I grew up in two countries and in a sense two centuries. Literally from day one I had a dog. Here I am with my first love…Betty. She and I are both babies and this is in Canada my first home. I come from a hunting, fishing, trapping family Betty was grandpa’s bird dog and his personal favorite. For the first formative years I lived in Canada then on and off for great periods of time so my father could keep his citizenship then all the rest of the time in Rochester where we had indoor bathrooms and grocery stores. We eventually had them in Canada too but it took longer so until we had indoor plumbing we had outhouses, pumps at the end of sinks and if we didn’t grow it, hunt it or fish it we didn’t eat. My grandmother was a warehouse of information on gardens, foraging, natural medicine. All the animals the men hunted were treated with respect and every bit used. I had bunny fur mittens, tanned deer hide jackets and for the adults she made purses, wallets, gloves, etc. She could sew, knit, crochet, tan hides and even did fancy leather tooling. Bless her heart she tried to teach me but I was a disappointment in all those crafts. Turns out my sisters inherited all those skills!
Besides Betty we had a long line of hunting dogs: beagles, blue tick hounds, red bone, retrievers of all sorts and a boxer named Flicka who was just a good dog, not a hunter.
I have lots of stories about all the dogs we had, I remember every one of them, but Betty’s is the most spectacular. When I was about 8 or 9 we were up in Canada it was late Summer/early Fall. My little brother, grandparents and I were sound asleep only to be violently awakened in the very middle, darkest part of the night with horrible screams, just the worst sound a dog could ever make. Grandma grabbed my brother, took my hand. Grandpa came bursting out of his room and the oddest thing (of all the odd things that night) that I remember was he wore flannel pj’s with cowboys and horses all over them – he was cursing. Grandpa always kept a double barrel shotgun by the door, he stuck two shells in the barrel told us abruptly to stay back. He stepped out onto the side door landing which was just a cement pad with steps. It was pitch dark, he raised the gun and shot…we heard more gruesome animal sounds then an earth shaking thud and complete silence. He came back in, said he’d take care of the rest in the morning and we should all go back to bed. We did, one didn’t debate with my grandparents and we were all upset but not sure about what.
In the morning we woke to see a huge bear outspread on the gravel driveway, it looked like a bear rug! In the back by the kennels I saw Grandpa – crying, he was burying Betty. The bear had gotten her that night and Grandpa didn’t want me to see her that way. We made a cross for her out of wood scraps. My brother and I sat on the back of the bear, like riding a horse until a friend of the family came by to take it to make a bear skin rug from the poor beast and we had lots of bear meat in the freezer. Believe me bear meat is not tasty!
Whenever I remember the “Canada Years” I always think of the stunning line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem “In Memoriam A.H.H” ….nature is red in tooth and claw.” We hunted and fished but only took what was needed and we saw nature in ways most people never have the opportunity to witness.
When my life took some dramatic turns and I ended up living in a big city I had cats. They all had there own kind of stories and I loved them. One I had for 17 years, Then a brother and sister one of which lived for 19 years. I love cats as much as I love dogs. I’m not a one or the other kind of person. When my 19 year old kitty died I took a break but was miserable. Animals have always been in my life.
I’m back in a more rural and comfortably familiar place. So I went to the pound and got a dog…Smokey. It just might be she’s the best dog I ever had. Smokey is a beagle mix but whatever she’s mixed with Beagle is her dominant nature, her nose is on the ground whenever we go for walks. She’s older (7 years), incredibly well trained and very sweet natured. I look forward to lots of good years with her.