The Humble Beasts

Memorial to the animals who served and died during wars, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Memorial to the animals who served and died during wars, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

I’m a day late… oops.

The feast of St. Hubert provides an opportunity to consider how we respect all living things. Funfact: for almost a thousand years, a St. Hubert’s Key was used as a treatment for rabies. A bar with a decorative head was heated in a fire, and the head pressed to an area where a person was bitten by a rabid animal. If it was performed quickly after the bite, the heat could cauterize and sterilize the wound, and kill the rabies virus. People even branded themselves and their animals as a protection against the bites of rabid dogs. Yikes.

So how did we get here?

November 3 is the feast of St. Hubert, patron of Hunters (and mathematicians and opticians and metalworkers. And, ya know, Jägermeister – literally, huntermaster. Cheers.)

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. 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 this time of year, it’s also fitting that RC kids can celebrate the feast of St. Hubert as we’re wearing our poppies.

During wartime and in the aftermath, animals play a big part in the military effort. One of my favourite parts of Parliament Hill in Ottawa is 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 Ottawa’s 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 animals. 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.

Extra Credit:

Tales of Animals in War (all 13 editions)

15 animals that went to war (from the Imperial War Museum, UK, website)

Animals in War

Beasts in Battle – 15 Amazing Animal Recruits in War (including dolphins!)

2 thoughts on “The Humble Beasts

  1. That was an interesting read. I had no idea. I love how beliefs and traditions and practices can be so similar. RCs are great at ceremony,rituals and symbolism.


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