Category Archives: dogs

My father’s letter. To my dog.

Dixie 1930_NEW

My Dad with his first dog, Dixie — the first of many.

While rifling through some archival, dog-related papers (certificates of vaccination, vet bills, pet insurance, etc.), I happened upon a letter written twenty years by my father, Bill Hardy, speaking in the voice of his then dog, the Terrible Touli,  to Buddy, our then newly acq1uired golden retriever puppy.  I reproduce it here:

Dear Buddy,

Welcome to the family! You may not realize it yet, but you have really walked into a great deal.  These people (especially the female) will really do anything you want. 

There are a few ground rules which may prove helpful to you in achieving the life of love and luxury you are about to begin. Be adorable! This is a MUST. I always found it easy myself, and I’m sure you will be able to handle it, even if you are not a cocker spaniel.

Me and Buddy_NEW

‘The female’ and Buddy

Barking?  I know the temptation will be there, just to let your people know how much you love them, etc., but keep it down! Especially early in the morning. A little “woof” will suffice for most purposes.

Now the tough part.

We dogs have a unique way of staking out our territory.  We find the spot and then we pee on it. People are not always understanding of this perfectly sensible practice – especially indoors. If your two people do their job properly, they will set a reasonable routine for you to walk outside.  For some reason they don’t seem to mind our peeing outside as long as it is not on the neighbors’ flowers. The same thing goes for bowel movements. Of course, they will create some silly name for this natural process. My two, for example, refer to it as “poddle toodling.”  Isn’t that the silliest thing?  Anyway, let them train you in those processes.

As for food, you will work that out naturally.  We have an inborn talent in that department. I hope they don’t give you things that are bad for you, even though you may think you want everything  in sight.


Touli, not my favorite dog, although my parents adored his sorry ass

Be sure to get a few toys.  They will keep you company when your people are away at work. They have to work, you know, so that they will make money to buy you things.

Anyway, I’m glad you are in the family.  I don’t know when we will get a chance to get together in person, but I’ll keep up with you by email. Maybe your people will finally make the big move from the frozen north to North Carolina where the sun shines brightly all the day. Be sure to get your picture taken and sent to me. And remember –  BE ADORABLE.Everything else will take care of itself.

Love . . . Toulie

Dad wrote this back when they were living in Fearrington Village, just outside Pittsboro, N.C. — when Mom was alive, not to mention Touli and Buddy.  When Dad could see to type a letter. From a dog to a dog.

That makes me both happy and sad, but in a good way.

Not on my watch

Buddy and me.  I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy.

Buddy and me. I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy. Just a little.

Last night my husband and I had an argument.

Well, a nano spat.

We were about to watch an episode of Borgen, when, remote in hand, he suddenly closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and pressed the fingers of one hand to his forehead, looking stricken. It occurred to me that he might be having a stroke. After all, it’s not as if fifty-nine year old Type-A men don’t ever have strokes and Ken’s life is not entirely without stress.   For example, he is married to someone who, by her own admission, can occasionally be a teensy bit of a demando-guts.  Also, a decade ago, he had a bout of Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition brought on by stress — in CSR, fluid buildup under the retinal pigment epithelium of the eye results, temporarily in his case, in vision distortion. As disconcerting as this was, it did come in handy one Christmas, when two of our semi-adult children were going at each other, hammer and tongs. Finally, unable to stand their bickering and recriminations a second longer, I leaped to my feet, pointed dramatically in Ken’s direction and cried, “If you don’t stop this immediately, your father’s eye is going to explode!” Whereupon they took it outside. (They get along fine now.)

So, bearing in mind my husband’s advancing age and blood pressure issues and aware that, one day, one of us is going to not be OK and could that moment . . . that terrible moment possibly be this moment, the moment everything changes and all is lost? Bearing all that in mind, I asked, “Are you all right?”

To which he responded with a terse, “Quiet!”

I waited, leaning forward in my chair, my eyes fixed on him.  I waited some more. Then, because his demeanor had not altered and remembering that, in cases of stroke, it’s important to act quickly though in what precise way I can never remember, I tried a second time: “Ken,” I asked, enunciating carefully, “Are. You. All. Right. Question mark.”

Sabrina and me

Sabrina and me

Now, I admit I can be overly solicitous on occasion. When my daughter Sabrina was a baby, I was so terrified she would succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that I used to creep into her bedroom when she was sleeping and hold a mirror under her tiny  nose. If ever she seemed suspiciously still to me — and this was not infrequently — I would wake her up to make sure she was alive.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep that first year.

Once, in a sun-baked and utterly deserted park in Mt. Olive, the pickle capitol of North Carolina, I ignored cries for help from the same husband for whose health I was now so solicitous in order to save Buddy, our aged and very infirm golden retriever, from nothing at all.   This is what happened. At the same moment as a colony of fire ants was inexplicably swarming up Ken’s bare legs, I  spotted a lone car on the distant horizon. And I mean distant. Convinced that this same car was going to suddenly accelerate, cover the half mile or so that separated us in a matter of seconds and flatten Buddy, I left Ken to fend for himself while I  took off after the dog, flailing my arms and crying, “No! Buddy! Stop!”

Just the other day, I tried to get our current golden retriever, Nellie, up for her late afternoon pee. To no avail. This was beyond alarming, especially if you’re me, hence, easily alarmed; Nellie came into this world spring-loaded; she is the canine equivalent of Tigger.  The prospect of a walk, any walk, sends her into virtual paroxysms. What could possibly be the matter with her, I wondered?  Was she sick? Then I remembered the asphalt on her paws from an earlier outing with our dog walker.  Had she licked her paws and, in so doing, poisoned herself? Was she dying?  I consulted my iPad for an antidote to asphalt. Finding none, I gave her a bowl of milk, because, you know, milk. I then made an emergency vet appointment for an hour later and commenced pacing frantically back and forth, wringing my hands.  Was this it?  Was this how Nellie died?  Was I going to lose my baby?   Then  I offered her a dentabone. Turns out, a long-lasting oral care chew was all it took to reinvigorate her. Up she leaped, out we went; she peed. I wept with relief, then called the vet and cancelled the appointment. We went on with our day.

Nellie was born spring-loaded.


Meanwhile, here was my beloved husband, frozen in an attitude of pain, his expression that of someone who has just had an ice pick driven through his forehead.

“Are you all right?” I repeated for the third time.

“Damn it!” he said then, opening his eyes and glaring at me.  “I was thinking! Can’t a person think?”

Not if they look like they’re having a stroke, they can’t.  Not on my watch.

Cat Vigilantes

The We Hate Eddie's Cat Club

The We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club. Brother Peter Hardy brandishing a sword in front to the left.  I am the girl with the bangs  in the back on the left.

One halcyon summer, when I was a child roaming free range through the wilds of West Lafayette, Indiana, a bunch of us neighbourhood kids formed the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, essentially a group of cat vigilantes. Our mission was to disrupt and degrade the predations of Plato, a thuggish tabby belonging to a girl – Eddie, by name — who lived down the street.  Otherwise a member of our gang, Eddie declared a conflict of interest when it came to Plato and declined to join the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, although she bore us no ill will on this account. She lived with Plato; she had his number.

Plato was a serial killer. He roamed the neighbourhood and most especially the ravine behind our house, killing but never actually eating anything he could lay his big paws on. Offended by the ongoing slaughter of the innocents, the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club spent whole days tracking Plato and, whenever he nabbed a bird or chipmunk, into action we would spring, rushing at him from all sides, yelling and whooping and waving our arms.

Sometimes this sufficed to make Plato drop his victim and sidle resentfully off, in which case, one for the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club. At other times, our intervention was too little, too late and the woodland creature we wrestled from Plato’s jaws was either DOA or mortally wounded. These dearly departed we laid to rest in a shoebox and buried in a little graveyard we had carved out of the ravine. Joey Flynn, scion of the Catholic family I wrote about in Why I Became a Catholic, officiated over what he claimed was a full Catholic funerary service in what he purported to be Latin – in those days, the Church still conducted all its business in Latin. It sounded to us like he was just saying “Nabisco” over and over again, but what did we know? Anyone caught laughing during the service was banished, but not for good. If we were to have any impact on Plato’s one-cat crime wave, we needed all the vigilantes we could muster.

The Avian Way

The Avian Way

This Spring my husband and I turned our back yard, a narrow strip of land backing onto a precipitous ravine, into what we call the Avian Way, complete with five different bird feeders and a bird bath. This way, we figured, we can sit at our dining table or on our screened in porch and enjoy watching cardinals, blue jays, orioles, humming birds and the occasional bully bird.(This, children, is Old People Fun.)

As it turns out, squirrels, chipmunks and racoons failed to get the memo that these seeds and sugar water we set out were for birds only. Hence the Avian Way is regularly transformed from a pristine idyll, to a battleground strewn with toppled feeders and bent shepherd’s crooks, littered with peanut shells and scattered mulch and pocked by holes as we attempt – futilely — to enforce our Birds Only policy. At this point I’d have to say the critters are winning.

Rocky Racoon helps himself to the peanuts in Buddha's hands

Rocky Racoon helps himself to the peanuts in Buddha’s hands

A couple of nights ago the situation on the ground was put in a whole new light, when Midnight, a sleek black cat that prowls the neighbourhood in search of victims, suddenly lunged out from between the boxwoods and snagged a chipmunk that, its cheeks stuffed with peanuts, was shimmying down a pole from the Squirrel Buster.

It was like Syria: you think Assad is bad and then ISIS arrives on the scene.

Up Ken and I leaped, yelling and whooping and flailing our arms. “Bark! Bark!” we enjoined the golden retriever, pointing to the marauder.  “Cat! Cat!” She blinked at us, then glanced away. She appeared to be embarrassed for us.. The elderly, blind cockapoo, on the other hand,  sprang, bristling and harrumphing, to her feet, charged off in the wrong direction and ran headfirst into the wall.

Fortunately for the chipmunk and no thanks to our supposed allies in the war between cats and dogs, that is to say, our two dogs, sufficient commotion ensued that Midnight dropped her prey and disappeared over the lip of the ravine and into the foliage. Gone, but not, I fear, for long. Clearly vigilance will be required now and going forward.

And so, it seems,  my life has come full circle.

Requiem for a wolf

dead wolf 2The other day I was picking up dog food at the vet’s when a character straight out of Duck Dynasty slouched through the door.  He was tall and rangy, stooped, wearing an oil-stained Nascar jacket and a broken down baseball cap and sporting one of those Old Testament Beards that look like a bird’s nest gone rogue. “I’ve come about my wolf,” he announced.

The receptionist was startled.  “Your wolf?”

“Tasha,” he said.

The receptionist looked wary. “Where is Tasha?”

“She’s in the truck,” he replied.  Then he added, “She’s dead.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said the receptionist, sounding relieved.

“I want to have her cremated,” said Duck Dynasty Guy.  “I want … you know … her cremains. She’s been with me these last fourteen years. I want her to always be with me.”

“Of course,” said the receptionist with an unctuosity that made me realize Funeral Director was part of her job description. “Do you want to look at urns?”

I hefted the bag of dog food. “I’m just going to put this in the car.”

I lugged the 15 kilo bag out to my car.  Parked next to it was a battered pick up truck.  Two sad sacks slumped disconsolately beside it, smoking. They looked like extras from the set of Deliverance.  From this I deduced that they were associates of Duck Dynasty Guy and named them in my head Cliven and Bundy.  “So sorry for your loss,” I said.

Bundy, crestfallen, said, “Just yesterday she was playing ball with the puppy.”

To which Cliven added, “You can’t help lovin’ em.  You just can’t. You ain’t got no choice.” Whereupon he shook his head dolefully and spat.

Best Dog Ever

My handsome Buddy

I returned to the counter and paid for the dog food. Duck Dynasty Guy was perusing a catalog of urns and making choking sounds. He smelled of rye.  I gave him a pass; when our beloved  Buddy died five years ago  my husband and I holed up in the house for three days, sobbing and drinking whiskey. It happens.

“Do you want the one with dog bones or the one with paw prints?” the receptionist was asking.

When I went back outside, Cliven and Bundy were occupied with hauling from the flat bed of the truck the body of a creature that was probably a dog, but really did look like a white wolf.   Cliven took the front feet and Bundy the back.  Her head hung limply back. She looked empty, like all the light had gone out of her, which, of course, it had.

My beautiful Nellie

My beautiful Nellie

The rest of the day felt like a Black Dog Day to me. Reminded that the light would one day go out of my beautiful Nellie and I would once again slide feet first into that particular slough of despond, I could not help but be steeped in melancholy. The creature in question might be only a dog . . . or possibly a wolf,  but Cliven was right: you really have no choice.  You can’t help loving them.  You just can’t.

Clan of the Dog People

Cave painting of girl with dog

Cave painting of girl with dog

When National Geographic’s Genographic Project was all shiny and new, my husband Ken and I joined 678,632 other individuals in over 140 countries in sending in samples of our DNA to be included in the database. This was not inexpensive, but we figured it was our contribution to scientific research and, besides, who doesn’t want to unlock the secrets hidden in their DNA?

In due time we received a package from National Geographic and the big reveal was this: our ancestors originated in Africa long, long ago, but had more recently hailed from Northern Europe.  To which we could only say, “Duh!”   As it turns out, we had opted for the Economy DNA Package. If we had wanted to know whether we had inherited a genetic predisposition to like cilantro or what percentage Neanderthal we were, well, that’ll be extra.

Or would it?

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise?  Not really.

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise? Not really.

My grandfather, James H. Zant, who liked a good story, told this one about an acquaintance’s visit to a local Cherokee chief.   “Dig deep, White Man,” the chief reportedly told his visitor.  “Puppy at bottom of pot.”

A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in a darkened room, mired in thought,  when our dog Nellie deposited herself before me, trawling for attention. I obliged, closing my eyes as I scratched her ears, and conjured up an image of myself in my mind’s eye.  However, instead of picturing the little old lady  I am all too rapidly metamorphosing into and her (sort of trusty) dog,  what I saw was a girl — nine or ten, Neanderthal, grubby and sitting on a rock in a dark place barely illuminated by flickering fire light, scratching the ears of a wolf cub.

Now, my view of reality has always been a tad elastic — the result, no doubt, of coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies and all that that entailed — so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to conclude l that what I had glimpsed in my mind’s eye was a distant ancestor, one embedded in my DNA, that  I had, in fact, descended from those humanoids who, laboring in different places over vast expanses of time, succeeded in the magic trick of turning wolves into dogs,  that, just as our domestication of dogs impacted their genome, so their domestication of us  has impacted ours, meaning that the term “Dog People” describes something not superficial, but very fundamental.    Which explains SO much. Why I cannot imagine a happy and contented life without a dog. Why my father, speaking of his life in the nursing home, says, “The only thing I really miss is a dog . . . ,”  his voice trailing wistfully off.

Golden Retriever?  Hummm...

Golden Retriever? Hummm…

Back when we acquired Nellie, we were unconvinced that she was, in fact, the Golden Retriever the Kijiji ad purported her to be, given her ridiculously long legs, her narrow muzzle and crooked tail, and, all of it, the whole nine yards, completely wired. While we never suffered from Buyers’ Remorse – well, maybe just a little when she hoovered up a finishing nail, necessitating a $2,500  surgery – we were, nevertheless,  curious to know the ancestry of our whacky little bundle of fur and fun. So we tested her DNA.

Turns out she’s a Golden Retriever – quel surprise! — just the way it turns out Ken and I are Northern Europeans. As for delving any more deeply into our DNA, there’s really no need now. Not after my little epiphany.   I know who I am, down deep:  a  Dog Person with slightly more than a dollop of Neanderthal. As for Nellie, she’s clearly a wolf.



The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

“At the merest suggestion of thunder on the horizon . . . [Glorio] would dispatch himself to his corner and commence chomping on himself with unbelievable enthusiasm.” p. 4-5


When I was thirteen, I used to dog sit for my brother and sister-in-law’s terrier during thunder storms.   She was so frightened of thunder and lightning that she would chew on her own legs, with predictably ghoulish results. I always enjoyed these quasi-humanitarian missions; Camille had a copy of Mary Macarthy’s novel, The Group – naughty stuff, at least for a thirteen year old girl in 1965 — and I looked forward to picking up where I had left off reading during the last thunderstorm. As I lounged on their sofa, reveling in the dirty bits, Tara cowered on the couch beside me, quivering like a bowl full of jelly in a centrifuge, a victim of acute astraphobia, otherwise known as also known as astrapophobia, brontophobia, keraunophobia, or tonitrophobia, the abnormal fear of thunder and lightning. Indeed, I based the character of Glorio the Rabbit in my first novel on Tara.

Tara was not alone.

Fifteen to 30% of all dogs suffer from astraphobia. Among them was Buddy, our beloved golden retriever, whom thunder rendered witless. There was no going to bed for human beings during a storm until my husband had built Buddy a Thunder Tent – two chairs over which a blanket had been draped just so. Only then, in the safety of the Tent’s confines, would he settle, if uneasily. Otherwise he would pace without cease from my side of the bed to Ken’s, panting like an ancient set of creaking bellows and occasionally leaping onto the bed to loom over us, wild-eyed and drooling excessively, the way dogs do when they’re stressed. “Are you insane?” his posture seemed to convey. “The End of the World is upon us and you’re . . . what . . . sleeping?”

We thought we were astraphobia-free with Nellie, our second and current Golden Retriever — a bold girl if ever there was one. For the first four years of her life she seemed blissfully unfazed by anything but dishwashers. When our friends Oliver Whitehead and Mary Malone were looking after her, she caught her collar in their dishwasher’s fully loaded bottom tray, panicked and bolted down the long narrow hall leading from their kitchen to their front door, dragging the tray with her and leaving a wide swath of broken crockery in her wake. The sound alone must have been tremendous. Since then, she takes an exceedingly dim view of dishwashers, for which, Oliver and Mary, we are extremely grateful.   (Also, sorry for your loss.)

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie.

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie, beside themselves.

Lately, however, even the incautious Nellie has developed a fear of thunder that seems to increase exponentially with each storm that rolls in off of Lake Erie. Perhaps this is because Poppet, our father’s dog and our ward, has set her straight in all those hours that the two of them spend alone together, ostensibly sleeping and ignoring one another: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” Poppet can smell lightning on the wind and hear the distant rumble of thunder long before any of the rest of us can. The minute that happens, it’s like an on and off switch: Poppet goes into lock down.    She bolts to our closet and hides out under Ken’s shirts, quaking. She will not eat. She will not drink. As for bodily functions, are you kidding? Her . . . go out? Out there? Out there, where all Hell is breaking loose?  At first I tried to manhandle her out of doors, to make her do her business. As it turned out, however, when it comes to thunder and lighting, fright trumps might. Poppet might weigh only seventeen pounds but, factor in thunder and lightning, and what you’ve got is seventeen pounds of highly motivated angst and all of it laser-focused on getting back inside as soon as canine-ly possible. “To resist is futile!” I would insist, but I could no more persuade Poppet to poop or pee than I could talk a salmon out of swimming upstream during spawning season. 

There have have been a lot of thunder storms this season, spectacular ones that light up the ravine like a horror film and make the bedrock on which our house is moored shudder. Storms that blow in over a Great Lake seem more apocalyptic than those that take place over land; they make a bigger show. The dogs’ fear serves as a reminder that it was not all that long ago that human beings and their wolf friends huddled together in caves and burrows and huts – ancient prototypes of the Thunder Tent – and wondered if this storm would be their last. Which is why man ultimately invented indoor plumbing: who in their right mind would risk Armageddon for a Last Pee?

And,, yes, I’ve heard of Thunder Shirts.

But no.

Tagged ,

See Spot Run!

fatNearly thirty years ago I found myself in Newtown, Connecticut, celebrating the Fourth of July with some second cousins of my first husband whom his mother had browbeaten us into contacting when we moved to Cambridge, MA. Steve was a cop and Lynette was a secretary. They lived in a neat little Cape Cod on a well-manicured street and had two spindly little kids, made all the more spindly by the fact that each of their parents weighed in at well over three hundred pounds. They were also really nice folks, Steve and Lynette, salt of the earth. Steve confided to my ex that the few extra pounds had proven an asset in his line of work, since it increased the intimidation factor. “The bad guys,” he said, indicating his formidable paunch. “They don’t want to mess with this.” Pre-Adam Lanza, Newtown was a sleepy little burg, clearly untroubled by serious malfeasance if would-be preps could be deterred from crime simply by the prospect – as alarming as that prospect was — of being sat on by one of Newtown’s Finest.

Lynette wore her arm – which, both in size and appearance, resembled a large ham — in a sling. She had broken it rolling down the stairs the previous week. “She got wedged at an angle between the wall and the bannister,” Steve explained. “Like really stuck. We had to call in the paramedics to dislodge her.” Lynette laughed and shrugged. “I get stuck a lot.” I brought a pecan pie for dessert. It had raisins in it. Lynette was surprised. “Raisins in a pecan pie,” she said. “Well . . . that’s different!” She did not appear to hold out much hope for a pie that contained both nuts and dried fruit.

After dinner we retired to a park to watch tiny boys play softball. We sat on lawn chairs arranged alongside a baseball diamond — all the parents did and every single one of these parents, without exception, was spherical. This would not perhaps have been so striking had not each and every one of the tiny boys, without exception, looked like escapees from a North Korean orphanage. The juxtaposition of the leviathan adults sprawled like beached whales atop groaning lawn chairs, lustily bawling at their spindly offspring to, “Run!” “Stop him!” and, “Slide! Slide!” all the time mowing down jumbo-sized bags of potato chips and vats of sugary drink, struck me at the time as . . . as what? The word that came to mind at the time was, “grotesque.”

Fast forward thirty years.

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Later this month we will travel north to Timmins, Ontario to visit my in laws. If the weather cooperates, we will spend a day at my brother-in-law’s cottage on the aptly named Nellie Lake.

This is what will happen at Nellie Lake.

Everyone will park his or her ass on a lawn chair, down one alcoholic beverage after another and watch Nellievision. Nellievision is what happens when a half a dozen adults and a few bored recent escapees from adolescence blearily eyeball Nellie, our four year old golden retriever, as she proceeds to have the absolute time of her life treeing squirrels, frantically digging in the mud in the hopes of finding toads to lick or varmints to inhale and swimming out to fetch sticks thrown far out into the Lake. “Chase those geese, Nellie!” everyone will cry. “Don’t let them poop on our beach!” And obligingly off Nellie will swim, in dogged pursuit of the offending geese.

And the sight of all of us drunkenly urging the dog on to new feats of athleticism somehow puts me in mind of that long ago Independence Day in Newtown. Only the word that comes to my mind this time is, “Fun.” It seems that, with the passage of time, I have become less judgy. Also less possessed of a waist. And, yes, I believe I will have another and, Nellie, clean up that goose poop for us, won’t you? Because, God knows: you’ve eaten worse.  Yes, you have.

“Little ****”



When Tenney, the second of my parents’ two Great Danes, bought the farm, my parents decided that it would be best, given their advanced age, to go with a more compact version of The Family Dog. Accordingly, they reverted back to their first choice of dog breed  and saddled themselves with the worst dog ever – a black cocker spaniel named Skatoula, Touli for short. They had just returned from Greece and “Skatoula,”my father was fond of telling people, is the Greek word for “Little Shit.” Which about sums Touli up.

Maybe because my parents were old and didn’t move around much, Touli got it into his head that people should just stay where they were. If anyone stood up and headed, say, for the bathroom, Touli would lunge for his or her ankles, snarling and snapping. And he meant business; my parents were forever nursing some Touli-related injury that inevitably became infected thanks to the apparently toxic nature of his drool. My grand dog Albert gets anxious if anyone strays from the pack and Harry, our old collie, was forever herding the children, but corgis and collies are herders; that’s their job. Cocker spaniels are gun dogs and soft-mouthed retrievers; Touli had no business herding people and he knew it. For him it wasn’t about the flock; it was about the power.



When it comes to clothes, my husband eschews flamboyance. The only thing that trumps his aversion to standing out sartorially is family feeling. That is why he one day donned a pair of fluorescent lime green swimming trunks in preparation for a dip in the pool – his sisters had given them to him as a birthday present. This was when we discovered that Touli was an undercover officer in the Fashion Police. He took one look at Ken’s trunks and his head exploded. It was like a horror movie. Before our eyes Touli metamorphosed into the Cerberus of classical mythology, the multi-headed dog who guards the entrance of the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering. The only way to appease the hell hound he had turned into was for Ken to retreat to the bedroom and replace the green trunks with a more subdued pair. Only then was he allowed to pass. (Touli later had the same reaction to a set of golf clubs. Which I sort of understand.)


In order to procure treats, Touli would snatch a high value target – Mom’s glasses, the remote, and, on three separate occasions, one of my father’s hearing aids — and dive under the bed with it. Any attempt to regain the purloined object manually would result in savaged fingers and yet another suppurating wound for my parents. Instead, they would raid the supply of dog biscuits and cry, “Meat cookie! Meat cookie!” until Touli would slink out from under the bed, grr-ing, and a grim exchange of prisoners would take place. Two of Dad’s hearing aids did not survive the ordeal and had to replaced at great expense.

During meals, Touli would stand beside my mother’s chair and bark at her. He would pause in his barking every few minutes to give her a little nip – this by way of impressing upon her the fact that she’d better feed him or else. He did this all meal long, without interruption. (In our house dogs do not do this. Our first golden, Buddy, would sit silently by as we ate, looking stricken and drooling, but never making so much as a peep. As for Nellie, she’s proactive without being too pushy. First she steals the napkin from my lap exactly twice, then she lies down directly on my feet, just to remind me that she is there and would like to be considered for the prized gig of pre-rinse cycle.) One night my husband had finally had enough of trying to talk over Touli’s incessant, insistent barking. He seized his muzzle, looked him straight in the eye and shouted, “SHUT UP!” Touli stared at him, incredulous. Clearly no one had ever yelled at him before. His mouth opened and closed as if to bark; no sound emerged. I don’t know who was more shocked – the dog or my parents. “Your Mom and Dad looked at me,” Ken remembers, “and I realized I’d crossed a red line.”

My brother Peter once saw a different side of Touli – desolation in a dog suit. “Mom and Dad had gone out and there was just me at home,” he told me. “Touli sat by the window and howled. Then he collapsed on the door sill and lay there in a heap, looking completely abject, as though he couldn’t believe they had left him and he had no idea how he was going to cope going forward.” Peter then keeled over on the couch and lay there on his side in imitation of Touli, whimpering softly and shivering, looking frightened and pathetic.

Mom made me promise to take Touli if anything happened to her and Dad. I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately, that day never came. Touli contracted a rare canine virus at the young age of seven and slipped away in a matter of a couple of days – days over the course of which my parents forked out over $3,000 in an attempt to save his miserable ass.

Big Mac

Big Mac

Touli had one trick. “Find Big Mac,” Dad would say and Touli, charged with purpose, would bustle off, returning some time later  with a squeaky rubber hamburger. My parents saw this as a sign of Touli’s intelligence. I didn’t have the heart to point out that there are border collies who can recognize and retrieve hundreds of different objects – one famous one can identify over a thousand. When we were packing up Dad’s apartment, I found Big Mac and gave it to Nellie. She played with it for a while, then ate it, squeaker and all.

And that was that.

Rolling in Dead Things




It happened again. I turned the corner onto a path in the Fingal Wildlife Management Area just in time to spot our golden retriever Nellie suck up a toad, spit it out and, lips curled back in a hideous grimace, start foaming wildly at the mouth. And when I say ‘wildly’, I’m not exaggerating. Imagine a firefighter spraying flame retardant on a raging fire from a hose. That’s the kind of volume we’re talking about — the kind that just keeps coming.

One time she licked a toad just at the start of our walk and I had to drag her back to the car to wash her mouth out. We encountered a group of Downs Syndrome children out for a walk with their parents. I was concerned that the sight of a grimacing dog foaming at the mouth would frighten them. “She’s not rabid,” I explained. “She just licked a toad.” Far from being terrified, they offered us their water, which was very helpful since I had a limited supply in the car. You need a lot of water to wash away toad juice; the procedure is a violent one and not unlike water boarding.

Every time Nellie licks a toad and we go through the tantamount to torture thing, I think, “Well, that’s the last time she’ll try that!” Time and time again, she proves me wrong.   That’s because Nellie isn’t very bright. What she is is enthusiastic. One of the things she is enthusiastic about is toads.

Another thing Nellie is enthusiastic about is visitors. When Nellie spots someone coming up the walk to our house, she becomes unhinged, ricocheting around the hall like an Asian Carp in a bath tub. Think Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away when he finally glimpses the ship that will rescue him from the desert island on which he has been stranded. It’s all I can do to keep her from exploding through the front door and flattening the hapless visitor. I hold her at bay with one arm while I slide my body through the smallest crack in the door I can manage  and onto the front porch to see what this person wants. Of course, there have been occasions when I have let Nellie have her way – the time the Jehovah’s Witness came to the door, for example. As it turned out, Nellie’s extreme pleasure in greeting the Jehovah’s Witness proved a more powerful deterrent to future visits than my insistence that I am a secular humanist and uninterested in that sect’s blood-soaked brand of Salvation. Good dog.

(Right now some of you are saying, “Why doesn’t she train that dog properly?” And you would be right. And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.)

Another thing Nellie likes is dead things. All dogs like dead things, although, for the life of me, I don’t know why. I go out of my way to avoid dead things. Nellie goes out of her way to roll in dead things. My previous dog, Buddy, was an intellectual. He may have liked to roll in dead things, but he didn’t publicize it. He was discreet.  Not Nellie. The moment she gets a whiff of a dead thing, she hurtles towards it like Superman towards a disaster in progress. She hits the ground rolling, her legs joyously pumping in the air and a big canine grin on her face. Right now there are a lot of dead things at Fingal. I know because Nellie has rolled in each and every one to the accompaniment of me shrieking: “No, Nellie! Stop that! I just bathed you! No!”

Nellie is a water dog, which you would think might lend itself well to living on a great inland sea as we do. There are, however, a lot of dead things on the beach – mainly fish, but also the odd sea gull or tern. Once my daughter and I took Nellie and my grand dog Albert to Port Burwell’s dog beach. It was a little off season and there was no one there to watch as Sabrina and I ran after the two dogs, flailing our arms and screaming, “No! Put that down! I mean it! No, stop! Don’t eat that!”

Pond at Fingal Wildlife Management Area

Pond at Fingal Wildlife Management Area

Over the Easter weekend, my husband and I took the dogs to the pond side of Fingal. As we were finishing up the walk, Nellie fell behind. We called and called and eventually she appeared. She was a little dirty so my husband threw a couple of sticks far into the pond for her to fetch before we loaded her in the car and started back to Port Stanley. On the way home we sang along to bluegrass music. We sang loudly. When we arrived home and opened the back of the car to let Nellie out, we found a pool of vomit. In the pool of vomit were three tiny critters, each about three inches long. Apparently Nellie had discovered a nest of baby animals, snarfed up three, gone for a couple of energetic swims, then upchucked the poor things in the boot of the car in that extravagant way dogs vomit, all the while my husband and I were yodeling away in the front seat to “Little Miss Blue Eyes.”  The babies were intact, not chewed. She had literally hoovered them up before spewing them out. We tossed them in the ravine, feeling bad that they had died for naught. Later we asked our exterminator what the animals likely were. He said they were probably moles. We dined out on the story for weeks, but we changed the critters from moles to bunnies. It was Easter, after all, and that made for a better story.



This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

When Buddy, our previous  dog, died in March 2010, I phoned my daughter Sabrina and asked her to call her brother and sister and other family members to let them know. “I can’t talk about it,” I told her between sobs. My husband and I took a couple of days off work, which we spent poring over photos of our darling boy, weeping and gulping whiskey. Then my dear friend Linda Nicholas came over and helped us craft a collage made up of Buddy’s photographs, celebrating his life from precious puppy to elder states-dog. Finally we were healed enough to resume our lives or, at least, to go outside.

But not truly healed. I understood that the desolation I was experiencing could only be assuaged by procuring another dog. This is because I am a Hardy and that’s what we do when presented with the gaping hole in one’s heart that is no-dog – get another as soon as humanly possible, notwithstanding the occasional disastrous consequence. (See my post on Crocapuppy.)

My husband, however, is not a Hardy. He is a Trevenna. He loved Buddy every bit as much as I did, but saw no need to replace The Perfect Dog. And he wanted the relative freedom that comes with no dependents. He prevailed upon me to wait for one year before getting another dog, figuring that by that time I would realize how liberating it was to go pooch-less. When Sabrina heard about this plan, she was skeptical. “He doesn’t know our family,” she said.

To heal ourselves . . . and because Buddy’s infirmity and our unwillingness to leave him in a kennel had meant that, for the past several years, we had gone nowhere we couldn’t drive to in a car with him in tow . . . we traveled  to Hawaii.  While  there, prior to a hike through the jungle to a waterfall,  we toured a  taro farm and, together with a family of four from the States, enjoyed one of those slightly cringe-worthy cultural experiences wherein you are exposed to traditional culture and  compelled, in front of other people, to admit the reason why you came to this remote part of Hawaii, so far from the beaches of Waikiki .  I can’t remember precisely what the family said — something having to do with togetherness and adventure and being a family.   Then it was our turn. “We are just trying to recover from the death of our dog,” we said, feeling pathetic.  “We’re taking a year,” my husband added.  “To mourn.”    Later the wife pulled me aside and whispered, “Just get another one.   Don’t wait. What’s the point?”

All in all, I lasted five months, during which time I spent my leisure hours immersed in puppy porn on the Internet. I knew where every golden retriever puppy within a one hundred mile radius of our house was at any time. Then one day I saw an ad on Kijiji – a four month old female golden retriever in Toronto looking for her “forever home.” The puppy in the photograph was adorable; I couldn’t get her sweet image out of my mind. For a week, I kept returning to Kijiji, returning to that photograph. In my head I named the puppy Nellie, after my mother. I fantasized about Nellie and our life together, of walks and swims and couch cuddles. Then on the seventh night I dreamed that she was calling me, crying for me to come and get her. The next morning I told my husband about my dream.

Then it happened: he had a moment of weakness. “Call the number and, if she’s still there, we’ll go and get her,” he said.  Clearly he was counting on such an adorable puppy having a short shelf life. He was out of luck: she was there.

“If we go and get her, are you going to resent me going forward?” I asked.

“Probably,” he said.

Nellie  in her "Little Lamb" pose

Nellie in her “Little Lamb” pose

I considered this for a moment, but decided that I would just have to find a way of making it up to him. We got in the car and drove to a downtown Toronto address, two hours away, and a young Chinese woman named Kathy buzzed us up to an apartment in a high rise building.  She explained in broken English that she and her husband had never owned a dog before and hadn’t realized how much of a commitment it was. They worked long shifts and the puppy was left alone a lot. “She is lonely,” Kathy explained.  “She needs to be somewhere with people.”

Nellie at five months

Nellie at five months — all sinew and nerve!

No sooner had we walked through the door than a ball of fur and legs came hurtling through the air as though  shot from a cannon and began to maul us in frenzied greeting.  We were later to learn that this is how Nellie greets everyone; at the time we thought it was because we were special.  To our great surprise,  this puppy didn’t look like any golden retriever puppy we had ever seen and certainly not like our Precious Boy.  Rather than being soft and furry and pudding-y, she was all sinew and nerve —  leggy and thin with a crooked tail and a narrow muzzle. It didn’t matter. She was a puppy and I had her in my arms; there was no way I was going to not take her with us.  Tucking her, squirming and thrashing, under one arm, we summarily  forked over the cash and headed out, Nellie in tow, poor Kathy, waving and tearful as the car pulled away from the curb. In my haste to make off with the goods, we had, I realize now, not given her time to say goodbye to a puppy she loved enough to want a good home for.

And that is how it came to pass that today, when once again I took the now four year old Nellie, with whom I am, incidentally, utterly besotted,  to Fingal Wildlife Management Area and she, once again, rolled in  shit, compelling me to bathe her for the second time in so many days, I do not complain, but am only grateful that she is our dog and that ours is her Forever Home.


Whoa, Nellie!