In a small town like Niagara-on-the-Lake, there are certain jobs that bring with them a kind of fame. The “dogcatcher” is one of them.
“I don’t know everyone in town, but everyone knows me,” says Ken Reid. Ken is technically the animal care and control bylaw officer of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which means he’s the guy people call not only when they’ve lost or found a dog, but also when they have a skunk under their porch, or a dead racoon on their street. Or even, in a memorable instance, five ducklings in a storm drain.
“When I got to William and Dorchester,” says Ken, “there were several people trying to save the ducklings that were stuck under the wire mesh.” He pulled out a variety of tools and undid the two bolts holding the grate. Among his implements were a butterfly net and a bamboo pole, which he attached to each other and used to fish out the baby ducks — who promptly returned to the safety of their nearby mother.
Reid’s former work as a roadside mechanic for the CAA in Vancouver taught him to be prepared for anything — hence the tools. In that job he would not only save distressed people from difficult situations, he would also let them know what to expect when they got to a mechanic, so they couldn’t be cheated.
He’s still helping people in unpleasant circumstances, and credits his work with the CAA and with the Vancouver police force for his skills. Reid and his wife Kea — who died suddenly in 2016 — were team leaders of a citizens crime watch program. They were involved in a road rage incident that resulted in an Uzi shooting. “Kea and I were always in the middle of something,” he says.
“We were all volunteers but got drivers’ training, and negotiation training,” says the 66-year-old. “I use all of that that in my current work.”
When the Reids decided to move back to Niagara-on-the-Lake twenty years ago, Ken applied for work with the CAA. While he was waiting to be signed on, he noticed an ad in the Advance for a canine control officer. Using his references from the CAA and the police, Ken applied. “They asked me a lot of questions about how I would handle this or that situation,” he says. He got a call saying he got the job, and the caller was disappointed by Ken’s rather sombre reaction. “My father had passed away two hours before, so I couldn’t get too excited about the job,” he says.
That job has now turned into a career that has spanned two decades. And it was a passion that Ken and Kea Reid shared for 18 of those years.
“Kea was psychic when it came to dogs,” says Ken in awe. “She would insist we just try, just drive out to where the dog was last seen. Then she would tell me to turn right, then turn right again, and there it would be. I don’t have the same capabilities as Kea did.”
Ken’s partner of more than 47 years, Kea died of complications due to the misdiagnosis of a brain tumour. She had lost some control of her motor functions on one side of her body, so a stroke was thought to be the culprit. When blood thinners were given, a heart attack ensued. “She went into a coma and they sent her to Hamilton for a different type of dialysis,” says Ken. He was told there was no chance his wife would survive without life support, and had to make the decision whether or not to remove the equipment.
It took him days to decide. Knowing these were Kea’s own wishes, he decided to have the love of his life taken off life support. “She lived for 20 minutes after that,” he says. “She came out of the coma long enough for me to tell her what was going on. That was hard. I told her what had happened, and asked her if she was sure she wanted me to let her go.”
“She couldn’t speak, but she closed her eyes tightly, twice, and I knew I had to say goodbye.”
After Kea’s death, Ken suffered terribly. “I would go home and bam it’s dead air. Then my ears would start to ring,” he says. “I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating. I was just smoking all the time.” He says he was “trying to catch up to Kea.”
Then, one night at the Olde Angel Inn, as he was trying to drown his sorrows, Lise Walton approached him. “She could see that I was failing, that I wasn’t going to make it,” Ken says. Walton’s husband had also died suddenly a few years prior, so she was very sympathetic to Ken’s situation. “Lise was a good counsellor, told me what to expect, made sure I was eating, sleeping,” he says. “She pulled me out of a hole.”
“It’s an unexpected relationship,” Ken says.
Another positive: the Town renewed his contract recently. “They put me on a salary and gave me holidays. Cut the job from 24-hour on-call to 12 hours,” he says with enormous relief. His hours are now 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the Niagara Falls Humane Society filling in the overnight hours. “Pat Darte said, ‘I didn’t realize how much stress we put on you,’” says Ken.
Last year, Walton pushed Ken to see a doctor about symptoms he’d been ignoring — odd pains in his legs. “I thought I just needed a hip replacement,” he says of the pain and occasional falls. In the first surgery he’s had since he had his appendix out at age 12, Ken had femoral artery surgery to clear substantial blockages. “She’s saved me in a few different ways,” he says of Walton.
Saving things seems to be a common interest in these two.