When Gerdy Cox-Gouron, founder of Gerdy’s Rescues and Adoptions, accepted the first ever Montreal SPCA Lifetime Achievement Award in November 2013, she spoke with characteristic frankness. Referring to the proliferation of puppy mills, she said, “As long as pet stores are selling pets, we will still have this torture going on. They’ll never stop the pet stores because there is too much tax money to be made.”
She has personally seen the inside of puppy mills. “The parents are suspended in cages, they have sores, fleas, they don’t take care of them, they’re used only for breeding.”
Gouron, 73, better known as Gerdy, has been helping animals all her life. “I started very young,” she recalled, on a recent visit to The Senior Times. “There’s a picture of me at 14 months, sitting on the stump of a tree holding a cat that was nearly bigger than me.”
She used to bring animals home, pets contentedly sitting on their porch that, to the two-year old Gerdy, seemed abandoned, homeless, and alone. “I wasn’t rescuing, I was stealing,” she said, laughing. Her parents regularly carried the “rescued” pets back to their anxious owners.
As a child visiting a lab at the pharmaceutical company where her father worked, she came upon animals in cages. Acting on her gut feelings, she opened all the cages, freeing grateful mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. To her great disappointment the monkey cages were locked, but it still took her father hours to round up each animal.
In addition to her cat, at age six, Gerdy got a Cocker Spaniel named Sandy. Both animals’ lives were cut short by human violence. Sandy died because “someone put glass in hamburger” and left it out for the dog to eat, and the cat was “dunked in oil” and had to be put down. “Maybe hat stayed in my mind. People were cruel then, but now they’re no better,” Gerdy said.
Strong proponent of sterilization
Although she always attended to animals in need, it was only after she retired in the 1980s from the Goodyear Tire Co. that Gerdy began rescuing animals systematically. “I started sterilizing stray cats” she recalled. Adamant that spaying or neutering are key in reducing the suffering of animals, she says “The most important thing you can do for a pet is to sterilize it. It’s the only way to cut down on the population and the cruelty that’s going on.”
In the 90s, Gerdy began volunteering at the Montreal SPCA, cleaning cages, “learning the whole time.” Soon she joined the board of directors, but resigned in protest against the administration of then executive director Pierre Barnoti. By then she was already arranging adoptions, in cooperation with Baker Animal Hospital. She joined the no-kill SPCA Montérégie’s board of directors, where she met its founder, Linda Robertson, who she considers “a wonderful mentor.” Taking her cue from Robertson, Gerdy always travels with a bit of food in her pocket and is on constant alert, should an abandoned animal suddenly appear by the side of the road.
Eventually she found the daily travel from her home in Laval difficult, and friends encouraged her to start her own rescue operations. Gerdy’s Rescues was registered as a non-profit charity in 2004, and focused on helping animals with medical needs, “the strays nobody else wanted.”
Now she could give tax receipts to donors. “I don’t have employees, nobody is paid in our group.” Entirely run by volunteers, all donations are used for the benefit of the animals. “The money goes mostly to veterinarians and boarding. It’s cheaper to board. If I had a shelter I would have to pay insurance, employees, and electricity. With the help of Bill and Maria Markush of Possumplace Kennels, Gerdy’s Rescues now has 10 dogs and 7 cats in boarding, waiting to be adopted.
‘Everybody calls me’
Gerdy doesn’t have to look hard to find animals in need. “Everybody calls me. People tell me they can’t keep their dog or cat anymore, it’s by word of mouth. If they’re willing to keep their animal, we will pay for sterilization.”
Being a rescuer is not easy. “It’s seven days a week, no Saturday or Sunday off, running from one vet to another, with garage sales to try to raise funds. It’s continuous,” Gerdy said. “The phone is ringing all the time. I have a pager, which goes off in the middle of the night.”
Common reasons people give when they give up their pet include allergies, divorce, travel, or moving into a building where animals are not allowed. “I tell people there is a law. It specifies that if the animal doesn’t destroy the apartment and doesn’t disturb anybody, you can’t kick it out.”
Sometimes she sees terrible situations. “We’ve rescued a lot of injured dogs, some tied up on cement with no water, a little dog named Easter who was thrown into a hole and put on fire. We take dogs that are not wanted anymore.”
Although animal protection laws are improving in Quebec, they are not enforced strictly enough, Gerdy says. Since last December, companion animals — as opposed to wild animals in captivity or farm animals — are legally recognized as having feelings. Yet pets continue to be bought and sold online, she says, and tells of a would-be buyer of a kitten planning to feed the cat he wanted to purchase to his boa constrictor. “Kijiji should not be allowed to sell animals. It should only be for furniture.”
She opposes the city’s proposed ban on “pit-bull type” dogs. “Any dog can be vicious. I fostered pit bulls when nobody else took them. When I started with animals in distress my friend had a pit bull and fostered both cats and dogs without any problems. Why don’t we hear more about the owners?”
To volunteer or donate, page Gerdy at 514-203-9180.