A 100-year-old gent named Jack Morgan, a real community pillar in Alberta’s west country, was asked the secret of his longevity. He thought about it for a bit then he answered, “The only reason I think I’m here today is I was interested in people and my surroundings.”
I thought of Jack Morgan, who is now 101 and still sharp as a tack, when I interviewed Violet Winegarden on Tuesday at Happy Cat Haven, which incidentally has a great backyard view of Howe Sound.
At 83, Vi is a spring chicken compared to Jack, but what they have in common is this interest in other people, in other beings, that is so deeply engrained that it makes them just a little bit different from the rest of us. Less self-involved, they seem less self-conscious, more aware, more assured, and more attentive to others. They’re easy people to be around, because they’re relaxed and seem young beyond their years.
For Vi, of course, the focus of her interest has been cats — some 6,500 that have cooled their paws in her non-profit rescue shelter during the past 20 years. But there’s more to it than that.
The seventh child in her family, orphaned as an infant after her mother died in childbirth, Vi herself is puzzled by her devotion to her cats.
“I don’t even know how I got to be what I was because my sisters were not heavy-duty,” she said. “I think I saw the animal and saw also abused people.”
Entering Happy Cat Haven is kind of like entering a Shaolin Temple for felines. You expect one of them to bang a gong. There is an atmosphere of harmony and serenity. The cats seem very comfortable knowing that the whole house exists for them.
In the Forever Room, facing School Road, Vi keeps the unadoptables. Gordito, a big black cat with a huge yellow stare, is completely blind. Ebony, a kitten born with deformities, is a miracle cat because he survived his operation.
One thing you notice is how the cats look at Vi. They are totally present with her, waiting for a cue from their natural benefactor.
“It’s the only way I believe we are meant to be on this planet because we are the destructors,” Vi said during her remarks in Gibsons council chambers after receiving the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award later in the day.
Vi has seen plenty of evidence of our destruction. Her shelter first gained some media attention in 1995 after she took in eight kittens that had been tossed out of a vehicle in a plastic pail. Someone had used an axe to chop an air hole in the lid.
“I gave the kittens strong names, but Caesar didn’t make it,” she said, pointing to one of the kittens in the faded newspaper photo.
She remembers their names. She talks constantly about the myriad volunteers who have worked side by side with her all along, and are still there, ready to take on anything for Vi.
She inspires devotion because she is devoted.
In Alberta the word used might be “interested.” In B.C. it might be “caring.”
But it’s really the same thing.
And it’s something that this world can’t get enough of.