Everyone has at least one favorite dog story and our family was no exception.
Our first dog adopted us in October, 1960, just one year after we had moved into our new home built on an acreage west of Lacombe. She was a mature dog, gentle and affectionate with a colour pattern that spoke of an indeterminate pedigree — white muzzle and legs, a brown spot over each eye and a sturdy body mostly brown with splashes of black.
When ‘lost and found’ ads failed to produce results we concluded that she had been abandoned and welcomed her as a family member.
Our four children, ages one to six, were delighted. Here was a companion and playmate that joined in all their games. She was also their protector. Our new home, on the acreage west of Lacombe, faced a municipal road and we had to be vigilant to ensure the children did not stray into passing traffic.
But we soon found that our concern was groundless. Lady kept watch. When their play in the driveway carried them near the road she was there to herd them back.
One year later Mrs. Watson gave us a four-month old purebred collie pup. We christened her Lassie and kept her tied up for a few days until we felt certain she would not stray. But the morning we freed her she disappeared. She returned late that afternoon only to disappear again the following day. Then we tumbled to the fact that Lady was jealous. In an attempt to rid herself of this unwanted competitor, she was taking the newcomer for long walks into the pastures and bush land that lay to the west, returning alone each time to greet us at the back door with a huge grin.
A year later Lassie presented us with a litter of 13, a remarkable mixture of colours and physical diversity. By eight weeks of age it was obvious that they represented at least four different sires, the smallest resembling the diminutive dog of our nearest neighbor and the largest the unmistakable progeny of the monster Alsatian down the road.
Lady was disconsolate. She ceased eating, developed a false pregnancy, then began to wander. One winter’s midnight the county policeman phoned. “Did we own a dog of such and such description?”
“Yes”, I replied. He responded, “I found her injured on the road and took her to the vet.”
I went down immediately and, after her injuries had been treated, brought her home to a bed prepared in the clothes closet at the back entrance. Here she slowly recovered. One night, after the household was in bed, I heard sounds of an intruder in the basement.
Armed with the broom I crept downstairs there to encounter Lady, her udder distended with milk, returning to her bed with a small rubber toy in her mouth. She had been busy. In her bed already were six dolls and several squeaky toys to which she added her latest acquisition.
Lady did not live much longer. She developed mammary cancer. We all grieved her loss.
Our next dog was Bernie, a large St. Bernard, given to us by his owner circa January 1964. He shared the front seat of the Vauxhall on the short trip home from College Heights, peering out the windshield with me until the fog from his breathing had completely obliterated the view. Then I drove with my head out the window while he, trying to do likewise, sprawled across the wheel. That was the start of our brief but tumultuous acquaintance.
Initially, we tried to harness his power as a sled dog; that did not last long. His power was such that he could drag the loaded sled and its walking driver with ease — and at a speed that frequently left the driver prone, breaking trail with his skull!
Then he tried the sport of dragging the children around by their snow suits. That was OK by them until the day he seized on Nancy’s scarf and nearly strangled her before his game could be stopped.
In early spring, he challenged a porcupine. I was away. Joan phoned the veterinarian who said bring him in. She tried, loading Bernie in the back seat of the Vauxhall with five children in the front seat with her. So far so good, but as she backed out Bernie’s nose met the back of the front seat. The quills drove deep into the tender tissue and he erupted over the top of the seat.
Then began the fun of rescuing the children from under his weight and his bloody slobber. Jack Newman arrived about that time, also Dr. Don MacDonald the veterinarian who had belatedly realized the situation. Between them they tranquilized the frantic dog and extracted more than 100 quills, a match box full, from tongue, gums and muzzle. Shortly thereafter he exhibited a violent aversion to the pigs pastured across the road. Those pigs were my research responsibility so action was mandated. But that is a story for another day.