During 1996, we spent another summer at Pender Harbour, but although we had now purchased the Garden Bay cottage, we were still holidaying on the Madeira Park side because the cottage there simply wouldn’t sell. We had rented the Garden Bay cottage to Patty Jackson, who worked at the Sundowner, so we had a good tenant, but the financial strain of paying a mortgage and caring for three properties was starting to show. Still, even though we were disappointed not to be in our new cottage, we were determined to enjoy the summer. Once again, the girls had friends come to stay, and during Jen Guccliemucci’s stay with us, the girls had a particularly interesting adventure—one that even carried over after we returned to town.
Caroline and Katie had been well taught by Hugh in boat-handling and seamanship, so the girls were allowed to take the outboard dinghy out on their own. Katie and Jen particularly enjoyed this, often packing picnics and heading for the islands in the mouth of the bay. One day, on their return, they were tying up our dinghy when they saw a baby seal clinging to the outboard of an adjacent boat. They came running up to tell us and we all went down to inspect the little creature.
It was quite adorable and we were concerned that it had been abandoned, although Hugh informed us that the mothers sometimes left their pups while they went fishing and later came back for them. This was confirmed when we phoned the Wildlife Rescue at Halfmoon Bay, but we were told to keep an eye on the seal, and if it was still there after a couple of days, we could bring it down and they would send it to the marine mammal rehabilitation centre in Vancouver.
The baby seal was certainly well attended for the next couple of days. The girls visited it constantly, reporting on how waif-like it was and urging us to take action. I had christened it Cedric Seal, although the girls informed me that they had called it Pooky. Whatever its name, it was certainly the centre of attention. After the second day passed and the pup was still there, we decided that it was time to rescue him. Hugh adeptly manoeuvred him into a fishnet and from there, deposited him in a large Tupperware tub. The tub was placed in the back of our Jeep, and since Cedric-Pooky was taking up Max’s usual spot, Max had to sit wedged at my feet by the front passenger seat. Max’s nose was going a mile a minute all the way to Halfmoon Bay. If a dog could cry, I swear Max was doing so. He wanted so desperately to see the fascinating cargo that was creating such a tantalizing odor.
Once at Wildlife Rescue, the girls sadly said goodbye to their new friend. However, they were very excited when the volunteers told them that they would be able to visit Cedric-Pooky in town and see his progress as he was rehabilitated back into the wild. Sure enough, after we returned home, I called the centre and set up an appointment. I was informed that our seal was now officially christened Voyageur and was doing well.
Over the next weeks, we made several visits to the marine mammal rehabilitation site in Vancouver Harbour and monitored Voyageur’s progress. At first he was in a solo pond, where he splashed around happily, safe, secure and regularly fed. Next, he moved to a double pond where he had a friend to socialize with; then finally, he made it to the big group pond where he had to compete for food with a horde of other growing baby seals. At last the day came when he was to be released back into the ocean. He was to be set free along with two other baby seals and all the ‘owners’ who had found the seals were invited to attend.
This entailed a trip to Bowen Island, which was the destination point for the release. When we arrived at Tunstall Bay, the Wildlife Rescue volunteers were already setting out three small cages at the water’s edge. We hurried down to check on Voyageur. Like proud parents, we noticed that he was eagerly whiffling at the front of his cage, clearly ready to embark on his new journey, whereas the other two seals had flopped down lethargically and were showing little interest in what was going on.
But to our mortification, when the grate was lifted, the other seals bounded out into the ocean whereas Voyageur slunk back to the rear of his cage and refused to come out. We quipped, “Now, Voyageur,” and urged him on, but he ignored our entreaties. Finally, he had to be tipped into the water, and even then, he seemed most uneasy venturing forth. In spite of reassurances from the Wildlife volunteers, we were worried about our nervous seal. He continued to quiver on the brink while the other two seals swam and played, instantly adapting to their new surroundings.
After what seemed an eternity, Voyageur started to swim, but his progress was still hesitant. By this time we were all convinced that he was never going to survive in the wild. And then, miraculously, he found his way to the other two seals, and we watched with baited breath as they circled, divided, then came back together. Yet again, Voyageur drifted away on his own like a little lost soul, but his fellow seals obviously understood the drill. They headed back to him in tandem; no seals going astray from this release. Suddenly all three formed a line and in graceful formation, they swam out to sea. Still together, they continued until they were just three small dots in the distance which ultimately disappeared from view.
With a sigh of relief, we thanked the volunteers and left the beach. It was time to go back to the car, where Max was impatiently waiting. The end to an amazing adventure with our little sea dog and time to pay attention to our dog dog. Max leaped out of the Jeep, and we walked him along the shore, happy to see him enjoying the smells and sights in this beautiful new location. Silently, though, we were all sending good thoughts out to sea where the three little voyageurs were exploring their vast new world.