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With a love of animals since growing up on a dairy farm in Manitoba’s Interlake, you can understand how volunteering at the Winnipeg Humane Society came naturally for retired nurse June Catrijsse.

She got her start at the WHS about 20 years ago as a dog walker and over the years has held a variety of volunteer positions in animal care, animal receiving and special events, to name a few. But in January she found a position that let her combine two of her passions – animals and knitting.

She is now the facilitator of the Knitting and Purling Group. Each Monday, between five and eight volunteers meet at the shelter to knit blankets for newly adopted cats. Getting together gives volunteers an opportunity to work together and share ideas on knitting, purling and crochet projects for the WHS. This collaboration, June admits, is welcomed by group members, especially after a long stretch of isolation during the pandemic.

If the blankets end up being larger, June noted, they are used in the shelter as the staff determine would be helpful for the animals in “Holding” or Foster. “We have made approximately 130 blankets since starting up in January. As a result, we work up a lot of knitting yarn. We are really proud of this accomplishment. There is a real challenge keeping my fellow knitters supplied with enough yarn.”

“Because we have knitting and a love of pets in common, my fellow knitters have become a new group of friends.  We have the best conversations covering a wide range of topics. It almost feels as if we have known each other for a long time.”

“Cats and dogs have been a part of my life since I could walk,” June said. “I’m a farm kid. We always had animals. My dad was always very much into taking care of animals. We had a dairy farm near Teulon and we always had a dog and cats. He was also very much into the wild animals around the farm. He wouldn’t allow hunting on the farmland.”

June figures her affinity for animals is ‘part of our genetic structure.’ She explained that her grandmother (Dad’s mom) was very much an animal person and there are several veterinarians in her family. Growing up, she would’ve loved to be a vet but it was too expensive. So, she became a nurse.

One could say that animals are part of June’s home life as well. She has what she refers to as her ‘retirement project,’ made up of four dogs and five cats. “Now that most of my family has aged and moved out or passed away, I was looking at how to spend my retirement. This is my project.

“I have an excess animal permit to cover that, so the City keeps an eye on you,” she pointed out. “It is a lengthy process to get that permit. When I did it, they told me I was the first person that ever applied for a permit without having a complaint against them.” She said her experience volunteering at the WHS helped her learn how to train animals.

Serendipity played a part in getting her first animal. “I often say I’m sometime in the wrong place at the right time,” she explained. “Twenty years ago, I used to live in Linden Woods and I was driving to work for a meeting. I was on Waverley St. next to the Tim Horton’s (adjacent to the WHS which wasn’t yet built). A car had stopped in front of me and wasn’t moving.

“We got out and I asked the driver of this car if it had broken down. He said ‘no, I’ve got a cat under my car.’ It was October and getting cold. It was a little kitten that had jumped underneath this guy’s car. So, there we are, on our backs underneath this car on the middle of Waverley, trying to get this cat out.

“We get it out and this kitten is about four months old. Back in those days that area was just bush, and people would often dump unwanted animals there. This man didn’t want the kitten and I told myself that I was not going to dump it again, especially since while I’m holding it, it’s purring in my arms.

“It was in rough shape – very filthy and the bone was sticking out of its tail, so it had had a rough life. I wasn’t going to dump him, so I ran him over to the vet and asked them to check it for feline leukemia.

“So needless to say, I had him for 15 years after that. If I had been one stop light sooner, I wouldn’t have seen that. So maybe I’m destined to pick up cats.”

All these years later, seven of June’s nine pets are from the Winnipeg Humane Society, including some ‘foster fails.’ “They have a way of weaseling their way into your hearts,” she laughed. “But not just my heart but my dog’s heart as well.’

One of these fails was a kitten named Brian, who was taken to the WHS at two weeks old and needed close care and regular bottle feeding for those first days. June had to keep a close eye on Brian and was worried if he’d make it. He did make it and became the center of attention for one of her dogs over the next eight weeks. “I did bring him back on a Friday to be neutered and all day Saturday and Sunday my dog was walking around the house looking for the kitten. So Monday morning I was the first one in the door at the shelter, making sure I could adopt him. He’s now five-and-a-half years old.”

June is really enjoying volunteering at the WHS.   “There are so many opportunities to choose from, depending on how much time a person has available to donate.” I particularly like the knit and purling group because I am always learning something new from the other knitters. It has been very helpful in keeping my creativity at its peak, especially during the pandemic. That is very important to me.”

So, if anyone has some spare yarn they’re not using…


Written by: Brian Kozak, Volunteer MVP Writer
Photo by: Jim Harvey, Volunteer MVP Photographer

A group of volunteers founded the Winnipeg Humane Society in 1894 and are vital to our success today! With the help of volunteers, we can provide care, love and attention to our four (and sometimes two) legged friends until they find their forever homes. The MVP (Monthly Volunteer Profile) recognizes the work and gets to know these special MVP’s in a spotlight each month that includes an article and photo shoot. MVPs receive a framed photo and gift card as our thanks!

Is there a volunteer you’d like to nominate to be MVP? E-mail us ([email protected]) and tell us why you think they should be an MVP!