Frank Wasmer’s door has always been open to a colourful array of souls in all shapes and sizes.
Of the human variety, he and his late wife Nancy Schave, have fostered “somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40” children, hosted 7 foreign exchange students, and sheltered countless thrifty travelers from around the globe at the Skagway Home Hostel – which they owned and operated out of their cozy abode for 22 years.
That is how I met them, backpacking up the inside passage as a young university student one summer. I stopped for a night and spent the month (!) never imagining that I would later return to the North, settle and raise a family just ‘up the highway’ near Whitehorse.
Previous to Skagway, Frank and Nancy lived in many Alaskan towns (Anchorage, Ft. Richardson, Galena, Nome and Hydaburg). In addition to humans, all their homes have been a haven to many a K-9 and feline friend. Frank couldn’t recall exactly how many when I asked, which is no wonder considering he and Nancy held down various full time jobs while their door revolved with the coming and going of all those children, and travelers, and pets.
“My pets get the same treatment as I do” says Frank proudly, “they get annual physicals and all their shots.”He could only recall purchasing one purebred (a bird hunting dog in the 60’s), for which he paid a premium and whom he took great pleasure in training. When called to Vietnam he left the dog with friends. Upon return, some years later, the young boy of the family handed the dog over with tears in his eyes and Frank didn’t have the heart, or rather did have an exceedingly generous one, and gifted him the prized, and clearly loved, hunting dog.
Other than that very expensive dog, they have always sought pets from animal shelters or taken them in a ‘package deal’ with their adoptive kids. Living in a town of just over 1,000 year-round residents, visiting an animal shelter often meant traveling 3 hours north to Mae Bachur Animal Shelter in Whitehorse, or a six and a half-hour ferry ride south to Gastineau Humane Society in Juneau, renamed Juneau Animal Rescue as of Jan 1, 2019.
It was in Juneau that they found Max, “the right ‘wrong’ cat”, according to Frank.
“Our prior cat had died and we went to see if we could find a kitten, but all the kittens were gone but one. And that one had been reserved, so they asked us if we wanted to look at other cats, and we did. One of the cats that they brought out was a gray female.
They called us that night and told us that the people who had reserved the kitten had picked him up and were we interested in any other cat? Nancy said yeah and named one of the cats we had seen,” explained Frank. The shelter stayed open late so Frank could return, complete the paperwork, and take the cat in time for his early morning ferry home.
His hotel was not pet friendly, so he stopped at Fred Meyer’s and got a buckwheat bag that he warmed in the microwave, then wrapped it in a towel, and created a DIY heated-cage that kept the cat warm in the car for the night. The girls, Nancy and Dainean, their adoptive daughter, stayed on in Juneau for a few days but Frank and the cat left early in the A.M. as planned. When he got home, Frank said that he released the cat and it disappeared, as cats do until they feel comfortable. Three days later, when Nancy got home, she picked up the cat and gave it a cuddle and exclaimed, “This isn’t a girl cat, this is boy cat!”
Obviously there had been a mix up. The cat Nancy had named was not the cat she was now holding, but it didn’t matter in the least.
“As it turns out the cat was the right fit, he had a wonderful personality, he was the right cat for our house. We just loved him to pieces. He was the right, ‘wrong’, cat!“ laughed Frank.
Dainean, just eight years-old at the time, became the beloved pet of Max for 10 years. “That’s the only cat you’ll ever see that had a pet girl. Because he did. That cat loved that girl,” Frank said. Max would often meet Dainean at the door after school and he would also come when called, especially for her.
I recall myself how very cuddly Max was. I had never seen a cat being held in so many positions, just melting around Dainean’s neck or shoulder or laying tummy up in her lap.
“Oh, that cat would tolerate ANYTHING she wanted to do,” agreed Frank.
“What was really funny, is when I would be sitting at the table and that cat walked by wearing cabbage patch clothes,” Frank said with a laugh. “Including a bonnet!”
Max was a notable climber. In addition to climbing the Christmas tree, “Max would climb Dainean’s bunk bed ladder to get into bed with her,” Frank explained. “When he wanted to get down he would turn around and work his way down the ladder just like a person, until he got to 2 or 3 rungs from the bottom and then he would turn around and jump down.”
When Dainean graduated high school and moved to Florida, Frank considered flying Max down to her, but ultimately it wasn’t the best fit. Meanwhile Frank, perhaps for the first time in his life, had an empty house in terms of kids and pets. He recently remarried and travels often to China with his lovely wife, Wei. A new pet family was needed for Max.The perfect solution presented itself when friends who had cat-sat Max, and adored him, lost their own pet. They have now happily adopted Max, who is 12, for the remainder of his years.
I might return to Frank for a future story; he is a deep well of fantastically ‘Pawsitive Tails’ of pets that have filled his home and his heart.