The Burka Avenger

August 18th, 2013 No comments
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A new superheroine has entered the heroes and villains landscape and she’s probably unlike any superheroine you’ve seen before.  Her name is Burka Avenger, and yes, she dons a burka to hide her identity while fighting evil-doers.  Her alter-ego is an unassuming teacher at a Pakistani all-girls school.  She uses her martial arts expertise to battle bad guys and her burka gives her the ability to soar.  Her weapons of choice are books and pens.

So far, two episodes have been released.  The release has been met with both praise and criticism.  Some are applauding the animated heroine’s efforts at fighting for girls’ rights to education, while others are appalled that the creator, pop star Haroon, chose to outfit his creation in what some charge is oppressive clothing.

Personally, I know I’ll never look at a burka the same way again.  If you’re interested in checking out the first episode, you can view it here (with English subtitles).

I’ve provided the trailer below.  What do you think?  Would you let you kids watch this show?  Do you think it should be criticized or praised?

Burka Avenger Trailer

M. xo

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Why I Don’t Have Children… Yet.

July 22nd, 2013 10 comments
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Since some of my previous posts dealing with my personal life seemed to have been a hit, I figured it was about time I wrote this one.  Apparently, the Interweb is full of voyeurs. This is yet another topic that I’d wanted to write for quite some time, but due to its sensitive nature I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it.  I’ve been asked about this a lot.  It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, it’s just that it might make other people uncomfortable – so, consider yourself warned.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m in my thirties and just a few short years from over the hill.  My hubby has already climbed that hill and will soon be exhibiting mysterious new superpowers known as grey power (we’re both curious as to what this much lauded power will bring, but that’s another post for another year).  We’ve been life partners for well over a decade now and do not have children.  Now anyone who knows anything about the female reproductive system knows that I am well past my prime child-bearing years.  I am now officially considered high-risk by the medical community.

Wedding Day

Wedding Day

Shortly after hubby and I officially tied the knot, we were besieged with questions from family and friends about the “pitter-patter of little feet”.  I found it strange considering hubby and I had already been together for eight years and our marriage was merely a formality (and a great excuse for an awesome party).  We actually had no intention of ever getting married, but decided it might be fun to get our families together – particularly since they had never met.  Hubby and I were committed to each other with or without a piece of paper.  We also felt strongly that we didn’t need to be married to have children.  I mean, we were both raised in some pretty eclectic family situations and we turned out alright.  I’ve also met more than my fair share of people who came from traditional family homes – and some of those people have a lot of issues.  So, clearly traditional marriage doesn’t always equate to the well-being of children.

Truthfully, for the first half of our relationship, having children wasn’t a priority.  In fact, we weren’t even sure we wanted to have children.  We would often talk about how we weren’t grown up enough yet to even consider it.  Then other conversations would revolve around just how much we enjoyed our life, the way it was.  We were both very career-oriented.  We were also having a lot of fun hanging out with friends, throwing dinner parties (or any party, just for the sake of having a party), going to concerts, and spending our money on things/experiences we could finally afford.  Yep, we were DINKS (Dual Income No Kids) and we were perfectly fine with that.  So for many years, the prospect of children wasn’t even on our radar.   We weren’t alone either.  Many of our friends also fell into this category.

Of course, there is something about babies and marriage that is rather contagious.  As wedding invitations began arriving like a landslide and newborns started gracing our extended family and friend network, hubby and I began having a more serious discussion about both.  Getting married seemed like a no-brainer.  So long as the wedding was conducted how we wanted, we couldn’t see a downside (except to the bank account, but it was well worth it).

Babies, however, that was a bit more complicated.  Neither of us believed that we needed children to start a family.  Hubby and I were a family – with or without children.  There were also a myriad of reasons not to have children.  This became particularly evident to us as we listened to many parents complain about lack of sleep, privacy, energy, money, time, etc., etc.  Of course, these complaints were always followed by “but, I wouldn’t change a thing.”  After a lot of discussion, hubby and I decided that if children blessed our life then we’d happily embrace it, however, we were both realistic.  We knew that given our ages, it might be difficult.  So, we also decided that if we couldn’t have children then we’d embrace that too.   That was seven years ago and the journey between then and now has been interesting.

Being a middle-aged couple without children often elicits some rather interesting behaviour, particularly from people who do have children.  The most common approaches are advice-giving, avoidance, and misconception (no pun intended on that last one).  The prospect of children seemed to elate our parents.  It began with my mother sprinkling magic fairy dust (i.e. glitter) on hubby at our wedding and reciting a blessed grand-babies chant.

Mom perform Blessed Grand-Babies Ritual on Hubby

Mom performs Blessed Grand-Babies Ritual on Hubby

If you’ve ever met my mother, this would not surprise you.  She’s a bit of free-spirit, to put it mildly.   In the months that followed, both of our mothers tag-teamed hubby and I with weekly phone calls to ask if there was “any news?”  Friends also got in on the action with similar questions.  Those who had had children offered up their tried and true methods to conceive.  These varied from various positions during sexual intercourse to certain rituals post-coitus (i.e. not peeing for an hour, lying for half an hour with feet propped up toward ceiling, climaxing immediately following ejaculation, etc, etc).  We were advised to have as much sex as possible – and told to save it up for our most fertile times.  I’m pretty sure we were given almost every possible piece of advice – and it was all a bit daunting to say the least.  Hubby and I graciously accepted their advice, but refused to become slaves to conceiving.  Part of the fun of having a baby is in making the baby, right?  So, why make it stressful with rules?  We carried on, in our usual fashion, while our family and friends overzealously offered advice.

It was probably a year or two after our wedding that we noticed the advice-giving began to subside.  Babies were rarely mentioned to us, and when news of a friends’ pregnancy was delivered to us, it was done so gently and decidedly unenthusiastically (I’m guessing this was so as to not offend us with such joyful news).  Whenever we were asked about babies, it was very cautiously and often followed by queries as to what kind of fertility assistance we had sought out.  We had not and for very good reasons.

As I previously mentioned, we did not want to become slaves to conceiving.  We had seen far too many people go to great extremes to have a child – which is commendable – but it was not an avenue we wanted to take.  Hearing stories of husbands carrying around pagers so as to be beckoned when the oven was hot, or wives injecting themselves with various hormones daily was not something either of us wanted to do.  Nope, if it was going to happen, it was going to happen the good old-fashioned way.  Others suggested that we simply get tested to see if it was something easy that could be fixed.  That was also not an option because testing also meant that we might find out that one of us was biologically responsible for our inability to conceive and neither of us wanted that guilt or potential resentment clouding our perfectly blissful relationship.  We decided we’d rather not know and just leave it be.  We even had friends offer to be surrogates or donate sperm (bless their hearts), but that wasn’t an option either.  Hubby and I hadn’t become a couple because we wanted to have babies; we became a couple because we loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  In the end that’s all that mattered.

As the years have passed and we have gotten older (and less likely to conceive), hope has diminished for those who have prayed, chanted, or wished that we would have had children.  While we are still faced with the odd bit of advice-giving or avoidance, we also saw a new behaviour emerge.  Given our age and the fact that hubby and I seemed quite content; people (usually those that we didn’t have a history with) made some interesting misconceptions about us.

Perhaps the most disturbing was that hubby and I didn’t like children.  Admittedly, there’s been a couple occasions that I’ve been a bit insulted by such an assumption, particularly given that I spent more than half my academic career studying child development and behaviour (which incidentally, no matter your academic/professional background, if you don’t actually have children – you have very little credibility with parents).  The other rather disturbing misconception revolves around adoption.  Adoption had always been on the table for us – even before we thought about having our own children.  I was raised by a man who is not my biological father, but he’s my Dad in every sense of the word.  I wouldn’t trade one second with him to have been raised by my “genetic donor”.  Hubby is an adopted child and his parents are his Mom and Dad.  There is absolutely no question about that.  There have been a few occasions when we have mentioned our intention to adopt that the response has been incredibly ignorant.  I once had someone say to me “you could never love an adopted child as much as you could your own flesh and blood.”  I challenge that person to say that to my Dad or hubby’s folks.  I also challenge that person to take a long hard look at the countless deadbeat parents who abandon their own flesh and blood.  Puts things in perspective doesn’t it?

Hubby and I have even been questioned with our desire to adopt older children, perhaps even siblings.  We’re told about the baggage they carry and that they wouldn’t integrate well into a new family, etc., etc.  No wonder these are the children that are considered unadoptable, if these are the kinds of things that are thought about them.  That would be our biggest reason for wanting to adopt though.  Shouldn’t these children have just as much of a chance to be happy?  For me, I can’t think of a greater gift than offering a stable home, love, and support to siblings that have had that uprooted – particularly given that siblings may be separated.  Why shouldn’t they have the chance to grow up together in a happy environment?

Whether hubby and I ever have natural or adopted children is a mystery.  I’m often reminded that I still have time to get pregnant, and while that may be true, my body isn’t what it was ten years ago.  Without a doubt, pregnancy at this point would be difficult.  That said, it’s still on the table, but there’s a lot more anxiety around that prospect now.

And what if we don’t have children?  Well, we’ll be spending a lot of time travelling and enjoying the company of family, friends and their children.  We’ve discovered that kids really enjoy spending time with us.  I think it’s probably because hubby and I feel blessed whenever we are in the company of children and this resonates with them.  They know that someone is paying them undivided attention and is enjoying their endless banter about nothing in particular and everything all at once.

So, there you have it.  That’s why I don’t have children… yet.  I certainly can’t speak for the experiences of many, many couples who deal with infertility.  Some do so quite tragically, while others rise above it and find a different purpose in life.  I’m not saying either is right or wrong, I’m just saying that we each can choose how to accept the cards that are dealt to us.  For hubby and me, that choice is to live in the here and now, to enjoy and be grateful for what we have, and to look forward to the possibilities of tomorrow.

Bliss

Bliss

M. xo

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Categories: Society and Culture Tags: ,

Creationism in Canada: Part 4

July 9th, 2013 4 comments
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Read part one, two, and three.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, Today

It becomes clear in reviewing some of Canada’s provincial and territorial curriculum guidelines that the issue of origin of life is far from settled.  Perhaps, most relevant is the fact that many curriculum outcomes begin by acknowledging that students and parents may have questions or oppose the scientific theories being put forth.  Some jurisdictions appear to concisely outline how these concerns should be addressed, while others leave much room for interpretation.  To date, however, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction to have an explicit policy banning creationist instruction.

On the topic of evolution, change, and diversity, the New Brunswick Ministry of Education’s curriculum guide states (bolding maintained):

“By the consideration of questions generated by students and teachers and the discussion of issues raised, various learning and assessment activities will meet specific curriculum outcomes within this section. The main focus of this unit falls within the realm of scientific inquiry and observation as it transposes from a historical to modern perspective on the scientific thought and techniques related to evolution, change and diversity.” (New Brunswick Department of Education, 2008, p. 13)

While the stated focus of the curriculum suggests that only scientific theories be considered, the verbiage does not explicitly omit theories that some Christian associations have claimed as scientific, such as those coming from Intelligent Design (ID) proponents.

In Ontario, the science curriculum is quite dense in terms of policies, procedures, and components.  One interesting section discusses “Antidiscrimination Education and Science.”  In it, the Ministry discusses “cultural sensitivities” regarding participation in various science classroom activities:

“There may be cultural sensitivities for some students in areas such as the use of biological specimens. For example, a number of religions have prohibitions regarding pigs. Although it is impossible to anticipate every contingency, teachers should be open to adjusting their instruction, if feasible, when concerns are brought to their attention.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 39)

The implications of this clause appear to leave room for the possibility of creation-science instruction, or at the very least, the forgoing of evolutionary instruction due to religious beliefs.  The latter is indeed the crux of many arguments for evolution education advocates who charge that Canadian students are simply not learning about evolution because teachers wish to avoid the controversy (Laidlaw, 2007).

Newfoundland and Labrador’s curriculum guideline merely provides suggestions for teachers as to how they should approach science studies (author added italics):

“Students should be aware that the topic of evolution is based on many different theories. Like all theories, there is no evidence that completely eliminates doubt. Since many of the topics relating to Earth origins, life origins, evolution, etc., may be addressed from various points of view, it is the suggested intent of this biology course to outline the topics from the scientific process approach. Teachers should be aware that many topics in biology, (and in medical research), especially evolution, may be appraised along the lines of personal value judgements, ethical assessments and religious beliefs. It should be emphasized that the purpose of learning about all views is so that the student can intellectually question each and make educated decisions about what s/he believes.” (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education, 2004, p. 118)

The italicized portions appear to carry the same essence as the original Origin of Life policy enacted by the Abbotsford School District.  While the above stated policy certainly doesn’t advocate equal time for creationist instruction, it does appear to permit such discussion and exploration.

For the most part, Canada’s education system seems to relegate evolution to upper year elective biology courses.  This means that the vast numbers of public high school students are graduating without ever learning about Darwin’s evolutionary theories.  Quebec is the only province to mandate elementary school teaching of evolutionary concepts (Halfnight, 2008).  Perhaps then, the critics are right.  Canada appears to draw less divisive lines between creationist and evolution instruction as is the case in the United States.

It’s important to this discussion to also point out that I’ve only surveyed the Canadian public school system.  There are many private schools across the country, most of them with strong religious ties and some of whom receive generous taxpayer subsidies, that are not necessarily bound by the same policies as those of the public system.  Similarly, across the country there are thousands of homeschooled children who are not necessarily restricted to provincial/territorial curricula.

In 2007, a group of Quebec Mennonites moved their families to a small town in Ontario.  They did so because the Quebec Ministry of Education had mandated that their small private school must adhere to the provincial curriculum, which included instruction on Darwin’s theory of evolution (Alphonso, 2007; Bergen, 2007).  As one reporter covering the story pointed out, “In Ontario, private schools are essentially seen as private businesses.  Schools […] don’t have to follow the provincial curriculum, and principals and teachers are not necessarily certified by the Ontario College of Teachers” (Alphonso, 2007, para. 5).

The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which opened in Alberta in 2007, helps provide resources for homeschooled children whose parents want them to learn a Biblically-inspired account of the origin of life.  In a CBC televised news report covering the opening of the museum, Mrs. G. Gee was interviewed about her interest in creation-science.  Alberta’s provincial curriculum requires that evolutionary theory is taught as fact, which contravenes her family’s beliefs.  As such, The Big Valley Creation Museum allows her the opportunity “to teach her children her truth” (as quoted in Dunn, 2007).

It appears then, that creation-science is afforded a platform in education systems in various jurisdictions – albeit one not overtly supported by public institutions.  In particular, various government bodies seem to avoid taking a hard stance on the issue.  Evidence for this claim also comes from a McGill University evolution researcher who was denied funding in 2006 to examine the occurrence of creation-science instruction in Canada’s schools (Halfnight, 2008; Laidlaw, 2007).  The Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the federal body that rejected the proposal, stated that there was not “adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design, was correct,” (as cited in Halfnight, 2008, p. 1).  Thus, creationism seems to be an issue that some government institutions would rather not bring into the public consciousness.  The refusal to fund such investigations speaks volumes to this being a hot-button topic best avoided. 

Concluding Remarks

Given Canada’s placid nature when confronted with controversial issues, it is not surprising that creation-science has been met with apathy.  Most disconcerting is that so many high school students are entering post-secondary institutions with either no knowledge or very limited knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  This is particularly worrisome for those students choosing undergraduate work in biological sciences.

It is doubtful that Canada will ever reach the polemical stratosphere of this debate that is seen in the United States.  While Canada and the United States do share a border, there are distinct differences that typify these two countries.  Canadians do not seem particularly prone to taking a hard stance on controversial issues.  Indeed, Canada seems more open to a variety of influences.  This may be why the country is often lauded for its cultural mosaic.  This seemingly more tolerant nature could then allow for a variety of viewpoints to be permitted in public settings, including those that may stem from religiously-motivated ones.  Examining the Abbotsford School District creation-science controversy seems to support the notion that Canadians don’t rally as a united front on issues that create controversy.  Rather, the tendency is for more localized protests by small grass-roots organizations.  Perhaps, then, this is why the creationist controversy in British Columbia received scant nation-wide media attention.

In addition, many jurisdictions in Canada offer parents the choice to provide their children with a science education that more appropriately aligns with their religious beliefs – despite the unscientific nature of those beliefs.  Private schools and homeschooling options are readily available across the nation.  In these settings, education is shaped by families and private organizations that clearly have an agenda – one which is most often rooted in religious ideology.  By allowing private institutions and individuals to shape education, Canada’s public institutions are still able to maintain secularity, while also affording its citizens certain rights and freedoms.  This seems to be the Canadian way.

The main crux of this issue though, is one in which Canada may be poorly represented on a global stage in the future.  If young Canadians are not keeping adequate pace with advancements in scientific theories that are widely accepted by the community, then they will invariably not be accepted as legitimate and relevant contributors to that community.  This may mean the loss of research and other scientific pursuits that can benefit not only Canadians, but also the wider global community.  Further, given the multitude of religious views in the world, it seems wise to avoid a particular theological brand of origin of life theory.  This is poignantly relevant for a country, such as Canada, that prides itself on cultural diversity.

Thus, Canadians should not passively allow religious ideology to inappropriately shape institutions and realms of which religion cannot adequately resolve.  Science classrooms should not be relegated to the domain of theology.  By ensuring that citizens are given appropriate opportunities to study the sciences, as they are generally accepted by scientific communities around the world, Canadians will be poised to continue to make great contributions to the industry.  In parallel, by also allowing citizens to continue to pursue sacred knowledge – outside the context of science classrooms – Canada will also be poised to continue as a country that values diversity and freedom of religion.  Admittedly, this is a fine balancing act.  Indeed, it is one that will continue to require refinement, particularly as the scientific paradigm evolves and concepts of religiosity change.  Silence concerning such issues is not an option.  Canadians, as a whole, need to be more actively engaged with the education of its youth and the future prospects Canada’s public school system will afford them on the global stage.

M. xo

Suggested viewings & readings:

References

Alphonso, C. (2007, September 4). Quebec Mennonites moving to Ontario for faith-based teaching. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-mennonites-moving-to-ontario-for-faith-based-teaching/article1081765/

Bergen, R. (2007, September 1). Education laws prompt Mennonites to pack bags; Quebec residents move to Ontario so kids can be taught creationism. Times – Colonist. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/348191325?accountid=9894

Dunn, C. (2007, June 5) A Canadian home for creationism. CBC News. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8hL2Vw1klI

Halfnight, D. (2008, September). Where’s Darwin? The United Church Observer. Retrieved from http://www.ucobserver.org/ethics/2008/09/wheres_darwin/

Laidlaw, S. (2007, April 2). Creationism debate continues to evolve. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/life/2007/04/02/creationism_debate_continues_to_evolve.html

New Brunswick Department of Education. (2008). Daily Teaching Guide Biology 122/121 [Curriculum Guide]. Retrieved from http://www.gnb.ca/0000/publications/curric/Biology122-121.pdf

Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education. (2004). Biology 3201 Curriculum Guide. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/k12/curriculum/guides/science/bio3201/outcomes.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 11 and 12 Science. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/2009science11_12.pdf

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 3

July 8th, 2013 2 comments
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Read part one and two.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1990s

In 1992, letters were circulated to Canadian school boards from Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) director, Robert Grieve, requesting that presentations be allowed in classrooms from creation science associations.  It was brought to the attention of the media that CSAC had been making routine presentations in Abbotsford schools for a number of years (Barker, 2004).  Several British Columbia news outlets published editorials, letters, and stories regarding the now hot topic of Abbotsford’s Origin of Life policy.  Most of these pieces were resoundingly negative.  Members of the public also began weighing in on the issue by addressing it with government officials.  The 1992 provincial Minister of Education, Anita Hagen, addressed some of these concerns with passive interest by suggesting that the policy be reviewed.  Interestingly, the Minister never formally addressed the Abbotsford School Board regarding the policy (Chahal, 2002).  Since no formal intervention was being carried out, a group of teachers and parents aided by a science teacher from outside the district, Scott Goodman began to covertly investigate the policy.  This examination led the Abbotsford Teachers’ Association to issue a request to the board to review and rescind the policy.  This request was ignored (Barker, 2004).

The Abbotsford creationism case reached its zenith in 1995.  It began in March when the local Teachers’ Association and the Organization of Advocates in Support of Integrity in Science Education (OASIS) represented by Scott Goodman, filed an appeal with then Education Minister, Art Charbonneau (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  In an interview with the press, Goodman argued that the appeal was not only about Christian fundamentalist attacks on science, but also concerning religious freedom and the government maintaining its secularity (Wood, 1995).  The Minister agreed with Goodman and the Teachers’ Association and sent a letter requesting assurances from the board that they were adhering to the provincial curriculum.  At the time of this request, the Abbotsford School Board was chaired by Trinity Western University professor, John Sutherland.  The Minister’s requests were not directly acknowledged, but Sutherland was vocal about the issue in local media outlets.  He accused the Minister of religious prejudice by attempting to remove creationism from the district (Chahal, 2002).

The board failed to respond appropriately to the Minister.  Charbonneau sent a second letter.  This time the letter set out distinct actions for the board to take and recommendations put forth by the Minister.  The board was directed to amend its Origin of Life Policy by June 16th, 1995 and cease creation-science instruction in science classes (Barker, 2004; Chahal, 2002; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995).  In an interview, Charbonneau suggested that the Board was, “trying to force teachers to put a religious theory on the same level as evolution in a science class,” (as cited in Wood, 2003, p. 14).

Sutherland rigorously defended the autonomy of the board and its position by making several statements in the local media.  His sentiments were, by and large, shared with many members of the board and community who felt that scientific dogmatism was hijacking the curriculum (Byfield & Byfield, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  Sutherland countered accusations that the board was attempting to bring theology into science classrooms by suggesting that learning different theories allowed students to hone critical thinking skills (Barker, 2004), and that only alternative ‘scientific’ theories were presented to students (Todd, 1995).  Sutherland also pointed out that the community supported creation-science instruction (Barker, 2004; Sweet, 1997; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995). In an interview following the controversy, Sutherland mused that:

[He] “would have been happy if students would simply have taken a look in biology class at the scientific data and the underlying hypotheses, including alternative schemes, and how different groups interpret the scientific data. Nobody disputes the scientific data. It’s the hypothesis that you use to explain the data that is under dispute, and the random, purposeless, evolutionary hypotheses are as untestable and as philosophical as any other. They’re a belief system. So where else but in science class could you look at scientific belief systems?” (as cited in Sweet, 1997, p. 210)

Despite objections to the Minister’s request, the Abbotsford School Board moved forward and drafted a new policy.  The draft of the new Origin of Life policy diverted from some of the propositions that Charbonneau had offered in his second letter to the board.  While it removed any reference to Divine creation, it appeared to leave a loop hole by allowing the teaching of alternative theories, without reference to what those theories were.  The revised policy read in part:

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspective of modern biology conflicts with the personal beliefs of some students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students that science is only one way of learning about life, and that other explanations have been put forth besides that of biological science. […] In order to promote critical thinking skills, students shall be encouraged to discuss the scientific pros and cons of the alternative theories without being criticized for their opinions.  Where other viewpoints are presented or discussed, teachers are encouraged to be aware of and to respect the personal beliefs of their students without promoting, through instruction, any one belief system.  This discussion would include the evidence/information both for and against the theories of the origins of our universe and life on our planet.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 138)

Despite the board’s attempts to satisfy the Minister’s request, the draft of the new policy was met with criticism.  Representatives from the BCCLA lobbied the board to disband the policy entirely, while Minister Charbonneau indicated that the policy required further clarification.  There appeared to be some concerns that the revised policy still made it possible for creation-science instruction to occur.  This seems to part of the motive for revisions to the policy.  The board had to comply with the Minister’s requests, but also wanted to satisfy the wishes of its constituency.

As the board moved forward with final revisions to the new Origin of Life policy, members of the public, from within and outside the community, began to mobilize their support of the board’s revisions.  Many of the arguments centered on their religious beliefs and feelings of Christianity being marginalized (Chahal, 2002).  Other supporters claimed that the media was polarizing and sensationalizing a non-issue.  Even some students in the district suggested that the issue was being blown out of proportion.  Yet, others who were firmly on the side of the Ministry suggested that fundamentalist Christian groups active in the region were attempting to impose their own brand of morality on others and that these tactics were not isolated to science classrooms (Wood, 1995).

With the final version of the new Origin of Life policy in place, the board forwarded it to Charbonneau and also obtained legal counsel to ensure the policy adhered to the School Act.  In July of 1995, Minister Charbonneau formally rejected the new policy stating that it was, “vague and open to various meanings,” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 149).  He further indicated that he would be forwarding specific guidelines to address the issue with all school boards in the province.  In his view, “[t]he science classroom is not a place to provide instruction or require discussion of religious dogma,” (as cited in Byfield & Byfield, 1995, p. 36).  Shortly after Charbonneau rejected the policy, the board’s legal counsel weighed in.  The Origin of Life policy contravened the School Act (Chahal, 2002).

Just in time for the start of another school year, Charbonneau informed the board of changes to the Biology 11/12 curriculum.  These changes were made to update the curriculum with respect to the School Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The updated curriculum specifically addressed creation-science theories.  A portion of the updated 2006 curriculum guideline maintains such a clause:

“Reconciling scientific discoveries (for example, in genetic engineering) and religious faith poses a particular challenge for some students. While respecting the personal beliefs of students, teachers should be careful to distinguish between knowledge based on the application of scientific methods, and religious teachings and associated beliefs such as creationism, theory of divine creation, or intelligent design theory.” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 10)

In addition to the aforementioned revisions, the new guidelines also made it a requirement for all curriculum components to be taught in grade 11 and 12 in order for a student to qualify for graduation (Chahal, 2002).  The board was ordered by the Minister to swiftly revise its policy in accordance with the updated curriculum or face penalty of dismissal and replacement by Ministry-appointed representatives (Sweet, 1997).

On September 14, 1995, the Abbotsford School Board drafted a new Origin of Life policy (author added italics):

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspectives of modern biology conflict with the personal beliefs of some of their students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students who have misgivings, that science is only one of the ways of learning about life. Other explanations have been put forth besides those of biological science. However, other viewpoints which are not derived from biological science are not part of the Biology 11/12 curriculum. Biology teachers will instruct only in the Ministry of Education curriculum. In the interest of critical thinking, however, it is vital that the teacher assure all students that they are entitled to have their views respected. Respect is best shown by allowing for an expression of those views, provided that any discussion or research is consistent with the content and objectives of the Biology 11/12 curriculum—that is, that they deal only with scientific evidence.” (School District No. 34, 1996, para. 2-3)

This policy, which was formally approved in early 1996, is still incorporated into the curriculum guide today.  It, and the aforementioned curriculum guide, are perhaps one of the most concrete and direct guides concerning science curricula and creation-science theories in the Canadian public education system.  It appears then, that the mid-1990s saw the end of discussion surrounding creationism in Canada’s public schools.

In tomorrow’s concluding post, I’ll explore Creationism in Canada’s public schools today by exploring some provincial education curriculum guidelines. 

M. xo

For more voices in this debate, check out:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

British Columbia Ministry of Education (2006). Biology 11 and 12 Integrated Resource Package 2006.  [Program of Studies].  Retrieved from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/pdfs/sciences/2006biology1112.pdf

Byfield, T., & Byfield, V. (1995, November 20). Religious dogma is banned in B.C. science classes to make way for irreligious dogma. Alberta Report/Newsmagazine, 36.

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

School District No. 34 – Abbotsford.  (1996). Origin of Life. [Curriculum Guide].  Retrieved from http://www.sd34.bc.ca/sites/default/files/7-140.pdf

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

Todd, D. (1995). Abbotsford teachers want Genesis out of Biology 11 class: Creationism stays, school chair insists. The Vancouver Sun.

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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Creationism in Canada: Part 2

July 3rd, 2013 3 comments
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Read part one here.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1970s

Creation science instruction was quietly introduced into some British Columbia science classes in the late 1970s.  Unlike the Abbotsford case, which received considerable media and government scrutiny, other districts enacting such policies received little attention.  Indeed, scant evidence exists that creationism was ever taught in public schools.

The Mission School Board introduced creation-instruction to its classrooms in 1976 (Chahal, 2002), but there exists little evidence to support rumours that creation instruction was taking place in other schools throughout British Columbia.  Further, the policy enacted by the Mission School Board garnered much less controversy than the Abbotsford case.  It is unclear as to why one board’s policy went virtually unnoticed, while another’s in the same province created a nationwide stir – particularly given that both boards enacted their policies within a few short years of each other.

Minutes from the Abbotsford School Board show that trustees brought the issue to the table in the late 1970s, perhaps at the behest of unofficial lobbyists, including parents and pastors in the region.  There is no further documentation that corroborates what, if any, action was implemented as a result of the issue being addressed by the board; however, additional board reports on creationism in elementary and secondary schools, and evidence of the purchase of several creationist materials around this time, suggest that the board may have acted upon these unofficial requests (Chahal, 2002).  Journalist, Lois Sweet (1997), who interviewed stakeholders embroiled in the controversy, posited that the school board had merely been addressing the wishes of constituents which consisted of many members of the Mennonite and Dutch Reform Church communities. The nature as to how the Abbotsford School District’s Origin of Life Policy came to fruition remains uncertain.  It is clear, however, that strong fundamentalist Christian advocates played a role in ensuring that creation-instruction would be entrenched in the school board’s science program for more than ten years.

Creationist ‘Truth Fish’

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1980s

In late 1980, an Abbotsford resident, Mr. H. Hiebert, began to a campaign to have more creationist materials available to teaching staff in the district.  Feeling that his requests to the board were not satisfactorily addressed, he approached local news outlets and urged residents to make the lack of creation-instruction a concern during the upcoming election of school board trustees (Chahal, 2002).  In early 1981, the Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) sent provincial Education Minister, Brian Smith, a petition with over 7000 signatures from concerned citizens regarding the lack of equal time for creationist theory and evolution theory in science classrooms.  Mr. Smith responded by suggesting that both theories could be of value for students to learn (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  The Education Minister’s comments created little more than a ripple of controversy at the time and were forgotten as quickly as they had been mentioned.

Around this same time, the Abbotsford School Board began the first draft of its Origin of Life policy.  The policy read in part:

“In view of the fact that neither the Divine creation nor evolutionary concepts of the origin of life are capable of verification by means of scientific experimentation, and because the teaching of one view of origins to the exclusion of the other view will almost certainly antagonize those parents and/or pupils who hold to the alternative view, all teachers, when discussing and/or teaching the origin of life in the classrooms, are requested to expose students, in as objective a manner as possible, to both Divine creation and the evolutionary concepts of life’s origins, with the evidence that is presented in support of each view, and to refrain from any assertions that would set forth either view as absolute.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 50).

In 1983, a majority vote made it a requirement that teachers refrain from teaching only the theory of evolution (Barker, 2004).  Further, teachers were instructed to teach both creationist and evolution theories in a few key classes, specifically Biology 11, 12 and Social Studies 7 (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  The application of this policy appears to be far less dramatic than the policy itself.  Textbook resources were made available to students who showed interest in creationist theories.  Many of these resources were from fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research.  In other instances, guest speakers from CSAC were invited to present in classes.  For the most part, however, teachers either avoided the topic of origin of life altogether, or briefly mentioned that some groups contested Darwin’s theory (Barker, 2004).   Fleeting media attention was directed at the policy and its application.  Almost a decade later, Abbotsford was thrust back in the media spotlight.

Stayed tuned for part 3 of 4 in my series on Creationism in Canada.  In Part 3, I’ll explore creationism throughout the 1990’s, once again focusing on Abbotsford, B.C. The final chapter of this series will explore creationism in Canada today, including an examination of some provincial science curricula and policies pertaining to creationist instruction.  

M. xo

Images from Wikipedia

Suggested Readings:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 1

July 2nd, 2013 2 comments
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If you enjoy studying how religion intersects public life, then you’ve no doubt encountered the sensational headlines from the United States concerning ongoing legal battles over the teaching of creationist theories versus evolutionary theories in public school science classrooms.  Now, many Canadians may think that we’re immune to this kind of controversy, but Canadian controversies tend to be more localized.  This means that when controversy brews, it doesn’t always make national headlines.  While creationist activity may not be as sensational as that which is seen south of the border, make no mistake – we’ve had our share of “Teach the Controversy” battles.  As part of my Honours work in Religion, I decided to investigate what, if any, creationist controversies have occurred in Canada. Over the following days, I intend to take you on a historical journey of creationism in Canada.  Much of what you will read is adapted from a paper I submitted towards my degree, and since that paper is rather long, I’ve decided to break it into smaller parts.  Before I begin, let me be clear that I support religious freedom.  I have no issue with teaching creationist theories; however, I do firmly believe that creationist theories should not be taught in science classrooms.  That said, I welcome your feedback (no matter which side of the controversy you support), but please keep it respectful.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

The Creation of Adam

Creationism in the United States: A Brief Overview

During the 1920s a small Tennessee town, Dayton, was on the cusp of financial ruin.  Local leaders and businessmen concocted a clever plan to inject some much need cash flow into the town coffers.  A recently passed state law had made it illegal for educators to teach the theory of evolution.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had advertised their intent to challenge the law by seeking out a teacher willing to be arrested for violating this new statute.  Enlisting local high school teacher, John Scopes, a group of Dayton businessmen contacted the ACLU to express interest in assisting in their legal challenge.  It was hoped that the presumed media spectacle might bring some fortune to their small town (Larson, 1997).  Beginning as an earnest attempt by civil servants to save their struggling town, the Scopes Trial became one of the most sensational and discussed trials in American history.

Scopes was found guilty and fined one hundred dollars for illegally teaching the theory of evolution – violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute (“America’s Difficulty”, 2009; Armenta & Lane, 2010).    It would be another four decades before these laws were repealed; however, the trial set in motion an ongoing debate about teaching evolutionary theories alongside Biblically-inspired creation accounts in science classrooms.  Since the Scopes Trial, there have been ongoing challenges in the United States regarding the validity of Darwin’s theory, but also the constitutionality of children being required to learn a theory that counters their religious beliefs.

The early years of legal challenges focused on the constitutionality of imposing religious views in public schools versus the autonomy of parents to provide an education to their children that was compatible with their own worldviews.  The inclusion of creationism in the curriculum was seen by some as a violation of the separation of church and state.  Others argued that by not providing equal time to creationist theories, religious students were being taught in an environment that was seemingly hostile to their religious beliefs. Time and time again, higher courts ruled that creationism could not be taught alongside evolution because creationism was dogmatic in nature and essentially brought religion into the public school system (Armenta & Lane, 2010).

Of Pandas and People is widely considered the first textbook on intelligent design (ID)

More recent legal challenges have shifted to focus on alternative ‘scientific’ theories rather than divinely-inspired ones.  Intelligent design (ID) has emerged from the ashes of earlier creationism challenges.  Proponents claim that ID is a valid alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution and have lobbied to have it included in science curricula.  To date, several higher courts have ruled that ID is nothing more than creationism in the guise of science (Armenta & Lane, 2010; Moore, Jensen, & Hatch, 2003).  A 2005 verdict stemming from a case that saw a group of parents challenge Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District’s recently amended curriculum requiring ID be taught alongside evolution, suggested that ID was essentially a secularized version of creationism (Cameron, 2006).  The judge in the case sided with the parent’s group in an effort to uphold the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Clearly, the American judicial system has repeatedly turned to the Constitution in this matter.  Due to the strict separation of church and state within the United States’ civic doctrine, it seems reasonable and feasible for this to be accomplished.  Canada, however, does not have such finite divisions between church and state entrenched in its laws (Noll, 1992).  While the Charter of Rights does provide protections to citizens, it does not explicitly outline divisions between faith and politics.  Despite this, Canadian politics do not seem to be overtly intertwined with religion.  On the surface, Canadians seem less preoccupied or concerned about religious influences on government or public institutions.  This has meant that any religious controversies, similar to those in the United States, have remained largely unnoticed.  This lack of public scrutiny has enabled religiously motivated policies to penetrate various public institutions without the similar fanfare that has greeted such policies in the United States.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools

Profile: Abbotsford, BC

Abbotsford, British Columbia is a city located about 60 kilometers outside of Vancouver, and is the site for Canada’s most controversial creationism case.  A profile of this community depicts it as a deeply religious one in the heart of British Columbia’s Bible belt.  It is neighbour to Trinity Western University (a private conservative Christian institution), as well as a number of evangelical churches, Bible colleges, and private religious schools (Barker, 2004; Wood, 1995).  During the time of this controversy, Abbotsford’s population consisted of a large Mennonite community, many Western European immigrants, and the highest number of Christian conservatives in the province (Barker, 2004).

Historically, Abbotsford has been involved in numerous religious controversies.  In 1977, 300 students walked out of a local high school to protest the principal’s instatement of compulsory daily prayer and scripture readings.  A few years later in 1980, the Abbotsford School Board defied a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down mandatory daily prayer in public schools. In 1995, the library board was accused of attempting to ban a newspaper whose target demographic was the homosexual community (Barker, 2004).  More recently, the school board has been embroiled in controversies surrounding the refusal to allow a Social Justice course to be taught at high schools due to concerns from the religious community over its content which included issues such as homophobia (“Gay-friendly course halted,” 2008).  Late last year, the school district was one of three under review for policies that allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to students (Steffenhagen & Baker, 2012).  The aforementioned are just some examples of the religious controversies that have taken place in the community.  It is little wonder that the community has been recognized as highly religious, or that the inclusion of creation science in public school science curricula remained largely uncontested for over a decade.

In part 2, I’ll explore creationism in Canada throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s (with a special focus on the Abbotsford creationism controversy, itself).Oh, and in case you’re wondering where I retrieved my information, you’ll find a complete reference list below.

M. xo

Suggested Readings:

 

References

America’s difficulty with Darwin. (2009, February). History Today, 59(2), 22-28.

Armenta, T. & Lane, K. E. (2010). Tennessee to Texas: Tracing the evolution controversy in public education. The Clearing House, 83, 76-79. doi:10.1080/00098651003655811

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Cameron, A. (2006). An utterly hopeless muddle. The Presbyterian Record, 130(5), 18-21.

Gay-friendly course halted by Abbotsford school board. (2008, September 21). The Vancouver Sun.  Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=b02d8037-a563-417a-9cd5-31146a42fb6e

Larson, E. J. (1997). Summer for the gods: The Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moore, R., Jensen, M., & Hatch. J. (2003). Twenty questions: What have the courts said about the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools? BioScience, 53(8), 766-771.

Noll, M. A. (1992). A history of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Steffenhagen, J., & Baker, R. (2012, November 8). Humanist wants Abbotsford School District scrutinized for Bible distribution. Abbotsford Times. Retrieved from http://www.abbotsfordtimes.com/news/Humanists+want+Abbotsford+School+District+scrutinized+Bible+distribution/7520217/story.html

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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About a Cat: Part 4

June 21st, 2013 No comments
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Admittedly, I struggled with writing this final chapter (hence the lengthy time between posts).  Saying good-bye is never easy, and saying good-bye to Si has been particularly difficult for me.  Compounding that pain, is the insecurity that accompanies outward displays of emotion toward a beloved pet.  This is why I initially hesitated to write this story.  Would anyone understand?  Or would people think I’m just some crazy cat lady?  I’m guessing it’s a bit of both.  To those of you who have followed this story, and encouraged me to keeping going – thank you.  Read part one, two, and three of this story.  

Si in here typical regal pose (Photo Credit: Jane Chartrand)

Regal Si (Photo Credit: Jane Chartrand)

Si’s final years were bittersweet, and proved to be some of the most difficult and rewarding years with my feline companion.  Old age slowly came for Si.  Unhealthy habits also began to take a toll on her body.  Si was relatively healthy for most of her life, but her love for treats and kibble meant that she gradually became quite the fat (okay, obese) cat.  Admittedly, she was lazy too.  She preferred napping and bathing to playing and climbing.  She was meticulous about grooming herself.  She’d often stop mid cat-spat to clean her paws, then continue with ‘fur’tastic defeat of any feline daring to challenge her.  I’m pretty sure she had a touch of feline OCD.  So, it became rather disconcerting when Si began to have trouble accessing those hard to reach places when bathing.  Trust me, there is nothing more undignified for a cat (except forcing her to wear doll clothes) than having to have their bum wiped because they missed a spot.  If Si wasn’t clean, she wasn’t happy.  And by now you all know what happened when Si wasn’t happy.

After consulting a vet, Si was put on an all wet food diet.  Now I don’t think there was a happier cat than Si when she started her new diet because she loved wet food.  Admittedly, we were concerned this new diet would be expensive on the pocket book.  By this time, we had three cats and feeding time was somewhat of a circus.  All the cats had to be put on the same diet. Our vet at the time was an amazing young woman who had recently graduated.  She was enthusiastic and quite sincere about any concerns we had, including financial ones.  She assured us it wouldn’t be that much of an increase in financial commitment, but that it would have enormous benefits for all our cats.  She was right. The cats actually started eating less because the wet food was much more filling and nutritious than kibble. With relative ease, Si gradually shed five of her eighteen pounds.  Hubby and I also gained a wealth of knowledge that would have a positive impact on all the cats we cared for in the future.  That was another sacrifice Si had to unintentionally make.  As the first pet, she would also be the one to teach us how to be great pet caregivers.  Si may have been a cat, but she was also a bit of guinea pig.

Sooty Si

Sooty Si

In 2007, hubby and I bought our very first home.  This would be Si’s last time moving with me.  The new house was incredibly spacious compared to the two bedroom apartment we’d been living in for several years.  There were three levels which meant that technically each of our cats could lay claim to a floor.  Of course, that never happened.  Si simply expanded her dominion.  Like any good conqueror, Si familiarized herself with the new landscape, including the wood-burning fireplace.  Being curious and daring, Si decided to climb inside to investigate.  Neither hubby nor I noticed until she emerged covered from head to tail in soot.  She was dirty, and not impressed.  If you recall, Si was not overly fond of anyone bathing her – including me.  She had been dunked into a bathtub a few times in her life, but it always unleashed ‘cat’-ankerous fury.  It took days for her fur to return to its glistening white, and Si never went into that fireplace again. Come to think of it – none of the other cats ventured into that fireplace either.  That was just like Si – leading by example.  Or more appropriately: Do as I say, not as I do.

Si lived the first few years in our very first house filled with contentment unlike any I’d seen her have before.  The sheer size of the house was a welcome respite for Si.  If either of the other cats became too bothersome, she simply retreated to the comfort of another room.  She had already claimed as her own the comfiest spots in practically every room of the house.  Yep, she was living the good life.  She had a kingdom far greater than any before, an undefeated reign over her subjects, the best food money could buy, and a backyard big enough to grow a lifetime supply of catnip.  Stability, order, and security had finally been obtained.  Life was perfectly blissful. That’s when Si began to let go.

Lounging Si

Lounging Si

It started when she no longer came upstairs to bed with us.  Instead of an ordeal involving many stairs and a tall bed, Si opted for the comfort of her own bed on the more reasonably located main floor.  That was our first sign that she was succumbing to the symptoms of arthritis.  She also began to get sick more often, and had to periodically take medication for various ailments.  The vets suspected that she was in the first stages of kidney failure.  We often found ourselves having to clean up after accidents because stairs were becoming a difficult task, leading Si to periodically fail to make it down to the basement litter box in time.  Each accident would inflict incredible indignation on Si.  It is, after all, most undignified for royalty to be caught by her subjects in such an embarrassing happenstance.  Eventually, we accommodated her needs by ensuring she didn’t have to make the trek if she didn’t feel up to it.

It wasn’t easy and at times I found myself questioning why I was keeping her alive, but she seemed happy.  She still came for her treats every night and ate well.  Her eyes were bright and her fur glistening, so I figured if she was going to put up with the pain of arthritis and still be happy – then I’d put up with the occasional accident and cost of medication.  I did, after all, commit to her ‘for-life’.  I also figured I’d know when it was time and it didn’t feel right just giving up on her.  I’m not going to lie –  those last years were tough.  There were many burdens – emotionally and financially, but there were also many rewards.

We knew something was seriously wrong when Si began to walk away from treats offered to her.  I had never, in over seventeen years, seen that cat reject a treat.  From there, Si quickly deteriorated.  She’d often sit and wait to be carried up or down stairs.  Within a few short weeks, Si stopped leaving the basement.  Then one morning we noticed Si in a state of distress, panting and urinating blood.  Normally, this would result in an emergency trip to the vet, but we had been through this several times before.  Si’s kidneys were slowly shutting down.  One day they would just stop working, but with each ‘scare’ we couldn’t help but wonder if it was time.  We called our vet and requested a house call, and then prepared to say good-bye.  This time was different.  It felt ominous.

Si ended up being with us for almost two weeks after that house call. She hadn’t quite been ready to go.  So, Si came home and was lavished with adoration fitting of royalty. In that time, Si was made as comfortable as possible to live out her life (whether that be mere days, weeks, or months was anyone’s guess).  Si bounced back like a champ and was her normal treat-devouring self for several days.  Kali spent time simply lying at a comfortable distance next to Si.  Hubby and I also spent much time on the floor with Si peacefully purring on one of our laps.  Then one day, Si just stopped getting up.  When she tried, she would simply stumble and fall.

We took Si to the vet who remarked on her incredibly low blood pressure, particularly for a cat in an unfamiliar vet clinic.  She also noted the change in disposition to the cat that she had met two weeks earlier.  As the vet was performing her examination (including copious amounts of poking and prodding), Si curled up on the table and went to sleep.  I’d never seen my Devil Cat be so mellow – so at peace.  I reached over, gave Si’s head a scratch and asked, “Are you trying to tell us something?”  Si continued to sleep softly.  That was really the only sign I needed to know that Si would not be coming home.

Peaceful Si

Peaceful Si

I’m not going to lie, when it happened I bawled like a baby.  I tear up now just thinking about it.  The following day I woke up and numbed my pain by scrubbing the basement from top to bottom.  The day after that I broke down completely and stayed in bed all day, even missing work.  Our other cats also grieved in their own curious ways.  Kali began sleeping in Si’s spots and taking over duties formally performed by Si (such as the nightly harassment of hubby for treats).  Bijoux spent an entire day wandering the house, stopping to periodically vomit.

I had always known that it wasn’t going to be easy to say good-bye to Si, but I never realized just how much it was going to effect me.  Although, I’d had other cats come and go – Si was different.  She had been a faithful companion for almost eighteen years.  She had moved with me when I left my parents’ home to begin my life.  She had been with me as I experienced the awkward journey of becoming an adult.  She was there for the very best and very worst of my memories.  Si and I had been together longer than hubby and I. Although it sounds clichéd, it really did feel like losing a part of my self.

Many months later I still feel an emptiness and, on occasion, I see a streak of grey and white fur pass by my peripheral vision.  Some days I wake up and expect to hear tiny tippy-toes and puss-patties pacing impatiently for food, or the unexpectedly dainty mew trilling from a beast of a cat.  Then, there are days like today – days where the bitterness of loss is triumphed by the sweetness of memory.

A girl and her cat...

A girl and her cat…

M. xo

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About a Cat: Part 3

June 10th, 2013 No comments
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Read part one and two of this story.

Over the years, Si had to learn to adapt to living with several different cats.  Each time a new cat joined our family, Queen Si managed to keep her place on her throne.  There were periods of adjustment.  These usually entailed several weeks of sleep being hijacked by the blood-curdling screams of feline warfare.  Despite the odds, Si always emerged from the battlefield victorious.  Within weeks, Si would once again be leading the daily line-up for rations and coveted treats.

Queen Si atop her throne

Queen Si atop her throne

In 2005, our two-cat household instantly became a seven-cat household when we decided to adopt a fluffy and precocious stray that had been found in an abandoned refrigerator in the front foyer of our apartment building.  I suppose a start like that deserves a bit of an explanation.  Our landlord had been storing an old fridge and stove in the foyer of the building.  On his usual Monday morning visit, he noticed that the door of the refrigerator was shut tightly instead of propped open as he had left it. Upon opening the door, a shell-shocked – but, very thankful – cat leapt out from inside.  Now, the landlord had a bit of a soft spot for animals, especially cats.  He’d been known to let strays live in some dilapidated sheds in the backyard, and he proudly claimed to have rescued well-over sixty cats by whisking them away to a nearby shelter in his beat-up Cadillac chariot.

There was something about this stray, however, that made the landlord wait before taking her to the shelter.  She certainly was a beautiful cat, and her demeanour was perfectly Zen.  He figured she must have belonged to someone and wanted to try and find the cat’s owners.  There was an empty apartment in the building, so he set up the cat with its very own pad and enlisted the help of hubby and me to care for it.  Within a couple days, we had named her Bijoux and had decided that we’d like to adopt her if no one stepped forward to claim her.  So, that’s how Si gained a new sister – but, it wasn’t until a couple weeks later that we discovered that Bijoux was carrying four little ones who would soon shake up the homestead.

Mama Bijoux and the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee (2005)

Mama Bijoux and the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee (2005)

Si, and her brother, Buddy (a stray who had moved with us from another city) soon found their quiet home invaded by the mischievous antics of Mama Bijoux and the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee.  Peanut, KatStevens, Screech, and Tink arrived in early February of 2005.  Now, Si had never spent any time around kittens – and she wasn’t too fond of chaos.  True to any great leader, Si valued order and stability.  As if sensing the potential danger from Si, Bijoux gave birth in our bedroom.  So, it was easy to keep Si away from the kittens when they were too small to even have a chance of defending themselves.  Once the kittens started getting more agile (and subsequently using us as unwitting jungle gyms in the middle of the night), we relocated them into the living room.  This was Si’s first paw-to-paw introduction with a miniature feline.  The kittens learned relatively quickly to avoid the big, grouchy one.  It only took one kitten’s curious advances toward Si, followed by a swift thud of the kitten’s head bouncing off the floor, for all the kittens to get message.  It was a knock-out, and Si continued her reign as the heavy-weight (literally) champion.  Eventually, stability and order was restored when the kittens found new homes.

Si had never really bonded with another animal, despite having lived with well over a dozen different cats.  Most cats learned very quickly to steer clear of Si.  Si was untouchable.  There would be no feline-to-feline cuddle sessions and if any cat dared to try and clean her, they were met with a deep growl and swift smack upside the head.  Yep, Si was a loner for all intents – that was until a spunky little stray named Kali joined our family.  Kali showed up in our backyard one day while we were barbecuing.  This oh-so-tiny stray cautiously approached, clearly looking for something to eat.  It was easy to tell that she was starving.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get close to her.  So, we tossed her morsels of food which she graciously devoured while keeping a suspicious eye targeted on both of us.

View from an office window

View from an office window

The next day while I was working in my home office, Kali came strolling along a fence outside my window, sat down and watched me.  I guessed she was wondering when we were coming outside for dinner time again.  So, I put out some kibble and water, and later that evening hubby and I constructed a make-shift house in the backyard for her. For several weeks we dutifully refilled Kali’s food and water dishes and tried to socialize her so that we could take her to a shelter.  Of course, it was during this time that we grew a fondness for her.  We also began to suspect that she had been horribly abused by her previous ‘caregivers.’  That’s when we decided that we couldn’t take a chance by letting her be adopted by a stranger who might not give her the same quality of care that we knew we could.  And besides, she was warming up to us – particularly hubby who you’ll recall is somewhat of a Cat Whisperer.

It was during an evening when we were taking our cats for a check-up at the vets that hubby looked out back and saw Kali laying down in her make-shift house while the rain poured down around her.  Hubby looked at me and said, “Can we keep her?”  Admittedly, I was reluctant because we had just lost a cat and also just said good-bye to the last member of the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee.  I swear Kali heard hubby’s plea because when I looked outside at her, she was looking directly at me with such haunted eyes that there was no way I could reject hubby’s pleas. “If you can get her into a cage and to the vets for a check-up, we can keep her.”  I’m pretty sure hubby was out the door with cage in hand before I even finished my sentence.  Astonishingly, Kali climbed right into the cage.  To this day, I’m sure she planned the whole thing.  So after a visit to the vets, Kali came home.

Kamikaze Kali

Kamikaze Kali

Now Kali isn’t the smartest kitten of the litter – or at least that’s what she wants you to think.  So, when she met Si she didn’t quite understand that it wasn’t a sign of affection when Si swatted her across the head.  Kali was relentless with Si.  She clearly understood that Si was the alpha cat, and she seemingly wanted to be her right-hand feline.  Wherever Si would go, Kali was in tow.  When Si would fall asleep, Kali would quietly nuzzle up next to her.  On more than one occasion Si would wake up from a slumber to see this unrelenting cat peacefully curled up beside her – TOUCHING HER NO LESS.  And each time Si would have this “WTF?!?” expression on her face.  She would hiss and quickly retreat from Kali, yet when next she fell asleep, Kali would be right back at it trying to win over the Devil Cat. I’m pretty sure that Kali crossed the line when she decided to start bathing Si.  Si would have none of that and she’d lunge at Kali pinning her down so she knew that was NOT OKAY.  Kali was also always trying to play with Si.  Kali was a kitten after all, but Si was well into old age and play time was a rare and short occurrence.

Kali and Si (2010)

Kali and Si (2010)

For the most part, Si grew to tolerate and even like Kali. I would wager to say that Kali was Si’s only feline friend.   If you’ve ever seen the Looney Tunes episodes featuring the big tough bull dog, Spike and the scrappy annoying little dog, Chester – that was Si and Kali.   Yes, Kali annoyed Si, but she also gave Si purpose again.  Si changed Kali, too.  Slowly, Kali began to learn how to toughen up and not be so fearful of every noise or person.  It was after Si passed away that these qualities began to emerge more vibrantly from Kali.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of Si’s story in About a Cat…

M. xo

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About a Cat: Part 2

June 7th, 2013 No comments
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If you missed Part 1 of this story, read it here.

Preston, an albino rat, chillaxin' in a hoodie.

Preston, an albino rat, chillaxin’ in a hoodie.

After almost three years of living within the turbulent waters of alcoholism, I abandoned ship.  Before I could prepare for my new journey, boyfriend and I had a custody dispute over the various pets in our care.  In addition to Si, we had raised several pet rats.  Anyone who’s ever had a pet rat will know the kind of joy they can bring – if you can get over the idea that your pet is much maligned rodent.  I knew there was no way boyfriend was going to let me leave with all the pets, so my main focus was to remove Si from that environment.  After much ‘negotiation,’ boyfriend agreed to let me take Si and in exchange he could keep the rats and various mutual gifts bestowed to us as a couple.  Frankly, he could have kept everything I owned so long as I could walk out of there with Si in my arms.

It was with the prospect of a brighter horizon, that Si and I embarked on new adventures.  For a few years, we lived a nomadic existence, cohabitating with various different people and furry friends (or foes, if you asked Si).  During this time, Si was faithfully by my side.  At times, her loyalty was a tad overbearing.  Visitors were generally considered an imposition on her time with me.  If I was engaged in conversation with a friend, Si would jump into my lap, bite my arm and then lay down with laser eyes trained on said friend.  I couldn’t really blame her, could I?  She was highly suspicious of everyone – but, mostly men.   Admittedly, I was also covered in the residue of my previous relationship.  A dark cloud had formed around me as I engaged in the self-blame game of a failed relationship and flunking out of college.  For a gal who had always excelled academically (and incidentally won an award the same year she flunked out ), seeing those glaring Fs had greatly contributed to my deflating self-esteem.  Si was reacting by becoming more protective of me.

Laser-eyed Si

Laser-eyed Si

On two occasions I had to leave Si in the care of others. I was again bewildered by this feline’s unwavering loyalty.  I left her in early 1998 with my housemates while I travelled to another city to find a job and a new place to live.  During this time an ice-storm blanketed the region and knocked power out for days.  People were freezing in their homes.  My housemates had desperately tried to get Si to leave my freezing bedroom and warm up in an area being heated by a gas stove.  Si refused to budge.  She waited in my bedroom for weeks for me to return.  Cold or no cold, she wasn’t leaving.

About a year later, I had to once again leave Si with my housemates.  I was gone for a month, but I knew Si was in the care of someone who understood her.  Si was being watched by my best friend and they had a good (as good as it could be with Si) relationship.  In fact, I always said that no one, but me, could ever take care of Si – except my best friend.  She knew what we had both been through and Si seemed to sense that she was on our side.  I was racked with guilt for leaving her for so long once again.  Upon my return,  my best friend went into the living room and said, “Wusser-Si, your Mommy’s here.” Si jumped down from the couch and ran over to me while meowing jubilantly.  It was one of the most moving displays of affection Si had ever shown me. It was as if she had been waiting for me to come get her – as if she knew I would return.

Several months went by as Si and I lived in a tiny bachelor apartment completely on our own.  During this time, Si would frequently accompany me on trips back to my home town.  She would happily sit in the back window of the car for the long journey.  Her eyes would dilate the size of saucers as she watched the lights of other vehicles pass by.

On one such visit, I took Si to my Grandpa’s house.  Grandpa wasn’t very fond of cats.  Apparently, many years earlier, he had had a terrible encounter with a feline that scarred him for life.  So when I walked in with Si cradled in my arms, he – in his often colourful language – asked, “What the hell is that and why the fuck are you bringing it into my house?”  Now my Grandpa was tough on the outside, but when it came to his granddaughter, he was a big softy.  I simply told Grandpa that where I went, Si went.  I freed Si from my arms and she merrily went about her business investigating the house, all the while my Grandpa kept a close eye on the beast.

During that same visit, Si met my childhood pet, Dravecky.  Dravecky was an iguana that had been with our family for years.  He had free reign of the house and was full of the equivalent of ‘cat-itude’ – we’ll call it ‘iguan-itude’.  My mother had to frequently scold him for sneaking up onto the kitchen table and eating her breakfast when she had her back turned.  Dravecky was also known to stand off with anyone who happened to encounter him in the upstairs hall.  Much like Si, Dravecky was the boss of his house.  Now, when I say iguana you might be tempted to picture those cute little reptiles found in terrariums of pet stores.  No, you see, Dravecky was over ten years old and he hadn’t been caged for his entire time with us.  He was a large domesticated lizard.  It often took the power of two grown men to subdue him, when the need called.  Assuredly one whip from his tail would have seriously injured Si.  So, naturally I was nervous about how the two would get along.  Of course, those nerves were unwarranted because, well, Si was the boss not only in her own home, but in any home she entered.  So for three days and nights, poor Dravecky stayed perfectly still on his perch high enough up that Si couldn’t reach him.  The only thing that moved on that lizard was his eye which was trained on Si like a sniper’s rifle.  I’m not sure that Si even noticed that there was another animal in the house.  It’s more likely that she just didn’t care.  So long as the other beast knew its proper place.

Stu hanging out on top of Dravecky.

Stu hanging out on top of Dravecky.

That’s how Si was with any animal she encountered.  Several years later when my Dad would bring his large dog, Valentine to visit, Si would be the only cat in the household to venture into the same area as Valentine.  She’d walk right up to Valentine and hiss, and then promptly walk away.  You know, just to make sure the dog knew its place too.  That was Wusser-Si – absolutely no fear.  While other cats were cowering during thunderstorms, she’d be calmly bathing herself and (I imagine) laughing on the inside at their foolishness over a little storm.

While Si and I were living in that tiny bachelor apartment,  I met my future husband.  That’s when life started to change for both of us.  It began when I had to make a decision I wish I never had too.  It was with much hesitation that I had to have Si de-clawed when she was approaching the age of five years old.  Now anyone who knows a thing about cats knows this is a very painful experience for felines – particularly the older they get.  It’s tantamount to a human having their finger removed at the knuckle.  I made this decision after consulting a vet about her behaviour.  Si had been getting more aggressive, much of it I imagined had to do with my highly neurotic state.  The vet simply stated that I had two choices, put her down or de-claw her.  For the record, I am against de-clawing of cats and none of the other cats I’ve had over the years have ever been de-clawed.  With Si though, I felt like I had no choice.  Her early (and formative) years had been spent in the company of a violent alcoholic, and this had clearly left her on the defensive – particularly toward men.  She never took to any of the subsequent boyfriends I had, and became quite aggressive when I started dating my husband-to-be.  I think she sensed I was falling love, which meant sharing my affection with another.  Si was never very good at sharing.

Even the dreaded vacuum was no match for the Wusser-Si.  It was just another day at the spa.

Even the vacuum was no match for Si. It was just another day at the spa.

Ironically, hubby was perhaps the kindest and gentlest man I had ever been acquainted with, so it was quite disconcerting when he would sleep over and be attacked in the middle of the night by a very jealous and protective cat.  As hubby recounts, Si would sit at the end of the bed and wait for his feet to dangle over.  Then she would raise her paw, unsheathe each claw one after the other, and let the moonlight glisten on them before swiping full throttle at his feet.  True to his nature though, hubby didn’t lash out at Si.  Instead he began to gain her trust (through copious amounts of soft food, treats, and ear rubs).  So, when I decided to once again live with a man, I made the heart-wrenching decision to have Si de-clawed.  It was not only so my hubby (who is also allergic to cats) could live without fear of being maimed, but because we were talking about having children.  There were just far too many what-ifs where Si was concerned.  I wasn’t about to end her life just because she was overprotective.  That wasn’t her fault.  So, I opted for the lesser of two evils.  If  kids ever blessed our life, we would reassess the situation to see how Si would adjust.  In the meantime, hubby’s feet needed a break from the nightly bombardment of Wusser-Si lashings.

Surprisingly, Si took to the de-clawing rather well.  She simply learned how to defend herself in other ways.  So, when we adopted another cat, Si was still boss of the house – even without claws.  She stayed boss of the house right up until the day she died.  We’ve had several cats throughout the years, and none of them could topple Queen Si from her throne.  It was impressive, indeed to watch her puff up and growl at the newest additions – and then see them roll over and expose their bellies.  It was like some weird feline Jedi mind trick.

Nap-time Si

Nap-time Si

Si also took to hubby.  A friend who hadn’t seen Si in years (and who had once lived with Si) was amazed at Si’s demeanor when she came to visit us.  That’s when hubby got the moniker, ‘Cat Whisperer’.  Whether it was the treats or constant ear rubs, Si loved hubby.  She had him trained in no time too.  Every night at 6 pm promptly, she would paw at hubby incessantly until he relented and gave her treats.  We once decided to see how long she would paw at him for her treats.  After an hour and half, hubby caved.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Stayed tuned to find out what happens when Si lives with four pesky kittens, (reluctantly) bonds with another cat and finds peace in the final years of her life…

M. xo

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About a Cat: Part 1

June 6th, 2013 1 comment
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Let me preface this post by suggesting that if you’re the kind of person who views pets as property rather than a member of the family, then you probably will want to stop reading now. Oh, and I’ll also forewarn you that this is a long story – I’ve got 18 years of stories to share. That said, I’ve decided to break it up into smaller posts.

This is about a cat – a cat that brought much joy, and admittedly, challenges to my life.  Today she would have turned 18 years old, but it was with great sadness that on November 9th of last year, that I had to say good-bye to my beloved feline companion, Osiris Maxwell – or Si, as most everyone called her.  This is a tribute to a cat that was with me during the most tumultuous times of my life – a cat that faithfully stayed by my side when my world seemed to be crumbling around me.  Whoever said dogs are the most loyal of pets, never met the Wusser-Si (my affectionate name for her).

It was in 1995, when I left home to pursue post-secondary studies that an almost two-decade bond with this larger than life feline began.  I had always wanted a cat.  Sure, we had cats growing up.  It’s just that those cats never seemed to stick around that long.  It might have had something to do with a kindly neighbour woman who liked to feed neighbourhood pets, and subsequently lure them into her own home with the promise of tasty morsels; or perhaps, it was because I was obsessed with dressing my cats up in doll clothes when I was a kid (which I later learned is a most undignified state for a feline).  For the most part, my childhood pets consisted of the non-furry variety: fish and lizards. So, I remember thinking that I could finally have any pet I wanted now that I was moving into my very own home.  I knew it was going to be a cat, and I knew that I was going to have that cat for its entire life because I felt strongly (and still do) that a pet is a ‘for-life’ commitment.

Baby Si

Baby Si (1995)

I met Si when she was only a few weeks old.  I instantly fell in love with the little grey and white spitfire of a kitten who hissed at me when I approached her.  Challenge accepted, I thought.  At the time, we all thought Si was a male which is why she ended up with a masculine name.  It was in August of 1995 that I packed up my belongings, picked up Si and headed east to my new home town. Si instantly took to her new home and house mates.  She delighted in all the attention she received, particularly from me.  Soon she was by my side or in my lap whenever she wasn’t eating or playing.  It became clear early on that she was full of ‘cat-itude’.  She ran the household and anyone living in it was there to serve her.  She did what she liked, when she liked and if Si didn’t like you, you’d find out.  What’s more, if I didn’t like you or was mad at you, Si made sure to take up those grievance on my behalf.

I first noticed this fierce feline loyalty when a friend of mine stopped by with a woman that I had met before, but of whom I wasn’t too fond.  This woman just wasn’t pleasant to be around and apparently Si had sensed my unease with her being in our home.  The woman bent down to pet Si and at the same moment Si reached up and clawed the woman across the cheek.  Now, in all fairness, this stranger shouldn’t have invaded an animal’s personal space without properly introducing herself.  This is just common sense.  After leaving four perfectly bleeding claw marks across the woman’s cheek, Si calmly walked away with tail proudly in the air.  Of course, I apologized profusely and scolded Si (then locked her in the bedroom), but the woman laughed it off, and went to the bathroom to clean her wounds.  This was my first indication that Si was an unusually loyal cat, some might even have called her my familiar.

SI_young

Si (1996)

At the time, I was living with a friend and my boyfriend.  My boyfriend had issues with alcohol – meaning that whenever he drank, he became an issue.  Alcohol and he just didn’t mix, and unfortunately he became employed as a cook at a pub.  The temptation to drink (as much as he tried not too) was ever-present.  He eventually fell off the rickety wagon he was on and began coming home, after every shift, drunker than the patrons at the pub on New Year’s Eve.  This caused much discourse in our household.  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown from trying to balance academic studies with my personal life that was slowly spiralling out of control.  Si began to react to the upheaval by letting the boyfriend know just how she (and I) was feeling.  One day she climbed inside his brand new twenty-hole Doc Marten boots and pissed.  I don’t think he ever did get that eau du cat pee smell out of them.  Yet another day, she quietly climbed up the couch behind him, stood up on her hind legs and proceeded to box the hell out of his ears.  I just pictured her feline thoughts something along the lines of “and this is for being a raging asshole at three o’clock every morning… and this is for playing loud death metal music at four o’clock every morning… and this is for …” well, you get the picture.  Each time she took her frustrations out on the boyfriend, I laughed on the inside.

It was one night in particular that I realized that Si had adopted the role of my protector.  Boyfriend came home in an unusually raging alcoholic fit, so much so that it scared me to the point of locking myself in the bedroom.  Of course, Si was locked in there with me and as we sat listening to a mad man unleash his fury on the apartment; Si began to grab at my throat with her teeth and pull.  It wasn’t a violent bite and tug, but rather the kind mother cats do to their young when carrying them to safety.  From that point onward, whenever I found myself in a fit of tears, Si would bite and tug at me.  Yes, it was unsettling – but in context it was also endearing.

Of course, Si’s bites weren’t always meant as loving gestures.  There were also times when she would show her disapproval by lunging at my arms and biting me.  Those times were usually when I had gone away for a couple days and left her alone or in the care of someone who just didn’t understand her.  In fact, she behaved this way toward me for her entire life.  So much so, that many years later when I married, my husband had to calm Si down upon our return from a weekend away before I could even approach her.  The times that hubby didn’t do this meant Si cornering me and growling at me until she got one good bite into my arm.  Yep, I wasn’t kidding when I said she was a challenging cat.

Devil Si (2003)

“Devil” Si (2003)

It’s true that she scared the crap out of many people which is probably why she was called ‘Devil-cat’ and the ‘Cat from Hell’ by several of my friends.  She was known to bully not only other animals, but people too.  On more than one occasion I had to rescue someone who had been cornered by Si as she stalked them and prepared to strike.  Once I even had to lock Si in a bathroom when she tried to attack a pitbull. That was the thing about Si, she was both a lover and a fighter….

TO BE CONTINUED….

In tomorrow’s post, find out what happens when Si goes on a road trip, meets an iguana, is introduced to the man I would eventually marry, and the heart-wrenching decision I wish I never had to make…

M. xo

To read the continuation of this story, click here

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