The bite of winter nips. Leaves are in plastic bags or piled on compost heaps. Bulbs tucked in the earth wait for spring. Winter jackets are dug out from the back of the closet. And mental notes are made to gather warm clothing for the homeless.
But it's not only humans who suffer winter's brutality. Abandoned dogs, cats, neglected horses go through unimaginable pain once the wind and cold set in.
Memories flood back to when this became all too real for me. It was years ago and I had gone out to a PetExpo exhibition.
Walking down one of the aisles, a poster board with dog pictures began to slip as I passed a rescue booth.
I dashed over and grabbed onto it. As I held it in place, my eyes looked at the story right in front of me. The photo was of a smaller mixed breed, long haired, maybe a collie in her family tree.
The rescue group called her Faith. Faith's story told of her being seen by a man passing by on Northern Alberta highway during the bitter winter. She was sitting still on the shoulder of the road. When she was still there the next day, the man called a rescue group - Second Chance Animal Society.
A SCARS volunteer found the freezing dog and also discovered why she would not move. Beside her lay the body of her puppy who had been hit by a vehicle. The guardian mother and the body of her pup were gathered up into the warm car.
Faith, like all SCARS dogs, was taken to one of the big-hearted vets who treat the battered, abandoned creatures: She was cared for, spayed, inoculated, sent to a foster home until the right adoptive home was found for her.
Animals must be treated with kindness, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Tears stung my eyes and I heard the voice of a SCARS founder ask, "Do you want to join?" I mumbled "Yes" while searching for the $25 membership fee. Never mind I only had $28 to last until Thursday and this was Saturday. Never mind I never join anything.
Today, SCARS, thanks to its passionate core of volunteers, foster homes, vets, has rehomed almost 4,000 dogs, plus several cats, a horse or two and several rabbits. The key is the animals are abandoned - not owner surrendered.
The rescue group also teams up with veterinarians and vet technicians to conduct free spay and neuter clinics plus other treatments in various northern communities.
SCARS never abandons its dogs. Sometimes they are returned because of allergies, family breakdown - real reasons. But others who adopt do not realize this is a forever commitment. Dogs take time, money and need honest caring from their human.
Adopting an abused dog is like adopting a teenage foster kid. Patience, unbridled love, often classes and money are needed to begin to mend the shattered trust of this companion animal. And so it is for other sentient beings.
Many other rescue organizations are dedicated to rescuing, healing and finding forever homes for abandoned/abused animals. Some grab the headlines when a particular case of cruelty hits the news. But their work is 24/7.
First responders know when animal cruelty happens it signals cruelty also happening in the home and severe mental disturbance in the perpetrator.
Toronto's St. Clair Veterinary Facilities administrator James Duhamie underlines this after his staff rescued a month-old kitten buried under garbage in a dumpster. He told the Toronto Star, "Our greatest worry is that some of the worst mass murderers in history started with animals and this person is walking around freely."
To the government's staggering shame, penalties for such cruelty or neglect are minimal. Sadly too, many sneer or discount caring for animals, sniffing, "They're just animals."
Not to the Church they're not. The Catechism (section 2416) states, "Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness."
Pope John Paul II agreed, saying. "Animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren."
The unsung heroes for the abused and abandoned are many, from the elder living on the old age pension sending in $12 every month to SCARS, to the circle of Rescue 100 women surrounding a downed abused horse all night, massaging her until she miraculously stood and survived, to the thousands of others who care.
As Luke 12.6 says "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God."
(Lasha Morningstar firstname.lastname@example.org)