St. Hubert is the patron saint of Hunters (and everyone knows how much I like patrons) and his feast day provides an opportunity to consider how we respect all living things. When we lived in McDonald’s Corners, on the feast of St. Hubert, all the hunters in our RC community brought both their hunting dogs and their hunting rifles and bows to the church, and among other things, we would ask for humility at the death of one of God’s creatures. These weren’t trophy hunters. The successful hunt meant venison all winter. In many cases, it was what kept families from relying entirely on food banks.
During wartime and in the aftermath, animals play a big part in the war effort. In Ottawa, on the entry archway to the Memorial Chamber at the base of the Peace Tower, there are 2 memorials. The first is a memorial to the Tunnellers Friends (mice and canaries), and a second memorial “To the humble beasts who served and died”, including the messenger pigeons, dogs, horses, mules, and reindeer carved into the archway. These animals, along with camels, elephants, cats, rats, and bears have saved human lives, pulled artillery and supplies over mountains and deserts, served as regimental mascots, carried mail and messages, detected poison gas, IEDs, and landmines, and provided companionship and comfort to the Canadian military. Even glowworms were collected by soldiers in trenches during WW1 and WW2 provide light to read maps and letters without alerting the enemy with a lantern’s light. Companion animals continue to play a role in the healing process for many injured soldiers.
In Confederation park, there’s also an Animals in War memorial. There are foot prints of dogs, horses and mules, and a life size bronze dog wearing the medical backpack that many dogs were issued during WW1.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has an area dedicated to Tales of Animals in War. The National Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs have, for several years, included the SPCA in National Remembrance Day ceremonies during the wreath-laying segment of the program. The SPCA has also created an Animals in War commemorative pin, with part of the proceeds of each pin going to the Royal Canadian Legion.
This year, may we remember the sacrifice of thousands of animals that served and died in the line of duty, and the vital role that animals continue to play in the health and safety of the military.