saanich. One of these was to allow ‘garden suites,’ detached backyard rental suites. “They would provide more affordable housing for students at our universities, and even accommodate seniors looking to downsize,” he claims. Others include ‘tiny house communities’ and more student housing at Saanich’s university campuses.

Much greater than Ned’s position on these issues, however, is how he used the election as a learning curve for his future political goals. His campaign was shorter than most of the other candidates – a mere two months versus five months. His budget was also strikingly leaner, yet he translated that modest sum into lawn signs and enough pamphlets for a daily campaign of knocking on doors, the time-honoured way to run a successful political campaign. He also paid for Facebook boost payments and a robocall.

Ned’s youth also paid off in terms of his familiarity with social media. He was very active on Facebook, and was able to reach a large audience. He has since gained a presence on Twitter and Reddit and is planning to launch on other platforms which have significant numbers of followers.

Ned Taylor 3

“I was pretty sure I wouldn’t win,” Ned explains, “but I wanted to make a difference and do  well. I knew I’d be running again in October 2018, and I wanted to be ready for that. I wanted to have an impact on this election, and make my issues and ideas heard. r. I had a full platform, available on my website, as testimony to my seriousness.” Ned Taylor was “that young kid running,” but he was also much more than that young kid.

Ned didn’t win the election. He placed fifth in a field of ten. But in terms of his political career, it was a victory, because it was a strong showing and an intense learning experience, a political apprenticeship that’s just beginning.

What’s his next step? Impressively, it’s a “gap year” that will be spent in Australia volunteering in the office of Shane Rattenbury, a Green Party Minister who holds the balance of power in a state government.. Ned has some distant connections with the Australian Green Party, a family he will live with in Canberra, and a cousin who is a Green Party city councillor in Sydney and whose campaign he will observe so that he can bring ideas back to Saanich. He’s also served a brief apprenticeship with Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, spending a week at her office in Ottawa.

Ned and Elizabeth May

Ned’s political passion is currently directed at the municipal level. If he’s elected after two or three terms, he can see himself in provincial or federal politics. “But,” he says, “right now, I can’t keep my mind off Saanich!”

So let’s see. Ned is eighteen now, and by the time he’s in his mid-twenties, he should be a seasoned politician. He’s already a committed advocate, and an ethical young man willing to compromise on strategy but not fundamental principles. From the perspective of this animal activist, Ned Taylor’s political ambitions can only be seen as a bright light in the fight to give Canada’s environment, animals, and people, something better.

Today in the Legislature I introduced Ned Taylor

Dr. Andrew Weaver, MLA, introduces Ned Taylor (photographed to the right with Vicki Huntington) who started a petition to ban battery cages in British Columbia. Weaver subsequently tabled his petition in the legislature.

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Ned Taylor

What better way to begin 2016 than to veganize Ned Taylor, a sixteen-year-old from Victoria, BC? In December’s MEATLESS ANYDAY AND A TEENAGER’S PLEDGE TO HELP CHICKENS, I blogged about promoting Ned’s petition – “Ban Battery Cages in Canada,” – urging the government to ban battery cages for chickens. Yet despite his deep concern for chickens and other animals, Ned still ate them.

But he was already considering veganism, and when I challenged him, he committed to one vegan day a week. A few days later, Ned shared his notes about Day 1, which was vegetarian, kind of a warm-up, and Day 2, which was out-and-out vegan.

Day 1 (Vegetarian)

Breakfast: I had scrambled eggs (free-range of course) and hash-browns.

Lunch: I had three grilled cheese sandwiches.

Dinner: I had mashed potatoes, baked green bean and french fried onion mixture, stuffing and carrots.

Thoughts: It was pretty easy going just without meat. For breakfast my family ate bacon, eggs and hash-browns and all I had to do was remove the bacon. I could definitely see myself doing this more often. It’s healthy, good for the environment and super easy!

Day 2 (Vegan)

Breakfast: Hash-browns and 2 pieces of toast and peanut butter.

Lunch: Beans on toast

Dinner: I had a butternut squash soup with garlic bread (recipe below). Also after dinner I went to a movie and got popcorn. Thankfully my mum reminded me to get margarine instead of butter so I didn’t spoil it at the end!

Recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:  


Thoughts: This was definitely trickier than going vegetarian but overall it wasn’t too hard. The main obstacle was avoiding dairy products (like the popcorn butter issue). Also the butternut squash soup was delicious! I definitely want to have that more often.

Well, well, well! What was I to say about this menu? The Day 1 vegetarian dinner looked like a typical meat-based meal with the meat omitted, almost identical to meals I’ve consumed as a guest of non-vegans. Its main virtue was that it required no extra preparation and was, from Ned’s perspective, “pretty easy.” No wonder he could see himself doing it more often.

But I couldn’t help commenting about his lunch of three grilled cheese sandwiches” Isn’t that … um … a lot of sandwiches?” “Oh, my mom also asks me if I really need three,” Ned said cheerily. “The thing is, I do, because I’m really hungry. But I work out a lot so I can afford to eat a lot without gaining any weight.”

I chuckled and reminded myself that Ned is just sixteen, and super fit. I won’t worry about the quantity of food he consumes. I’ll just stick with doing what I’ve agreed to: guiding and documenting his progress on his weekly vegan days, when he abstains from animal products altogether: no eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

When Ned plunged into his vegan day, it helped that both his parents were very supportive, and that it was a Sunday, when he had the time to “find stuff I could cook myself” to avoid expecting his mom to prepare special meals for him. Breakfast and lunch were simple and toasty, and he probably enlivened them with a glass of something to drink and a fruit or two. Lastly, Ned’s dinner of Butternut Squash Soup from One Green Planet constituted a brilliant ending to his first vegan day! (Except, of course, that unbuttered movie theatre popcorn, a pop cultural indulgence shared by millions, including me.)


Squash or pumpkin soup is a mainstay of Caribbean cooking, and when I lived in Haiti we had it every Sunday. It’s delicious, nutritious and filling; it’s also versatile, perfectly happy to be spicy or blander, and always willing to soak up and integrate a stray vegetable or two.

Ned ended his first vegan day resolved to repeat it. “Dairy was the hardest to avoid,” he mused, “but I’d much rather eat vegan things.” Ned’s an environmentalist and a compassionate animal advocate who is already lobbying politicians against factory farming. So far, our modest little experiment is working, because Ned is determined that it will. But it’s clear that I should offer more encouragement in the form of that most basic of assistance: recipes, simple, clearly-described and most of all, appealing to this extraordinary teenager who is so eager to rescue and restore the world to pristine nature.

I’m going to start with pizza, arguably the most popular fast food in North America, and heavily consumed by male teenagers. If Ned tries some of these delicious recipes, he won’t be the odd man out at the table. Without even trying, he’ll have introduced his family members to the delights of good vegan food, and in a single sitting, spared at least a few animals!


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Filed under Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party, Battery cages, Ned Taylor, factory farming. veganism, Uncategorized, Vegan recipes


Recently, a sixteen-year-old high school student in British Columbia contacted me and asked me to help him help chickens. “First off, I would like to thank you for running in this election [for the Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party] and standing up for both animals and our environment,” he wrote. Then he requested my support for his petition, “Ban Battery Cages in Canada,”  against the brutal treatment of factory-farmed chickens, which references the Canadian Coalition for Farmed Animals as its source.

Canada factory farm chicken

Canadian factory farmed chickens. Hell on earth, and methane pollution in the atmosphere

As an animal advocate, I could not resist this appeal on behalf of billions of chickens. Ned’s petition is stellar. It reviews the condition of more than ninety percent of Canada’s egg-laying hens, detailing how these creatures are trapped in cramped wire “battery cages” for their entire lives, forced to exist in spaces smaller than an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper.

These conditions are not only cruel, Ned writes,  but they deprive hens of their natural behaviors of nesting, perching, dust-bathing, stretching their wings or even walking around, and the consequences can be dire. Chickens are fouled and sickened by urine and feces falling down from cages above them. Their feathers fall out and their skin is damaged. Their muscles waste from lack of use, their bones and skeletal systems become brittle, and their spinal cords deteriorate, leaving them paralyzed. Dying and dead chickens litter the cages and are often cannibalized by their surviving cage-mates.

“This is how millions of hens spend their entire lives in Canada, and yet nothing has been done to stop this,” Ned’s petition concludes. “We need to ban battery cages in Canada and make it mandatory for chickens to be raised in a free run or free range system. This is the humane and Canadian thing to do. … Please, for the sake of our animals and our people, do the right thing.”

I read through and signed the petition and agreed to promote it. Soon after, I connected with Ned by telephone and bombarded him with questions. What had driven this teenager’s desire to help chickens? And why had he chosen petitioning the government as the best way to achieve his goal?

“Oh, because at home we always ate free run eggs and one day I just asked my mom why. She gave me some information about battery cages, and when last October’s election was called, I looked at the platforms of all the different candidates, because I thought battery cages, and the way we treat chickens aren’t right, and that led me to your party, the AA/EV.”

“I’m a bit of the odd man out,” Ned admitted. “My friends also followed the campaign, especially about the legalization of pot issue, but I’m the only one who volunteered. And the petition came after the election, because petitions are important tools to achieve results. Look at Europe! Switzerland banned battery cages back in 1992!” Western Europe is way ahead of Canada in animal welfare, Ned and I agree.

And, because we also agree on the intelligence of chickens, and their right to live full, natural lives, I invoked the veganism I assumed we shared.
“Oh, I’m not vegan,” Ned said.

Not vegan? I was taken aback. How could someone so knowledgeable about chicken nature and culture, someone so compassionate about the treatment of animals, justify eating them?

Ned’s explanation was forthright. “We humans are animals, too, and animals have been eating other animals for centuries. I believe that if we treat them right and they live a full life, then there’s nothing wrong with eating them.”

There was more. “Hunting them is better than the food industry,” Ned said. “They live in the wild, and die without fear.” That’s certainly true, but it still implies that humans have the right to end a healthy animal’s life whenever they wish to. Which begs the question: what about veganism?

“I completely support and understand it,” Ned said promptly. “In fact, I’m considering it.

Not promising to do it, just considering it right now.”
How about committing to one meatless day a week? I suggested. It needn’t be a Monday; any day of the week would suffice, making it more convenient and easier for him to honour his commitment.

Ned did not hesitate. “I agree to one meatless day a week, starting next week,” he pledged. “And I also agree to take notes and let you know how I’m doing.”

Ned Taylor

Ned Taylor with Abbey

I can’t wait to hear, and not just because each of Ned’s Meatless Days will save an estimated .54 animals, for a grand total of twenty-eight each year. It’s because I’m confident that this challenge will be so easy for him, and so satisfying that he’ll not only embrace it for life – his life and the lives of animals he cares for so deeply – but that he’ll find ways to reach out to other young people who’ll be inspired to follow his example. When they do, their Meatless Days will add up to thousands of animals saved from the horrors of factory farming and the terror and anguish of slaughterhouses.

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Filed under Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party, Battery cages, Ned Taylor, factory farming. veganism, Elizabeth Abbott, Uncategorized


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.


Filed under Dog Rescue, Dog rescue community, Dogs and Underdogs


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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Filed under Dog Rescue, Dog rescue community, Human animal bond, Sarnia Humane Society The Book Keeper

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


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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Filed under Dog rescue community, finding happiness, Rescue dogs, Uncategorized


Elizabeth Costello

Literature is rife with naming mysteries, from Dominick Dunne-like romans à clef to Shakespeare’s “Who is Sylvia?” Esteemed poet Ken Babstock has introduced a new twist into the name game, and it’s jarringly personal. In “Russian Doctor,” a poem in his just-released collection, Methodist Hatchet, Babstock concludes that Nobel Literature Prize winner J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello is modeled on … Elizabeth Abbott. That’s right, on me!

Elizabeth Abbott (and Bonzi)

I’m not inventing this. Here, as proof, is the selection Babstock starred as he presented me with an autographed copy of Methodist Hatchet the day before he flew to Berlin for a year’s stint as a visiting scholar. “Thank you for lending your identity,” he’d scrawled. Actually, I can thank the age-old literary device that, in this case, transformed Abbott into Costello. But judge for yourself.

The worst of the glare slid behind the sales lot tinsel

and she wasn’t a stranger at all. No

stranger; my neighbour, Liz. Elizabeth Abbott.

You may know her work: Celibacy


Mistresses, something on Haiti, and recently, Sugar.

Her home a hospice for dying dachshunds

way station for incoming rescues from Serbia (we nearly

took in Dunja last month.) So, animal

rights activist, retired academic, vegan, but here’s where

the Danish gets sticky. Just last week it dawned

on me, in a dinghy adrift on Georgian Bay, while rethinking

the preponderance of pumpkins in The Life

and Times of Michael K, while the sun crested the horizon

over Huron and settled like a South African

in Brisbane, before I’d had either coffee or chance to tally

the consequences, it came to me, Coetzee – J.M. – him

had modeled Elizabeth Costello on this Elizabeth Abbott.

I know what you’re thinking, but stop. I looked

them up. A conference, Belgrade, ’91, they shared

keynote address three ways with Martha Nussbaum

and must have had, at the very last, lunch, if not more.

I know what you’re thinking. He’d submitted

a paper but was, shocker, turned down: “Paranoia: Can We

Live Among the Animals?” – R. Karadzic.

I’ve read and reread this at least a baker’s dozen of times, with emotions ranging from shock and consternation to resentment and guilt. And comprehension! So that’s why Babstock told poet Karen Solie, interviewing him about Methodist Hatchet, that “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll annoy some people, there’s not much I can do about it. There wasn’t any other way for me to inhabit the world, the poems, this time around….. I think humans, others, even named others, appear at the level of the symbolic in the book and at the level of actuality in the domestic and in love, right up to puppetry. I didn’t know they were going to flood in, I guess, but they have, what am I going to do about it? J. M. Coetzee’s gonna sue me.” [laughter] “Why is J. M. Coetzee in my book?”[laughs][i]

Ken Babstock with Linda, his disabled German Shepherd Dog

I fished Elizabeth Costello from my bookshelf where it had been wedged next to its slim matrix, The Lives of Animals.  Both volumes were gifts from friends who just knew, they told me, that I was Coetzee’s ideal reader. (The Slow Man, Elizabeth Costello’s latest foray, is another story.) But – I saw – I had been critical, and had pocked Elizabeth with citrine Post-Its marking my dismay. How I had wanted Costello and the animals she championed to emerge victorious in her mission to win over her audiences with rigorous logic and learning!

“I want to find a way of speaking to fellow human beings that will be cool rather than heated, philosophical rather than polemical, that will bring enlightenment rather than seeking to divide us into the righteous and the sinners, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats,” she said in her (too) measured way. I was tense then, and tense again in rereading, because she anticipates the defeat (“the concession of the entire battle”) I felt crushing us both, and the animals with us.

And yet it’s all there, every truth, every righteous notion, every goodness, the heart “the seat of a faculty, sympathy, that allows us to share at times the being of another.” And in that moment at least, Elizabeth Abbott was indistinguishable from Elizabeth Costello.

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Word Clouds – Or How I Stopped Hating Algorithms

I flunked first year college math and algorithms were partly to blame. To me, algorithms were mysteriously ordered numbers at the back of the book; to the professor and most of my classmates, they were mathematical tools they (but not I) could manipulate in their various calculations.

It's all Algorithmic Greek to Me

Decades did nothing to alter my (non)grasp of algorithms. But today, after an emailed Word Cloud made me catch my breath at its fantastical kaleidoscope of tumbling words, I had an epiphany: in the right hands, algorithms process and pummel words into artworks as fanciful and compelling as a burst of laughter.

I don’t know who invented Word Clouds but if my math professor had, and if he’d told us about them, I believe I’d have gobbled up algorithmic theory and aced the course. (Well: at least I might have struggled through and passed it.)

Look at just how intriguing Word Clouds can be. I created each of them with the same text pasted into the template; it’s from the Books section on www.elizabethabbott.ca, my website, and is a big whack of critical praise (it’s my prerogative to omit any of the critical un-praise) for my most recent book, A History of Marriage. Word Cloud algorithms then gulped down all these wonderful words and reproduced them, bowing to my instructions about font, colour and size, and whether they should be structured or randomized. I haven’t yet conquered saving those that aren’t jpgable, but I managed to learn how to do screenshots instead, a minor triumph for someone fighting a lifetime’s self-identification as a math-and-science dunce.

At least I thought I had. But after posting this I realized that I can’t yet save screenshots on WordPress. Too bad, because my favorite Word Cloud is a Wordle, the colours rich against a stark background, key words jumbled out like an knock-down, no holds-barred spousal argument on a moonlit camping trip. Nor can I provide the source code, because Jonathan Feinberg, Wordle’s supremely clever inventor, wrote the the core algorithms on IBM company time, making IBM the owner, with reserved rights.

This Word It Out reminds me of a scribbled note in a womanly hand. It offers the promise (though it cannot deliver it) of a prose passage, an important message to be heeded if only one could.

Marriage Letter

This one is precise and messily serious, a teaching tool with built in Post-It notes and highlighter.

The one below is sexier, marriage and all its components squished into a heart pulsating with words in shades of pinkness.

Marriage From the Perspective of a Pink Heart

But the dangers of Word Clouds are already revealed. They are wickedly seductive and time-consuming, which is why I’m going to post these Clouded Words now, algorithms now loved though as mysterious as they ever were.

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