Lachine’s unsung heroine helps abandoned cats

grey cat sleeps in hallway next to food and water dishesShe probably doesn’t want her name published. Or at least she gives me the impression she’s not seeking recognition.

The woman I’m describing is nothing short of amazing.

A month ago we found a young cat sleeping in the hallway of our apartment building. The small, grey, cat appeared cared for and I was sure she belonged to someone. I asked around my building but no one had ever seen this cat. A neighbour put out a bowl of food. I added a container of water and my boyfriend bought a disposable litter box.

I posted a notice about the cat on a Web site where Montrealers report lost and found pets. This woman made sure the kitten/cat’s photo appeared on the Montreal SPCA’s Web site. She answered my posts and asked if anyone was feeding this cat.

A day after we found the cat I came home to learn the cat was no longer in the shared hallway upstairs but was wandering around the basement laundry room getting dusty. My son worried about the cat’s safety and said we couldn’t leave her there. So we took the little cat in. We still had the disposable litter box.

I put out bowls with tuna and water and the next day called the SPCA, asking if they could pick up the cat since at that point I didn’t have a carrier and I don’t drive or have a car. They referred me to the Lachine borough. I called Lachine’s 311 number so that the borough’s Animal Control department would take the cat to the SPCA.

But Animal Control never showed (I found out later they went to the wrong address because someone noted the wrong apartment number) and we decided to keep the cat for the time being. She was in heat and acting crazy. I worried about my son getting sick because he’s allergic to cats but he does not react to this cat at all. Our budgie, a nice snack from the cat’s perspective, was sequestered in my son’s room. My boyfriend and I discussed getting the cat spayed. We figured the vet exam, operation and vaccinations would cost at least $250. We decided to share the expense, even though it wouldn’t be easy for either of us to find the extra dollars.

Then the woman followed up again. I mentioned that I needed help finding the cat a home and that the little cat needed to be spayed and she said, sure she’d arrange it , was I available during the day? When I said ‘yes,’ she got back to me saying she’d booked an appointment with a vet that Friday. I was astonished. I’ve never seen anyone offer to pay for something with no strings attached but there was no reason to believe she had any ulterior motive. We exchanged emails throughout the week. The cat was getting crazy and aggressive and we had a parade of male cats at one of our windows. Usually they were staring at the budgie but the lineup of mostly male suitors was no doubt linked to our kitty refugee.

When Friday morning came I didn’t know what to expect. But our saviour came through. She brought a cat carrier (I had offered another carrier that the cat seemed to like but she said the spaying operation was through a program and the vet would associate her carrier with the program). Both she and the woman who accompanied her to my door looked kind. She brought the cat back later that evening, dazed and sore but otherwise fine. Thanks to this woman the cat was spayed, vaccinated, treated for worms and fleas (though she did not have any). She told me the cat is between six and nine months old and healthy. She checked on the cat’s recovery.

I offered money towards the vet costs but she refused. She said she regularly neuters and spays abandoned cats in low-income sections of town, places where people can’t afford to look after their cats properly.

The little grey cat (she responds to “Kitty” but my son has christened her “Expo”) still lives with us and is mellowing into a soft, affectionate beastie. Her previous owner does not appear to be looking for her. I will give this generous woman regular updates on the cat’s progress.

I’m still shaking my head in wonder and admiration.


Montreal women in tech – a much longer history than The Gazette suggests

Saturday’s Montreal Gazette has an interesting story about women in Montreal’s tech community.

But while I’m thrilled to see a focus on the hard work of Montreal Girl Geeks organizers Liesl Barrell and Sandy Sidhu and an acknowledgement of the important role women are taking in Montreal’s tech scene, I feel taken aback by one of the article’s assertions:

A decade ago, it was unfathomable for such an organization to exist; now, women are flocking to Montreal Girl Geeks for events and resources, thanks in large part to its high level of engagement on social media. One needn’t look any further for an answer to the oft-asked question, “Where are all the women in tech?”

  • Studio XX, a bilingual feminist artist-run centre for technological exploration, was founded in 1996. I remember having trouble getting a spot in their HTML classes and attending a crowded celebration for Art’s Birthday. They’re still very much alive and active.
  • I was a part of Webgrrls Montreal when Joya Balfour officially founded it in 1997. I remember going to Webgrrls meetings in 1995 and 1996. The room booked for Webgrrls meetings was always packed.
  • Adele McAlear co-founded DigitalEve, a non-profit group for women in new media and digital technology, in 1999. I don’t know much about DigitalEve but I understand it’s been popular and successful.

Those are just a few of the organizations that I know about firsthand or have heard about. I moved away from Montreal for nearly six years and came back in 1995, so my reference points come from what I know. But I’m willing to bet there have been other many organizations supporting women in tech, even before 1996. It’s frustrating to see the efforts women have made to improve the situation for other women go unnoticed.

As well, in recent years Montreal women have launched Montreal All-Girl Hack Night and a Ladies Learning Code chapter here. Those are just two groups.

A move and a newish beginning

I haven’t posted in a while.

Those housing problems I had last fall became much, much worse. Things got so bad I had to make a quick and difficult decision. After more than 15 years living in the same apartment, I had to move. I had no real choice.

Mould I’d cleaned months before returned to the walls of our master bedroom and cracks in the ceiling of the master bedroom worsened. In early January I called a tenants’ rights organization and they said cancelling my lease through the rental board (Régie du logement) would take months. My son was living with my parents for a while because the mould in our apartment was triggering his asthma. But I was getting sick too.

The woman who answered at the tenants’ rights hotline suggested I ask my landlord to let me out of the lease early. The lease was to end in June but I wanted to leave by the end of January. I phoned my landlord and to my surprise, he said yes, with no hesitation. Just in case, I prepared a letter for him to sign. On Jan. 3 he said we could move out by the end of the month and he put this in writing. He and his wife would have preferred that we stayed on till the end of February but we wanted out.

Just after I negotiated leaving our old apartment, our toilet started to leak. When I mentioned this to our landlord, he told me he would not be replacing it since we were moving and he planned to renovate after we left. Not long after that water dripped into the kitchen cupboards and hallway ceilings. This had happened before, in 2010 or 2011 and we had just finally managed to get the landlord to fix the water damage. It felt like a case of déjà vu all over again. In both instances water dripped into the kitchen cupboards and through the hallway ceiling and the leaks  happened right after a series of snowfalls that were followed by thawing and freezing weather and heavy rain. Even though our apartment was on the third floor of a four-storey building, I always suspected the water leaks had something to do with the roof, but my landlord dismissed my concerns.

The previous time it happened I told my landlord and janitor and we checked the apartment above me. It was bone dry. When the latest water leaks happened I asked the janitor (a new janitor) to check the apartment upstairs. Sure enough, it was completely dry

I felt the new leaks and the leaky toilet were signals to leave as soon as possible. I know my old landlord is benefiting greatly from our departure, because he can renovate to his heart’s content and raise the rent. He started renovating before I finished packing. Just after I reported the water leaks he came by, not to check whether I was okay or the apartment was okay but to have a guy from a Bain Magique-type of organization measure the bathroom to order a new tub surround. I yelled at my landlord to leave, told him he could renovate after I was gone and he had no business being in the apartment unless he was fixing things related to my tenancy. I realize fighting him was unproductive and when I think about it now, a lot of stress in my life was related to having a landlord who didn’t listen and who didn’t keep our apartment in good repair.

So January 2014 was a blur of searching for a new apartment, clearing out stuff we wouldn’t need, trying to pack while I was sick with the flu. Landlords seemed desperate, then non-committal. I suffered asthma symptoms every time I tried to pack boxes or clear clutter.

I finally found a place and signed a lease to move in on Jan. 17. We had trouble finding movers (I finally had movers take the furniture only since I was sick and taking a long time to pack the rest). I don’t drive and my boyfriend, friend, my sister and her boyfriend, and my mother did most of the work of loading and unloading their compact cars and taking five or six boxes and bags (sometimes more) at a time to our new digs. But even this move was delayed.

The new place wasn’t ready on Jan. 17. We couldn’t even get a key that day. Then we saw the state of the apartment. It was still being painted and the workers had taken the place apart to paint. Nearly every doorknob was removed, even a doorknob on a balcony door when the temperature outside was far below zero degrees Celsius. This meant cold air was coming in the apartment. The living room’s balcony door window was busted. There was paint all over the floor everywhere, even inside closets. The light fixtures were askew. Kitchen cupboard doors were lying on the floor of the living room. Plates for many electric sockets and light switches were missing. The fridge and stove were in the living room. And when I finally got a good look at the bathroom, I discovered the grout and tiles were covered in mildew and mould and there was mould growing on a wall. There was no shower head and the hot water tap for the bathtub was missing. Someone had taken down the bathroom’s mirrored medicine cabinet and started painting it but left it dusty and unfinished.

Not so welcoming: painters' drop cloths, garbage and a paint bucket on our new back balcony
Not so welcoming: painters’ drop cloths, garbage and a paint bucket on our back balcony

The toilet was being used as an ashtray and drop cloths has been tossed on the balcony where they were snowed on and froze. We found a tub of mouldy joint compound in the master bedroom. The bathroom’s bathtub drain was full of paint, there were dirty rags lying about and half-filled garbage bags left open. It was gross and depressing, not the new start I was expecting after the problems at our old place.

Then I discovered the apartment had no phone wiring – at all. It seems a previous worker (not these workers) had decided the phone wiring was in bad shape, so he took all of it out, along with the phone jacks. Weeks later when the Bell technician came by to check the DSL line he didn’t believe this was possible, until he saw for himself the wiring was gone.

We asked our new landlord to tell the workers to leave. I didn’t want to pay rent for my old apartment any longer and we had already paid rent at the new place for part of January and all of February.

Our new landlord credited what we paid for January to our March rent. I’m still finishing painting the kitchen and bathroom, refinishing kitchen cabinets and installing doorknobs but our place is taking shape. The hot water tap for our shower is fixed and I bought a nice eco shower head. Our landlord agreed to replace the toilet, bathroom sink and vanity and faucet and had competent workers do the plumbing. Our kitchen faucet now works properly.  I replaced the horrible blackened grout in the bathroom with fresh grout. I learned how to use a caulking gun and caulk the areas around the bathroom window where I’d removed mildewed and blackened caulking. My mom and sister moved the fridge and stove into the kitchen, a great help to me.

I’m still making strange discoveries – for instance, why would anyone paint over drops of grease on a kitchen wall or paint over dust or caulk a patch of blue ink that stained a hardwood floor? Why is a spackled section of a wall becoming mildewed and why wasn’t that section of the wall painted? Why are there painters’ drop clothes on the back balcony at all? I’m getting paint off the floors, counters, cupboard doors and fixtures little by little. We’ve learned our walls are ridiculously thin and cigarette smoke migrates from one apartment to another but thankfully there are fixes for this. I am caulking the places where the walls meet the floors and buying plants that clean the air and when I find a box fan I will turn it into an air purifier by attaching an air filter or furnace filter to the front. Once I finally refinish them I will learn how to put back those kitchen cupboard doors.

The situation is not perfect. It’s been stressful but I am glad we live in a bigger place, with no cracks in the ceilings and walls.I have a working kitchen. Between the kitchen ceiling collapsing in my old place and the fight to have it replaced and then water leaks in the kitchen cupboards I hadn’t cooked normally in months. Sure I like my Crock Pot but it’s a relief to have a working stove once again.

Problems are getting resolved, slowly but surely.

I miss my old neighbourhood and the conveniences I had living near grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and postal outlets. I wish the rents in my old area weren’t so insane.

I am looking for the positives in this new experience.