Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Rachelle Gordon
Meet Rachelle. Our paths crossed briefly over the last few years before I sat down with her a few weeks ago to hear her story. When I was in the process of fostering Sunshine from the Toronto Humane Society, she was working there in the Volunteer Dept, sharing the same office as the Foster Programme. We bumped into each other a few times after that on Queen St. after I’d adopted Sunshine. Rachelle recognized her right away, which was no surprise. She knew Sunshine well before I did! I knew I wanted to do a story on someone who lived in our neighbourhood who worked with rescue animals and Rachelle was front of mind. Like minds find connection. Facebook can be a beautiful thang that way.
Rachelle grew up in Windsor, although she was born in London. At two weeks old, she was adopted. Her birth mom was just 17 years old when Rachelle was born. She has an older brother who also lives in Leslieville. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and her mom remarried when Rachelle was six years old, adding two more siblings, a step-sister and step-brother, to the mix.
“When people ask me about my family tree, I call it more of a shrub”, she laughs. She explained that she technically has three dads (dad, step-dad and birth dad) and 2 moms (mom and birth mom). It’s a complex past for sure. She had a very happy childhood, but was a restless soul. At the age of 17 she left home to study TV broadcasting at Fanshawe College in London, but after two years, with limited opportunities in London, she headed to Toronto, the beginning of a 15 year whirlwind work/life where she boomeranged between the TV world and the animal world with a few years of travel to the UK in between (long distance relationship). Her work life took her from Production Co-ordinator to Fundraising to Vet’s Assistant finally ending up in a paid role at the Toronto Humane Society (where she had been volunteering) as Fundraising Co-ordinator in 2000. Rachelle recalls there were some ‘challenges’ with the organization and in 2005 left to return to her TV roots, working at Bullseye Animation, then at the advertising giant, Leo Burnett, as Production Co-ordinator.
Rachelle knew at an early age she was adopted. She had previously gone to the Children’s Aid Society in her ‘curious years’ back in London, and garnered some information but nothing concrete enough to make any headway. It was in 2009 that a friend of Rachelle’s, also adopted, had passed on the name of a retired PI, who had helped her find her birth sister. “He had a daughter who was adopted and he was very passionate about helping people find their birth parents. And he did it for free! It was that year that the gov’t opened up adoption records and Rachelle got hold of the birth statement which included her birth mom’s name and address. Even though the info was 40 years old, the PI did his homework and within 2 days, he had Rachelle’s birth mom’s contact info. She remembers the day and laughs. “Before I picked up the phone, I had a couple of glasses of wine! It was the most nerve-wracking phone call of my life. My first words were, ‘Hello. Is this Mary?’ She was shocked but very happy to hear from me. She told me that she never tried to search for me as she felt she never had the right to.”
After a few months of phone calls and many emails, they decided to meet. “It was an emotional experience. She told me about the pink knitted outfit she had made for me before she gave me over to the hospital.” I can’t recall if Rachelle’s eyes welled up at this point, but mine did. And I instantly wondered if her affinity to rescue animals had anything to do with being adopted. She didn’t see the connection but as my mother always says, ‘the world works in mysterious ways.’
During Christmas of 2009 Rachelle introduced her birth mom to her parents, and the rest of her immediate family. “My mom had always encouraged me to look for my birth mom if that’s what I wanted. My parents were very supportive throughout the whole process and were excited to meet Mary. My Mom and Mary shared a long hug, and both simply said thank you to one another. Mom had made a beautiful photo album to give to Mary with lots of photos of me through the years. She had also kept the pink knitted outfit that came home with me from the hospital some 40 years earlier, still wrapped in the original box. She brought it down to show Mary, and as you can imagine, a river of tears ensued! I feel so grateful that everything turned out so positive. I know there are a lot of horror stories out there when it comes to people finding their biological parents/family, so I definitely consider myself very lucky!”
In 2011, the Toronto Humane Society (under new leadership) came calling again. This time in the role of Event Coordinator then Volunteer and Community Engagement Supervisor. Rachelle left the advertising world and returned to the animals for another 6 years. “It was just recently that I left. While I love rescue animals and the staff/volunteers, it’s emotionally draining. At this time in my life, I really felt I needed a job I could go to, and then leave at 5pm. That’s impossible when you work in the animal rescue world. Emotions run high constantly. I’m currently working as an Executive Assistant at an office downtown and have to say I love the (emotional) freedom. I’m still happy to be involved with THS, to a lesser extent, as a volunteer and a foster parent.”
When she’s not working, volunteering or fostering, Rachelle spends an hour every Saturday morning with the residents at Avondale Retirement Home on Queen near Leslie St. She brings her 15 year old Sophia, as a therapy dog. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. “I think seeing the residents light up when I come in with Sophia makes it all worthwhile. Many of them had dogs in their own homes and miss their furry friends.” Rachelle also volunteers at fundraising events for her friend’s rescue “BOB” (Big on Beagles).
Outside of work, Rachelle loves to bake, (and she’s good at it. I had some of her vegan choc chip cookies while I was there – and a box to take home!) , play the guitar, walk the dog, care for her 2 cats; Ruby and Peggy, do yoga, see live music and hang out with her nieces. She’s always been an east end gal and has lived in Leslieville for over 15 years now. Where she gets the time/energy to do all this nobody knows, but it reminds me of an old saying; if you want something done, ask a busy person.
To learn more about Big On Beagles, visit bigonbeagles.ca
Older photos supplied by Rachelle Gordon