My guest today is Christopher Hoare, author of the Iskander Series: Deadly Enterprise, The Wildcat's Victory, and Arrival. Chris lives with his wife, Shirley, and two shelter dogs, Coco and Emmie, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Although, Chris and I live only a day's drive apart, have never met, but we've worked together for over 10 years. Chris is a colleague and a friend. Please welcome him, and leave a comment if you can. We writers live a solitary life, and hearing from readers is a joy unmeasured.
That solitary life might be another reason we love our animals so much.
Dogs are good teachers ...
... they live in the moment; but that doesn’t make them calm, Zen introspectives. They react to every moment fully and never hide their feelings.
Our two dogs came to us from the local humane society shelter. Coco, a border collie blue heeler cross was first. She acted as surrogate mom to a whole succession of puppies that my wife fostered and house trained so that they would become more adoptable. She accepted their rough treatment, biting her ears, crawling over her, and all the other mischief puppies get into with great patience and acceptance.
The last of the foster puppies was Emmie, the runt of a litter born in the shelter, of no determinate breed, with one lazy eye that responds to light but cannot close down to protect against strong glare. She also has a delicate stomach and is given to timidity and freaking out – to thunderstorms, rifle shots, and even the lid of their food cooking pot when I offer her a lick. At first, she was frightened of me – would not let me feed her or go to the outside door with me. She was too timid to find a new family home, so she stayed with us. She also has a jealous streak, which meant we couldn’t take in foster puppies any more.
The one time my wife tried her out for a trial adoption with another family she freaked out within the first two hours when the man tried to take her outside on leash – broke her collar clasp and ran away. This was in a February while she had a shaved belly from her spaying operation. It took us four days to recover her. We had help from the local radio station and from everyone who reported seeing her at various locations. When we went to check out the ruined mine buildings at the edge of town the owners of her sister, also one of Shirl’s foster pups, came along to see if she’d come to her litter mate. No luck, she was too frightened to come out of hiding.
I borrowed a fox trap from Fish and Wildlife and set it in one of the mine buildings, baited with puppy kibble. I checked it two hours later and found her inside. I thought it best not to try to get her out myself, I called Shirl and waited for her to arrive. When we let her out of the trap she went to Shirl and the two of them went into the back of the Explorer and both cried.
I’m reminded of this because I finally found a good home for my brother in law’s golden retriever the other Saturday. I was told about someone near to where I walk the dogs about a couple who had lost a pet to old age a few days previous. I went and knocked on the door, asked if they’d like to see her and left about a half hour later with only two dogs again. These people are real animal lovers, with one other dog, four house cats and numerous others in the barn - they live in a wooded acreage beside a river and take the dogs for two walks a day. Susie is now in dog paradise.
So are ours. This three was definitely a crowd – the dynamics never worked. Coco has always been alpha dog, and the two year old 70 pound puppy was beginning to challenge the old lady’s seniority. Well, Susie is nearer 60 pounds now with a strict diet and lots of exercise, but her very presence was stressful to the others. Emmie played with her, but with less and less enthusiasm as time went on. The games were terribly one sided with Emmie outweighed about two to one. Our Explorer lost most of its cargo space to a great monster that took up all the space behind the seats (with 3 dogs on the back seat they squabbled over space) and stomped all over anything placed there.
Since Susie left, I’m able to take our dogs for walks in the countryside around the community – which was hard to do when I couldn’t manage three dogs on leash. Susie had been eyeing cattle with a view to chasing them, although she did come to the whistle, but there are fewer chances to offend where she is now. And now Coco will come in more readily when called to the back door. With her bad leg, it’s getting too cold for her to stay out long, but she was clearly reluctant to come inside while Susie was there.
An overweight puppy that sometimes forgets to ‘go’ in the right place and uses its excess weight as a battering ram to claim too much space in the house is no pleasure to have around. People who like Golden Retrievers must have better ones than my brother in law bought. The Goldie down the road that sometimes goes for walks with us is a far nicer dog. I really hope Susie fits in well in her new home, because it’s not her fault her first owner was incompetent to train her or that her disposition was at odds with the original residents here.
Both dogs and humans have noticed a big improvement in ambiance since Saturday. Coco and Emmie play gently together. Both dogs can visit Shirl as she sits in her chair and enjoy an uninterrupted back scratch. Yes, the dogs are much more relaxed at home now – they clearly have feelings too.