News/Blog Uncategorized

One option for keeping cats safe at night

Custom-built cat enclosure provides indoor/outdoor access

Nicholas Read, a long-time VHS supporter, had a problem.  Actually, two problems: Leo and Henry, his two very demanding (but adorable) ginger cats.

Both were accustomed to the outdoor life before Nick adopted them (Henry was semi-feral) and they have remained fiercely protective of their right to roam.  But, as Nick lives on Vancouver’s west side he was worried about the dangers from urban wildlife.

After a lot of late-night worrying about when the “boys” would get home, Nick hit on the idea of building a pen on his deck, adjacent to his apartment window, that would allow Leo and Henry to jump out and in as they wished throughout the night.  While various ready-made cat pens can be found on the Internet, Nick wanted something custom-made to ensure his cats could have safe, easy indoor/outdoor access, with an enclosure that was hard-wearing and aesthetically pleasing.

Fortunately, Nick discovered that one of his friends was a talented woodworker who enjoys challenges.  Scott McLean, a college instructor, jumped at the opportunity to design and build a suitable enclosure.  For Nick, it couldn’t come too soon.

“Leo and Henry have been going outside for years, so it’s impossible to keep them in all the time, he says. “But I worry about coyotes and birds. I worry about coyotes killing them, and them killing birds. So it seemed a good compromise to ask Scott to build an enclosure. This way they can still go out at night and be safe. And when I’m away and they have to be kept inside, they can still get fresh air.”

Scott describes his approach to the task: “When designing the pen I considered its function, but also how it would fit into Nick’s deck environment.  I appreciated that the cats had their needs, but also was mindful of avoiding a situation where it overwhelmed his deck.  In Nick’s case a slanted front was used to lessen the vertical space that was taken up by the pen, which added interest and gave it a less obstructive look, all without compromising the function for the cats.  The design of Nick’s pen uses a cedar wooden frame with the metal mesh as the filler.  I think the use of wood gives the enclosure a polished look and takes the industrial edge off.  It also fits in well with the wooden deck, planters and a garden environment.”

Scott also took in a number of practical elements. First, the wood needed to be protected from the weather.  Mitred joints were used in the construction so that the end grain of the wood was not exposed and there was less chance that the wood will soak in water and rot prematurely.  The bolts and hardware are all weather resistant and caulking is used to prevent water from pooling and rotting out the wood.

Second, the enclosure had to be relatively easy to assemble and disassemble.  Only two wrenches are needed to assemble the pen and it is constructed of several panels, each of which is not too heavy or awkward to move by oneself.  The construction of the pen in several smaller panels also means that it can be stored without taking up too much space and can be moved to different locations without the need of a large truck.

Nick was thrilled with the result, but would the cats approve?  Leo immediately jumped in to investigate and now enjoys his new outdoor rec-room.  Henry took some coaxing (actually a gentle push) but has also given the enclosure the paws-up.

Scott enjoyed the project so much, he would welcome the opportunity to help others by making specially-built enclosures available to demanding cats on the Lower Mainland.

“The cat enclosures are fully custom,” he says. “Any shape or size is possible, which is a great advantage since we all have different spaces and needs.  If a customer was looking to start small and then add on in the future, this desire could be incorporated into the original design.  There are many choices out there in terms of metal mesh and wood.  The selection of the materials would be made in consultation with the customer, but also in consideration to the environment in which the enclosure would live.  Also, things like sustainably harvested wood can be used if this is important to the customer, as it was in Nick’s case.”

Cost of the enclosures is dependent on the size and the materials selected.  Enclosures similar to Nick’s cost approximately $900 plus tax.  Scott McLean can be contacted at







News/Blog Uncategorized

Bill the caring cat

Bill is a great help to others but this time he needed help

All cats are special in their own ways, but there’s one feline VHS came across who’s putting his exceptional qualities to good use.

His name is Bill and he belongs to the Chrysalis Society, a Vancouver non-profit helping women recover from substance abuse.  Chrysalis contacted VHS because Bill had a painful fractured tooth that needed extracting and the society was strapped for funds to pay the vet costs.

In talking to the people at Chrysalis we discovered that Bill plays an important role in the lives of the women the society supports.  He lives in one of the Chrysalis houses, where up to nine women are accommodated and where Bill has quite a therapeutic effect on the clients. Rayma Hagan, a housing manager at Chrysalis, told us about Bill’s role since he arrived six years ago:

“Bill quickly demonstrated that he was a working cat with an intuition that enabled him to connect at a heart level with each woman that he came in contact with.  He spends extra time with women when he senses their pain.”

And Rayma says Bill’s job is not without its perks: “Some of Bill’s favourite pastimes are going for rides in the car, greeting the neighbours, hanging out/snuggling with the women.  He does love to sit on your shoulder, especially at Christmas while setting up the tree, or while riding slowly on your bike down the lane way. Bill is a pleasure to have around. Everyone loves him!”

Bill’s tooth extraction went well and he’s back on the job.  We’re always pleased when we can ensure an animal gets the care he or she needs, but it was especially gratifying to help one who does a lot of caring himself!

Food and Drink News/Blog

A Cruelty-Free Thanksgiving

By Debra Probert, VHS Executive Director

I love holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, because they give me a chance to serve vegetarian/vegan dishes to my meat-eating friends and family.  These holidays shouldn’t leave anyone feeling deprived – rather, they should give our omnivorous friends food for thought (quite literally!) about how easy it is to skip the dead turkey for something more tasty, healthy and humane.

Easy and delicious ways to cut corners are the great veggie roasts that are available.  The first is Tofurky (available at Capers Whole Foods, Choices and most organic food stores). I tasted this for the first time at a PETA event at a Toronto hotel.  It was cooked longer than the packaging recommends, using more oil.  The result was a crispy outside, with the look and texture that more closely resembles a well-cooked turkey.  It was delicious!  Of course, you can always just follow the package directions for a very tasty product.  I do mine in a closed roasting pan with lots of olive oil mixed with soy sauce.

Although I haven’t tasted the Celebration Roast yet (available at Karmavore Vegan Shop,  I’m told it’s fantastic (first-hand, from the VHS office manager , Lauren).  She says that it tastes spicier than the Tofurky.  And while the Tofurky stuffing is a more traditional one (sage, bread crumbs, rice) the Celebration Roast stuffing is made up of apples, butternut squash and mushrooms and is, she says, equally delicious.

gardein_frz_StuffedTurky_CSm-225x238Gardein (based right here in Richmond, BC!) has a new product called ‘savory stuffed turk’y’.  Each package has two servings, including gravy, and like Tofurky, comes frozen.  According to the Gardein website, it’s available everywhere – IGA, Save-on Foods and Safeway. I haven’t tasted it yet, but if Gardein’s other products are any indication, it’ll be great.

For the first two, you’re going to have to either buy or make some meat-free gravy. Tofurky makes a veggie ‘giblet’ gravy that’s excellent – I always make sure to have lots on hand for the mashed potatoes.  However, if you want to make gravy, there are plenty of recipes.  Here’s one from

When I was growing up, my favourite dish at holiday meals was the dressing, and I loved it soaked in gravy. Although the Tofurky and the Celebration Roast both come stuffed, I always bake an extra bowl of dressing in the oven.  It’s great the next day in cold Tofurky or Celebration Roast sandwiches, with lots of salt and pepper! Here’s a link to my favourite stuffing recipe.

If you’re really feeling ambitious, you might want to make a veggie roast from scratch.  Lauren has made this complete dinner from Vegan Yum Yum  and found it worked perfectly (even though there’s a warning on the website that you might have trouble making the seitan. If you’re nervous, seitan can be purchased ready-made at any Capers Whole Foods, Choices Market or any organic grocer).

One of the dishes on this link is roasted tomatoes.  If you’ve never had them, you don’t know what you’re missing. And they’re so easy! Just halve any kind of tomatoes, toss them with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven until they are shrivelled and the skins are beginning to turn black. They’re great tossed with almost anything (I like them with veggie sausages).

What would a good meal be without dessert? If you haven’t tried one of the recipes from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, then you haven’t lived. We greedily look forward to birthdays at the VHS office, not because we’re generous, but so we can try a different flavour. You can get the book at almost any bookstore. But just in case you’ve run out of time, here’s my  favourite recipe.

So there you have it, a Thanksgiving dinner to die for. Wait a minute – nobody had to die!  What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving!!

News/Blog Uncategorized

Sled dogs always at risk

Following the revelations in February about the horrific slaughter of 56 sled dogs in Whistler B.C., various defenders of the sled dog industry insisted that it was an “isolated incident’ and that the industry’s reputation should not be tarnished by the actions of one “bad apple.”

While the Whistler massacre may be an extreme example, there are certainly other instances in which dogs have been put in danger because of the failures of sled dog operators.

Most recently, 37 sled dog were left homeless when an operator in Quebec went out of business.  A former employee tried to care for them but ended up living in a tent in the woods with the dogs tied to surrounding trees.  Animal welfare groups are now trying to find homes for the dogs.

In 2009, also in Quebec, nearly 100 malnourished sled dogs, some blind and many pregnant, were seized by the SPCA from a sled dog business in financial difficulty.

In the same year, about 100 starving sled dogs were seized from an operator in Colorado.  Eight dogs were found dead.

Back in B.C., 34 badly-neglected huskies were seized from a sled dog business in Tumbler Ridge in 2008.

Those are just the incidents that get reported.  Who knows what happens at the many sled dog operations in isolated rural locations that are rarely subjected to scrutiny?

These cases support the Vancouver Humane Society’s contention that whenever a business depends on exploiting animals for profit, those animals will be put at risk.  When equipment is obsolete it can be sold or dumped.  When employees are no longer needed they can, at worst, be laid-off.  When animals are surplus to requirements they become commodities with no rights, leaving them vulnerable to methods of disposal that are at the whim of business owners.

That’s why VHS called for a ban on sled dog operations following the Whistler massacre.  The B.C. government rejected that option and instead imposed greater legal penalties for animal cruelty in the province.  It also established a “working group” to produce a new “standard of care” for sled dogs in B.C.  VHS is urging the working group to at least recommend a ban on the tethering of sled dogs for long periods and take other measures to protect their welfare.  VHS’s full submission to the working group can be seen here.

The sled dog working group is due to report its recommendations to the Minister of Agriculture on September 7th.  VHS, and, no doubt, the public, await the report with interest.




News/Blog Uncategorized

Smart pigs amaze us but we eat them anyway

It’s common to hear North American animal lovers express their horror at cultures that find eating dogs or cats acceptable.  And, indeed, it is repulsive to see these sensitive, intelligent animals abused and raised for slaughter.

But two recent stories in the news highlight a double standard in attitudes about animals killed for food – at least for those who eat meat.

Media in the United Kingdom and around the world have been raving about the accomplishments of Louie the pig, who has amazed and amused the British public by learning how to compete in dog agility competitions.  Louie has demonstrated intelligence and trainability on a par with his canine friends.

Meanwhile, two Dutch pigs called Rudi and Felix, are making a claim to fame for their therapy work in seniors’ homes – a role also usually associated with service dogs.  Again, media have lapped up the heartwarming story of clever and gentle pigs showing off their talent.

Of course, the intelligence of pigs has been well-established in scientific studies, and, like other animals, they can feel pain and suffer.

Yet pigs endure some of the worst treatment of animals raised for food. Hog barns house up to 5,000 pigs in crowded pens. Stress from overcrowding creates aggression and boredom, so most pigs have their tails cut off to prevent tail-biting.  Breeding sows are confined for almost their entire reproductive lives in stalls that are just slightly bigger than the sows themselves. They eat, sleep, and defecate in the same space; their manure falls through slatted floors to a cesspool beneath.

So the next time you hear someone who loves bacon telling you how appalled they are about dogs being eaten in Korea, remind them of how we abuse, slaughter and eat intelligent, sensitive pigs by the million right here at home.