Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The perfect dog

In a very short time, Bear became my constant companion. From the beginning she has always been more than a dog to me, and amongst the string of animals that have come to define the last five years of my life, Bear stands just off to the left in a special place all by herself. When asked if I have a favourite, without hesitation I can say hands down I do.

Bear is my soul mate. She is one of those creatures who fits so perfectly into my existence that I can’t remember what it was like not having her in my life, and I don’t really care to remember.

There is something calming about Bear, a warmth and comfort from her body that translates itself into mine. She is big and solid with a barrel chest and thick neck, often mistaken for a male dog, and perfectly sized for full-body hugs, best shared on the bed or a couch where she can stretch out and reveal her soft pink belly.

Silky smooth ears frame her face where tiny eyelashes curl delicately out from her gentle eyes of chocolate brown. Her feet smell like popcorn and when I take them in my hands they fill my palms completely, a reassuring weight clothed in shiny fur and tough black pads.

Her velvety coat is close cropped to her body and hugs every contour of her frame, rolling smoothly over tight, toned muscle. When the light hits her it is completely absorbed in midnight black then reflected the next minute as silver. When in full flight, chasing a ball or leaping through the air after a stick, she reminds me of a horse, muscled, strong and powerful.

Sometimes in the silence of a room when I’m sure I am alone, I can hear the rustle of her wagging tail and know she is standing nearby, looking at me with her questioning brown eyes, communicating volumes.

She’s one of those dogs who understands full sentences and looks at you like she’s really listening to every word that comes out of your mouth, then replies just as clearly as if she’d spoken in return.

One day we took Bear and Murdoch paddling. Morgan and I set the canoes down on the sandy shore where we loaded some gear and ropes and tied down important things as Bear paced nearby. She and I crossed paths on one of my trips back to the truck to get my life jacket. We stopped and looked at each other and I said, “Are you coming with me?” Her ears perked up and she turned her head to the side before setting off in a purposeful march to my canoe and jumped in, then sat there for the next ten minutes waiting patiently for us to cast off into the deep blue lake.

For me, Bear has always been the perfect dog, but I wasn’t there for the first two intense years of training. I missed the part where Morgan battled with her every day to make her realize she was not in charge, and I missed the part where they got kicked out of puppy school because Bear hadn’t got it yet.

Morgan told me he chose Bear from the litter of puppies because she seemed sweet and calm. She was asleep when he picked her up. What he didn’t realize at the time was she was so calm and relaxed and tired because she had just finished beating up on all her siblings.

Bear held on to her alpha dog tendencies and still finds it difficult to share the spotlight. Part of our decision to bring Quincy into our home was so Bear could have another dog around, someone to play with. Since then we have realized Bear prefers her space from other animals. She is not terribly social, except in small bursts, and has had to adjust her life quite a bit as more animals continued to drop in our laps.

Often we find ourselves apologizing to her. Sorry Bear that Max is so needy. Sorry that Murdoch is such a jerk. Sorry Cleo keeps peeing on your bed. Sorry Chestnut likes to grab your tail. Sorry the cats tumbled off the back of the couch onto your head again while they were wrestling.

Even though I love the animals completely and without question, some days it does seem all a little too much. Regardless, there is something energizing about them and something incredibly rewarding about being loved by a dog. Whenever I’m with one of my dogs, really with them, time stops for a while. Dogs bring me into the moment like nothing else, even when it’s not because I’m watching Murdoch hyper-vigilantly for the bad dog to unzip the good dog costume and emerge with teeth gleaming and claws drawn.

In one way or another, each animal that has become a part of my life has played a significant role in shaping my path. They have shown up at turning points or instigated turning points, for better or for worse. And though I carry something with me from each of them, Bear will always have the biggest chunk of my heart.


  1. Cudos, Heather - a very engaging piece of descriptive writing. Because of your language abilities [feet smelling like popcorn, etc.],I easily see Bear, but more than that you get me inside Bear. I feel her mesmerizing beauty, her true and uncanny devotion to you and Morgan. She has indeed enriched your life. Yes, I would like to meet such an animal.

  2. hahaha - she sure was a handful Heather!!

    Morgan used to have to hold her during the play sessions at puppy class because she would terrorize the other pups so much, but Morgan never gave up on her - he did a great job!!

    I love reading about what a beautiful, calm, "perfect dog" she has become. You both should be very proud...but expecially Morgan for the work you did with her.

    I'm using you both as my role model for my current hell-hound "Trey"...maybe there is hope for him yet...or maybe I need to ship him north for you and Morgan to train for me!!