Vernon Smith Shaw
Mr Shaw passed away on May 8th, 2010 at the age of 89. The passion he had for animals throughout his life is being carried forward in the love that his children learned from him. The following tributes were written by his three children to honour the memory of their father and his lifelong connection to animals and the Alberta SPCA.
My father often sent me newspaper clippings of what he'd call "heartwarming stories," where an animal had been injured or abused and then rescued and nurtured back to health. He would be so disturbed by the fact that some people could treat pets so cruelly and yet so moved by the kindness and great lengths others would go to in order to save and rehabilitate these same animals. He said he could never understand how anyone could purposefully abuse an animal and felt that they should receive the maximum punishment, when they were found guilty.
Not long ago, in early April, he called to tell me of the golden retriever who had fallen through the ice on the North Saskatchewan River and been rescued by the firefighters. He was always so moved by the efforts of others to save our four-legged friends and ready to share these stories with everyone he talked to.
Dad was one of the most selfless people I have ever known. Other's needs, especially the needs of animals always came before his own. I don't know how many times he would make sure stray cats had a warm shelter in the winter and he would go to great lengths to ensure this, even buying brand new blankets to insulate their temporary home.
His pets were his passion. He once asked me if I thought spending $500 to purchase a Himalayan cat was crazy. I remember telling him that some people spend far more than that on hobbies or bad habits, so I didn't think it was unreasonable at all to acquire a pet that he would love and nurture for the rest of its life.
Whenever we talked on the phone, he would always inquire about my dog and my cat. If I had the slightest concerns about either, he would encourage me to take them to the vet and put their needs first, no matter what the sacrifice. He was always interested in what was going on with all of our pets.
Growing up, we had a variety of dogs and cats at various times and we learned early the experience and gift of unconditional love that having pets teaches us. I strongly feel it contributed greatly to the humanitarians we are today.
My brother and his wife lived on a corner lot in our hometown and several times over the years, kittens were dropped off and abandoned in the hedge lining their property, in the dead of winter. Because of their enormous love of animals, they would rescue them and in many cases provide a home for them.
One day, when I was visiting my father from Vancouver, we were outside his house and heard a distressed kitten meowing. We searched the neighborhood, only to find a kitten who had been abandoned by his stray mother, while attempting to move her litter. We brought him back to my father's place, where my brother and his wife decided to take him home and bottle-feed him until such time as he was old enough, and then Dad flew him out to Vancouver, because they all felt I needed a brother for the Pomeranian I had at the time. Dad often joked about how this abandoned street cat ended up having a pretty good life living in a high-rise apartment in downtown Vancouver, considering his humble beginnings. Cagney is now 16 and still going strong.
My sister and her husband have always had pets, both individually and since they've been together. My sister had several horses, while she was growing up, as well as a dog and now, with their 10 year-old daughter, they have cats, several they've rescued and one of their own.
My brother, sister and I have always been passionate about animals for as long as we can remember. For this beautiful gift, we have my father to thank. We will be forever grateful to him for sharing his passion with us.
What means the most to me, when I think of my Dad, is how he instilled in me the importance of measuring my own character and that of others by their love, kindness and treatment of animals.
Over the years, I've had several pets, a dog and several horses, while I was growing up. In recent years my husband, myself, and our daughter have had two stray cats, Buddy and Tig show up at our home and adopt us. We also have a three-legged cat, Lucy, who had to undergo an amputation, but who has adapted very well with all the care and love in our household.
Our father cared for animals all of his life. He was raised on ranch in southern Alberta. His father was a member of the North West Mounted Police who was also a livestock sheriff on the US-Canadian border and on the Blood Indian Reserve. On the side, the Shaws raised, trained and sold horses. Farm dogs and cats in his youthful years were abundant, and not a day passed without them in it.
In his adult years when he was not occupied with his career as a teacher and an administrator, he could always be seen with a specific dog based on the particular period in his life. First it was a brown cocker, then an apricot poodle who rode shotgun in his VW Beetle on drives around town, and finally an Elkhound who at first dragged him around his neighbourhood, slowing to a more comfortable walk as he aged.
Then came the cats, first Sabi and Tiki, then the four Himalayan's which he had for many years - Kassi, Tomi, Tami and Rusti. They would always be staring at you through the window, or sitting in the planter by the front door when you went over there. Just big passive balls of fur, that's what they were, and they were treated like royalty at his house.
Our father became an outspoken critic of animal abuse as he aged. He would often get into friendly debates with those he knew regarding the importance of defending animal rights, of being a spokesperson for these companions who couldn't speak for themselves, for those animals who were outcast, alone and hungry. He backed this up with lots and lots of money over the years. He not only fed and looked after his own animals with a high calibre of care, he spent countless dollars on the strays outside his doors, on their medical care, and for other animals which had been abandoned. He often jokingly said that his best friends were not of the human variety, although he also did contribute to organizations concerned with caring for humans. As well as a World Wildlife Fund supporter, he supported the Alberta SPCA for many, many years.
He passed away last week and he had written his own obituary. "No funeral, no memorial service, no flowers, just donations to the Alberta SPCA." In going through his records now, I am realizing just how much he contributed. There are stacks of receipts for veterinarian care for animals that were not his own, for all the donations and pet food, etc. He told me to continue to feed a couple of stray cats who show up on a nightly basis in his back yard, and I am doing that still.
I guess this has had an impact on us as well. My eldest sister has always had both cats and dogs, my youngest sister mostly cats, and I have had many of both varieties, and I am currently into showing and handling Borzoi hounds. We are all defenders of our four-legged friends. We learned it from a good teacher.