ILLUSTRATION BY  Frank Fiorentino

ILLUSTRATION BY Frank Fiorentino

When I flew back to Toronto after the holidays in Vancouver, I brought my family’s rescue pup with me. These past few weeks, spent in the centre of the Marc Emery firestorm, it mattered a lot to not be alone

As a journalist, I’m usually the one interviewing subjects for a story. But last week, the tables turned as I stood in the frigid Toronto cold and gave my account of historical sexual harassment to three camera crews. As snowflakes fell around me in a park near my apartment, I described how, 11 years ago, cannabis activist and celebrity Marc Emery groomed my 17-year-old self with his charm and charisma. Emery’s Cannabis Culture was the go-to place to hang out and smoke weed from vaporizers with your friends. 

The emotional fallout of a media firestorm and flurry of interviews left me struggling to catch my breath. I have a tendency to disassociate in tense moments and only in the comfort of solitude does my emotional fortitude wane. Where usually I’d cling to my own person, arms wrapped myself in a hug, I instead embraced my 11-year-old dog, who found me after years being apart. 

On December 30, 2018, I boarded a flight so early the sun hadn’t risen yet, leaving behind the loved ones I’d spent 16 days with for the holidays. My extended family and my closest friends all live in Vancouver, more than 4,000 kilometres away from my current west Toronto home. I’ve lived in this city for three years now, with little to no emotional support system to keep me stable, grounded and whole. I’ve relied solely on my own company, resourcefulness and resilience to stay out of immediate danger as my anxious, depressed mind has encouraged me to hurt myself and die. 

On that flight, underneath the seat, a small black-and-white dog shivered at my feet in a leak-proof dog carrier. In August 2008, the same year I met Marc Emery, my family adopted a bonded pair of mutts from Korea, where my mother’s cousin was living and working as an English teacher. She spent her free time volunteering at a shelter and helping strays find homes. The two little dogs – Migeum, named after the Seoul train station where he was found, and Padugi, a popular Korean name for black-and-white dogs – arrived in Vancouver that summer with patchy fur and big, bulging eyes, terrified after their long flight across the ocean.

Migeum loved to run, so much so that he’d run and headbutt the decaying boards of my family’s backyard fence. My father, a carpenter, would fix the fence, but Migeum would always find a way out. Sometimes his escape meant digging underneath the fence or finding a gap behind a shed we couldn’t see. After thousands of dollars spent retrieving him from the local shelter, my parents decided to surrender him in the hopes he’d find a big farm somewhere to roam far and free.

Padugi stayed with us, never straying far from our home. When she first arrived, I’d hold her tightly in my arms at night as she struggled to break free. She’d sit near my bedroom door after escaping my arms or hide under the bed. Over time, she stopped trying to get away and let me hold her as she shook. Eventually, the shaking stopped – she surrendered – and slept gently in my arms. The two of us were inseparable. 

Vancouver is a notoriously inhospitable city to live in with a pet – it’s nearly impossible to find an apartment or home that is pet-friendly and you can’t bring your pet on public transit unless they are in a specific carrier. But Toronto is different, and so, after the holidays, I brought my dog home with me. In Toronto, I can bring him on the subway and bus, no questions asked, and it’s illegal for landlords to tell tenants they’re not allowed to have a pet. There are dog parks everywhere. As someone who lives near High Park, I can’t wait to traipse through the fenced off-leash dog park come spring with Padugi. 

Back when I first moved to Toronto into a sublet on the outskirts of the city – no job, no friends, no family to speak of – a pet would have eased my loneliness and isolation. Whatever happens now, there’s two of us.

web exclusiveDeidre Olsen