From Elsie Neufeld. This is Buddy, Harvey’s cat. Sadly — most especially for Harvey, who continues to live in a tent across from MCC’s new building — Buddy has died. This photo was taken in December, at Jubilee Park where Harvey was part of the protest camp.
On this day, it was raining heavily, day-long, so Linda Klippenstein and I took some coffee, donuts and socks down to the camp (while we were there, an Indo-Canadian family dropped by with blankets. Their house had burned to the ground, and as a gesture of gratitude for the money the received from insurance, they were bringing blankets to the homeless). . That’s when I first met Buddy. Harvey was so proud of his friend, whom he’d adopted. Buddy had been beaten and had crooked spine and bent tail. And yes, Harvey took Buddy for walks on a leash. when the campers were evicted from Jubilee Park several days before Christmas, and emergency shelter was offered, Harvey refused because he couldn`t bear the thought of not waking in the morning with Buddy at his side. “He’s everything I have. Without him, there’s no meaning in my life. If I’m not with him, I’d get very depressed,” he said. So, he refused to go into the emergency shelter as his cat would be stuck in a cage elsewhere. The weather was miserable as hell — deep snow, now raining — and i expressed my concern to Harvey about staying outdoors in these conditions. “I don’t really like cats, Harvey, but listen. I will take Buddy home and every morning I’ll bring him down so you can spend the day with him.” No, that wouldn’t work. He would not part with Buddy. We packed up Harvey’s tent and belongings, as much as would fit into my car — the rest ended up discarded — and when it was time to move to an alternate spot, I offered to take Buddy in my car. Harvey had already put Buddy into his cat carrier. “Nope,” he said. “I’ll put him onto the back of my bike.” I looked at him in disbelief. Harvey was pumping the tires of his bicycle, bags hung from both handlebars, and where would he put that cat carrier? He had a tiny trailer, hitched to the bike — and that’s where he put the cat! Along with his bicycle pump (he wasn’t sure the tires would make it to the next stop), and a few other items that didn’t fit into my car. “You go, Elsie,” he said. I’ll meet you over there.” “You sure you’ll be all right with all that stuff, Harvey?” I asked. “No problem,” he said, adjusting his battered black bike helmet, which, truth be told, made him look like Atom Ant (and he’d worn that thing throughout the time we’d been packing his things!). His scraggly long hair stuck out of the front, down to his eyes, and out of the backside of the helmet. And so, I took my leave of him there, in Jubilee Park where police officers urged those who were still packing to keep moving; they wouldn’t arrest anyone if they kept moving.
It was dark, it was raining and my feet were soaked from slogging thru the slush, and the rain kept falling. The inside of my car reeked like cat piss. I had joked about that with Harvey, and told him this was one of my least favorite things about cats — the matter of litter and odor. “Yeah,” he said, laughing. “I don’t always get back to take BUddy for a walk, so he pees all over my things.” I breathed thru my nose and drove across town, arrived at the site I’d been told to go, and waited. Another community person had occupied the front seat of my car, and went out into the snow and walked a circle where he thought the teepee and Harvey’s tent would fit. When the smell in my car became unbearable, I went outside and watched. And fretted. Where was Harvey? Had he had an accident on his bike? Was it too much I’d allowed him to take on his carrier, handlebars and trailer? “Do you think we should go back and see if he’s ok?” I asked my partner. “He’ll be fine. He was probably helping some of the others with their things,” he said. And sure enough, no less than 20 minutes later, a form appeared in the distance, and approached. Ding, ding! He rang his bicycle. “Harvey? Is that you?” I called out. It was. The bike wiggled like a worm in rain, but stayed near the shoulder. And then he was there, stopped, removed the bags off his handbars, set them on the ground, and purveyed the ditch — his new home. “Well,” he said. “That was hard work! I think it’s time for a spot of tea now.” And with that, he sat down on a rickety lawn chair and rested, his breath in the air like a lone cloud hovering.
I was saddened this morning when Alesha, who helped a few people move that night too, texted to ask if I had a photo of Harvey’s cat Buddy who passed. No pet could have been more loved than Buddy, nor provided such dear life-giving companionship. Harvey and Buddy were a team. Harvey had raised five children as a single parent, had, in fact, fought to get them out of foster care. He had his own business in Calgary, was a successful DJ, an award-winning DJ, and ask Harvey about any musician, and he’d either met him/her, or knew all their songs by heart. At some point in his life, Harvey’s addiction took over and he ended up in Vancouver, lived in a forest in Burnaby area, where rain destroyed his drum kit; then he lived in Grant Park, until someone set his tent on fire. From there he moved to another tent settlement, and eventually ended up at Jubilee Park, and now at the teepee site.
That night, after I handed over some warm things to Harvey and the few others who are still settled on Cyril, when I said goodnight, Harvey gave me a huge hug and thanked me for all my help. I told him I thought he’d probably do the same if the tables were turned. “When my kids were teens, my house was open to all their friends,” he said.
I don’t know how Harvey will navigate the grief he surely feels now that Buddy’s life has ended. Two years ago my children and I watched a vet put our dog to sleep. While we had waited for the vet to come to our house to euthanize Sheba, one of my sons dug a hole near the boulder where Sheba often sait, waiting for us to come home. We surrounded our dog, said our goodbyes, as the vet so gently injected her with the heart-stopping meds. It was a dignified death. I watched my children wrap their beloved pet in blankets, and carry her across the lawn to that hole in the ground. I watched them gently lower her into the grave, and cover her with stones — “so raccoons or other wildlife wouldn’t eat her” — then with dirt, shovel by shovel, then the sod, that son had so carefully removed earlier. The patches of grass were a quilt. We sat on the ground, though it rained, and for a long time no one said a word. Then we recited the names of all the people in our family we’d buried since the children were born: Opa Neufeld; Uncle John; Another Uncle John; Opa Klassen; Oma Neufeld; Aunt Hildegarde. Only one was an anticipated, though gruelling, death. Sheba had been our pet during many of those deaths, and so putting her down, and laying her under the ground — merciful as that was — was also a time of reflecting on all the sadnesses we’d encountered as a family during her time with us. She witnessed them all. As well, she had, literally, saved me from being attacked by vicious dogs in our neighbourhood, each time requiring surgery for the horrid injuries incurred.
She placed herself between two pitbulls and it was on her they turned, while I fled.
Who knows what Buddy witnessed during his time with Harvey? We know Buddy had been horrifically mistreated by a previous owner, and that Harvey saved Buddy’s life.
What can we as Voices for Dignity do to show Harvey we care. That we who have loved pets, have had pets who were family members, whom we grieved deeply after their passing.
When I return home, I am going to deliver a condolence card to Harvey, and a photo of Buddy. If you feel led to do the same, Harvey lives near the teepee on Cyril Street. I bet he’d also enjoy some muffins or homemade cookies. Nothing can take the place of Buddy, but showing Harvey we care might ease his sadness a little.
RIP Buddy. And don’t give up, Harvey!!