Into the Wild

Bloody hell man, this place is dangerous!

Last night, I was minding my own business watching TV when a seagull flew right into the balcony window with a huge THUD! Nearly gave me and the Y chromosome a heart attack, it did!! Luckily, he was still alive and kicking (the pigeon and the fella) after the mishap, although he did fly away at an unusually sharp incline and I just couldn't bear to look into the street 26 storeys down to see if he (or she?) was soon-to-be brown bread in the oncoming traffic below!

Then, on the way to work this morning a wickle black squirrel ran across my path and purposefully stopped to stare at me, like a cheeky builder squirrel, going; "Yeah, I'm lookin' at you girl, what about it? I've no fear, me."

Of course, these are two of the milder versions of the animal/birdlife that dominate the urban areas of downtown Vancouver, and I love it. I adore seeing squirrels scamper along the tree-lined suburban streets on my morning commute, or the hundreds of Canadian geese that seem to flock to English Bay every morning and evening for a bit of a natter. I counted one hundred of our winged friends the other morning, just larking about in the water and bellowing at each other as they moved on up past Sunset Beach, like; "C'mon mate, keep up, early goose catches the worm 'n' all that!"

The thing that doesn't get me quite so David Attenborough-like, in observation mode with camera out, are the other wildlife in the city that could - and this is not an exaggeration - kill you, or at least give you a nasty disease like...I don't know...RABIES!!!

I’d never seen a skunk in real-life until I came here. The closest I'd come to these stinky rulers of the street was that French pervy skunk PepĂ© Le Pew, who was always looking for "l’amour" (unrequited most of the time) on the streets of gay Paris. I don’t think Vancouver’s skunks are quite so romantically-inclined! They come out of the bushes, or wherever it is they hide during the day, as soon as night falls and waddle down the street at their leisure, giving us all an awful fright when we see that dreaded black and white stripe along their backs so we, in turn, give them a very wide berth. I always find it irritatingly bemusing that we humans have to go out of our way to get out of their way and we're at least 20 times their size. However, I guess being stubborn and standing your ground with these particular furry friends is not worth the risk!

Raccoons are another odd animal I'd never seen before until I came to Maple Leaf Land. Turns out we've got a family of five of these mischievous creatures living by our apartment block. Don't ask me where; all I know is that they also like to come out at night, and I've often seen them scampering by the pool doing whatever it is they like to do. Eat? I can't imagine much else. Do they just sleep all day? And, if so, where?! I've heard dreadful stories about raccoons getting into people's attics or sheds and causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage, but luckily we're so high up and have no other sort of property or worldly goods to our name over here (we came with just the shirts on our back, right?!), so we don't have to worry about such earthly things!

These guys are huge though. Such a funny shape too - it looks like they’re going to tip over on their heads they're so back heavy. The Kim K of the animal world!

They also still remind me of cartoon robbers - what can I say, I just can't help it!

When we first arrived in Vancouver, we went for our first stroll through the magnificent Stanley Park (just as the sun went down - rookie mistake!) and soon came across a family of raccoons. We 'd never seen them before so of course we all immediately shouted out; “Aww, look, RACCOONS!” and ran over to - in retrospect I'm not quite sure, pet them maybe?? (we'd had a few mind!) - but, luckily for us we had a sensible Canadian amongst us who told us to keep away as they'll attack you to protect their young, and many of them have rabies. So, let's just say that when they turned around abruptly and hissssssssssed at us like only they can, we got outta there pretty sharpish!

Then the danger of Vancouver's wildlife goes to a whole other level.

The only time I’ve ever seen bears was in Whistler on the slopes during the summer, surrounded by hundreds of daredevil mountain bikers and, yes, from the cable car at a safe distance above I did fear for their safety (the mountain bikers that is, not the bears!) but the two seemed pretty disinterested in each other.

The first summer my parents came to visit, they came across a brown beer directly on their path while out hiking and my darlingly naive Irish Mum started following him down the road at about twenty feet away. All of the other hikers who knew better went out of their way to avoid the cuddly beast, whereas Mum wanted a pic of course. Of course! It wasn't until I saw some documentaries recently that I realized how dangerous these bears can be if provoked or if taken by surprise. Hello, camera flash?! You'd think we Irish people would be used to them really in our blood as a recent study showed that ancient Irish brown bears were actually the maternal ancestors of modern polar bears, which is weird. As a kid I called my favourite teddy bear Yogi, that's about the height of my experience.

As for cougars, they're another scary animal I don’t want to run into any time soon, but the chances of seeing one of these or even a moose anywhere downtown are pretty slim (although you never do know in this city!), as there have been an increasingly high number of animal attacks these days.

However, for the most part it’s beguiling to see nature living so well...naturally...side-by-side us humans. I find it even more amusing when I see people wandering about the shops with lizards, parrots and even snakes (I think I sense a collective “Ewww” here!)
I’ve even seen an elderly lady dressed in full Little Bo Peep garb with a duck tucked up in a pram. I'm sure the duck can't believe its quack quack luck!!!

But, whatever you do, please don’t get me started on the dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, hairy dogs, bald dogs, dogs the size of a horse, dogs in designer bags, dogs in clothes. Apparently, there are over 100,000 dogs in Vancouver alone and I must say I’m doggone obsessed with them (hardy har har.) 

Unfortunately, they're not allowed in our apartment block, which is both a blessing and a curse I must admit as I'd just have to have one which wouldn't be very practical if I wanted to pop up to Whistler for the weekend, or even  home for two weeks!

I have an adorable dog at home (Snickers, because he's a Yorkshire Terrier but my Dad didn't want to be so obvious calling him a Yorkie - a popular chocolate bar back home - so we named him Snickers instead. This seemed like a good idea at the time till a friend of my Mum's said it sounds like we're just randomly shouting "Knickers" all the time!! I'm sure the neighbours just love us), but I miss him a lot. A LOT!!

Here he is, dutifully waiting for me to come home!

My friends always used to *slag (*'make fun of' for all you Canadian readers) me for being so obsessed with my prized pedigree pooch but, as any geniune dog lover will know, it can't be helped - they really are (wo)man's best friend!! They also used to gag that we clean the dog's "undercarriage" as my Dad calls it with toilet paper after he goes out to "do his biz" (just about the only direction he takes) but, people, it's hygienic!!

I got him when I was about fourteen after years of begging (I'm the youngest so I think they did it just to shut me up and keep me occupied in the house), but we all immediately fell in love with lil Snicks and he's now one of the cornerstones of our family! 

He's well on in age now but I can't bear the thought of being without him. I fear that he may kick the can before I get him to say goodbye, and I really would be devastated. He's the one thing that's been constant in my life since puberty apart from my family, why wouldn't I be attached?!

For me, seeing a dog is like seeing a cute baby – I go all googly-eyed and start talking in baby talk. Yes, embarrassing, but necessary! In Ireland, you'd never see dogs downtown or in shops. And as for picking up poop? Well, I'd say it's becoming more run-of-the-mill now, but ten years ago you'd be laughed off the street (so watch your step if you’re ever there, you’ve been warned!)

The only thing you'd ever have to worry about in Ireland is a wayward dog, a catty cat or maybe a fox if you live in the countryside. Or maybe a horse, a cow or a bull (check out this funny story for a laugh...only in Ireland!)

Personally, I think the Canadian mix of city life with wild life all wrapped up in one keeps things fresh and interesting. There's always something to look at, to marvel at. But how about we leave the snakes and exotic creatures at home from now on, okay guys?!

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