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About a Squamish animal whisperer

Q&A with Randi Olson, the woman behind Sea to Sky NANA.

If you have ever lost — or found — a pet in Squamish, you have likely crossed paths with Randi Olson, the one-woman dynamo behind the Sea to Sky Neighbourhood Animals Needing Assistance (NANA) Facebook page.

Founded in 2012, the page is responsible for reuniting untold numbers of pets with their owners.

As the story goes, the page was a natural progression for Olson, who had been the dog cookie lady in the Garibaldi Highlands for years. Folks would tell her about their missing Fido or discovered Kitty, and she would connect the dots.

She has also rescued cougars, liaised with bears and camped with a bird. Animals just seem drawn to her and her to them.

The Squamish Chief caught up with the life-long Sea to Sky resident after she had been out walking dogs — she does that too — for a wide-ranging chat about her love of animals, the page, finding Marco, aka Einstein, and much more.

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

You have been in the Garibaldi Highlands for 30 years?

Yes! I was born and raised in Britannia Beach. I moved to Squamish as a teen.

For this column, we always ask long-time locals what they make of all the changes in Squamish during their time here. What do you make of it?

Living on a busy street — The Boulevard — it's crazy, crazy busy. The speeding is what bothers me. I use the crosswalks daily, and even at the lighted one, cars are just zooming through. And I just think one day, that's going to be a child. Like, slow down. It's residential. What's everyone's hurry?

Something positive about the growth and the changes?

I'm certainly meeting many new people with dogs, so I guess meeting new people and their dogs!

Do you remember when you first started to really pay a lot of attention to animals?

From as early as I can remember. There were always pets in the house. When we were little, Mom would always joke, "You know, if there wasn't enough food in the house, the animals would get to eat first."  So animals were always at the forefront.

Mostly cats and dogs. But we had raccoons that hung around our house, and we took care of things, and then Mom slowly got into birds. And then everything escalated from birds to guinea pigs to hamsters — ferrets. We never got into snakes. But animals just came naturally to me, for sure.

When you lived in Squamish early on, were dogs roaming around free?

I lived downtown as a teenager, and I can't say that we really let them roam. We had two, and I certainly had them on leash. And I don't really recall dogs ever being a problem back then. We didn't have that dog psychology mindset, you know? Like, if dogs had a fight, it wasn't like "your dog is mean" or anything. It was just considered dogs being dogs.

How much time does the NANA page take up for you each week?

I've never kept track of my hours. In the morning, I sit and have my tea, and I look at NANA, and if I have any posts to share, I do them then. And then I usually walk a dog, come home, and sometimes check.

At night, I check.

I read in the first year you started, the NANA page reported 39 lost pets. How many do you think now per year?

Certainly in the hundreds. I'm seeing now with COVID that people are camping more with cats. So I certainly have seen an influx of camping cats going missing.

What tips do you have that would help folks be reunited with lost pets?

I find the biggest thing is that most pets don't have ID tags. If they had an ID tag, they wouldn't have to come to the NANA page; they could literally look at that ID tag and phone the owner.

A District license, too, that's certainly helpful.

I know it may not be helpful after hours, but during business hours, you can phone animal control; they can cross reference that number, phone the owner and say, "Hey, someone's got your dog."

Definitely, IDs would be huge.

Sometimes there are lost dogs that are skittish.

And everybody wants to help. This community is amazing for wanting to help dogs in particular.

Sometimes, my posters will say, "Do not approach. Do not call the dog." That's because the dog is in flight mode and will continue to run.

And with cats, I always say check at your neighbours.

In the summertime, check campers and RVs. A cat can get locked in your neighbour's garage or shed. That is why I say definitely the good old door-to-door knocking, and hanging posters is still the best way to look for a lost pet — not everyone's on Facebook.

What about if you think you have found a lost pet? What should folks do?

Call animal control. There's so much stigma against our animal control. But personally, as a pet owner, I would rather pay an impound fee than a vet fee, or a euthanasia fee or have my dog get killed. But getting people to understand that they are there to help is really hard.

Obviously, if the dog is friendly, and if you can leash it and hang on to it, by all means, do that. But if it's skittish, call animal control right away because the more you chase it, the more you'll possibly run it into traffic or scare it further into the woods.

Is all your animal knowledge self-taught?

Just learning it on the street. And from my own dogs. And all the obedience training I have been doing. You just learn different things with different dogs.

One of those skittish dogs you helped bring home was Einstein, previously called Marco, who was missing for 45 days and tracked by the Canine Valley folks. Can you tell us about your involvement?

I saw him when he first came up to the Highlands. I just thought, "That is one scared and fast dog." He could disappear within a second. You blink, and he was gone. It was amazing to see such a smart animal. That's when I reached out to the World of Angels Foundation (WOA), the organization that brought him to Canada, to learn more about him.

He had been in a home in China, and when he was about four months old, I guess he got a little bit bigger, and they didn't want to care for him anymore. So they tossed him out.

He basically lived on the streets for a little bit.

And then, when he was finally captured, his capture was everything we would say don't do — basically, they cornered him and jumped on him.

He then ended up in a couple of different facilities

He went to a "sanctuary" but was kept in a crate all day and only allowed to go to the bathroom.

He then ended up with the WOA Foundation and finally got to live a good life, being free with other dogs. And then he was brought to Canada. He was fostered up in Paradise Valley, got away somehow, and ended up in the Highlands, of all places.

What a life! Can you tell us about the day you ended up walking him into the trap?

It was just bizarre. I was up early, and the dogs I was going to walk that day were reactive dogs. I thought, "Oh, I can't take them near him."

The day before, Marco had actually come up to me when I was with another dog.

My friend was one of the first people Marco approached when she was out with her dog, so I asked if I could borrow her dog Ringo to take for a walk.

I knew there had been a sighting of Marco within the last 10 minutes up on Skyline, so I took Ringo up there for a walk where I knew he had been. A lady came running out and said she had seen Marco five minutes before.

We were chatting, and suddenly, a voice said, "He's right behind you!" And I look, and there's Marco.

He didn't respond to his name — his original name was actually MingMing. But I just casually said, "Hey, Marco." And I just started walking with Ringo. I went into the yard where I knew the Canine Valley traps were, and he followed. I called Canine Valley right away. Eventually, Ringo and I got into the big trap, which was just big construction fencing with a roof. But Marco knew what we were up to and wasn't going in. So I asked Carl Merac at Canine Valley if I could open up the trap more. He told me to do whatever I needed to do.

I literally threw in a few anchovies out of my treat bag and Marco walked in, and I closed the door. It was so simple. I phoned Carl back and said, "OK, I got him." And he's like, "Really? No way!"

I put my hand in the fence and petted him. I said, "You're not on the street anymore, buddy. Life is gonna be good for you now."

It felt really good to finally get that dog off the street.

Find Olson's page at Sea to Sky NANA (Neighbourhood Animals Needing Assistance) on Facebook or email: [email protected].

About a local is a regular column about an interesting Squamish resident. Know someone you think we should profile? Let us know with an email to: [email protected]. 

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