The Fort Smith Animal Society is a group of volunteers dedicated to caring for lost, stray, surrendered, and abandoned animals in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada. The FSAS is under the administration of the Town of Fort Smith, and we are grateful for their continuing support.

A Brief History of the Fort Smith Animal Society

The Fort Smith Animal Society was started by Lillian Kristensen, and the Society became a registered not for profit Society in the 1980’s. She was honoured for her efforts in 2004 as Fort Smith’s Outstanding Elder. Lillian described some of her journey to start the animal society to the Slave River Journal:

“It kind of started out slowly in 1980,” she said, explaining that she used to assist the Yellowknife veterinarian when he visited Fort Smith periodically. “We fixed up a room in the basement of the shop (then North of 60 Books), and that is where the clinic was.” The shop became the Rusty Raven, and is now the office for the Thebacha Business Development Services at 66 Portage Avenue.

Shortly after she began assisting the Yellowknife veterinarian, another vet moved to Fort Smith, and Kristensen assisted him for a few years, too. Her duties included delivering vaccinations and removing stitches after operations. “Then one time, in those first years when we were just sponsoring the clinic, there was one evening at 11 o’clock, a big old tom cat was outside the shop meowing” she said. “He was skinny, dirty, matted, and he had a loud meow. It was a cold winter night and he insisted on getting in.” So Kristensen let the cat in and cleaned him up, feeding him and shaving off all his hair. “After two weeks, I put him out and he stayed in a box outside our door the first night. After that, I never saw him again.”

After that experience, Kristensen built a dog pen in her backyard, which in those days was right behind the old book store, “and that’s where the first animals started being taken care of, and that was when I knew for sure that I wanted to call it the Fort Smith Animal Shelter.” That was in 1985. Dogs were kept in the backyard of her house, and cats were kept in the basement of the shop. It was the first Animal Shelter in the NWT.

An external “cat hous” was erected soon after, and a News North headline of the day declared: “Fort Smith woman runs Territories’ first licensed Cat House.” Madam Lillian was amused.

By the late 1990’s, the shelter had moved to the town’s public works yard on King Street. There it stayed until it was moved in 2001 to it’s present location at the corner of Raven Street and Highway 5. “Everything I had ever dreamt about the animal shelter for the future is there now,” Kristensen said about the shelter’s current location. “And we have the best shelter in the Northwest Territories, thanks to the town being so generous.”

Lillian left us in 16 October, 2005, but her legacy lives on in the actions of everyone who supports the Fort Smith Animal Society, from those who donate, to those who volunteer, to those who foster and adopt the animals we care for. Lillian would be proud of all of us as we are of her, for getting the whole thing rolling.

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