Squirrels Belong in Trees

Lessons My Dog Has Taught Me

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Lesson #3: Putting things in their place         

Frantically chasing wild rodents

This might seem obvious to dog owners, but there is one simple truth that all puppies embrace: SQUIRRELS BELONG IN TREES.

 

Nothing makes Reilly more excitable than the spontaneous spotting of a squirrel in our backyard. The sighting inevitably leads to a frantic chase, with the wild rodent (I am talking about the squirrel here not Reilly) ending up the first tree it can find — squawking down at its canine pursuer once it reaches safety. If you are a member of PETA, don’t worry: Reilly has never actually caught a squirrel. As many witnesses of the squirrel chase have observed, Reilly wouldn’t know what to do even if he did catch one.

 

Healthy Boundariessquirrel

In my humble opinion, Reilly’s wild pursuit of squirrel’s who dare leave the safety of trees is a simple exercise in establishing healthy boundaries. I don’t really understand why Reilly – and every other dog I have met – hates to see squirrels out of their trees so much. However, it cannot be denied that Reilly becomes a dog possessed when he sees a squirrel behave in a manner that he doesn’t agree with. In fact, he finds their meandering away from a tree trunk so disagreeable that he feels compelled – not by mental defect but by an ingrained sense of Darwinian purpose – to put the squirrel in its place. And, of course, its place is up a trees trunk.

 

Oh, to see the world with such clarity. To know clearly where things belong and where things do not belong. This is the evolutionary gift of the dog. Similar chases occur when Reilly sees other animals. The rabbit population has exploded in our neighbourhood and Reilly has chased more than a few rabbits off our property. We had a groundhog sludge through our backyard one day – with Reilly backing right off when the animal showed its teeth. We encountered a porcupine on a hike a year ago but I was able to coax Reilly back in the nick of time. Raccoons like to fraternize on top of our property’s storage shed. They just look disdainfully down at our barking Westie while they go about their business (which usually ends with them pooping on the shed’s roof). And Reilly’s encounters with skunks are the source of family legend – with Reilly coming out on the stinky end of every meeting. But it is the squirrel that singularly drives my dog to complete and utter distraction.

 

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Put things in their place

Beyond healthy boundaries, Reilly and his canine kin are teaching us that it is important to recognize where things belong and ensure that they are put there. Certainly foaming at the mouth and a frantic chase might not be appropriate (we are human after all) but a reflective moment followed by a purposeful and passionate action is often a healthy choice. So next time you see a person bullying someone else, speak up. And next time you greet a forlorn grocery store clerk who is overcome by the monotony of the day, flash them a smile. And when your friend stops talking to you and gets overwhelmed by some hollow message on their smartphone, remind them that you are present and the digital world can wait. These little actions are the human way of saying, ‘Squirrels belong in trees.’

 

 

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Long Live the Pack!

LESSONS MY DOG HAS TAUGHT ME

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LESSON #2: The Pack is Everything

 

Let’s face it, all animals, even the human animal, are pack animals. We cling to our groups, clans, tribes, cults, gangs, and, the tightest pack of all, families just as much as any other creature on earth. Perhaps this comes out of some predetermined, ingrained, and hardwired desire to belong to a collective unit that shares common values with us. Life is not a solitary endeavour. Instead, it is an interdependent web of relationships that inevitably winds up with a person becoming part of a group.

 

Dogs can teach us a lot about pack/group formation. To a canine, the pack is everything. Here are a few things my dog Reilly has taught me about being in his pack:

 

HONOUR YOUR CLOSEST PACK MEMBERS

 

Whether it’s the guy who walks and feeds you or someone who you just like to sit beside on the couch, Reilly is quick to show warmth and kinship for the people he lives with. When I get home from work, I can count on Reilly to give me a warm reception. He excitedly lets me know that he’s glad I’m home and that, pretty soon, I will be taking him for a walk. He gives similar welcomes to my wife Sharon and my sons Adam and Liam. He shows us that we are his immediate human family and that he counts on us to keep him in the lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed.

 

Reilly and Sharon have developed a strong bond over the past few years. Occasionally she will join us for one of our walks – particularly when we are up at our place in Thornbury. When Reilly is sure that Sharon is coming with us, he places himself right by her side as if to say, “Great, you’re coming. I am just making sure you stay close.” If I put the leash on him, he actually corals her, walking around her and pulling her toward the door with the leash. And, the coolest part of it all, the next walk after Sharon has joined us, he lovingly stares her down with an “aren’t you coming with us?” look that sometimes melts her resistance and brings her out for another stroll. This is how Reilly shows Sharon that she is a key piece in the pack puzzle.

 

 

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Reilly and Liam

 

BE OPEN TO WELCOMING NEWCOMERS INTO THE PACK

 

When someone arrives at our house for a visit, Reilly immediately seeks to bring them into the pack. He does this by running around the person and jumping up on them (which we haven’t been able to train him not to do!). His ears stay down in submission and he gently chews on their hands to let you know (a) he is not vicious and (b) he wants them to be part of his pack.

 

Visitors also get the lion’s share of the attention when they come to our house. Reilly is quite reluctant to listen to me (I like to think of myself as the pack leader) because he is too busy trying to ensure that the visitor has officially joined the pack (meanwhile most people become Reilly’s ally as soon as they meet him – he just can’t see it, perhaps because he is a dog).

 

This openness also extends to our forays into the community. When Reilly and I are on a walk, he is quick to try to bond with most people he meets – particularly kids. Case in point: We have a large hill along a greenbelt by our house. It’s a popular sledding spot in winter for local kids looking for a slide. As Reilly and I walk past the hill, he’ll tug and tug to try to get out there and play with the kids. In fact, on one occasion, when Reilly was just over a year old, he took off from our house, across a fairly busy street, over to the hill. We were unloading groceries from the car at the time and didn’t notice he was gone. By the time we realized Reilly was missing, and figured out he must have gone to the hill, he had probably visited almost every kid with a toboggan. When my wife and I arrived and cast our gaze across the winter landscape, we eventually spotted Reilly with two paws on a little girl’s shoulders as she sat on her toboggan at the bottom of the hill. He was licking her frozen face with great zeal. She was thrilled and so was Reilly because, in his mind, he had just brought a newcomer into his pack.

 

TRUST YOUR GUT

 

While Reilly might be open to letting just about any human into his pack, he is much more cautious with other dogs. Ever since he had a run in with a psychotic 80-pound Boxer, Reilly has been a little more timid when it comes to fraternizing with other canines. In a sense, Reilly goes with a gut feeling with fellow dogs before he gets too close and nine times out of ten he’s right. The dogs he approaches tend to be friendly and the dogs he shies away from tend to be overly aggressive jerks (if a dog can be a jerk).

 

Life Lessons

 

Overall, I have learned a lot from my dog about the value of pack life. I try not to take those closest to me for granted and I try to give them the respect that is their due. I try to express an openness that allows others to be a part of my life – whether that entails a friendly exchange with a clerk at a store (or a fellow dog walker when I’m out with Reilly) or something deeper, like the kind of meaning of life revelations that one might share with a family member or friend. Reilly’s openness has taught me to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. However, he has also taught me to trust my gut and, when the alarm bells ring in my belly, to be extra cautious with some people. This is just sensible.

 

This is not to say that I wouldn’t have figured these things out if it weren’t for Reilly. It’s just a lot more fun figuring things out with him in my life.

 

 

 

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Provoke a Daily Smile

LESSONS MY DOG HAS TAUGHT ME

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Reilly’s about to attack a stuffed toy Westie given to him by a friend.

 

LESSON #1 – Bring a smile to someone’s face every day

I have always been a sucker for dogs. When I come across most breeds I usually look for a reason to give them a little attention because I enjoy the encounter. Certainly there are some nasty dogs out there that I know not to get too close to but, for the most part, meeting and greeting a dog at some point in my day brings a smile to my face.

 

As a dog owner, I believe the primary role of my pet is to provide me with a minimum of one smile a day. In fact, before my wife fell in love with our dog (she thought he was cute at first but has grown to adore him) she would see him doing something funny and smile. I told her that Reilly’s just doing his job. No matter what, on any given day, his job is to give each member of his pack a reason to smile. This simple little credo helped my wife enjoy our dog even more than she already did.

 

When Reilly was a puppy his only real vice was that he paid a bit too much attention to our dishwasher. While we tried to keep him away, our efforts fell on deaf ears. There were two reasons for this: first, we were a little weak willed when it came to keeping him away and, second, it was so damn funny. Reilly’s dishwasher concentration was akin to an unwavering meditation — and was often the source of our daily smile. I know some people will think it’s kind of gross that the dog goes after the dishes before we run the machine, but take a look at the pictures – the puppy put himself right in the dishwasher. Good thing we spotted him before we closed the door and ran the thing!

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As a human (as opposed to a canine), I believe the ‘smile a day’ lesson is a life-giving philosophy. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a sense of humour. Each day, I look to provoke a smile out of others and others look to put a smile on my face. At times I have wondered what my life would be like without the smiles and laughs. Certainly I have had my share of hard times and found smiling to be a difficult prospect. However, the smiles have been so ingrained that I can honestly say that I haven’t gone a day in my life without something to smile about. While I cannot verify this, it is my hope that I have also been able to put a smile on at least one person’s face every day.

 

And so with just a look our dogs make us smile. They open our hearts and make us better people. And the beauty of it all is that our pups can make us smile without even trying. They have a natural and wondrous gift that can cause our daily stress to melt away with the crook of a neck or a wag of a tail.

 

 

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Reilly and his cousins Lulu (left) and Roo (right). Are you smiling?

 

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The Summer of Worry

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I guess by now you have come to realize that I spent the summer away from the dog blog. Reilly was diagnosed with anemia back in June (potentially caused from some bad things happening with his bone marrow) and I basically kept a close eye on him for most of the summer. The vet warned me that, if the anemia worsened, I might come downstairs one morning and find a very lethargic and unhealthy dog.

 

I am pleased to report that the vet’s warning has not come to fruition. Reilly was slightly more lethargic than usual this summer but there may be a couple of explanations for this: (a) it was a very, very hot and humid summer and (b) he is another year older. Westies are not notorious for high energy after the puppy years so a bit of lethargy is not cause for tremendous concern.

 

That said, he is still anemic – at least as far as I can tell. His tongue is still light pink and his gums a little bit pinker still. However, lately he has been looking a bit better in the tongue/gum area.

 

My wife and son continue to reassure me that the dog is fine and, in the months since the diagnosis, I am gradually shifting toward their position. As August drew to a close a few days ago, and September announced that cooler autumn weather is on the horizon, Reilly began showing signs of surprising energy. His friend MacDuff (a fellow Westie) came over the other night and he and Reilly marked just about every available bit of territory in our backyard. At one point, shortly after MacDuff’s arrival, Reilly went on a torrid three lap run around our fairly large property, weaving frantically through lawn chairs and flowers and bushes. Then he stopped suddenly and stared at me panting. He was very pleased with himself.

 

Our walks have been a bit shorter (my choice) and with a few more breaks along the way (again, it’s been a hot summer). I started bringing a water bottle with me when the temperature and humidity has been a bit too intense. For his part, Reilly will take one drink of water deep into the walk and there is no point trying to force any more water into his belly at any other point.

 

I worried about him for most of the summer but I am starting to dial the fretting back a little now. The fact of the matter is that he has probably always been a bit anemic. There is no point in dwelling on it and waiting for him to deteriorate when he might well be the kind of dog that functions with a low red blood cell count and will live a productive dog’s life — which is what really? To sleep, eat, excrete, and, most importantly, love his family unconditionally. On all fronts, Reilly is performing quite well.

 

Even though the myriad of tests demonstrated that Reilly does not have an autoimmune problem and that his iron count is fine, I am still going after those potential issues despite the fact that the science says his anemia is occurring at the level of the bone marrow. He has always had a bit of a sensitive stomach so I have been feeding him a spoonful of yogurt with his kibble everyday. I also switched to a kibble recommended by a woman I work with (Merrick’s “Cowboy Cookout” – ye-hah!!!). And for his immune system he gets a dose of Naturpet’s Senior Tonic (even though he is not a senior) and I barbeque him little bits of beef liver that I blend in with his two meals a day. It can’t hurt…and it hasn’t hurt.

 

In the meantime, the vet keeps calling to ask me to bring Reilly in for more blood work – which I haven’t done. I was very clear at our last appointment in June that they weren’t going to suck any more blood out of my dog – despite their best intentions. We can keep diagnosing Reilly until we find out precisely what is wrong with him but, if there was a little pill that would make him better, I would assume that they would have already given it to him. That can only mean that Reilly is either a perpetually anemic puppy or something really bad is going on inside his little body. And if it’s really bad, he is not going for chemotherapy or getting a blood transfusion or any other drastic procedure. This is a quality of life issue for me and a dog’s life is very short. In other words, I am going to enjoy my dog and watch him live out his life – which is hopefully for a lengthy period of time.

 

I apologize for the tone of the last two blogs. Like any dog owner, I am extremely attached to my puppy. He brings out a nurturing side of me that makes me a better person. He is adored by my wife and two adult sons – and my friends and extended family. He is a joy. And he is remarkably cute. That’s why the thought of losing him – introduced by a ‘wellness’ test back in June – has sent me for a bit of a loop. But here we are in September and, as I write this blog at two in the afternoon, I know that the minute I push my chair away from the table I am currently writing at, he will be on his feet, cocking his head, and coaxing me toward the door for his walk. He doesn’t know, nor does he care, that he’s anemic!

 

The next series of blogs will be called LESSONS MY DOG HAS TAUGHT ME. Don’t worry, they’ll be more upbeat and maybe even a little bit funny.

 

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Health Scare

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It’s been about six weeks since I last posted anything. That’s because we have received some surprising news from the veterinarian. It seems that Reilly is anemic and they have ruled out just about everything except, in the words of one of the vets dealing with Reilly’s case, “a problem occurring at the level of the bone marrow.”

 

Here’s what happened: shortly after my last posting I took Reilly in for a routine heartworm test. While I was at the vets, one of the vet techs suggested a wellness test. I said yes and within a day I received a phone call from one of the vet clinic staff explaining that Reilly’s red blood count was very low and most of his other blood levels were off. The vet asked me to bring the dog by later that afternoon for a follow up examination. Of course I complied and, at about three o’clock that afternoon, Reilly and I were back at the vets. They took another blood sample and, when the results came back, Reilly was still showing signs of anemia. The vet recommended an overnight stay at an emergency animal hospital so that they could monitor the dog’s blood levels overnight.

 

At this point I was in a state of utter shock. Reilly had shown no signs of distress. The only evidence of anemia that I could see was that his tongue and gumbs were light pink as opposed to a healthier rosey pink. Sharon and I took the dog to the emergency hospital and the vets monitored his blood levels overnight.

 

The next morning I received a call from the hospital. Reilly’s blood levels had stayed the same and they recommended an ultrasound to see if he had a mass that was wreaking havoc on his insides. The ultrasound showed nothing that would explain the anemia. By the time Reilly was discharged later that day, the vets had ruled out organ issues, dietary issues, an auto-immune problem, and a mass or growth somewhere inside the dog. They decided to treat for infection – antibiotics twice a day for two weeks.

 

At the end of the two weeks, I took Reilly to our vet and they conducted another round of blood work. The results came back just about the same as when they first detected a problem with Reilly’s blood. The antibiotics didn’t improve the situation so infection was now off the table. That’s when the vet said that the problem is probably at the level of the bone marrow.

 

You should feel comforted to know that, while all this was going on, Reilly was in great spirits — still walking, still eating, still pooping. He is still chasing squirrels he will never catch in the backyard and continues to bring toys to us for a bit of play time.

 

However, it is the lack of optimism presented by the five vets I have dealt with (two at our vets and three at the emergency hospital) that has been most distressing for me. Reilly is just five years old and the thought of a bone marrow issue (like leukemia) making him sick scares the hell out of me.

 

Last week, Sharon and I went to Cape Cod for a bit of a vacation. Our son Liam took excellent care of the dog while we were away. While I worried about Reilly, I did manage to pull myself together enough to acknowledge that our puppy may become very sick so I need to enjoy him as much as I can (something that both Sharon and Liam have been encouraging me to do since all this began). While I could take the dog for a bone marrow biopsy, I have opted to forgo this course of action. All that this will do is invite a diagnosis that will require very invasive medical action that – in the case of chemotherapy for instance – will make my dog sicker than he already is. A dog’s life is short and I am not willing to make my dog’s life about a steady parade to vet clinics for the rest of his days.

 

In the meantime, I have cried many tears. Potential loss softens the heart and makes you aware of the fragility of life – even when we are talking about our pets. It has also let me see how harsh I have been in my own life. More often than not, I need to give people a break.

 

And I need to enjoy Reilly. I hope he lives for another ten years but, if he lives for another ten months, I need to know that I have done right by him. He is the best dog I have ever had – no contest.

 

On the bright side, the anemia (the origins of which remain a mystery) has not taken away Reilly’s desire for his daily walks. I am off to run him around the block. Let’s hope that there are many, many more walks with Reilly.

 

Update: Just got back from the walk. A hot day but an energetic walk. He is on the chair beside me enjoying the air conditioning.

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Security Blanket

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There are two things that are guaranteed to please people: one is a sense of security and the other is a warm blanket. Put the two together and you have a recipe for both stability and comfort.

 

Beds v. Blankets

Reilly is a dog that values both security and blankets. However, he doesn’t value beds. On two occasions, Sharon and I have picked up a doggy bed for our Westie. Both occasions introduced unprecedented violence and destruction.

 

Before I get into the specifics, I have a question: why are dog beds so damned expensive? You can pay between $50 and $120 for a dog bed. In our case, the dog would rather sleep on the couch next to us in the family room or on a love seat we have in our bedroom then sleep on those pricey little cots. But I digress…

 

Bed #1

The first time I bought Reilly a bed I was bucking the system. In an effort to fight the high price of pet sleep apparatuses, I picked up a crappy little foam bed for around $20. I presented the bed to Reilly and he proceeded to attack the thing. It was like the bed represented every squirrel Reilly had never caught. Despite our best efforts to convince him that this was for his own comfort, he couldn’t be deterred. He ripped that thing into a thousand fluffy pieces. By the end of the first day of bed ownership, Reilly had completely destroyed the foam pad and left me quite a mess to clean up.

 

I had to wonder if Reilly’s rage really came from a sense of snobbery. Maybe he was saying, ‘You buy me this cheap piece of crap and expect me to sleep on it! How dare you!’ And then he destroyed it in protest.

 

Bed #2

Because I am a little dense, I bought him another bed. This one was a deluxe $50 bed from a fancy pet store. In fact the clerk told me at the point of purchase that we could return it within 30 days for a full refund if the dog didn’t like it (that means if he wrecked it). I brought the bed home (bellyaching the whole time about the $50 price tag) and Reilly seemed to like it. Every time he would try to chomp on it, Sharon and I would tell him to stop and he’d stop. Eventually he started to sleep in the thing and I was pleased with my purchase – mostly because the sight of Reilly curled up in his little bed was just plain adorable.

 

About 31 days after we bought the bed, I was doing some work around the house. A friend of mine had come over to help us update our bathroom so we were ripping out floors and vanities and toilets. Reilly was very interested in what we were doing but I was worried that he was going to get hurt so I shooed him away. And so we worked away our day and, when my friend left, I went to find Reilly. He had dragged his deluxe bed into the living room and had ripped a hole in the side of it. Stuffing was everywhere. Because I’m cheap, I jammed as much of the stuffing back into the hole as I could and duct taped the hole shut. My efforts were summarily rejected. A day later, the tape was gone and the stuffing was back out. Bed #2 was another casualty of Reilly.

 

This time I wondered if Reilly wasn’t protesting his eviction from the bathroom renovation area. Once again, he was saying, ‘Screw you! I have a right to be here! This is my house too you know!’

 

A Cozy Blanket

Perhaps my explaining away Reilly’s rejection of his two beds is really a way of over-analyzing the little dog’s violent behaviour. In reality, Reilly just prefers blankets. Since he was a puppy, Reilly has been partial to adopting some of our favourite blankets, ripping at them with his teeth, holding them in his mouth tightly before nodding off to sleep. It is quite cute actually.

 

Certainly we have had our problems with this practice. There are blankets that we have coveted for ourselves that Reilly has pulled to the floor, mauled and drooled over, never again to be used to comfort a human. At one point, Reilly had laid claim to three blankets and two towels and, because he’s very possessive, he insisted on having all of them in the room with him at the same time. Now we have trimmed back the blanket stash to two – one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

 

If you ever get invited to our house, you will have the pleasure of seeing Reilly at work with his blanket. We like to keep a tidy house and, when company is coming, we fold up Reilly’s upstairs blanket and put it into another room. At some point in a visit, after Reilly has bonded with our guests, he will go get the blanket and awkwardly drag it into the room where the entire pack has gathered. It’s a real show-stopper – guaranteed giggles every time.

 

The blanket became a permanent fixture in our lives a few weeks back when my mother and my stepfather came by our place. Lorne agreed to help me replace the guts of my barbeque so we hauled the tools out and started working (Note: I am making myself out to be quite the handyman, which is patently untrue. Keep in mind that in both examples in this story someone else was there to help me. In other words, they did the work and I looked on). A thunderstorm started to roll in from a distance away and we weren’t quite done the job so I move our patio umbrella over the area where we were working. Within minutes the skies started to open up and so Lorne and I popped our heads out of the barbeque to look around. Besides seeing the rain, we saw Reilly with his blanket in his mouth in the process of falling asleep. He brought his blanket out to be close to us while we worked – in a rainstorm!

 

That is when I determined that forcing a bed on Reilly was an exercise in futility because he had already found a sense of comfort and security in his blanket. Or should I say blankets.

 

 

 

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Take a Hike…with Reilly

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 This is an article submitted to Cottage Dog magazine in May 2011  —  SPD

As we made out way from the county sideroad away from our car and up the path toward the Loree Forest, our dog Reilly kept looking back at my wife Sharon and I as if to say, “Well, come on!” We just turned to each other and laughed. While we never said it out loud, my wife and I both thought, ‘We’ll see how much energy he has at the end of the hike.’

 

That’s how our initiation into the world of hiking began. Sharon and I bought a weekend place in Thornbury, Ontario, about two years ago. Our initial thought was to exploit the skiing and golfing opportunities in the area but soon discovered, after reading a bunch of tourist brochures, that the Blue Mountains offer a plethora of hiking opportunities. Then we decided that 2011 would be “The Year of the Hike” and, since we have to take Reilly on his daily jaunts anyway, why not make one of his walks a really big walk.

 

Sharon and I (and Reilly) are not the type to just jump into adventures. We tend to need to do a bit of planning to get ourselves into a comfortable position before embarking into the unknown, so I did a bit of research. I checked out the Bruce Trail website (brucetrail.org) and scouted out a few trails. The maps are pretty one dimensional, and they don’t really indicate things like elevation, so I decided to contact ‘Hiker’ Hart Fisher of the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club. He suggested a couple of hikes and eventually we decided on a trail close to our place in Thornbury called the Loree Forest Loop. This particular hike is a meandering stroll to the top of the escarpment overlooking Nottawasaga Bay. The loop then doubles back with views of the Beaver Valley.

 

We piled into the car one Saturday morning, Sharon and I up front and Reilly propped up in his usually spot – his two front paws on the centre console and two back paws propped on the back seat.  We made our way across the 21st Sideroad and after a couple of drive-bys eventually found the entrance to the loop. We hopped out of the car and made our way up the path, following the Bruce Trail markers away from the road.

 

With Reilly in the lead, we soon discovered what was in store for us. As we crested a small hill, we looked down into a valley and saw a narrow stream. Rising from the banks of the stream was a handsome ascent to the top of the hill that looked out toward Nottawasaga Bay. While we might have initially wondered if the climb would be too daunting, we soon discovered that the Bruce Trail folks know what they’re doing. The trail was well marked and the climb was reasonable. Even Reilly, with his tiny little legs, had no problem with the climb to the top. The payoff was a scenic view of the beautiful blue waters of the bay and some of the islands of Georgian Bay in the distance. We also felt a sense of accomplishment for having reached the top.

 

The whole time Reilly was in his element. He sniffed and ran and did what dog’s do to his heart’s content. His energy rubbed off on us. We walked a little faster and caught ourselves in an almost constant giggle as we watched our dog conquer the Bruce Trail (well he was at least conquering the Loree Forest).

 

As we curled our way along the top of the escarpment, we had a moment of brief regret for having let Reilly off leash (a bit of a no-no on the Bruce Trail). He spotted an animal moving toward a large rock. I caught a glimpse of the animal as it ducked under a rock with Reilly in hot pursuit. Fortunately our little Westie is pretty obedient and he backed off on our command before what turned out to be a porcupine could fill his snout with quills.

 

With the crisis behind us, we continued our way along the outer ridge of the escarpment. Eventually we reached an opening and, in the distance, we could see the lifts for the Georgian Peaks Ski Club. For the first time on our hike, we encountered other people. Apparently some folks park at the base of the ski hill and climb up the hill to the top. Sharon and I concluded that our route was much more interesting.

 

And of course these people brought their dogs so we stopped for a break – giving Reilly a little water before he went off to play with a few of his canine friends. After soaking in the view for a while, we got back onto the trail and began to weave our way back through the forest. We even took a side trail that brought us to the main trail from which we started our original hike.

 

During the hike back, a question kept popping into my head: Why is it than when I walk through the green spaces of the Golden Horseshoe it feels like I am dragging Reilly along, but when I get him into an open forest trail I can’t keep up with him?  He led the way for most of our two hours on the trail and he only started showing signs of fatigue deep into the hike. It is as if the Loree Forest Loop brought our little white dog to life as he sniffed and trotted along with an energy the source of which lay deep inside his fury little frame.

 

The hike also gave Sharon and I a sense of rejuvenation. It was a combination of the fresh air and beautiful scenery that reminded us why we chose to pursue life outside of the city.

 

And we owe a debt of gratitude to Reilly. We never would have ventured into the Loree Forest if our dog hadn’t demanded his daily exercise. His exercise turned into our exercise, with all three of us exorcising the temptation to just laze around and sleep our way through the day.

 

 

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A Cat Named MOUSE

Mouse the Cat

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Reilly’s best friend when he was a puppy was a cat named Mouse. We brought Mouse into our family long before Reilly.

In fact, Mouse was about ten-years-old when Reilly joined us. She had survived the death of our first dog and a move from one house to another. In many ways she was the little furry witness that took in a number of transitions in our lives. She had a front row seat for my mid-life crisis (I opted for a puppy instead of girlfriend and a sports car), my wife’s ascent from teacher to department head to administrator, and both our sons’ journey through a few teenage years peppered with the odd bit of hijinx and tomfoolery.

When Reilly first came home, Mouse was less than impressed. After all, she was an old cat and here we were throwing a new creature into her domain. For his part, Reilly had no respect for old age. Always demonstrating a poor understanding of personal boundaries, Reilly would follow the cat around even though Mouse despised the attention. He would also try to play with her which she also didn’t like. The odd time she would swat the little puppy either across the nose when he got too close or on the bum as he was walking past her. Eventually, the dog and the cat came to an unspoken agreement that could only be described as detente or peaceful co-existence.

By the time Reilly turned one, he and the cat had been ignoring one another for long enough to realize that they actually didn’t mind each other’s company. And then a nightly ritual emerged that confirmed the fact that a bond had been made.

Each night, my wife and I would make our way upstairs and get ready for bed. The minute we’d turn the lights out the rumble would begin. I’m not sure if Mouse would jump up on Reilly’s perch (a love seat in our master bedroom that essentially belongs to the dog) or if Reilly would just lunge at the cat when she walked into our room. Who started the ruckus was irrelevant because, no matter who was responsible, the next five or ten minutes would see the cat and the dog chasing each other from one bedroom to the next. The dog would engage in a frantic but joyful run while the cat – named Mouse after all – would effortlessly engage and retreat to keep Reilly from getting too comfortable. That’s right, she was playing a game of cat and mouse with the dog.

Seriously, this went on every night – and Sharon and I loved it!

Over the first three years of Reilly’s life, the two grew closer and closer. When Reilly and I would go for our walks, Mouse would walk us to the end of the street and wait for us to come back under a large evergreen tree on a neighbour’s lawn. Upon our return, and once Reilly was safely across the street and heading up our cul de sac, Mouse would run at him and swat his butt with her paws. And Reilly would trott on as if nothing was happening. Love taps I guess. For my part, I had a front row seat for these two best friends prancing up our driveway to our front door.

We lost Mouse a couple of summers ago. Old age and a full life had caught up with her. A very active cat, Mouse was almost constantly perched atop the fence, getting ready to either attack a bird in a tree or a mouse on the ground. Yep, lots of treats were left at our back door. After she died, Reilly started to spend more time in our backyard, scanning the fence line, often running to each corner of the yard. To this day, I am convinced he is looking for Mouse.

I miss Mouse and think of her just about every day. I miss her graceful walk, her persistent meowing, and her selective attention.  But most of all I miss the bond she built, first with us and later with Reilly.

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