Friday, November 27, 2009
On Nov. 2, my husband and I were working in the yard. Alongside of us was Buffy, our little Yorkie. We did not realize it, but Buffy had gotten too close to the road and a car came along and hit her. The car did not stop.

A woman named Shelia saw the accident and stopped. She picked Buffy up and brought her over to us.

She continually apologized for the loss of our little Buffy.

Heartbroken, we buried Buffy. Later that evening, we had an engagement for about two hours. When we returned home there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a sympathy card waiting for us. The card simply read ‘Shelia.’

Shelia, your act of kindness has meant so much to us during this time of grief. It gives us comfort to know that such a caring individual took her time to show us love when we needed it so much.

Thank you for your kindness, and may God bless you.

Chester and Marie Turner, Climax


What caught her eye drawing her to the road that spring day on May 3, 1979?

One would never know. But she never heard the sound of an automobile thundering down the road toward her. In a split second laden with sounds of screeching tires and a dull thud, it was all over.

Alice Mowat Whitney was dead.

The tragic news ricocheted through the hallways and classrooms of Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville as teachers and students busied themselves in the day’s routine. Shock and grief gripped them as they found out the details of the fate of their dear pet who had lit up their days with a wag of her black tail and a glance from her warm, friendly eyes.

Donna Fano was a teacher at SJW at the time of the tragedy. She was in her classroom that morning when news of Alice’s death was announced over the school PA system. While she heard the details of the news from another teacher, she recalled that the students from different residences heard of the accident at breakfast time in the main school cafeteria.

A crossbreed of Newfoundland water dog, which originated in ancient times before the Europeans arrived in Canada, and Labrador, Alice first came into the lives of the staff and students at SJW when she was donated to the school by Farley Mowat in 1972. In the following years, she became the school’s live-in mascot dog.

Delving into Alice’s family history, Fano found an interesting lineage that made the SJW mascot even more special.

Alice’s father, Albert, was born in the Newfoundland out port of La Poille, noted Fano.

“He was one of the last of the ancient Newfoundland water dog stock. His mate was Victoria, a mostly Labrador lady; and the pair gave birth to Alice and the rest of the pups in 1971, where she (Alice) was petted by Pierre and Margaret Trudeau during a visit and perhaps would have become their dog if she had not been afflicted with loss of hearing.”

Instead, her brother, Farley Trudeau, went on to live as a member of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s family for several years.

“Another brother travelled across the ocean as the companion of Premier Kosygin of the USSR. A third went to live with Canadian author Scott Symons, and another brother spent his adult life with Dr. Joe McGinnis, author and underwater expert and explorer,” noted Fano.

At the time of her death, Alice had become a familiar and beloved part of the school and was especially dear to all at the school for the deaf because she, too, was deaf.

Fano thought that Alice might have been the only deaf dog in North America to have been owned by a deaf school.

“The deaf students all thought it was so cool to have a deaf pet. Not very often would they be permitted pets in the residences,” recalled Fano. “She was very loving and affectionate, friendly and so agreeable.”

In an article published in The Intelligence in February 1976, a Mrs. Ryer, a counselor with whom Alice lived during the holidays,was noted to have observed:

“She learns more quickly than other dogs who hear,” she said. “Alice understands and obeys sign language to sit down, come here, lie down and let’s go for a walk.”

Alice was buried in Hodgson Woods located behind the present Sagonaska School.

“Students and staff grieved at the death of their school pet. The now-deceased Dr. J. Demeza gave the tribute at the dog’s funeral at the woods then the students and staff lined up to sprinkle soil on the grave,” recalled Fano.

A new tombstone was unveiled at the site of Alice’s grave on Oct. 20, 2009 at SJW.

“The first tombstone, made of cement, was made by Bruce Gomes, a student in the vocational shop in 1979 and was set up on Alice’s grave.” said Fano. “The tombstone lasted almost 20 years before it broke into sections from the weathering and was moved to the school archives and kept there until 2006. The current Manufacturing Technology teacher Norbert Irion had plans to replace the tombstone with a metal cage housing a slab of marble with sandblasted lettering on it but the school birthday committee decided to replace it with granite for more durability.”

The project, she noted, was made possible with support from the OSD/SJW Alumni Association, Belleville Association for the Deaf, SJW Student Parliament, Bert ‘N Ernie’s Café (staff lounge snack bar), and SJW students and staff. The ceremonial event was the highlight of the 139th birthday anniversary celebrations of the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf.

People who have recently lost a pet are finding comfort and understanding through support groups at animal shelters.

When a pet dies, the Seattle Animal Shelter sends a bereavement card.

The cards are the brainchild of shelter volunteer Connie Starr, who also helps lead the weekly pet bereavement group at the Seattle Animal Shelter. “It’s a grief that society doesn’t recognize or support,” Starr said.

Kathy Herbert was surprised when she received a card in the mail from the Seattle Animal Shelter, a sympathy card over the loss of her beloved 13-year-old dog.

“Our loved companions never really leave us. They live on in the happy memories of the times shared together,” said the card, sent in the memory of Herbert’s dog Alex.

Tucked inside the card was an invitation to attend a weekly pet-loss support-group meeting at the shelter, which Herbert attended with her partner.

The Queen Anne residents were still mourning the loss of Alex, a golden retriever-mastiff mix that died after a tumor was discovered.

Many who attend the pet-loss group talk about how hard it is for friends to understand the loss when a beloved pet dies.

“It’s very isolating,” Herbert said. “It’s so difficult to talk to people who don’t understand a relationship with a pet, if you’ve never suffered the same loss.”

Since last March, the Seattle Animal Shelter has been sending out about 35 cards each week, at a cost of about 84 cents each. All of the money has come from donations, said Kara Main-Hester, with the animal shelter. The shelter learns about the pet deaths when the owners return a license-renewal notice to say their pet has died.

“We know pets are often the only family members people have,” said Don Jordan, who heads the animal shelter. “We needed to do something extra and bring about great sense of closure by having someone else acknowledge how important pets were to them.”

Jordan said the cards and condolence groups are not meant to persuade people to adopt another pet. “By no means do we want to dupe people into coming here and adopting, but that would be fantastic since many need homes,” he said. “We just want to let people know there are people who care. It’s just a way of acknowledging the important role pets play in their lives.”

The cards are the brainchild of shelter volunteer Connie Starr, who also helps lead the pet bereavement group. Starr had a 5-year-old Siberian husky who died suddenly, and she realized there was no support group for those who lost their pets; no one brought over casseroles.

“It’s a grief that society doesn’t recognize or support,” Starr said. “You come to work and are devastated and people say they’re sorry, ‘Now get to work. Get over it. It’s a cat.’ You know your pet was not just a cat.”

Starr put together a volunteer group to lead weekly sessions.

Bruce Friend is one of the leaders, volunteering at the shelter after the death of his cat Richie in 2007.

“People think it’s not normal behavior to grieve over a pet,” said Friend, but he said he was so devastated he called the Seattle Crisis Clinic, which put him in touch with the shelter’s pet-loss program.

“It was a godsend,” he said, “the best antidepressant I ever had. This was a lifesaver for me.”

Sarah Yeager lost a dog — an Australian shepherd — and received a condolence note from the shelter.

The death “was absolutely devastating to me,” Yeager said. The dog was one of the last links to her husband, who died several years ago. “You think of the city being a faceless institution,” she said. “This felt like a real personal thing.”

Chris Northcross attended a pet-loss meeting after his 13-year-old rabbit died last year.

“She was a house rabbit. She ruled the roost,” Northcross said. “She knew her name and would come when I’d call her.”

He said he spent several thousand dollars trying to prolong Hyjinx’s life. “I took her to every vet I could find,” Northcross said. “She’s a family member, somewhere between a pet and a companion. She was somebody I talked to, depended on every day. I would always expect her to be waiting for me when I came home from work.”

When Hyjinx died, Northcross looked for places where he could talk about his loss and found the Animal Shelter program. “I wanted someone who could take me seriously. It helped me, that I’m not alone in my feelings. People are going through parallel feelings.”

The Seattle Humane Society also runs a free condolence group for those who have lost pets. It meets at 10 a.m. Saturdays and is run by volunteers. After each session, the volunteers send sympathy cards to everyone who attends.

Herbert and her partner have since adopted another dog from the shelter, an English cocker spaniel that was rescued after it was found wandering the city.

“It’s been an amazing healing process,” Herbert said. “You can’t replace a pet, but we are caregivers of a new animal.”

By Susan Gilmore

Seattle Times staff reporter