Cruelty to Animals? Petsgate takes a new tack

By Crusty Blanche-Froid

OTTAWA.  There were new developments today in the never ending debate about alleged mistreatment of pets belonging to the Prime Minister. Every time I have to report on this story, I have to re-tell, ad nauseum, the basic facts, so that poorly informed readers won't just turn the page wondering what the hell I'm talking about. So, once again, here they are (I'm beginning to think I'll start numbering paragraphs so that well informed readers who have read this stuff a thousand times, can skip over those parts they already know all too well):

In November of 2000, Andrew Coyne, the Pest reporter assigned to cover the doings of John Ralston Saul, consort to Adrienne Clarkson, heard disturbing stories about alleged pet abuse at 24 Sussex Drive, just across the street from Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence. 

Since 'across the street', happens to be the house where Jean Chretien and his wife Aline live, Andrew Coyne dug deeper wondering if there could be a connection between the prime minister's official duties and any stories dealing with his private affairs: namely, how he treats his pets. 

For months there have been rumours about deranged cats and that one of the PM's animals had been shipped at public expense to a private clinic in Buffalo, N.Y., for psychiatric treatment. But despite appeals to the Access to Information Act, the government has consistently stonewalled on this and every related issue. The Opposition was about to give up when the first real break came. Andrew Coyne, while sauntering past 24 Sussex late at night, was flagged down by the RCMP constable on duty in the guard house. 

The constable, whose name cannot be revealed under The Official Secrets Act, told Mr. Coyne that on the night of 18 January, 2000, the constable had been assigned to walk the PM's pets along the Rideau. Constable 'X', dog leash in hand, was waiting in the hall leading to the PM's private living quarters when he heard a "terrific commotion" within.

Dumbstruck, the constable was about to call for help, when Mr. Chretien's wife, Aline, her face streaked with tears, emerged from the private quarters. As she brushed by, she was alleged to have sobbed, "Jean's terrible temper and irascibility are at the the root of our pets' troubles. Jean just won't stop cussing in their presence." The pets she referred to are a scotch terrier named 'Howard', and a Maine coon cat named 'Wilson'.

After months of stonewalling on the story, the Prime Minister, who has consistently refused to answer questions on the matter in the House, finally agreed to release all pertinent documents from his official residence at noon, yesterday. For a jaded Ottawa Press Corps, bored by the never ending 'debate' about 'Shawinigate', the story of alleged pet abuse by the Prime Minister has them fired up in ways never seen before. 

Waiting for the expected release of documents, and hoping that he would make a personal appearance, myself and other top columnists were camped out on the prime minister's lawn. Jeffrey Simpson, Paul Wells, Edward Greenspon, Jim Travers all had vowed they would never write another word about the so-called conflict-of-interest affair until a "real scandal" like this one came along. 

'Shocked disbelief'

But after hours in the hot sun, jostling for position, cameras and tape recorders at the ready, waiting for the Great Man himself to appear and put this matter to rest, our wait was in vain or nearly so. 

To our shocked disbelief, the Prime Minister refused to come out even when Hugh Winsor, the dean of the Press Corps' government-approved spokespersons, personally begged him to do so with assurances he would not be embarrassed in the slightest by cheeky or probing questions. 

Well, the PM had disappointed us once again but as I say we didn't come away entirely empty handed. The PM wouldn't face us, but he did send out his personal assistant, Warren Kinsella. 

In his hand, Mr. Kinsella held up a single sheet of paper, apparently an unfolded hotel napkin, containing a short, hand-written note. It was undated and contained no record of witnesses or any corporate or government seal to confirm its authenticity. It read simply: "I don't do dat, I am just making sound in my troat while I am reading editorial in dat rag, de National Post." The note bore the initials "J.C." presumably those of the Prime Minister, but this had not been confirmed at press time.

The government refused to elaborate on the issue. During Question Period, Mr. Gray, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Mr. Tobin, the PM-in-Waiting, responded as they always do to questions about Petsgate, by hurling personal abuse at Mr. Clark and Mr. Day. 

At one point during the raucous debate, Mr. Tobin rose telling the House that he had a letter from the mayor of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, lamenting that both Mr. Clark and Mr. Day personally engage in demonic cat and dog burning ceremonies on their front lawns. "These are happening even as we speak, Mr. Speaker. Those hypocrites, sitting opposite, have the gall to dare question the honesty and integrity of our Prime Minister, when they themselves are engaged in far worse abuse than merely cussing in the presence of animals! And the Prime Minister didn't do even that as his letter clearly proves!"

Facts are hard to come by in this difficult case. But rumours are flying. The latest is that the PM's cat is being given grief counselling at The National Defence Trauma Centre in Ottawa. Someone in the PMO, whom I cannot name for obvious reasons, has whispered in my ear that the dog, Howard, is so traumatized it had to be sent to Buffalo, N.Y.. where it can receive the expert psychiatric care not available with Canada's over stressed medical system. 

I have also heard from another close source in the official residence that the prime ministerial dog, Howard, has entirely lost his open, honest and friendly personality since the terrible night of trauma. He now can only bark in an unconvincing, high-pitched nasal squeak, making sounds like Paul Martin responding to Alliance catcalls during Question Period. 

If I may end on a personal note. The story reminds me of when my Dad played roughneck hockey and he made me stay home in our tumble-down shack in Timmins to baby sit our dog, Maurice (named after Dad's great hockey hero). We didn't have TV in those days,  we didn't even own a radio. But it didn't matter because the minor league games he played in weren't televised anyway. Come to think of it,  I was probably out looking for boys as I matured early and was just achin' to lose my cherry. So, I know just how poor Howard feels. I used to bitch so much when I had to look after Maurice that he would hide under the sofa until I'd cooled down, even though I too would be scared shitless waiting for Dad to come home. I knew he'd beat the crap outa me with his hockey stick, especially if he'd been all fired up after fighting with the other players. That's why I became an investigative reporter.

Notional Pest