Alley, firefighters, human animal bond

Human-animal bond comes through for owners after devastating house fire

By: Kevin MacKenzie, Development Manager, Leadership Giving at Ontario SPCA.

In my work with the Ontario SPCA, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know so many animal lovers. I hear stories of furry friends daily. Many are happy stories, but we have also talked about loss and the grief and pain one feels when you lose beloved pets. Sadly, I now have my own story of loss to add to that conversation.

The first goodbye

elwood, alley, cats, grief, human animal bond
Our two cats Elwood and Alley.

Closing out 2016, my household had a number of animals that were part of our family. We had Alley and Elwood, my 18-year-old cats who were a brother/sister from the same litter. They’d been with me since they were eight weeks old. We also had Sofie, a nine-year-old black lab, and Gracie, a three-year-old Cane Corso/Boxer.

In mid-January 2017, the time came to say goodbye to Elwood. He had developed a number of medical issues that were untreatable. After consulting the vet once again, the family made the tough choice we all dreaded. We said goodbye to Elwood with the help of our local Stouffville veterinarian, who was wonderful to us during that difficult time. Alley and Elwood were my twin daughters’ best friends, companions and sleep-mates since birth. We pulled together as a family, grieved Elwood and paid special attention to Alley to make sure she wasn’t too lonely without her brother.

The fire that changed everything

Alley, firefighters, human animal bond
Firefighters on our front porch, resuscitating Alley.

That was a tough time, but not as difficult as what was to come. On Feb. 6, my family had a fire in our home. My partner Cathy, our dogs and Alley were home at the time. Cathy scrambled to get the animals out of the house to safety, but despite her best efforts, she couldn’t locate Alley before the smoke became too thick to see or breathe. She escaped with the dogs and awaited first responders.

Firefighters located Alley, who needed to be resuscitated. The photo you see of firefighters on my front deck was the moment they brought her out of the house and began working on her. I will never, as long as I live, forget the visual of three firefighters working hard to save Alley. She required oxygen and finally let out a loud “meow.” When I arrived and approached the deck, the firefighters spoke to me with so much empathy and genuine care. They let me know they’d done all they could and Alley was then taken to our local Stouffville veterinarian.

For five days our veterinarians at the Thicketwood Veterinary Clinic, and then the Uxbridge Veterinary Hospital, tried hard to help Alley overcome the fire. But between the smoke inhalation and oxygen deprivation, the neurological impact was permanent. We were forced to say goodbye to Alley so soon after saying goodbye to Elwood and in the midst of a terrible family tragedy.

Community support in the midst of tragedy

Alley, tragedy, human animal bond
Saying goodbye to Alley.

Grief is powerful. It wears you down and creeps up on you just when you think you’re getting over it. I miss Alley and Elwood. My little furry friends who saw me through so many life events – too many to list, but they were the constant in my life for 18 years.

In the days that have followed our house fire, the community has rallied around us. The Ontario SPCA has supported me and demonstrated incredible class and kindness. What I wanted to share about this hard time is the love and peace that we have received from Sofie and Gracie. When the world felt dark and sad, the one thing we have been able to count on is their love and support. Being with them is all that has mattered. Words can’t express the comfort of falling asleep at night with them on our makeshift bed, in our makeshift home, or being greeted by them at the door when we walk in from dealing with a never-ending to do list that never seems to get shorter.

Seeing just how powerful the human-animal bond is

gracie and sophie, human animal bond, tragedy
Gracie (left) and Sophie (right).

I’ve had a lot of time to consider the human/animal bond in the last few years, but never more than since our house fire. Sofie and Gracie are not only our pets, but also our family members. They are our constant source of smiles, love, and warmth. It may sound melodramatic, but I don’t know how we would have gotten through the aftermath of the fire without those dogs to keep us sane and grounded.

And that is what I want to leave you with. There was a time that I thought the work we did was helping animals in need. That’s true, but I have since realized that the impact is so much greater. It’s not just about changing the lives of animals when you support the Ontario SPCA, it’s about changing the lives of people. From the moment our dogs came into our lives, they changed us – for the better. They help us. They soothe us. They bring us happiness and fulfillment. That bond is valuable and it’s life changing.

Help make a lifelong impact in the lives of countless animals – and the people who adopt them. Donate to the Ontario SPCA today.

Mar 10, 2017
by Emily Cook