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Dumb Pets

When my family talks about dumb pets—that is, pets that are stupid—we talk about our black lab, Colonel. There are many examples of Colonel’s dumbness: repeat encounters with porcupines, bears and 400 lb sows. All made deep impressions everywhere but his brain.

When winter temperatures on our farm dipped to twenty or more below, Colonel, who was an outdoor dog, was allowed indoors. He’d be curled by the oil heater while my brothers and I read or played cards. Then, slowly an oily sulphur smell would envelope the room. The dog had broken wind. We’d laugh, of course, because that’s what brothers do when dogs fart. Colonel treated it more seriously and would go to the door and growl menacingly, warning us that something dangerous and smelly was lurking outside. Then we’d have to pat him and say, “That’s OK, boy, that’s OK,” and settle him down.

Colonel was not the only less-than-bright pet my family has had. No Lassies for us, or that dog of Farley Mowatt’s. Remember The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, and how it could operate an overhead projector and taught Farley to ride his CCM Red Rider? Or was it the other way around?

I have a friend who clips newspapers for articles about amazing pets: dogs that traversed the Urals, cats that crossed four provinces to find their owners. Last week I saw an article about a terrier that was in a car wreck on a remote road in Scotland. It survived, and led emergency responders to the crash site in time to save the injured driver.

Colonel couldn’t have done that. The one time he had the chance to do something heroic, he flopped. My brother Guy was ploughing late one evening and got stuck. He tried to back up, which itself was a dumb thing to do—but this is about pets, not brothers—and the plough flipped and pinned Guy to the tractor. Colonel was nearby and Guy, who was shaken but not injured, shouted, “Go home, Colonel, get help!”

Colonel went home alright, and snuck up to my brother’s room and went to sleep on his bed. I guess he figured there was a vacancy. It wasn’t until later that Dad realized something was wrong and rescued Guy.

After Colonel came a roster of dumb pets, including Mrs. McLeod, a cat terrified of her own reflection, and Henry. Henry is my nephew’s poodle mongrel. He’s about the size of a case of beer, and likes rocks half that size, which, somehow, he picks up in his mouth. When Henry tries to walk with one of the heavy loads, his hind legs come off the ground, spinning, and his snout slowly tips forward until—crunch. My nephew’s reaction is similar to a parent whose kid just flunked Orange Jellyfish swim class for the fourth time. Lots of love, but a hint, too, of wishful thinking.

I’m going to tell one more story about dumb pets, involving my brother Paul and his dog Hippo. Paul and Hippo lived in Whitehorse. Not long after Paul got Hippo, as a pup, we began to get concerned letters. The dog was too much, Paul said. Uncontrollable. An idiot. Nothing worked, not even obedience classes. Just how bad the dog was I discovered when I went north for a visit. When someone was mowing the lawn or playing ball, the dog—black lab-ish with a tail like a question mark—would exit normal behavior and enter a hyper mode. He’d get low to the ground and tear, tear around, in a wild pattern. Around and around the yard he’d sprint until finally he’d shoot out—like a rocket slingshoting out of a planet’s pull—and onto the street. Two, three hours later he’d return, wondering where everyone had gone and why we weren’t still playing.

Not long ago, Paul called. Hippo was gone. For good.

“Run away?” I asked.

“No.”

“Sent to the pound?”

“No.”

“What happened?”

“Found a place in the country for him,” said Paul. “It’s the only place for idiots like that.”

Ed. note: this story first appeared, in somewhat different form, in my book, Dogless in Metchosin. Harbour Publishing.