Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Traditions and Animals

It used to be a familiar sight at Christmas in this country: the nativity scene, presided over by sheep, goats, often a donkey  and maybe a cow. I have seen some with dogs and cats as well. It is the mainstay of the traditional children's church Christmas pageant. The shyer children are often selected to play the animals. You may remember playing a sheep or a donkey in one as a child.

Nativity scene 
There are a lot of less familiar Christmas traditions around the world that involve animals. You may be surprised how many.

There is a Ukrainian tradition of decorating the Christmas tree with spider webs made from various materials—including crystal, paper, metal, and plastic—that is based on a cultural legend. It is said that a poor widow and her children couldn't decorate their Christmas tree, so it was bare. This made the children very sad so they started crying. Hearing the children's sobs, spiders that were in the house spun intricate webs on the tree to try to console the kids. When the family awoke the next morning, the sun’s rays turned the web - and the tree - silver and gold.

Also in Ukraine, Sviata Vecheria (the Christmas Eve Supper) features a humble and reverent 12-dish meal in honour of the twelve apostles spreading food for the soul throughout the world. The dishes contain no meat or dairy products to show respect for the animals that shared their place of shelter and were present for the birth of Christ.

In Latvia, during the yuletide season, Latvian "mummers," or people who dress up as entertainers during certain events, would dress up as animals such as bears or horses and parade from house to house in villages singing and dancing to ward off evil.

In Poland, families gather together on Christmas Eve (called Wigilia) and decorate their homes. They share sacred wafers similar to those used in communion to celebrate the season and also remember family members who are no longer with them.  Legend has it that if animals eat oplatek (a wafer) on Christmas Eve, they will be able to speak in human voices at midnight, but only those who are pure of spirit will be able to hear them.

One of the most famous Christmas songs in Norway is "Musevisa," or "The Mouse Song." The lyrics for this song were written in 1946 by Alf Pr√łysen. The song is about a mouse family getting ready for Christmas. The mother and father mice are warning their kids to be careful because of mouse traps.
In Finland, southern Germany and parts of Hungary,  wild birds are offered a special meal during the holidays. And in Sweden, on Christmas Eve, the cattle are given the best forage the house can afford, and afterwards a mess of all the celebratory food of which their masters have partaken; the horses are given the choicest hay and, later on, ale. 

In Sweden, on Christmas Eve, the cattle are given the best forage the house can afford
A common tradition is the "belief" that animals talk on Christmas Eve. According to an old tradition some farmers in Denmark feed their animals especially well, because since on the Christmas Eve animals can talk, and it would not be nice to hear bad words on this special night. Similar tradition includes placing gifts of food in forests and parks for the animals. In Romania there is a tradition of listening to hear if the farm animals talk on New Year's Day.

These traditions are delightful.  They come from a time where people recognized that their fates were tied to those of the animals.  Gratitude for animals and help in their welfare would have been understood in a very different way than today.  Now, our mostly urban lifestyles are disconnected both from nature and our sources of food. We may see the welfare of animals as a moral imperative, but seldom as connected to our own survival in the way our ancestors did.   

Have you created a modern version of animal holiday traditions? Do you buy your pet a Christmas present?  Was your pet included in your family's holiday portrait? Are your pet's names included on your Christmas cards?

Tell us on Facebook how you include animals in your holiday traditions.

Bruce Roney
Executive Director

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Home for the Holidays

One of my all time favourite Christmas specials is The Homecoming, the TV movie that was the precursor to the long-running series, The Waltons. In it, the Walton family is preparing for Christmas in 1930's rural Virginia.  It is Christmas eve and they are waiting for their father John Walton to come home from his job in a city some 50 miles away. Since he is late, everyone is worried, and over the radio the mother and grandparents hear about an overturned bus and hurt travelers, but keep the news from the rest of the family. It is a simple story set in a simple time, but the coming home for Christmas subject resonates with me, as I suspect it does for a lot of people.

A quick Google search reveals a half-dozen or so movies with variation of the phrase as the title. The 1943 song I'll be Home for Christmas has been recorded by close to 150 singers since its first release. 

Clearly for a lot of us, Christmas is about homecomings. For me, since I work at the Ottawa Humane Society, some of the homecomings are for our animals, especially those that have been waiting a very long time for their forever homes.

Jasper, a young, beautiful black cat has been waiting since last February.  He is affectionate and playful, and all he needs is a special diet.

Max is a three-year old retriever/hound mix who just needs a little training and some room to move. He is sweet and active. Max has been waiting for a home since October.

Stacie has been waiting even longer than Jasper for her new home. Stacie is a lovely grey and white tabby.  She is cuddly and is looking for a one-cat home.

Jasper, Max and Stacie have been waiting a long time. Are you the person that will find it their heart to give a home to one of the animals that has been waiting?  Will you help us make their dream of Christmas homecoming come true by spreading the word about these great pets?

And may you make it home for Christmas, wherever that is for you, and may all your Christmas dreams come true.

Bruce Roney
Executive Director

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Because of You...

We regularly share stories with you about animals in need, their healing processes and their happy endings. But did you know that you there, with us — right beside us — every step of the way?

When tiny kitten Ophelia came to the shelter this spring, one of more than 750 orphaned kittens arriving at the OHS every year, you were right alongside the specialized team of OHS staff and volunteers as they helped this struggling kitten survive without the love and attention of a mom.
Lovey and Dovey, a pair of two-year-old lovebirds, were surrendered to the OHS after a divorce. A month after arriving, you were right there with them when they were adopted together right in time for Valentine’s Day!
Lovey and Dovey
Rescue and Investigation Services agents allege Tyson’s owner got very mad after the young German shepherd ran away from home and tied him to a moving truck as punishment. You were right beside our agents while his rescue was underway.  And again when OHS veterinary staff helped heal his paws and back which were all cut up, there you were.
And what about Landon who got his happily ever after, thanks to you? Landon, a 12-year-old golden retriever, was surrendered to the OHS by his owner who could no longer care for him. Yes, you were there during his extensive dental care and treatment for an ear infection when he was adopted then sadly returned to our care when his new owner didn’t have time for him anymore — then he finally got adopted to a home with another dog where he remains happy and healthy today.
Landon in his forever home
You were also right there when we helped thousands of lost dogs, cats and small animals reunite with their families. Animals like Einstein, a lost guinea pig that was reunited with his family this past summer.

These are just a few examples of when you were there  right beside us  helping the more than 10,000 animals that come into our care each year — giving them a second chance. Together, we will continue our promise to save them, heal them, and protect them.

Lori Marcantonio
Director: Outreach & Interim Director: Development

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Surprise Your Kids This Holiday Season With a Pet and Make a Homeless Animal’s Dreams Come True

‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except a little OHS mouse. 

With the holidays quickly approaching, children everywhere can be found making lists of all the gifts and goodies they’d like to find under the tree. Not wanting to miss out, the animals here at the Ottawa Humane Society are busy doing the same thing: 

Max is wishing for a cozy bed to snuggle in, a squeaky tennis ball to chew on and a Kong filled with peanut butter; while Zander hopes for a scratching post, a laser to chase after and a bright, colourful collar to stand out against his beautiful white fur. 


With all the lists, though, there is one item that always comes up on top and that is a home for the holidays. If you have been dreaming of having the pitter patter of little furry feet around your home, you could make a special memory not only for an animal but for your family. With our HolidayDelivery Program, be it a guinea pig, cat, bird, rabbit or dog, our holiday elves will help you find the best match for your family and arrange for a magical holiday delivery that will remembered for years to come. 

Deliveries can be made for any of the nights of Hanukkah as well as Christmas morning; and while regular adoption procedures apply in addition to a delivery fee, don’t worry, our elves are really good at keeping a secret! 

So make the holidays bright for one of the amazing animals available at the Ottawa Humane Society and they will make sure that you get the best gift of all this year – unconditional love in a cuddly, furry bundle. Please contact our Adoption Centre at 613-725-3166, ext. 258, for more information or visit our website at

Looking for other ways to have fun with the OHS over the holiday season? Why not check out our Critter Christmas party? It's an exciting event for the whole family!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Frozen Kitten’s Brush With Death a Reminder to Protect Pets From Winter Weather

The plight of a tiny kitten revived from the dead after being left outside to freeze is a warning to pet owners to protect their animals from the cold now that winter weather has arrived in Ottawa.

Now recovering at the Ottawa Humane Society, the kitten, aptly named Lucky, was declared dead on arrival when a veterinarian first laid eyes on his lifeless body.

“This is an amazing story of survival and should really be a reminder to pet owners to be mindful of the risks of cold weather for their animals,” said Bruce Roney, OHS executive director. “Lucky was truly lucky this time. But he’s definitely used up eight of his nine lives.”

A Good Samaritan found the two-month-old kitten in a shed Sunday night suffering from severe hypothermia and rushed him for emergency care. The vet, who thought the kitten was dead, performed CPR in a final attempt to save his life. Astonishingly, Lucky’s tiny heart started beating again.

The vet gave Lucky medicine to keep his heart going and raised his body temperature with warmed IV fluids and heating pads. He’s presently in the critical care unit at the OHS.

Like Lucky, pets left outside too long risk frostbite and even death without shelter from the cold temperatures. Pet owners can protect their animals from the winter weather by taking a few precautions:
  • Cats should live indoors year-round and never be allowed to roam in the cold. 
  • Limit the time your dog spends outside. Take your dog for shorter, more frequent walks.
  • Consider a sweater or coat for your dog.
  • Be sure to wipe your dog’s paws after returning from a walk to remove salt, sand and other chemicals designed to melt ice and snow.
  • Dogs that live outside are required by law to have an insulated doghouse built from weather-proof material, facing away from prevailing winds. The shelter must be elevated from the ground with a door flap and bedding.
  • Keep an eye on outdoor water bowls. Make sure your pet’s water hasn’t frozen in the cold. 
  • Don’t leave your pet in a cold car for a long period of time.
  • Be mindful of animals that may have crawled under your car to keep warm. Bang on the hood a couple times to scare away cats and wildlife.

If you see an animal in distress, please call the OHS emergency line at 613-725-1532.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Serving Our Heroes

For many veterans, a service dog becomes not only a life-
changer, but truly a life-saver.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of our pets is their powerful ability to impact us emotionally and inspire both our thoughts and our actions. They seem to sense just how we’re feeling and know just how to cheer us up, make us laugh, or give us the support and companionship we need. The OHS has been involved in animal assistive therapy with its Brightening Lives program since 1980, providing animal visits to people across the city who benefit from the attention and affection of a furry friend. We know these animals are making a real difference in people’s lives.

Brightening Lives is just one of many types of animal assistive therapy programs around today. While therapy dogs are increasingly found visiting hospitals, retirement homes, schools and universities, and service dogs continue to provide help to those with various needs, a very special group of elite service dogs provide meaningful support to our nation’s heroes—our veteran soldiers.

Specialized service dogs support veteran soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through their companionship, affection, and guidance in situations that may cause anxiety. As constant companions, these dogs bring calm and comfort to individuals whose past military experiences make the return to daily life challenging, with many experiencing stress and anxiety, flashbacks, feelings of isolation, and suicidal thoughts. For many veterans, a service dog becomes not only a life-changer, but truly a life-saver.

For veterans with PTSD, their canine companions provide unmatched support in virtually any difficult situation. In environments that are too busy and chaotic—such as shopping malls or busy streets—they bring a sense of calm and confidence to their human partners. Conversely, in conditions that are too tensely quiet for veterans, service dogs provide the company and affectionate distraction to relieve anxiety, paranoia, and flashbacks. And, they possess the power to sense when their human partner is beginning to feel stressed or agitated, and respond immediately and in the most effective of ways—proximity, attention, affection and, of course, lots of doggie kisses. In recent years, a number of veterans have spoken about their battles with suicidal thoughts, and attributed their success in this struggle primarily to their loyal, loving, and ever-attentive service dogs.

In May, the federal government announced a pilot project to research the impact of “psychiatric service dogs” on PTSD in veterans. While this research project is ongoing, some charities continue to provide the funding and training to prepare PTSD service dogs and provide them to veterans in need, free of charge. For these organizations, the evidence is already quite clear: a significant number of positive impacts have been reported in veterans who have been matched with elite service dogs, including increases in patience, impulse control, emotional regulation, sleep, a sense of belonging, parenting skills, and family dynamic. In addition, PTSD service dog have been linked to decreases in depression, startle responses, flashbacks, suicidal thoughts, and use of pain medication.

Service dogs are expensive and not funded by the government. One can cost up to $15,000 and take three years to train. But the evidence pointing to positive change in quality of life for soldiers due to the influence of a faithful service dog leads many to believe this is a service that should be available for our veterans. Therefore, today, in addition to honouring our nation’s heroes, we would like to pay tribute to the devoted service dogs that provide daily support to our veterans at home, and the dedicated organizations whose efforts have made these placements possible. We are grateful to have some exceptional canine companions serving our national heroes.

Andrea Tatarski
Co-ordinator: Humane Education

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent.”
—Milan Kundera

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Old Friend is a Good Friend

Sadly, animals like five-year-old Jaspurr are considered past
their prime as young counterparts quickly find homes.
Jaspurr is five years old, and while his human counterparts (in cat years!) are often just starting a family or buying a first home, Jaspurr is considered by many to be well past his prime. He has been waiting patiently for almost three months for the right family to discover what a great cat he is. Sadly, despite the fact that many cats today will live to celebrate their 20th birthdays and beyond, and many dogs will live well into their teens, pets are often considered “too old” when they’re barely out of adolescence.

Sadly, older pets often languish longer at shelters while their bouncy young counterparts frequently “fly off the shelves,” besotting adopters with their cute kitten looks and playful puppy ways. But the reality is, these older friends are a shelter’s best kept secret — and we want to tell you why!
  1. What you see is what you get. Shelter staff can usually tell you a lot more about the older pets in their care, which means you can make sure you find the right match for your family. You also won’t be surprised by how big that puppy might get or by how much exercise he’ll need! 
  2. Older pets have manners. Unlike kittens and puppies, many grown-up pets have spent years living with a family and being socialized to life with humans. Some have already received obedience training or know a few simple commands!
  3. They’re not a 24-7 job. Mature pets don’t require the constant monitoring that puppies and kittens do, leaving you with more freedom to do your own thing. If you have young children, or just value your “me time,” this is definitely a bonus.
  4. No expensive carpet cleaning bills! Older pets are often already housetrained … it usually just takes a few days to help them learn the toileting regime in their new home. 
  5. You get to sleep. All night. Little kitties love to hunt pipe cleaners at night, and little puppies aren’t great at holding it ‘til morning... the only thing an older pet might wake you with is his contented snoring!
  6. Your shoes and drapes are safe. You won’t see your mature pet scaling your silk curtains or chewing on your Manolo Blahniks… most of these guys are past that. 
  7. You can teach an old dog (and cat) new tricks! Adult animals are quick learners and focus more easily than their junior friends. The OHS offers obedience training for adult dogs — ask us for details! 
  8. Couch potato? He won’t judge you… he’ll join in. In fact, your mature pet will enjoy having more lap-time while you’re snoozing in front of Netflix on a Friday night. And while mature pets still need play and exercise, they usually won’t demand endless walks around the block.
  9. You can make the commitment. Let’s face it. A lot can happen in 20 years, and sometimes, we just can’t responsibly commit to a pet with that lifespan. But maybe you have five or 10 years to give to a pet in need. You can still enjoy the tremendous benefits of pet companionship. The level of commitment is the same but not for as long.
  10. You can be a hero to a deserving dog or cat. The truth is, older pets are simply harder to place. You can take pride in knowing that you have given a pet a wonderful home by opening your home and heart to them. 
For the month of November, the OHS is celebrating mature pets. Open your home and heart to one of our older pets in need. Read more here:

Sharon Miko
Deputy Executive Director