Lifesaving dedication to dogs
Sagkeeng First Nations woman opens heart and home to stray dogs in the community
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Brenda Everett’s work as an animal control officer on Sagkeeng First Nation means everything to her.
It’s a way for the mother of two adult sons and grandmother of six to not only give back to her community, but also to reciprocate the love she has received from a lifetime of canine companions.
Everett is known by some as the dog whisperer, because she displays an ability to communicate with the animals in a way others can’t.
“It’s the understanding of knowing what its like to be abandoned. To be without a home, and to be in a home, yet not a loving home. It’s a mutual respect and understanding,” she explains of the connection to dogs in her community.
Everett was born in Manitoba in 1967, but grew up south of the border, in Florida and Tennessee.
Like thousands of Indigenous children, she was taken from her birth mother in the first days of her life and given up for adoption to a white family, as part of the Sixties Scoop. Before the papers were even finalized, Everett’s adoptive father died by suicide.
She describes her upbringing as lonely and abusive. She experienced racism, especially in the summer months when her skin would turn a dark shade of brown from the sun. Her mother, she says, used to try to lighten her hair with Sun-In spray.
From the outside looking in, Everett’s life looked pristine. The family had a nice house with a pool, they’d go on family vacations, and she was also dressed immaculately. However, she says, it was tumultuous.
“I would sit in the corner of my room, and I would hug myself because I wanted to feel loved and I never felt that from her (mom),” Everett explained, adding she grew up with poor self-esteem and felt like she could never do anything right — because that was what she had been told her entire life.
“I just felt like the ones who were supposed to protect me didn’t, so I just became more interested with animals than I did with people.”
In her adolescent years, Everett rebelled. She struggled with addictions and lived on the streets for periods of time. She used to hope she’d end up in a juvenile detention centre, because there, Everett says, she felt more loved.
However, there were people throughout her life who she describes as “blessings along the way.” People who were good to her and treated her with the humanity and understanding she craved.
And, of course, there were the dogs. No matter how bad it got, she always felt love for and loved by them.
When she was 17, Everett found stability working at a truck stop in Florida. She married an older man when she was 22, but the relationship was sour, Everett says. She suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
All her life, Everett says, she felt like she didn’t fit in. It wasn’t until she was 28 she discovered the truth.
She didn’t look like the rest of her siblings, but was always told she got her looks from her dead father. However, one day in 1995, Everett’s mother admitted she was adopted.
“My life was a whole lie until I was 28,” Everett said.
Everett’s adoptive mom told her she was from a reserve somewhere outside Winnipeg, and her original last name was Bruyere.
It didn’t take long for Everett to find her way back home to Sagkeeng.
She describes her homecoming as instant love. She reconnected with her birth mother, who was living in Winnipeg, and says the relationship they formed was a friendly, though a bit awkward.
“I stayed with my auntie (in Sagkeeng) and I ended up developing more of that mother feeling with her, and I was really close with my granny,” she said.
“Even though it was a big shock, it was like I belong here. This is home.”
Everett says her husband grew jealous of her relationship with her family.
One night, she says, he beat her. Everett’s husband was arrested and sent back to the United States. Not long after, Everett filed for divorce and settled into the Manitoba First Nation community.
She soon met Harold Everett. The pair later married and have been together 28 years, raising two sons together.
Everett says her husband, a residential school survivor, understands her in a way others can’t because their experiences and abuses have deep parallels.
The pair took part in years of parenting classes and family counseling to break the cycle of trauma for their sons.
Life has never been better, Everett says. Not only does she work as the First Nation’s animal control officer, but she also works full-time as a community safety officer.
She has opened her home as a sort of temporary shelter for many of the strays in the community, and is currently working with Spirit of Hope Rescue and the Plessis Veterinary Hospital to spay and neuter local dogs.
“Brenda is well-respected in our community. She’s been industrious in all the things she’s been doing, and she just wants to do things to make our community a better place,” said Sagkeeng Chief Derek Henderson, adding the First Nation works with an organization in Winnipeg to help with animal control on the reserve.
“She works very long hours, and she makes herself available whenever… That’s something that people don’t really realize, the time that’s put in by our membership for the animals and for the safety.”
For Everett, helping the animals that have helped her throughout her life is something she is grateful to be able to do.
“My goal is to make them feel like they’re not alone,” she said.
“In my younger days, that kind of trauma I went through, and the things I’ve seen, everything it kind of affected me as I wouldn’t be anything, I wasn’t lovable, I wasn’t worthy… The animals they just reassure you that you are loved and it’s also to give that love back.”
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.