Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dogs are Good Teachers by CHRISTOPHER HOARE

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.




  1. I couldn't get that pop-up to go away, so I delete this post, then reinstalled it. That didn't work. Nothing at the help forum is helping. So tomorrow I'll try again.

  2. I worked my way around that creepy pop up yesterday & left what was probably THE most brilliant comment in the history of Blogging. Can't remember what I wrote but trust me - it was incredibly insightful, literary & entertaining. I would explain the potential for its lasting impact on your readers if I could only remember.

    Actually I mentioned that my mom had to have her 15 year old Dalmation (named K'mere) put to sleep last week. It's been rough - daily calls. No one in the house but her now. She's thinkin about the foster care thing for dogs - Not sure what to tell her. I've bought every dog my parents have had since I was 18 (53 now).

  3. Dogs are undeniably wonderful companions. Unfortunately not every breed is compatible with every human personality so it's important to be aware of the breed characteristics when trying to place a dog in a suitable home but as Christopher found, even within the same breed there are differences. This was a nice peek at his experiences.

    I could particularly relate to the account of the frightened dog as we once sold an adult dog to a breeder in northern BC and the first day there the dog was given a nasty scare that sent him into the bush for 3-4 days. They put out food for him each night and eventually trapped him, but our own hearts ached for the terror we knew he was experiencing. While dogs don't think with a human kind of reasoning, we know that they do think and they also have emotions that must be respected.

  4. As a kid I couldn't watch any Disney movies that centred around a dog. I'm end up embarrassing myself by balling my eyes out. Still do that today. You know the ones? Lassie Go Home comes to mind.

    Dave, I deleted that post becuz someone at the forum said that worked for their redirected blog. It didn't work for me. I finally took the bull by the horns and checked out Wattaman's site. Turns out he was angry about how many times he'd been reported. He was trying to teach "them" a lesson. Why pick on me, I don't know. Yesterday morning, when I logged in, he was gone. I suppose he decided point taken.

    Thanks for commenting, Dave and Carol.

  5. I reader Deadly Enterprise. Got it from my son who found it in a bookstore in Alberta, can't remember where. Near Calgary, maybe. I will tell him to find The Wildcat Victory. It is a fine thing when UK born writers do well here in Canada.



  6. Thanks for all the comments on this post. Mine was wiped when Joylene deleted the first post.

    JaxPop -- fostering puppies can be rewarding. My wife did that for a few years -- which is where we got Coco and Emmie. To train a puppy they need to be watched constantly for the signs they need to go out. When they wake up and when they've eaten are the easy ones. Shirl also attests that she had to be always mindful that she was training the pup for its future life and not to get attached to it.

    Hi Nathan:
    "The Wildcat's Victory" was also in The Sentry Box in Calgary. I haven't noticed if "Arrival" is there as well. There are a couple of places in Pincher Creek where they are on sale but most of my books are sold online. They are on Amazon (com and ca). Hope you find and enjoy the rest.

    Glad you lost the pop up, Joylene. I hope my complaint to twitter helped.

    Chris H.

  7. I was lucky. When we were kids, our next door neighbour was a dog trainer. She taught us how to train our dog, and I never forgot. The first two days the puppy was in a box and only let out to go outside to pee, then some play time, then back in the box. Two days later, s/he was trained. Worked every single time.

    NOW, wish I could say the same about Bandit staying home. First and only dog I ever had who has to be chained to a runner. Breaks my heart, but no way no how will he stay home. Syberian Huskies are great for pulling tho.


Thank you for visiting my blog. Please come in and sit for while. We will talk about writing. We will share our dreams. Then I will serve tea and cookies. Home made and Gluten Free.