Kathy Jeanneault is breaking her silence.
Although the pain hasn’t faded, the owner of All Heart Pet Rescue says it’s time to pay tribute to a woman who became one of her best friends over the love they have for animals.
“When Brenda (Lautaoja) died I wasn’t ready to speak,” Jeanneault said, her voice breaking. “It’s been a long haul. . . a difficult one.”
Jeanneault said the tragedy of her friend’s passing has taken a toll on her, but Saturday’s annual All Heart Walk-A-Thon is the perfect time to honour Lautaoja.
“This was the Brenda Lautaoja show. She would spend the entire year collecting beer cans, beer bottles and Canadian Tire money across Northeastern Ontario,” Jeanneault told The Nugget Friday.
“Every year for the last six or seven years she always showed up with thousands in hand. She didn’t even have a dog, but relished the camaraderie the event brought and enjoyed walking my dog,” she said.
“Brenda knew there was no better joy than the lick of a dog.”
This year the walk is happening without Lautaoja.
Lautaoja’s body was found in her home on March 23. She was 68 years old at the time of her death.
Her son, Troy Lautaoja, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in her death. He also faces a charge of aggravated assault on a teenage boy in an incident which took place hours before Brenda Lautaoja died.
According to a GoFundMe page set up for the 14-year-old victim, who police said was not related to the suspect, the Kirkland Lake youth sustained stab wounds to the head and neck March 23.
Jeanneault said honouring her friend’s passing has taken an emotional toll on her. The pain is still fresh and the loss is insurmountable.
“She would drive to All Heart (in Powassan) through rain, sleet and snow in her Ford Flex filled with dog food and most times she would bring me dogs that couldn’t be adopted in Kirkland Lake,” she said.
“She brought more than 200 dogs in the seven years. She stopped at every pet store from Timmins to New Liskeard to ask if they had extra dog food to spare for All Heart.”
Jeanneault said she has countless stories about Lautaoja and pictures that bring a smile to her face.
“Brenda was the person who heard an animal had gotten loose, she would get a large trap and wait with the trap in hopes of rescuing it.”
When asked how the pair met, Jeanneault said “of course through a dog.
“She found a dog and didn’t know what to do with it so she jumped on the computer and found me and reached out. She asked about that dog every day and honestly was a bit of a pain, but we connected and kept in touch.”
Their friendship and bond grew over the years.
“She wasn’t just a friend of the animals, but she became my family,” Jeanneault said. “After my husband died she checked on me daily. She was someone who was always just a telephone call away.”
Although Lautaoja will not celebrate any more of Jeanneault’s birthday’s, she did leave her something to remember her by.
“I was asked to clean out her closet and I found this gift with my name on it. It was a beautiful antique jewelry box and inside was a necklace with a pendant that said Friends Forever with a paw print on it.”
Jeanneault said she ordered a slate plaque in memory of her friend that will hang in All Heart Pet Rescue.
“She did so much, not just for the animals, but for me. I miss her so much.”