Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A (Brief) History of Devon


Devon and the Sunny Day

I've been meaning to fill in the back story of our recent new family member; I intended to wait until things were a little more settled but then I just plain forgot all about it. If I have seen you in person over the past few days, you will already know much if not all of this; however, most of you reading this will only have been able to follow the story as it has unfolded on Facebook, so I hope this will be of interest to you. 

So. Just in case you didn't read the very first post on FB about this, I'll start as far back as I can. "Devon" is a 15yo Devon rex cat (who I am fairly certain must have been named by a grandchild) who lived with one owner for most of his life to date. His owner has been forced to move into a long-term care home as a result of Alzheimer's; we have no way of knowing exactly how long ago she moved or how long she lived with increasing debilitation beforehand. All we do know is that she clearly loved this guy very much, because there was money set aside for him in her estate and there is some evidence that she had pet insurance for him at some point. Our specific knowledge of the little guy only goes back a couple of months. Apparently, the neighbour across the hall had been looking in on Devon and keeping him fed and watered for about a month before my friend Jane got involved. I am under the impression that the neighbour didn't really spend much time with him other than to look after his basic needs, and with him being a Devon rex whose owner doted on him, I cannot imagine this was a welcome change at his advanced age. 

Jane eventually made the difficult decision to take him in to live with her; this was only truly difficult because she had two Devons of her own who both passed away about a year apart not so long ago and she is still very much grieving their loss. In her original FB post, Jane said she was looking for a forever home for Devon because she knew she could not handle the grief again so soon were he to pass away quickly. She was also worried about him having issues negotiating her open staircase as he has some sight issues and had spent his entire life to that point in a one-floor apartment. The situation was made a little more urgent by the fact that Jane was scheduled to leave for a couple of weeks on vacation), and she needed some sort of resolution before this happened. I cut-and-pasted her post and amplified it myself; eventually, she made her original "Public" and I re-posted that one instead. At this point, one Keeper at the Toronto Zoo reached out to me, and another friend tagged a woman who has a "retirement home" for geriatric cats. 

As most of  you know already, we have a 10yo tabby named Addie. She is pretty laid-back ordinarily, but has never lived with another pet since we got her from her original family at about twelve weeks of age. She's absolutely not a cuddler nor lap cat; however, she is incredibly doting and absolutely devoted to my partner (Sarah) and me. I suffer with depression, anxiety, and ADHD (so I'm kind of a triple-threat) and shortly after Addie came to live with us, I fell into a pretty deep depression that lasted the better part of two years before I signed up to Volunteer at the Zoo to help combat it. During those days, Addie would frequently be downstairs (our previous residence was two floors) sleeping while I was working on the computer upstairs; whenever I would slip into an anxiety spiral she would appear at my elbow within minutes of the episode beginning and settle into a basket on my desk, keeping a close eye on me as she did so. Sarah used to say that she would have had a much harder time leaving me at home every day were it not for Addie's great love for me. I tell you this so you can understand why it is vitally important that we do nothing that will irreparably damage the bond we have with her. I'm not sure I would survive that, to be brutally honest.

We had often talked about introducing a second cat to Addie in past years, as she does not entertain herself tremendously well and is quite sedentary and overweight (not obese, mind you). After agonizing over this for a long time, we'd basically just stopped even considering it after we moved to our new, calmer place and all of us settled into a nice rhythm together. When we talked over Devon's situation, however, we realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to at least try to have a second cat in the household, as we could foster him for the time Jane was away and, if nothing was working out, we would not be painted into a corner in any way and could move him along, either back to Jane if she had a change of heart, or to someone who had reached out to us. An added bonus: as Devon is a geriatric cat, we could eliminate any concerns about his energy level being too high for Addie and ruining things before they even got started. So we told Jane we would at the very least take him to our home a few days before she went away (to help her calm down a bit) and keep him at least until she returned, with an eye to him staying with us permanently if it worked out with Addie (and Devon, of course). 

Well. The very day before we were to pick him up, Devon had some kind of an "episode". Jane called me in the afternoon from the parking lot of a Vet Clinic, because she wasn't allowed to even be in the lobby while they ran a battery of tests on him. His pupils, which were ordinarily huge to begin with, had become alarmingly dilated; Jane said he was "pacing" and the vet report said he kept turning only to the left for quite a while. This had come on out of nowhere (she had seen no signs of this in the 2 1/2 weeks she had had him with her) and she was quite alarmed. Suffice it to say, we were all more or less convinced he wouldn't make it to the weekend at that point. Jane was beside herself with stress, so I said we would come as planned the next morning and, if a tough decision needed to be made, we would make it and take care of it ourselves. 

We showed up at the appointed time and discovered that Jane had brought all of his accoutrements with her to work, expecting we were going to take him either way. So Sarah and I had to kind of suss everything out on the fly. Devon had shown a great deal of improvement overnight, likely helped along by a prescription of Gabapentin, of which he had an immediate dose and a second one the morning we came to get him. I believe there was enough for 10 days, all told. Once a great deal of discussion took place with Jane, who was suffering tremendously from the stress, we agreed to take Devon with us and we set up an appointment with Dr. Kato (Addie's old vet before we moved and an amazing person just in general) at Danforth and Dawes for the next day to do a Quality of Life assessment for us so we could make an informed decision about his future. After Dr. Kato saw him in her exam room (we were allowed into the lobby), she came out and sat down for a chat. In her expert opinion, his QoL was still excellent and she saw no signs of any of the issues from two days before. I should mention here that we had stopped the medication immediately upon picking him up, as we wanted clean bloodwork should we choose to have it done, and actually have not resumed it to this point. We did decide to go ahead with the blood analysis after deciding to give him the best chance for survival; however, as this was the Saturday of the long weekend, which we did not receive the results until Tuesday. In the meantime. we brought Devon home and set him up in our study, with the door closed, and took turns lying with him in there for the first couple of days. He spent most of this time inside a little tent bed that came with him, but gradually grew more active, ostensibly as the effects of the sedative wore off. 

Tuesday's phone call from Dr. Kato brought the news that Devon's blood work was quite excellent for an elderly cat; in fact, the only new concern she had was a high CPK level reading. (We had to look that up at home; here is a great link to help understand what this means.) It really does appear, from all the tests, that Devon has had some damage to his brain in some way, whether a lesion or something more sinister. The CPK issue might also explain why he seemed to be walking on his left elbow rather than his wrist for a couple of days, which is something that had concerned Jane (and would explain the left-turns, I think), but had pretty much disappeared once he had been with us for a day or two. Additionally, he has rather severe alopecia, but we are witnessing some return of his fur which causes us to think he might have been "stress grooming" after he lost his owner. Jane was also bringing him into work with here every weekday to make sure he was ok, which is absolutely what I would have done myself, so he never really settled into a new home until he arrived at our apartment. All of these issues put together made us realize we couldn't in good conscience look around for another home for him where the person was expecting a pet for companionship, as it certainly appeared he had a lot of late-life issues. On top of all of this, he has sight and hearing loss (left eye and right ear, thankfully) as well. He really is a fighter and a survivor to be reckoned with.

Now, onto the much better news. His appetite has still been very good. He keeps himself extremely well-hydrated (so much so that we were expecting to hear a diagnosis of diabetes from the blood work) and he is a regular visitor to his litter box for urination and defecation, and has been able to find it every time. Despite noted mobility issues, he is still an extremely good jumper, and he frequently leaps from the floor to our bed (mattress, box spring, and full-frame on legs) with absolutely no issue whatsoever – and is able to get himself down without assistance. He seemed every day to be getting better and better, more and more confident, grooming less often, adapting to new people and sounds (I may well be the first male human he has ever lived with), enjoying the sunshine, chirping and purring to beat the band. When we finally took the baby gate down on Monday, 10 days after he first arrived, he immediately went wandering around, eventually choosing to lie on a bench in the master bedroom – in full sun – for a long time, and finding his way to our bed at night where he lay partially under a blanket tucked hard against my shin until dawn. Tuesday morning, I left for a visit to the Zoo while Sarah worked from home and kept an eye on our two charges; he was attentive and alert when I departed at 10:30 AM.

Addie has been slow to warm to him, but all I really wish from her is to just ignore Devon the brief times she will even have to encounter him. He sleeps a lot because of his age and even just a "meh" attitude from her would suffice. However, once he gained access to the whole apartment without us keeping them gated apart. Addie has begun to hiss at him. I do feel this is something that would wear off in time, as long as it isn't affecting Devon adversely. And here's where we come to the crux of our current problem. Devon had an encounter with Addie Tuesday morning that neither of us witnessed, but Sarah heard a kind of yowl from Addie, rather than a hiss. We do not believe there was any physical interaction but obviously cannot be sure. This did occur before I saw Devon sitting straight up on the edge of the bed as I left, so there was no immediate fallout. But as the day progressed, Sarah noticed he was not coming out of his tent bed to interact with the world at all. When I got home, I also noticed his pupils, which had seemed to be beginning to constrict over the past few days, had gone back to fully dilated, and he quite obviously wasn't even seeing shadows. He didn't chirp or purr when I approached and petted him, which is a first time for both. I decided to sleep on the bed in the study with him Tuesday night so he would know I was there and so I could watch for any further deterioration. Eventually, I elicited some purrs from him at some point overnight, but when he did come out, he seemed to be looking for something (I have no idea what) over and over again, and it struck me more as kind of a stereotypy than anything else. Today, Wednesday, he did seem to be coming out of it, slowly, but he still has not come anywhere close to the highs of Monday as I write this on Wednesday evening. He was more active and awake on Monday than he was virtually all the other eleven days he has been with us put together, so it's entirely possible that he is simply exhausted.

So that's where we stand. I don't know if this is another episode such as Jane witnessed but if it can be established that he will have these issues for the rest of his life, this is something we absolutely can and will handle. Sarah works from home due to COVID-19 and I am home most days that I am not at the Zoo. He will have lots of love, calmness, attention, and access to human contact and cuddling for as long as he needs it. However, if this is a regression caused by a reaction (perhaps of fright) to Addie's negativity, I very much want to discover that as soon as possible, because there is no way I can let him struggle through that after he has fought so hard to achieve a good, peaceful time at the end of his life. Lying with him on Tuesday night I have to say I was leaning toward it being the outside influences, but today I think it is most likely neurological. We will not be running any tests for this – our vet agrees with this decision – as they are very expensive and, in any event, there will be no heroic measures for Devon going forward. We will just watch to see if these episodes become more frequent or more severe and conduct ourselves accordingly, as long as they are not being exacerbated by Addie, who is exhibiting extreme calm and contentment at all other times since he's been here, as evidenced by her body language. 

And that's the history of Devon. (Note I did not say "brief" that time.) At this point, we will keep him here with us hopefully at least until Jane returns, and then we'll have a better handle on causes. I have to say, though, I was over the moon on Monday with the amazing day he had; yesterday felt like a punch in the throat. If it turns out he cannot thrive here with Addie he will be moved virtually immediately; at that time, I fully expect to rehome him in the Kitty Retirement Estates. If Addie is not the cause in any way, I would much rather keep him here and make his days the very best they can be. 

His special bed made for Devon alone

Here is my favourite shot of him so far at our place; my friend, Allison, calls this, "A Study in Beige." <3 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

We Always Knew that He'd Go Free

"...promise me, promise me
 If they bury me some place I don't want to be
 You'll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously,
 Away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees,
 Whispers of disease, and the acts of enormity;
 And lower me slowly and sadly and properly –
 Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy." – Gord Downie/The Hip, "At the Hundredth Meridian"

We lost him last night. Oh, we knew it was coming – frankly, I still can't believe that he made it out of that year of death, 2016, let alone nearly another 10 months on top of that – but in no way does it lessen the blow. Gordon Edgar Downie – poet, raconteur, free spirit, showman, fiercely Canadian lead singer and soul of the most fiercely Canadian band of all time, The Tragically Hip – was stolen from us last night at the barely-halfway-there age of 53, by glioblastoma (an aggressive and incurable brain cancer). All of us in the Great White North have been trying to prepare ourselves for this day since we were collectively stunned by the news of his illness, posted on the band's website on May 24, 2016 – and, really, other than July 1st what other day could these quintessential Canadians have possibly chosen for this announcement? Of course, there is no real way to prepare for this and even if we had another decade or two to "get ready" our hearts would still be shattered by his loss.

At the last Hip concert in 2016
There is so much raw, visceral grief tearing through all of my news feeds today that it's really hard to process. So many people, so many hearts, were touched so very deeply by this man and his band and what they brought to our nation. We have spent most of our 150 years living in the enormous shadow of the behemoth with whom we share our southern border, always trying to measure ourselves against the Americans and always pouting when we think we're not being taking seriously enough. To "make it big" doesn't mean all of Medicine Hat or Kelowna or Moncton or even Toronto knows who you are; no, making it big requires hitting the top of the charts in the US of A, period. So much of our major talent has been sucked into the vortex, the yawning maw of the States' machine and we nudge each other knowingly and exchange a wink when a Michael J Fox or Jim Carrey or Steppenwolf is accepted as one of their own, and say "I knew them when they were living here in Canada, dude."

But not The Hip. No, they were our own little secret. And we loved them for it.

The Hip in '87
I'm not going to take you all through their long, wonderful history – there are so many other places for you to look for that information, and they'll all likely do it better than I can – but I will talk a little about what they meant to me in the soundtrack of my own life. I didn't grow up with them in Kingston (as a couple of my friends did); I was in my late 20s when they broke nationally so they weren't the high school staple that they were for so many people. But they were no less important to me all in all, and I fell in love with them the very first time I heard CFNY play "Small Town Bringdown" from their original EP so very many years ago – probably very early in 1987 because CFNY in those days were incredible at bringing new music to our ears before anyone else on the radio. I recall finding out about a free concert they were giving at Nathan Phillips Square (at City Hall in Toronto) one summer in the '80s; try as I might I cannot find any record of this show online but I do see that they performed at the Horseshoe Tavern (their second-ever Toronto gig) on July 15, 1988. It seems to me quite likely that their open-air show took place earlier that day, especially given the setlist for the 'Shoe I've turned up online. I remember the place being packed and feeling pretty proud of myself for having "discovered" this gem of a band that was clearly just on the verge of something huge. Still, I could never have foreseen how huge; the impact they have had on Canada (not just musically) over the past 30 years is virtually indescribable.

Up to Here: the breakthrough
And suddenly, everyone knew who they were. They released Up To Here – with so, so many great tunes but "New Orleans is Sinking" chiefly among them – and it was obvious to the entire nation (not just us "hipsters" listening to New Music and college stations) that these guys were for real, and they were absolutely terrific. I had been hearing "New Orleans..." on CFNY for several months already and I am absolutely certain they played it at City Hall that afternoon in '88. "Blow at High Dough" was another staple on 'NY, and I was very much looking forward to the album's release... but they still kept us waiting until September of 1989. I'm pretty sure I bought it the very first week it was on sale, and I was blown away by how good all the rest of it was. I played it incessantly the first couple of months I owned it and I am still not tired of it to this very day. My life had changed forever in an entirely different way earlier that year ('89) when my son, Tim, was born; it would be quite a while before I was able to see them live again.

Best. Canadian. Album. Ever.
But they were very much the soundtrack of so many wonderful years in my life and I will associate them forever with the rise of the Blue Jays (and their eventual back-to-back World Series victories); the births of both of my children; the Maple Leafs' incredible and improbable run in the '93 NHL playoffs; my few years as a stay-at-home dad; and even the huge upheavals I went through in '95 and '96. When, in October of 1992 (right around the time the Jays were heading for glory), they released Fully, Completely, it immediately and irrevocably went to the very top of any "Desert Island Albums" list I would ever make for the rest of my life. Every July 1st I celebrate by playing nothing but Canadian artists; I always begin with Big Sugar's version of "O Canada" and I always follow that up with Fully, Completely. No exceptions. It's the greatest album ever put out by a Canadian band, in my opinion, and I can't imagine it likely ever being eclipsed. It also happens to contain my all-time favourite Hip song: "Wheat Kings." It tells the story of David Milgaard, wrongfully convicted and in prison for 23 years for a murder in Saskatoon in 1969. The lyrics in it are incomparably evocative, I think, right from the opening line: "Sundown in the Paris of the prairies/Wheat kings have all their treasures buried..." For those of you unclear with the references: "Paris of the Prairies" is a nickname for Saskatoon; "wheat kings" is a nickname for those ubiquitous grain elevators covering the prairies both here and in the States. But my favourite lyrics comprise the third verse of the song:

"There's a dreamy dream where the high school is dead and stark:
  It's a museum and we're all locked up in it after dark;
  Where the walls are lined all yellow, grey, and sinister,
  Hung with pictures of our parents' Prime Ministers."

Yellow, grey, and sinister. That's incredible poetry, that is.

But there was another song on that album that became an anthem to anyone who ever rooted for the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs – and, actually, to most people who are hockey fans in their hearts. That song, of course, was "Fifty Mission Cap."

Barilko's banner being moved from
MLG to the ACC
"Bill Barilko disappeared that summer...." If you know the story, the song is as much haunting as it is incredible simplistic. (If you don't, check it out here.) A few lines of information about the late playoff hero and the effect his death had on his team, ostensibly stolen "from a hockey card", repeated in a second verse just because. It's pretty much a perfect little song, capturing so much pure Canadiana in just a couple of minutes. And so it was that, in 1996, I learned that The Hip were putting together a cross-country tour for that winter, including a stop (for two nights) at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Because I knew that the beloved "Old Lady of Carlton Street" only had a couple of years left before the Leafs moved to the ACC; because I knew the Rheostatics would be opening for them (you can read all about this tour in Dave Bidini's wonderful first published novel, On a Cold Road) and I love the Rheostatics; because I hadn't seen The Hip in quite a while; for all of these reasons I knew I had to get to at least one of these shows. In December of '96 – accompanied by three friends – I was sitting in the corner reds of the Gardens when this song was performed. Instinctively, I looked up to where Barilko's banner was hanging from the rafters, just above my head. The arena was still and a bit stuffy; not a lot of air was flowing as it was a cold night outside. But incredibly, the Barilko #5 pennant began to flutter and move. None of the other banners showed even the slightest inclination toward following suit; Barilko danced alone. There could perhaps be many simple explanations for this; I don't want to hear them. I know I was witnessing something spiritual that night and nothing could ever take that away from me.

Speaking of that show: I really feel that the Rheostatics and The Hip each played a song by the other band during their sets that night but I can find no confirmation of this whatsoever either through setlists or accounts of the show. If you were there – or know someone who was – and can corroborate my memory, please let me know. The song I believe The Hip played was "Saskatchewan", but I could easily be messing up that memory. In any event, that concert in December of 1996 was the very last time I was able to see The Tragically Hip in person. In fact, probably the next time I saw them perform a full show in any way was the very final one in Kingston on August 20th, 2016. This was broadcast coast-to-coast on the CBC and was very likely the first time since Paul Henderson's goal in 1972 that our entire country was "closed for business" and watching the same TV show at the same time.

"Wicapi Omani" – Lakota for
"man who walks among the stars"
But he leaves behind an even greater legacy than simply his music and poetry catalogue – vast though that may be. (As an aside: I own a copy of just over half of all of their albums and yet it still represents the biggest single collection I have of any one artist or singer.) Gord Downie has for many years fought to bring grave Canadian (especially) injustices to light and once he found out his remaining time on this earth was short, he worked feverishly to bring the plight of the indigenous peoples of Canada firmly into view. He and his brother, Mike, set up The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people of Canada. Chanie Wenjack was a young boy who died trying to escape one of my nation's infamous and shameful residential schools, a story at the centre of his Secret Path project. On that website's home page, Gord included this:

“This is not an aboriginal problem. This is a Canadian problem. Because at the same time that aboriginal people were being demeaned in the schools and their culture and language were being taken away from them and they were being told that they were inferior, they were pagans, that they were heathens and savages and that they were unworthy of being respected — that very same message was being given to the non-aboriginal children in the public schools as well…They need to know that history includes them.” (Murray Sinclair, Ottawa Citizen, May 24, 2015)

He was at the front of a great many environmental and cultural issues in Canada, and I will forever be in awe of his passion, his integrity, his commitment to fixing so very many wrongs perpetrated over the past 150 years (and more) in the name of "Canada". I'd say we've lost an enormous influence and true champion, but I really hope his legacy far, far outlives him. 

Some excellent further reading would be this terrific little piece by the Toronto Star about the history of The Hip. In that piece they talk about that time Dan Aykroyd, also Kingston-bred, brought the band onto Saturday Night Live. Here is that night:

Here is an interview he did with Peter Mansbridge, long the face of the CBC National News, almost exactly a year ago which, for some reason, I cannot seem to embed on this page.

On January 1st of this year, the "Strombo Show" on CBC Radio devoted the entire four hours to Canadian bands covering The Hip, and it was supremely wonderful. You can listen here.

If you've any lingering doubts as to the impact of this man on our nation, I think this clip of our Prime Minister reacting to news of his death should lay all of them to rest:

And finally, here they are performing "Wheat Kings" in a concert at Abbotsford, BC in 2009. (If you want to hear the studio version, there are myriad places for you to find it online.)

Goodbye, Gord, for now you are truly "Wicapi Omani – man who walks among the stars."

"Done and done, night accomplished; If I had a wish, I'd wish for more of this."

- "Now for Plan A" from Done and Done

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A post about a Zoo animal...but probably not the one you're looking for!

Happy New Year! No year – just like no person – is entirely evil or entirely fantastic so there were some great memories from 2016...but if I were to tally up the pluses and minuses I know with virtual certainty that I have never lived through a tougher year, personally. The only one that even comes close is 1968; that was followed, though, by 1969 and even the first year of Tricky Dick was not as bad as the first year of the Orange Menace promises to be, Oh, and also I turned seven in how bad a year could it really be? I'm pretty sure I had a birthday party in my backyard with ice cream and cake. And my brother was born in 1968. Not sure which side of the ledger to put....ahem, anyhow! Onward and upward!

For those of you who have come here looking for the first blog posts of 2017 concerning the animals featured in my calendars, I have good news and bad news. The good news: the posts (both of them!) were actually filed on time and are live. The bad news: I'm trying something new this time around and hosting those particular blog pieces on Wordpress, where all of the rest of my calendar information resides. You can find them here, but before you go I do have a special treat for you in this post.

In November my good friend Sue Maynard graciously allowed me to reblog one of her incredible posts about Hudson from 2012. Well, you lucky people, Sue posted a follow-up after Hudson left Toronto for Winnipeg in early 2013. And she's agreed to let me share that tale with you here as well.

So without further ado, here is Part II of Sue's amazing connection with Hudson, direct from the Mind Reels site. When you're done here, why not go check that out? I think you'll really enjoy it!

Hudson Part II – Saying Goodbye and Letting Go

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My first post about Hudson the polar bear cub received a lot of attention – in a great way!  Thanks so much to everyone who read and commented and otherwise showed their support for me, and affection for the bear.  Knowing that the story touched so many people definitely helped to take some of the sting out of saying goodbye to Hudson on his last day at the Toronto Zoo.
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In fact, so much happened that day that I wanted to write a sort of follow-up/addendum post to tell you all about it! My heart is MUCH lighter as a result, and I am feeling the need to write this little bit more, to properly close off Hudson’s chapter here in Toronto, and open up the one he’s beginning now in Winnipeg, because it truly is just another step in his already-amazing journey, and I am honoured to be able to share even a little bit of it.
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So let’s see…we were nearing the end of that final week – the dreaded last day was inching ever closer – and I was still a weepy mess any time I thought about having to say goodbye to “my” bear boy.  Out of nowhere, however, I was contacted by a Mr. Jeff Young, the Wildlife Care Supervisor of the Americas Pavillion at the zoo.  The section of the zoo that includes the Tundra Trek, where the polar bears live.  He told me that one of his staff had passed my Hudson post along for him to read, and he thanked me for writing such a heartfelt showcase of Hudson’s story. He said he enjoyed reading it, and asked if I could call him.
I apparently stopped thinking clearly for a bit, because I told him I’d call him the next day, when I was working at a desk with a phone.  My co-worker…politely pointed out…that this was the “Supervisor of Hudson” and that I should go find a phone somewhere and call the man immediately!  So we went to Tim’s desk to commandeer his phone for a few minutes, and made the call.
Best.  Decision.  Ever.
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In short, the fabulous Jeff Young, on behalf of the wonderful Toronto Zoo, invited us to throw some fish to Hudson during the polar bear Keeper Talk on his last day!
I believe my response was something like, “ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY”
You know, because I can play it calm, cool and collected maturity with the best of them.
We were given instructions on how to check in when we arrived on the day, and I thanked the man a hundred times and tried not to burst into tears after I got off the phone. Happy tears, that is.  I mean – Hudson was going to look right AT me!  He was going to see ME and smile at ME and…oh my God what if I SUCK at throwing fish?  What if they all fall into the pool because I throw like a girl and Hudson just looks at me in the polar bear equivalent of disappointment and disgust?
Nope, it’s gonna be amazing and I can’t wait!!!
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Now, I tried really hard to keep the invitation a secret.  I really did.  I wanted it to be the most awesome surprise ever when Tim and I started Instagramming our fish-throwing prowess and the genuine connection we were bound to make with the bear.  That being said, though, I told pretty much everyone in sight over that day and the next, and the only reason I still managed to surprise my mom with it was because she lives in a different city.  Still, there was no dulling my excitement even without making it much of a surprise, and for the first time, I found I wasn’t dreading the day so much anymore.
Went home on the Saturday night, charged every battery for every camera I own, and cleared off my largest memory card to have more space than I would need for the big day.  Did my weekly Injection of Doom earlier than usual to be sure I’d be well over the worst of the side-effects by the time I had to get up in the morning.  Nothing was going to make me late – I was going to get there EARLY, just in case!
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Tim gamely left his place uber-early and I met him in our usual spot to ride the rest of the way together. We got to the park around 11am, and checked in with Guest Services to let Jeff know we were there.  He met us on the path to the Tundra (I think for the first time in history I didn’t opt to hit the loo before heading to the polar bears, actually), and together the three of us walked back over to where Hudson was currently entertaining a few spectators by playing with an empty bucket.
He sure does love buckets.
Now, I realize that we were with a guy that Hudson knew, and that said guy was wearing the very recognizable zoo staff jacket, but every time the bear runs over to where we are (or as close as he can get with a big pool between us), I get a little thrill out of thinking he’s come to say hello.  So, when Hudson bounded over to grin at us a moment before heading back to his awesome bucket, I was instantly caught up in his web of cute.  I think I even called out a greeting to him, and then I just stood and watched him for a few minutes.
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Finally, I got my camera out and started snapping away – photo after photo, moment after moment – I didn’t want any of it to slip away without being captured through my lens.  I became dimly aware of Tim and Jeff talking, and I was filing away little Hudson-y snippets in my mind as I watched him, but for the most part I couldn’t take my eyes – or my mind – off of the furry ham in front of me.  I didn’t even realize until much later that I went a good half hour or so without even talking to Tim OR Jeff when we first got there!  How rude!  So sorry about that guys! I just find Hudson to be hopelessly distracting sometimes, apparently!  Lol
I do, however, remember Jeff saying that “Hudson has his father’s head”.  Inukshuk is massive, and his young son already has a head that measures almost the same length across as those of the adult females!  That continues to make me giggle, for some reason.
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I was also thrilled to watch as Hudson put the bucket on his head a few times – that just never gets old – and to see him discover a fun new game of his own!  There was a small hill near one side of the enclosure, and it was pretty much solid ice.  After a few failed attempts, Hudson figured out how to push his bucket up to the top of the hill, and then he’d fling himself up there, as well, only to turn around, flop down on his belly with the bucket tucked under his chin…and SLIDE head-first down the icy slope!  It was only a few feet, so not much of a ride, but holy hell, was it cute!
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Eventually noon rolled around, and the Keepers assembled to start the polar bear talk.  Now, I am very glad that we were going to be able to go up into the Keeper Box after the initial talk was over, because so many people had arrived to see Hudson off that Tim and I had to get up on the rocks between the bears and the wolves (again, no judging) just to be able to see! Good crowd, cold day, handsome polar bear.  What more could anyone want? 😉
Tim’s taller than I am, and he was up higher, so he videotaped the talk on my camera for me, while I just craned my neck trying to see, and yet not fall off the rocks at the same time.  Do NOT try this at home, kids!  There’s a reason for those signs!
Luckily, I avoided any potentially nasty spills, but I felt a couple of close calls while we were up there.  Soon, however, it was time for us to join (Brandon?  Brendon? There are so many of them, and now I can’t remember which one he was!) the Keeper in the Keeper Box.  At last!  Tim kept hold of my camera to take pics, and let me be the fish-thrower du jour, which was tres gallant of him, no?  Jeff held the door and up we went.
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There was a red bucket hanging at waist level with three good-sized fish in the bottom.  Hudson was pacing along the edge of his rocky platform, grinning at all the people who’d come to watch him get fish tossed to him.  I picked up the first fish and watched until he turned to pad back in our direction. Finally, Hudson fixed his black diamond eyes on the Keeper Box and bounced excitedly to let us know he was ready for more.
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I’d tried to pay attention to how the Keeper was throwing the fish during his talk, but with three of us up there, I didn’t have the same space to wind up with.
That’s my excuse, anyway.
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The reality is that my first fish barely cleared the pool, and landed on the ice that had formed on the shore a couple of levels below where Hudson was standing and waiting.
Is that dismay, disappointment or disgust I see in his eyes?
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None of the above!  The bear was drooling up a storm (he drools just in the anticipation of food more than any creature I’ve ever seen – with the possible exception of my nephew when he was a baby), bobbing his head some more, and honking out his assertion that I could do better than that, and that he would wait for the next one.
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That’s when I realized – I had never heard Hudson’s voice before!  Always when we’ve gone to visit him, he’s been behind glass (or we have) and I could never hear him talking!  Apparently, the Keepers have never heard him shut up – he’s a vocal guy!  THAT was almost enough to make me cry right there, getting to hear his Wookie-like honking as he wandered the exhibit, waiting for me to produce more fishy goodness from that red bucket in front of me.
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I fished out the second fish (see what I did there?) and focused on making a better throw of it this time. I’d noticed that the Keeper had chucked them higher up on the rocks so that Hudson would have to climb up to get them, and thus be visible to more people than he was down by the edge of the pool.  So I heaved the fish treat and managed to get it up a couple of levels, which was a couple of levels higher than the first throw – not too shabby!
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Pleased with myself, I pulled out the third and final fish in the bucket, and waited while Hudson ate the one I hadn’t botched.  He seemed to like wandering across the exhibit, making sure no one was feeling left out, and that everyone could see him from where they were standing.  He especially wanted them to know he was eating fish, and that he had an amazing bucket to show them after the fish were done!  When Hudson came back to our end of the exhibit, I paused to take some pics on my phone, commemorating the moment for myself, and for all time.
Then I got what I thought was a good grip on the fish’s tail, pulled my arm back as far as I dared, and snapped it forward, intending to make this the best throw ever.
I may have squeezed the tail too tight, and my gloves may have already been covered in fish goo, causing the fish to fall from my grip too early in its throwing-arc.  I felt the fish slip out of my hand and watched in horror as it sailed too far to one side – and beaned the bear in the side before sliding down to join the fish from the first tragic throw.
Sorry, Hudson.  That…should have gotten a do-over!
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Luckily, Hudson did not appear to be angry at me, or anything.  He wasn’t about to go get the other two fish while we were all standing up there with the red bucket, though, so we watched him for a few more moments before letting him off the hook and leaving the Keeper Box, red bucket in tow.  I thanked him before turning to leave, though.  Got a little choked up again for a second, too, so surprised Jeff with a thank-you hug when I stepped out of the box to where he was waiting.  Made me feel better. 🙂
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Not wanting to take up more of Jeff’s time than we already had, Tim and I thanked him some more and then headed off to re-orient ourselves and visit the other animals in the Tundra Trek before heading to another area of the zoo.  My camera was so cold from being outside that, when we went to see the orangutans, I had to wait several minutes for the fog to clear on my lens before I could take any pictures.  We got there to hear that Keeper Talk for our first time, though, so that was pretty amazing, too.  And we saw another Keeper training the soft-shelled turtle, which was incredible.  I am not sure why it never occurred to me to think that a turtle could learn anything, but there you go.  Absolutely amazing.
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The otter was asleep, the lemurs were asleep…the meerkats are quickly becoming another favourite, though, I have to admit!  I adore those little guys!
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And the gorillas!  Charles was sitting in a bucket of his own over by a window when we went in!  I’d never seen him that close up before!  By his facial expression, I am pretty sure he was lamenting the state of the human race, but…what an experience, being in the presence of such a wonderful, intelligent creature.  It was overwhelming.  We’d gotten to that pavillion shortly after they’d been fed, too, so we were able to watch young Nassir work treats out of a tube filled with holes, too.  He took a break to see what his dad was up to when Charles was on the move at one point, but mostly he just hung out and worked for his reward.
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I swear – and Tim saw it, too – one of the girls (I think?  I can’t tell them apart yet) made her way over to a side area where a Keeper had something for her.  I believe she ate a piece of food, was handed a small towel or napkin-like object – and then wiped her lips with it before sitting in front of where we were standing at the window!  I’m almost certain of it!  I actually told Tim that I wished we could just go into the zoo and sit with the gorillas and, like, read a book, or something.  Do something quiet, and just be around them.  They’re so peaceful and calming to me.  I always feel better being around them.  Just, not usually when there are a bunch of other people around, because they are NOT calming to me!  Lol
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Eventually, it was time to go have our usual awesome lunch, and then head back to the Tundra to say goodbye Hudson.  Walking up what I had come to think of as “Hudson’s Path” started making his imminent departure feel much more real, and a lump rose in my throat yet again.  There weren’t many people up at the glass this time, and when we got up there, we saw why.  Apparently, the lad had tuckered himself out putting on the Show of Shows for us all morning, and was now dozing peacefully over in a corner by the inside windows.  Within moments of our arrival, his black eyes blinked open, looked right at us, then drooped closed again and he went back to sleep.
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I could actually just sit and watch him sleep for a good long time, too, so we took some pics of his cute self from outside, then moved inside to wait in the short line leading up to the window he was passed out in front of.  By the time we got that far, Hudson’s paws were twitching in dream sleep, and Tim remarked that we’d never seen him sleep so soundly before, either. It was a day full of firsts – and lasts – for us, I guess!  I love his big bear paws, too, so I took a few shots from mere inches away – one of which I am actually considering printing out to frame and hang in my home.
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Turning from the window of the sleeping bear, Tim and I simultaneously made the decision to head home, and leave our last memory of him like that – curled up in happy, bucket-loving and fish-eating dreams.
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I still cried like a baby in the loo before hitting the Zootique and getting on the bus, but still…everything felt much lighter, and not having to actually say the word “goodbye” was a huge help.
As was Jeff Young inviting me throw the boy some fish, and Tim letting me be the one to do it.
Since that day, a co-worker has asked me to send her one of my favourite pictures of Hudson from my collection so that she can try painting him for me.  I sent her this one to try (she’ll sharpen it up, too), because it’s the first time I felt like he looked right at me:
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The Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, ON (where Hudson’s half brother, Ganuk, has been painting up a storm, and their huge dad, Inukshuk, had been residing, until his recent, temporary return to Toronto to spend time with his girlfriends) re-posted my initial Hudson post, and linked to my album of photos taken that last day.
Assiniboine Park Zoo, Hudson’s new home, did the same, and not only assured me that Winnipeg is ready to welcome the boy with open hearts, but they’ve been very good about posting pictures of his safe arrival, the announcement for his first day on display (Valentine’s Day!  How perfect!), and they even built a huge ice sculpture as part of his grand welcome!  How cool is that? Literally AND figuratively!
And the Toronto Zoo…they continue to meet and exceed any possible expectations I could have as a member, but this whole thing with Hudson has been a dream come true for me. A somewhat surreal dream that smells vaguely of fish and happiness, but a dream nonetheless.  I can never thank Jeff and the zoo enough for embracing me into their community a little bit, and it is our intention here at the Mind Reels to keep putting out the occasional post about the amazing experiences we have while we’re there.  ’cause don’t forget – the pandas are coming!!!
Hudson's mom, Aurora, and a reindeer
Hudson’s mom, Aurora, and a reindeer
Because there’s always something.  I learn something new with every visit, and sometimes I just have to write it all down and share it with everyone.
Disneyland is widely lauded as the Happiest Place On Earth and, to be sure, it is one of my very favourite places to be.  But, for Tim and I both, I think our most happy place really is the Metro Toronto Zoo.
Even without the polar bear cub of love.
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I don’t think I can ever properly convey my thanks to everyone at the zoo who rescued Hudson as a newborn and helped to raise him through the first year or so of his life.  Nor can I ever give enough thanks to Jeff Young for letting me be a part of the cub’s last day on display in Toronto.  It meant more to me than you’ll ever know, and more than helped to make saying goodbye to him so much easier than I thought it would be.
Though Hudson the Polar Bear Cub is most definitely missed here in Toronto – and not just by yours truly – I know we all wish him all the best in his new home.  Tim had to help me come up with a different route to take when we go to the zoo now, because Hudson was our first and last stop of every trip for nearly the past full year.  So some things will have to change, of course.  As they do.
But nothing – no amount of time nor distance – can change the fact that the Little Bear Cub Who Could has made an impression on my heart.  So much so that I may even find a way to go visit him again someday.  I’ve learned a lot about polar bears because of him, and one thing I learned is that they have an incredible sense of smell.  They can smell a seal exhale through a hole in the ice from a kilometer away, and go find that breathing hole to hunt down their next meal.  So, the way I figure it is that Hudson knows me now.  He caught my scent on that cold day in January when I feebly tried to throw treats his way.  He looked me in the eye and felt the love I’d been emanating toward him all year long.
And he totally went back and got those other two fish.  His tummy always wins. 🙂
Hudson can be seen starting TODAY (Happy Valentine’s Day!) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Tell him I said hello!
Fresh off his flight, Hudson arrives in Winnipeg, January 2013
Fresh off his flight, Hudson arrives in Winnipeg, January 2013
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