The Christmas season, for me, officially begins with the Santa Claus parade. But you have to start feeling festive a bit earlier if you’re going to be in the parade. The St. Thomas Dog Owners Association decided to enter a “float” of dogs in the 2010 St. Thomas Santa Claus Parade. Leo and Charlie were ready with bells on.
We had a member’s van for carrying dogs and people and borrowed a beautiful brand new 2011 Ram truck from Elgin Chrysler. We decorated both with lights and tinsel. My contribution to the decorating was figuring out how to tie a lighted reindeer to the rear view mirror of the Ram so he shone out from the windshield.
So, off to the parade mustering ground at the Timken’s parking lot. A horse trailer and tiny ponies standing beside it getting tacked up by small girls. Two larger ponies were waiting to be harnessed to a beautiful white open carriage. Nearby a pipe band warmed up. Leo leaped from the car. Party time!
After two years with Leo, it still amazes me how fully he has embraced human activities. He didn’t grow up from puppyhood around parades and sidewalks. A puppy mill ‘production’ dog, he knew nothing about interacting in human society. But he’s a fast learner, and he knows that noise, music and big concentrations of people means there’s likely to be dropped food on the ground!
Floats were massed four wide on First Ave. I had no idea where STDOA might be. So we walked up to Talbot, looking for dogs. The parade marshals, Steve Peters, Joe Preston and Heather Jackson-Chapman, told me where exactly STDOA was. How they knew in that sea of floats and bands is beyond me!
Music blaring, technical difficulties getting sorted out, elves putting on their outfits. It was glorious – like being in the back lot at the circus. STDOA people and dogs were just where the marshals had told me. The dogs were checking each other out – their antlers, Santa coats, elf hats, bells and lighted collars.
Then the floats started moving. As we rounded the corner at First and Talbot, kids were lined 6 or 8 rows deep. A big roar came from them, “dogs, dogs” as we came into sight. All the way along Talbot Street, it was the same. “Look at the dogs. Dogs, dogs!” We weren’t doing anything other than walking along the street.
I had a pocketful of smelly treats. I knew Leo would be vacuuming the street for candy and dropped food, so wanted to have something to keep his attention. It worked – he pranced around me trying to get his nose in my pocket and hands. He looked like he was dancing. He’d sit, give a paw, do all the tricks he could think of to make me give him a treat. So I made the most of it, and he looked like a performing poodle. He was performing all right, begging for food. He’d visit people along the parade route, in reality checking to see if they had any food he could scarf, but he’d waggle his tail and let them pet him.
Santa Claus and Santa Dogs
He and Charlie pranced and danced all the way to Elgin Street. They watched the people and listened to the oohs and aahs. I’m sure they thought all those people had come out just to see them. And, in a way, they had. They’d come to see dogs, people, ponies and vehicles in a magical situation. Everybody dressed up, everybody smiling. Everybody waiting to see Santa, of course. He’s the main event. But in a parade, every ‘act’ is a main event. This year, my first of ever being in a parade, I found out that’s true for participants as well as spectators.
Originally posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Dec. 1, 2010, The 2015 St. Thomas parade was on Nov. 21st. If you’re near Sussex or Hampton NB, both towns’ parades are this Saturday, Dec. 5th.
The Fire Muster is this coming weekend – Labour Day Saturday and Sunday – in Pinafore Park, St. Thomas. A chance to see fire fighters, fire trucks old and new, classic cars, and dogs. There are always lots of dogs at the Fire Muster. On Sunday afternoon, there’s a dog show. It started as a Dalmatian show, and there are still special prizes for Best Dalmatian and Best Dalmatian ‘wannabe’. Dogs wear costumes, do tricks or just walk across the stage. The first time our late dog Jack entered, he won Best in Show. I don’t know who was proudest, us or him. Later, he happily rooted around in his prize hamper from Hartz.
From then on, every time we were at Pinafore, he wanted to walk across the bandshell stage. Strut across it, reliving his moment of glory. I’d sing “here she comes, Miss America”, and he’d look out over the cheering audience that only he could see. The year they tore the old bandshell down he was crestfallen. I took him to the new one at the back of the park, and he walked across it. But you could see it wasn’t the same for him.
He entered the dog show every year, never won again, but always enjoyed it. As soon as he’d see dogs heading for the registration table and lining up, he wanted to join them. He liked going to Pinafore Park any time of the year, but he would get especially excited when he’d see the ladies on the boot toll at the gate. He knew it was Fire Muster time.
For several years, my husband and I worked at the souvenir t-shirt booth. Jack loved being there, meeting and greeting dogs and people. One year, though, he wasn’t really happy. We’d made him his own tshirt. He didn’t like walking around like a canine advertisement but, in his black “muscle shirt”, he brought a lot of attention to the booth.
The new dogs, Leo and Charlie, were at last year’s Fire Muster for the first time. They both entered the dog show. Didn’t win, but they didn’t care. They were happy with their participation gift treats.
First published Aug. 31, 2010 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog
Dallas was on the All Breed Canine Rescue website under “Mature Dogs.” I had been looking through rescue sites, hoping no dog would ‘speak’ to me. This gray-muzzled, sharp-faced, squat-bodied Shepherd-type did. It was way too soon.
Our German Shepherd Jack had just died. He’d been with me for 9½ years, rescued at 14 weeks from neglect. He was my friend and touchstone. No other dog could replace him or compete for my affection. But the house seemed so empty. The cats missed him. My husband said no new dog, he needed time to mourn. I missed Jack and the presence of a dog. I took ‘match yourself to a dog breed’ questionnaires. I checked ABCR’s site again – Dallas was still listed. My husband still couldn’t think of another dog in Jack’s place.
It was a cat who changed his mind. The “boss” cat, she ceased harassing the others and just lay in Jack’s favourite spots, staring vacantly. After a week of this, my husband said “maybe we should get a dog for that cat.” Dallas came for a visit. The cat ran up to her, delighted. Then realizing this dog wasn’t Jack, she hissed violently and stalked off.
When ABCR got Dallas from the pound, she was not spayed and had arthritic or injured hind legs. Most dramatically, she had no hair on her back. “Her skin was like raw hamburger,” I was told. Allergy treatment and special food had cleared up the hair loss. Still, no one really knew what was wrong with her. We were recovering financially from vet bills for Jack and our elderly cat Henry, and emotionally from months of caring for chronically ill animals and the loss of them. Was taking Dallas asking for more expense and sadness? Quite possibly. But she looked like home, like she belonged here.
After a few more visits, Dallas came to stay. She had enjoyed visiting, but expected her foster mom to be waiting to take her home. The day her foster family left without her, she clawed at the door howling inconsolably. I was in tears.
A few hours later, after a good long walk, Dallas looked around and seemed to decide that, if this was now home, she’d make the best of it. She glued herself to me and is very protective. She doesn’t trust men, but is realizing that the one in her new house isn’t a threat to her or me. The cats have warmed up to her. Her extended human family welcomed her. My sister seems resemblances to her late Shepherd/Husky. My mother sees our old Shepherd in her. I have taken her to Jack’s grave and to his favourite walking places. I tell her about him and she wrinkles her nose and listens.
She takes pills for hip dysplasia and allergies. A lump on her rear end was easily removed and was benign. Sometimes her legs are creaky, but she plays and chases balls. She’s not Jack, but she is Dallas, a dog who, like him, has adopted us for life. My sister said, “You needed her as much as she needed you.” It’s true.
(Part 2) Dallas died almost three months to the day after we got her. One morning in July she threw up. She seemed ok later, but didn’t want to chase her ball and really just put up with our walk for my sake. That evening, she was listless. Late at night, she was feverish and chilled. I should have called her vet. I didn’t. I took her in first time in the morning. I had to help her out of the car. They couldn’t see anything obviously wrong, so kept her in for observation and tests. She died in the night. No one knows why.
Her gift to us was to fill the void left by the deaths of Jack and Henry. I hadn’t known if I could open my heart fully again to another dog. But Dallas showed me I could. She reminded us of Jack and other dogs in our lives. But she was also her own dog, with her own ways of doing things and funny habits.
I was devastated at losing her. A friend said maybe she was a messenger whose purpose was to translate love of, and from, Jack to other dogs for us. Losing a dog is heart breaking, but the loneliness of no dog is worse. We’ll be adopting another, probably a Shepherd type, soon.
(Part 3) A few months passed. We adopted Charlie, a little terrier mix, then Leo, a weird Standard Poodle puppy mill survivor. We didn’t so much adopt Leo as he adopted me. He later saw his way clear to adopt Jim too. They are absolutely nothing like Jack or Dallas or any dog that’s gone before them in our lives. I still “see” Jack and Dallas in the house and backyard. I tell Charlie and Leo about them. They don’t much care about my stories, but they love to run and play and snuggle. They’re both part of my heart now.
I started this story in July 2008 for an online dog story competition but didn’t submit it after having to add Part 2. It was posted on the St. Thomas Dog Blog Nov. 19, 2010.
– by Jim Stewart, originally published on the STDOA website
The WWII story of Sergeant Gander is one of courage, companionship, and sacrifice. Gander was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal in 2000. Sgt. Gander, a Newfoundland dog, and other animals who served in Canada’s military are recognized on the Veterans Affairs Canada webpage. A grenade killed Sgt. Gander. He grabbed it and ran, taking it away from his men. It took his life when it exploded, but his action saved many.
The book Sergeant Gander: A Canadian Hero, by St. Thomas’ own Robyn Walker, is called “a fascinating account of the Royal Rifles of Canada’s canine mascot, and his devotion to duty during the Battle of Hong Kong in the Second World War.” Intended for children, it is very informative for anyone interested in Newfoundland dogs, Newfoundland or Canada’s role in WWII.
The Dickin Medal, at left, has been awarded to heroic animals by the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) since 1914. It has an amazing history and the list of recipients includes dogs, pigeons, cats, and horses.
Judy, a British WWII dog (at right wearing her Dickin Medal), was the only dog to ever officially be listed as a Prisoner of War in a Japanese prison camp.
Damien Lewis wrote about her and her partner Frank Williams in Judy: A dog in a million. Here is the Amazon link. Mr. Williams and his wife and children settled in British Columbia in the 1950s. His family’s website tells about his life and Judy’s, and plans to make their story into a movie. (“A Tribute…”)
Flanders Fields’ Bonfire, WWI
Another faithful four legged friend who served in war was the horse Bonfire. Bonfire is shown here with John McCrae, born in Guelph, Ontario, who served as a field surgeon with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War I. The misery the two of them saw is hard to imagine. McCrae, who would become a Lieutenant Colonel, never returned to Canada, having passed away in 1918 from pneumonia and buried in France with full military honours. His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and his mourners, who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae’s friends and staff, were preceded by Bonfire, with McCrae’s boots reversed in the stirrups. John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields.
Eli and Colton Rusk, Afghanistan
“Fallen Marine’s parents adopt son’s bomb dog” read the headlines Feb. 2, 2011. In only the 2nd time that a US military dog has been adopted by the family of a handler killed in action, Eli’s leash was handed to Darrell Rusk, his wife and two sons who crouched down to hug and pet Eli, who lifted his paw. Because Eli was still considered operational, the adoption was approved with special permission of the Sec. of the Navy. Eli will join the other dogs on the Rusk ranch in Texas.
Eli was assigned to Rusk in May, 2010. On duty in Afghanistan, the two quickly grew inseparable. Military dogs are supposed to sleep in kennels when deployed, but Rusk broke the rules and let Eli curl up with him on his cot. He shared his meals with him. “What’s mine is his” wrote Rusk.
The day a sniper killed Colton Rusk, Eli was the first to reach his body. So loyal, he snapped at other Marines who rushed to his fallen handler. They had already found two roadside bombs that day, and had stopped when a vehicle had run over a third. Rusk was shot after the soldiers stopped to secure the area. Pfc. Colton Rusk was 20 years old.
One of them, in the photo on the left, is Balto. He was the lead husky in the dog team that ran the final leg of a run across Alaska to Nome in 1925. The teams were bringing serum to combat a diphtheria epidemic in the town.
The run made by these dogs and men is now commemorated in the annual Iditarod race.
Smoky – “Four pounds of courage”
Smoky was found by an American soldier in an abandoned foxhole in the New Guinea jungle in 1944. She was sold to Corporal Bill Wynne for two Australian pounds so her owner could return to his poker game. For the next two years Smoky traveled with Wynne, even on combat flights over the Pacific. Wynne was with the 26th Photo Recon Squadron and went everywhere, jungle and air, and was credited with being on twelve missions. Smoky was on all of them.
Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life by warning him of incoming shells on a transport ship, calling her an “angel from a foxhole.” Smoky guided Wynne to duck the fire that hit the eight men standing next to them.
In down time, Smoky learned numerous tricks, which she performed for the entertainment of the other troops with Special Services and in hospitals from Australia to Korea. With Wynne, Smoky developed a repertoire beyond that of any dog of her day. In 1944 Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area.” Smoky would later, after the war, perform in 42 live-television shows without repeating a trick.
From Bill Wynne’s website he tells us that, having had six lessons in obedience training in Cleveland in 1942, his experience when he obtained the four pound Yorkie in New Guinea was indeed limited. But soon Smoky was ‘playing dead’ and weaving between Bill’s legs as he walked along. She learned to walk on a drum and peddle a scooter made from an orange crate. And she was soon walking on a tight wire blindfolded.
Smoky’s tricks enabled her to become a hero in her own right. She helped when engineers built an airbase. They had to run a telegraph wire through 70 feet of pipe, which had shifted in spots. It was quite the moment when she emerged from the other end of the pipe with the string that had the wire attached. Her “trick” saved three days work and men being exposed on the runway in a very dangerous situation.
For most people, her ultimate trick was spelling her name out of letters by actual recognition, no matter how they were placed. Smoky and Bill performed for their buddies and at Army and Navy Hospitals. Many of her tricks are used today in agility trials. She and Bill were in show business for 10 years after the war doing the tricks Smoky learned overseas, all set to music. And Bill worked in Hollywood for a short time after the war, training and handling dogs in major studios.
According to Wikipedia, Animal Planet determined that Smoky was the first therapy dog of record. Her service in this arena began in July 1944 at the 233rd Station Hospital, in New Guinea, where she accompanied nurses to see the incoming battlefield casualties from the Biak Island invasion. Smoky was already a celebrity of sorts, as her photograph was in Yank Down Under magazine at the same time, which made it easy to get permission. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, was the commanding officer who allowed Smoky to go on rounds. He also permitted her to sleep with Wynne in his hospital bed for five nights. Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years, during and after World War II.
After the war Wynne brought Smoky back to Cleveland to live with his family. In Cleveland, Wynne and Smoky were featured in a page one story with pictures, and Smoky soon become a national sensation. Over the next 10 years Smoky and Wynne traveled to Hollywood and all over the world to perform demonstrations of her remarkable skills. She appeared with Wynne on some of the earliest TV shows in the Cleveland area, including a show of their own called Castles in the Air on Cleveland’s WKYC Channel 3. They were especially popular as entertainers at the veterans’ hospitals. According to Wynne, “after the War, Smoky entertained millions during the late 40s and early 50s.”
In 1957, at age 14, Smoky passed away unexpectedly. Wynne and his family buried Smoky in a World War II .30 caliber ammo box. Nearly 50 years later, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005, a bronze life-size statue of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet atop a two-ton granite base was unveiled (right with Mr. Wynne and Habie). The monument is dedicated to:
“Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and Dogs of All Wars”
Bill retired after 50 years of professional photography. After his experience in the 26th Photo Recon Squadron, he spent 7 years with the National Advisory Committee For Aeronautics (now NASA). He flew on research missions and worked on research programs that tested and developed equipment still used in modern aircraft today. Bill then worked as a photo journalist and photographer/writer with the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 31 years. He returned to NASA for four more years before retiring to write Yorkie Doodle Dandy, a memoir about his war experiences and Smoky.
United States War Dogs Association
War Dog adoption requests rose following the Bin Laden mission. Great interest is now on this topic. Are retired war dogs the new “hot” dog choice? There is also a website United States War Dogs Association that has a lot of research and information. You can turn the music off, too. There’s info on the modeling session and the finished scale model of the project they are working on. It is the U.S. War Dog Memorial to be located on the grounds of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New Jersey.
The War Dogs Association website has lots of information and personal stories such as the one pictured here – Who Let the Dogs Out? – about the Vietnam era. It also has a War Dog Heroes page, and info on books about dogs in war.
One book it mentions, Always Faithful, is about Marine dogs of WWII. The story is told by retired Marine Corps captain and veterinarian, Bill Putney, who “writes a moving and heartrending account of his days as commander of the 3rd Marine War Dog Platoon, in which some 72 dogs and their handlers were his responsibility.”
Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd?
The Navy Seal team that took down Osama Bin Laden included one dog. Like other members of the Seal team, the identity is kept secret, including the breed at this point. The Seals have long favoured Newfoundland dogs. But a smaller breed, including one trained to sniff out explosives or booby trapped, may have been used, especially if the dog was strapped to the trainer and dropped from a helicopter into a desert compound.
Interesting coverage of the speculation surrounding which breed and other info is on Global Animal, which includes some other sources too. PS: The claim by one source that some trained military dogs have titanium teeth at a cost of $2000 each has not been verified, but that hasn’t stopped the story from spreading.
‘Vapor Wake’ trained dogs being used in NYC
In a new twist on combating terrorism, dogs specially trained to detect a ‘vapor wake’ left by explosives are starting to be used in the New York City subway system. Shown above is Rachel during a trial run at Grand Central Station. According to the article, it costs $20,000 to to breed and train these animals. Normal bomb-sniffing dogs are trained to find explosives that are stationary. Dogs like Rachel are trained to detect a moving scent.
The Dogs of War
Here’s something you don’t see in the Sears or Eaton’s catalogue: Dog Gear from K9 Storm Inc., a Canadian company that was awarded an $86,000 contract by U.S. Naval Special Warfare Group. The dog pictured above is wearing a K9 Storm Aerial Insertion Vest which is part of their catalogue (photo below).
The photos above are from a photo essay at foreignpolicy.com. Great info with the pics too.
And as with any war action, there are wounds and casualties. The Holland Working Dog (MWD) Veterinary Hospital is established to handle the special cases that arise from military action. The hospital was named in memory of Lt. Col. Daniel Holland, killed in Iraq in 2006, the first Army veterinarian to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. The dog shown above is Taker, who is thankfully getting nothing more serious than a root canal (photo from Foreign Policy). And below – a bit of history for you from a 1935 Popular Science article.
Remembrance Day in St. Thomas, 2011
Remembrance Day ceremonies took place at the Boy Soldier Memorial in front of the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas. Despite the cold wind, there was a good turnout of people who paid their quiet respects to those who have made our society possible.
Five years ago today at 2:15 pm ET, my beautiful German Shepherd Jack died. We had his vet euthanize him before his body did it by itself. It was getting pretty close; I don’t think he would have survived another night. He had a number of physical ailments; we don’t know exactly what all was wrong internally but I suspect a fast-growing cancer was involved. He was only 9 3/4 years old. He had been my best friend, counselor and “baby-dog” for 9 1/2 of those years.
He came to me as a puppy needing a home with love and freedom. He had been tied outside and neglected, fed irregularly and poorly. At about 4 months, his back legs were so weak he couldn’t climb a step. He didn’t know how to play or run around. That broke my heart.
He learned to play – quickly! There were quirks in his personality that remained for life. A dog trainer told me that the first three months of a pup’s life are very important for socialization. That is when they learn from their mother and littermates how to play properly and they learn how to interact with humans. I don’t know how long Jack was with his mother, but I do know his first couple of months on his own were literally spent on his own.
I had not wanted a dog at that time, but couldn’t find a good home for him. So he stayed with me, and I am so thankful. He taught me so much and was my constant companion.
Mouse batteries dead in my usual computer, and not a new battery in the house. But luckily I have pets in costumes pics on my laptop. As if there aren’t always ‘stupid pet pics’ on any computer of mine! So in case you need some inspiration to dress up your dog, cat, kid or self on this eve of All Saints’ Day, here you go.
Three dogs and one cat, for your viewing pleasure, present:
Pets in Costumes
And at the end of the day you can only hope you get enough treats and not too many tricks.
For those feeling the full power of Hurricane Sandy and whatever else is happening with weather patterns right now, we are all thinking of you.
Sleep tight big fella. Words for both Schmeichel and Lloyd at the end of Monday’s episodes. Thank you, Carmel Morgan, for two perfect episodes. Sad and perfect.
The death of Schmeichel was beautifully done. Ches talking to him while waiting for the vet, telling him how frightened he was, how much he needed his help through the next stage of his life, telling him he loved him. And earlier, Kirk speaking up for Schmeichel’s right to not suffer, saying “I don’t know all the words for the body parts in Latin or owt, but I know a dog who’s had enough when I see one… If he could talk, he’d say Ches dude, no more operations, thanks but no thanks.”
Gary being there for Ches, listening to him talk about Schmeichel – “not an average Great Dane, the Greatest Dane ever”. Gary helping Ches take Schmeichel home from the vet clinic, not questioning or chiding, just helping, and nodding an apology to the vet. Even Katie came through in the crunch. She came back home and just once reminded him of his responsibilities, lack of money etc. Then she shut up and was as supportive as it seems she could be.
Only two things I would have changed. No one, including the vet, mentioned Schmeichel’s age in regard to the wisdom of any operation. Eight is old for a Great Dane. That alone would be cause for concern with surgery or anaethesia. Other than that, the vet’s advice was spot on. Also, I wish Kirk had been there when poor Schmeichel was euthanized. He meant more to Schmeichel and vice versa than Katie. But maybe her presence was meant to show the moving on of Ches’s life with her and not with Schmeichel and Kirk. The actual death scene was beautifully and sensitively done. At the final shot of Ches’s face, as Schmeichel’s laboured breathing ceased, part of my mind (the part that wasn’t crying) thought where are they going to go now? Commercial break? Can’t go to a noisy or silly scene. Can’t go to a tense dramatic scene either. Got to give time for Schmeichel’s demise to sink in.
Going back to Lloyd, morose in his living room, with Steve and a few cans for company was perfect. Lloyd was emotionally and physically drained, from losing Cheryl and defending her to Karl. Earlier in the cab office, Karl had tried to cheer Lloyd up by saying “a free-loading pole dancer with a kid in tow – you’re well shot of her, man.” I’m with Karl on this, but it wasn’t the time for Lloyd to hear it. And he needed to release his frustration, so he attacked Karl then fired him. Steve separated them and sent Lloyd home.
Steve went around (at Tracy’s suggestion) with some beer to keep him company. Lloyd talked about anything other than Cheryl. He says he overheard Katie say she liked the name James for a boy – James Brown, and she didn’t even know who the child would share a name with. Lloyd said “my cousin married a woman named Cat Stevens.” Steve asks “Did she change her name?” “Why, because Cat Stevens did?” “No, because she got married.” “Dunno but she’ll always be Cat Stevens to me. Then again, so will Cat Stevens.”
After Schmeichel’s death scene, when we go back to Lloyd and Steve, Steve suggests they hit some bars. Lloyd’s up for it. I hope they have a good time and Lloyd sleeps well. He deserves it. And Schmeichel, rest in peace. You are the Greatest Dane.
There were a lot of great scenes this week. The birthday party from hell with Rosie’s press coverage and Sophie and Sian’s hidden engagement rings, Paul telling Eileen about his wife’s illness and the toll it takes, Sally sniping during the prayer at John Stape’s funeral, Lloyd learning the truth about Cheryl and Chris. Powerful scenes in a lot of good storylines. But the story for me was Schmeichel.
My heart started breaking early in the week, when Ches said Schmeichel wasn’t feeling well. At that time, Ches was too busy with Fizz to fully attend to his dog. That, I think, has come back to haunt him. Kirk took Schmeichel to the vet. Ches sees the dog bed out back, and no dog. The vet kept him in overnight, Kirk explains, looks like liver disease, maybe cancer.
Playing grown-up isn’t as easy as Katie and Ches had thought. Bills are overdue, including rent, an eviction notice is served. Katie is getting big as a house and, naturally, is concerned for the wellbeing and future of her unborn baby. They might end up with another child as well, if the wheels of justice don’t soon clear Fizz of the murder conviction. Katie and Ches are only 16 and 17.
Ches reluctantly accepts Owen’s offer of a loan for the rent. He even asks if Owen would also loan the money for Schmeichel’s biopsy. No, Owen says, not for a dog. Be a man, son, you’ve got a baby coming. Owen is right, of course, but he doesn’t realize what Schmeichel means to Ches. He, Katie and Anna, the other principles in this story, did not know the lonely little boy who was saved by that dog. They know he loves Schmeichel, but I don’t think they can know the depths of reliance he has on him.
At the vet clinic, Kirk said to Schmeichel “Daddy’s here” but that doesn’t fully describe the relationship between Ches and Schmeichel. Since Ches was a child, Schmeichel has been his dependant but also his friend and support. Ches’s mother has come and gone, the man he loved as a father – Les Battersby – has come and gone. Even Fizz has left him, now due to circumstances outside her control but earlier too, when she put John Stape ahead of Ches. Only Schmeichel and Kirk have been steadfast for Ches throughout all his growing up years.
I hoped that Kirk could get through to Ches, that euthanasia for Schmeichel is the best option. Kirk knows that, but can’t get the words out right, and he believes Ches will make the right decision.
Ches needs someone older and wiser to tell him he’s not doing Schmeichel any favours and sometimes death is kinder for all. Owen, even if he understood all that Schmeichel means to Ches, can’t do it.
Ches has a chip on his shoulder toward Owen. He feels he has to prove himself to Katie’s dad, prove that he’s just as much as man as Owen is. Well, Ches, you’re not. You’re a kid and you’re facing one of the hardest things in life – the decision to kill your best friend. It never gets easier, you just learn that sometimes it’s the only thing to do and that keeping your beloved animal alive is something you’re doing for yourself, not your pet.
Pawlooza last Saturday in London Ont was great. So many people and dogs! Other than a bit of a walk-around, I hardly saw anything of it other than our St. Thomas Dog Owners booth in Rescue Row. But the world comes by one’s booth, I found.
We didn’t take Leo and Charlie. Charlie likes a party, but gets bored and cranky quickly. Leo gets very enthusiastic at parties! While I felt a bit ‘odd man out’ without dogs, I found our booth provided a haven for dogs who wanted a little quiet time.
Next to us was the Chinese Crested Rescue. They had several of these dogs with hairless bodies and long plumes on head and tail. I overheard them telling stories of their dogs to people flipping through photo albums. Horrific stories. One dog was left in the house, locked in, after the people moved away. Fortunately, someone suspected that she was in there, and she was saved.
Why, I thought, would someone leave a dog like that? Any dog, but one of these? These aren’t dogs you see notices tacked up for, saying “free puppies.” You have to go to a lot of trouble and expense to get one. So why would you then just walk away?
A magnificent black Standard Poodle across the aisle. A St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog now, he’d been taken from what sounds like an unbalanced hoarder. The man who rescued him had been looking for a Giant Schnauzer. He’d had them for years, but this time he wound up with a giant Poodle.
He said Giant Schnauzers end up in rescue care because people get them as puppies and then are surprised at how big they get, how much care their coats take and don’t want to be bothered. How can that happen? Doesn’t the “Giant” in their name give you the tip off that this is going to be a big dog? They too are expensive pups. He said it’s easy to pay $4000 for one. You would lay out money like that and not realize that it’s going to be a big dog and that rough beautiful coat requires a lot of brushing and clipping?
I passed by Friendly Giants Rescue on my one tour. A St. Bernard was lolling around, hoping for a home I guess. Sure, there are legitimate, even heartbreaking, stories of why someone has to give up their dog. But so many of them?
Do people get them as status symbols? Be the first on your block to have a hairless dog. Then you realize there is upkeep and expense particular to that breed and it’s too much bother? Or you saw the movie Beethoven and thought how much fun it would be having him living with you? And you forgot you’re already cramped in your tiny apartment?
I am so glad the rescue people are around, both for specific breeds and just for regular old dogs. Without them, I don’t know what would happen to these poor creatures. A woman at Boston Terrier Rescue told me a lady had made an 8-hour drive to Pawlooza, just to look for a dog at their booth. I hope she found one.
In the morning, when Helen opened her cabaña door, the dog was standing beside it. She was surprised. She’d seen him on the beach but never around the cabaña. He moved away when she came out, but not far, and he didn’t back off when she said “hello doggie”. She walked on, heading for the indoor café across from the beach where she could get café con leche. She needed air-conditioning and white tablecloths to help her think about being on holiday alone, with her limited Spanish.
In the restaurant she dawdled, pouring the hot coffee and hot milk from their small covered pots into her cup only a bit at a time to keep the liquids hot as long as possible. She ordered more and a sweet roll. It had been easy, with Robin as translator, protector and all things male and acclimated. But Robin had gone to San José the previous afternoon. He had work to do, and she’d meet him in four day’s time. Before he’d left, the thought of being here alone was exciting. She knew more Spanish than she had last year when they were here. She knew the beach and the sea, she knew the café vendors that spoke English. She knew the trails and picnic spots in the parque nacionale that bordered the public beach. It was the best place to test her Español sea legs. It was still scary though, knowing there was no Robin to provide backup.
Even accustomed as they were to turistas soaking up the cooled air of their restaurant, the waiters began pointedly glancing in her direction. They were replacing tablecloths, setting up for lunch, wanting to clear her table. She finished her coffee and took a deep breath as she went outside, to the heat and the linguistic challenges waiting beyond the anglicized environment of the café.
Close to the door but far enough away from anyone taking exception to his presence sat the dog. When he saw Helen, he stood up and gave one wave of his long tail. “Hello again, what are you doing here?” He didn’t move away, but she didn’t want to push her luck by going near him so she walked back toward the beach. The dog followed a couple of paces behind.
From his belly up, he looked like a perfect German Shepherd in head and ears, colouring and body shape. It was only his legs that made you wonder about the other part of his parentage: short little Corgi legs. He’d hung around her and Robin the past couple days, but wouldn’t come near. They had put bits of food down for him. He wouldn’t go near it until they stepped back. There were many stray dogs on the beach, some quite ferocious looking. Most came to the beach only at dusk, foraging for food people had dropped. This one hung around in the day too and looked like he should be someone’s pet. No, un perro de la playa – a beach dog – they were told. He likes the tourists, they feed him. Helen started ensuring she had a bit of leftover from any meal. This morning, when it seemed he was changing the terms of their relationship, she’d forgot to save any of her sweet bun.
She crossed the road to the beach and walked the length of it, the dog closing the distance until he was at her heel. She turned to him and put her hand out. After a minute, he sniffed her palm. “So, we’re friends?” He licked her hand. She ruffled his large pointed ears. “Hola, perrito, mi amigo.” He wagged his tail.
They walked on, side by side. She bought a pop and sat at a picnic table to study her language book. The dog lay beside her under the table. A boy came to clear tables. He saw the dog. He said to Helen in English, “The dog bothers you?” and jumped to shoo him away. The dog didn’t move, just sat up alongside Helen’s leg. “No, no, he’s fine. He’s with me.” The boy looked amused and went back to the stall. Helen saw him talking to his boss. A while later, he came back with a paper plate of meat scraps and plantain chips. “Here, he like this.”
Everywhere she went that day, the dog went with her. Some of the beach concessionaires smiled to see them, some asked if he was annoying her. None seemed surprised that he’d attached himself to her.
Helen had dinner at the thatched-roofed restaurant beside her cabaña. She ordered a full meal, so she’d have mucho leftovers for Perro who lay under her table. Clearly, he’d defined his job – to protect her. She was learning hers – to provide for him while he was in her employ. They went back to Helen’s cabaña, with the leftovers. Perro waited outside but came in when he saw Helen putting the plate on the floor. Perro had his dinner and slept on the floor at the end of Helen’s bed. Next morning they went to an outdoor beach café for breakfast. Perro lay under Helen’s table and nothing was said about his presence by the proprietor or the boy waiting tables.
Helen wanted to swim. She had her bathing suit on under her sundress and contact lenses in. She had a towel, a novel and sunscreen in a tote bag. She hoped it was safe to leave it on the beach. She and Robin had, but it’s different when you’re alone. Different for you and perhaps for thieves. But she had no choice if she wanted to swim. She preferred to not wear contacts in the water. In surf like this, big Pacific rollers, a near-sighted person is challenged. Contacts can be torn out, glasses can be ripped off. The options are wade sighted in the shallows or go blind into the surf. Helen usually chose blind but this time decided good sight was better, to see what Perro would do and if her bag was left alone. She hoped he would prove useful as a guard dog. It was a faint hope; Perro was surely on closer terms with the local thieves than with her. If she stayed close to shore, she could have a brief swim and keep an eye on her gear. She headed to the water, and Perro came right behind her.
The main beach is silky sand with rolling waves pounding ashore. There were no surfers that day, but the surf was worthy of their efforts. Helen had learned to body surf on these breakers, first time she and Robin were here. She strode into the sea, Perro following. So much for him protecting her bag. She had to battle the waves just to walk out far enough to swim. She didn’t think Perro would keep following, but he did. He was soon in over his depth. Helen returned to him, trying to get him to go ashore. She wanted to swim, and Perro wanted to keep her near him. She went out farther and farther, figuring the waves would force him to give up. He kept swimming, waves pounding in his face and then over his head. Helen looked back, astounded to see his head bob up from the surf, battling to get to her. His face, when it wasn’t submerged by waves, was frantic. He was in over his head and, in his mind, so therefore was she. He couldn’t let her be that far away.
Helen let the waves carry her back, he swam out. When they met, Helen coming inland, Perro going seaward, he climbed up the front of her, exhausted. She held him and let them both be driven back to shore. Helen decided to try again; maybe Perro would realise it was best to leave her to her watery fate. No, he swam out again, and again they floated in, gripped together. Third time, Helen stayed closer to shore. Perro stayed at the water’s edge, with eyes on her. If she crossed his designated depth line, he was in the water, to save her. If she didn’t, he stayed on the beach. When he felt sure that she would stay nearby, he took up sentry duty beside her bag. She was free to have a leisurely swim as long as she stayed close enough to not worry Perro.
After her Perro-permitted swim, Helen trotted up to where he stood guard. They lay down on the towel and sunned their bellies and their backs. Helen read and Perro dreamed with moving paws and whiffling noises. Was he chasing rabbits or swimming in his dreams?
For dinner Helen and Perro walked to a fancy restaurant about a half kilometer up the road. She told him he deserved it. The waiter said no dogs. She wasn’t asking to take him in the dining room, Helen said, she just wanted an outside table for “myself and my dog”. English in a haughty tone got them a lovely patio table and a delicious doggy-bag.
Next day Perro and Helen use their agreed-upon system for swimming. Helen stays near shore and Perro guards her stuff. She wears no contacts or glasses. She’s promised Perro she won’t go out over her head, but she can still duck inside the waves, surf with them and let them roll over her head. Perro sits spine rigid beside her pack. A man walks past, too close for Perro’s liking. He snarls until the man passes, and resumes his watch over her. Helen comes out of the water. Perro keeps his position until she reaches him, then wags himself silly in delight that she’s back safe and sound.
She asks him what they should do for dinner. Being a beggar dog, he knows to keep his own counsel and let the donor decide. She decides well – a thatched hut bar up the beach. The owner knows Helen. He tried to talk her and Robin into operating the bar in winter so he and his wife could go to San José or maybe to San Francisco. There’s a cat, the bar mouser, and a parrot. Helen lets the parrot sit on her head where it squawks at Perro. No one else makes a fuss about Perro’s presence; he is a welcome guest. He just has to put up with that insufferable parrot, and the cat staring at him with malevolent eyes. Pay-off is big time! A big plate of fresh shrimp.
Next morning, Helen packed a small bag with water and biscuits for them both. They walked across the wide swath of public beach and entered the jungle, heading to the parque nacionale. Helen had been in the park before; she knew there was a small, protected beach. Without surf, it would be nice for Perro. Perro also knew the park, and the park rangers, and he lagged behind as they neared the entrance. He knew he wasn’t welcome.
Helen strode to the park gates. She too knew dogs weren’t allowed. The guard saw him, and said quite a bit, the only words Helen could pick out being “prohibidos los perros”. Helen said “El es mi perro, él viene conmigo.” The guard said in English, “No dog in park, get away.” To make sure his point was clear, he raised his rifle and aimed it at Perro.
Helen jumped in front of it screaming, “put that gun down right now. Are you a lunatic?” “No dog in el parque. Stray dogs get shot. You not want that, get away.” “You’ll have to shoot me first and think how that will look on international tv.” She carried on in that vein, despite knowing no cameras were anywhere around. Perro snapped ferociously, from behind Helen. Using both Spanish and English, the guard told Helen he had the right to arrest her, and shoot the dog. Helen said “no tienes jack shit. Si you touch este perro, yo kill you myself. Y yo soy una norteamericana, una canadiense. You want to defend yourself against headlines – ‘el guard en shootout con una canadiense y perro de la beach’?” The guard put down his rifle. “We know this dog – un parásito, always begging. This one time, go in.” Helen didn’t know, but hoped, that her impassioned defense, fracturing two languages, helped Perro win the day. And his action! He too confronted the guard and he knew, better than she, the risk he was taking. They walked fast as soon as they got in the park. Get some distance, in case the guard changes his mind.
They passed the first beach, one with large waves but not as large as those that hit the public beach. Some people were way out, riding the waves. Families with small children were on the beach or in shallow water where ebbing waves washing over the children gave them a thrill without endangering them. Ten minutes more walking brought them to a small beach tucked in a cove. A couple of people were at the far end. Quiet beach and quiet water, just as Helen remembered it from a day there with Robin. Helen and Perro waded in. Helen swam and floated, Perro dogpaddled alongside her and sometimes rested in her arms. They swam, sunned and swam again. They left just before twilight and walked across the public beach in darkness.
Supper at her cabaña restaurant, steak. Not what Helen would usually order, but she’d be leaving the next day and Perro needed a good meal. How could she take him with her, give him a home? But she and Robin are going on to Nicaragua – part of this working holiday. Borders, planes, hotels, vets, vaccinations, not enough time. There is no way she can take Perro, and should she even try? She tells herself she’s not the first turista Perro has made feel at home here, and there will be more.
The morning bus arrives. Helen boards and so does Perro. She tries to explain to him and the driver while she puts him off the bus. The driver puts the bus in gear and again finds he has an extra passenger, a very determined dog. All Helen can hope, as she pushes the dog off the bus the final time, is that another turista comes soon for him. Maybe one who will take him home. She stumbles to the back of the bus, tears streaming, and looks back. He sits at the bus stop, watching the bus as it snakes its way out of town.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.