Dog Poetry Sunday – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It is at once both difficult and easy to find poems to share in honour of dogs. Easy because writing is a solitary business and many a poet found comfort in a silent friend. Difficult because most of the poems are melancholy. While I understand and even expect this, I am not seeking remind anyone of the shortness of a dog’s life. There is enough gloom, I think, and it is not my role to add to it.

Perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places. I am new to this journey, after all, and this part of the internet is unknown. I am looking forward to seeing what I can discover over time. But certainly, if you have a favourite to recommend, I would not turn it away.

Today’s selection was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I should know her works better than I do, I feel, because the name has such significance. From the little I have learned, her life was not simple and it does not surprise me she gained an affection for the canine friends in her life. There is much to which I can relate in the following words. I hope you can as well.

“To Flush My Dog”, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Yet, my pretty sportive friend,
Little is’t to such an end
That I praise thy rareness!
Other dogs may be thy peers
Haply in these drooping ears,
And this glossy fairness.

But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed
Day and night unweary—
Watched within a curtained room,
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.

Roses, gathered for a vase,
In that chamber died apace,
Beam and breeze resigning.
This dog only, waited on,
Knowing that when light is gone
Love remains for shining.

Other dogs in thymy dew
Tracked the hares, and followed through
Sunny moor or meadow.
This dog only, crept and crept
Next a languid cheek that slept,
Sharing in the shadow.

Other dogs of loyal cheer
Bounded at the whistle clear,
Up the woodside hieing.
This dog only, watched in reach
Of a faintly uttered speech,
Or a louder sighing.

And if one or two quick tears
Dropped upon his glossy ears,
Or a sigh came double—
Up he sprang in eager haste,
Fawning, fondling, breathing fast,
In a tender trouble.

And this dog was satisfied
If a pale thin hand would glide
Down his dewlaps sloping—
Which he pushed his nose within,
After—platforming his chin
On the palm left open.

Less Wordy Wednesday: Things Overheard

“Oh, you nutter! What are you doing in the road? Don’t ya ken you’ll get hurt? Get over here you silly arse!”

I am pretty sure this woman and I are meant to be best friends. If I see her again, I am inviting her out for a beer.

Okay, maybe not. But in my mind I totally will.

Shiva Stands in Snow

“I know that dog. I know it! It’s a jack! No, a whippet! No, it’s a something that looks like a Jack and a Whippet but is something else! I know it”

It’s a Shiva. Don’t feel bad. I don’t know what she is either.

Shiva Digs in Snow

“Them dogs are always sniffin’. What do you reckon they smell?”

They smell the earth and everything beneath it. Every beetle, every worm, every speck of life, alive or dead. If you were to sit and look at this spot all day, every day for a month, you would see hundreds, if not thousands, of people, broken toys, dogs, plastic bags, cats, rabbits, food wrappers, children, leaves float, walk, slide, and prance over this pile of snow. Everything you would see in those 30 days, a dog smells in one moment.

Digger

“I really like this sweater. It makes me look like a cougar with a wine problem but I don’t care. It’s my I-don’t-give-a-damn-if-I-look-like-a-crazy-cat-lady-because-I-am-awesome-anyway sweater.”

I should have asked her where she bought it. I could use some of that attitude.

Shiva looks at snow

“When I grow up, I wanna be a puppy!”

High ambitions, little girl. Don’t we all?

Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Border Collie

Before anyone is offended by the title of this post I want to make it clear that I do not believe Border Collies any any smellier than any other breed. If anything, their OCD nature probably makes them less odorous. No, the reference has less to do with stinkiness and more to do with the fact that the more time I spent in dog sports the more former mutt-lovers I saw switching over to the dark side.

Before anyone is offended by that I want to make it clear that I do not abide breed discrimination and  I think Border Collies are brilliant dogs. Some of Shiva’s best friends are Border Collies! Er…That may not quite be accurate. Shiva’s antics tend to bring out the worst in other dogs and Border Collies especially seem to prefer eating her face off to joining her in a game of running around like a maniac. Nonetheless! I love Border Collies and before the wackadoodle I used to think I wanted one. Now I know I prefer certifiable to genius in a dog.

The reason I call it “the dark side” is because there was a period where it seemed everybody I knew was getting a Border Collie. Let’s face it, they are over-represented in dog sports enough. Just look at this Canadian World Agility Team photo:

385285_575260402518399_1083747390_nThere seems to be this belief that if one wishes to move to the upper echelons of canine athletics, one requires either a Border Collie or a Sheltie. People I knew would get their start with a mutty rescue and then once they kind of knew what they were doing, they would purchase a Border Collie puppy. It was just a shame, is all. It gives newcomers and audience members the wrong impression. Other dogs are just as capable and love the thrill of competition just as much. One of the things I love the most is watching dogs of non-traditional breeds get out on the course and do just as well. Proving that, well, one doesn’t need a Border Collie to succeed.

Anyway, apparently it isn’t just dog sports in which Border Collies are unnecessarily the dominant breed. Or should I say species?

Champis is a hero to rabbits everywhere. Maybe a more appropriate title of this post should have been “Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Dog to Do a Bunny’s Job.”

Day of Remembrance: They Had No Choice

004Each November 11th, Remembrance Day in Canada, I try to reflect upon the countless four-legged soldiers and heroes who sacrificed their lives to save their human comrades. In 2012, an official Animals in War Dedication was erected in Ottawa to recognize the actions of the animals who participated in warfare throughout history. I think it is a lovely idea and if I am ever in the capital city again I will be sure to pay a visit.

There is a similar memorial in Hyde Park, London. It is a beautiful spot and the sculptor did a wonderful job. I wish it had been built the last time I was in the United Kingdom in 2002. However, it is the dedication that strikes me the most. There are the expected generic inscriptions about remembering the millions of animal lives lost serving the country over the centuries. There is also second, smaller line underneath the main header that reads simply this:

“They had no choice”

rear_monument

Precisely so.

Since I am not able to make a pilgrimage to either site in order to pay my respects, I would like to spend some time sharing the story of a special animal who worked very hard to save the lives of the humans he served. Last year I wrote about Judy, a short-haired pointer who served in World War II, and the year before that I talked about Gander, a Newfoundland and the only Canadian canine recipient of the Dickin Medal.

This year, I am going to tell you about Trakr, a German Shepherd who worked as a police dog in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city close to my heart. Trakr was originally trained in the Czech Republic but he joined the Halifax Police Force at the young age of 14 months. His efforts with the police led to the capture of over one million dollars in contraband along with multiple criminals. After six years of hard work, Trakr retired from the force in 2001; but his duty wasn’t over yet.

US-ATTACKS-SKOREA-ANIMAL-CLONE-OFFBEATWhen the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in September that year, Trakr and his handler, James Symington, watched in horror. When Symington saw the actions of the search and rescue operations in New York on television, he knew Trakr’s exceptional abilities would be of great assistance. Suiting up, he and Trakr got in the car and drove the 15 hours to reach the city. They arrived the morning of September 12 and their work began immediately.

Thank goodness it did. At approximately 7 am that morning, Trakr alerted his handler to signs of life under the wreckage. Firefighters searched the spot and found the very last of the 20 survivors who had been in the building when it collapsed the day before. The woman Trakr found had been buried for over 26 hours.

Unfortunately, there would be no more survivors pulled from the rubble but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Trakr spent the next two days straight searching through the destruction. On September 14th,  his exhausted body gave out due to the effects of smoke inhalation and burns. He simply could not work any more and had to be treated before he could return home to Nova Scotia.

In 2009, Symington had to say goodbye to his beloved friend and colleague. After suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder that some believe could have been caused by his work at Ground Zero, Trakr passed away at the age of fourteen. But not before being lauded a hero.

Trakr’s life symbolizes the efforts of millions of animals throughout history who have performed similar tasks for humans without hesitation. He was only one of hundreds of search and rescue dogs who worked in New York City after September 11th. They all sacrificed their health and safety in order to save the lives of the survivors they found. None of them chose to be there on their own. No animal has volunteered for a military post or assignment of his own free will. Despite that, they face fire and death over and over again.

Many of us wouldn’t be here without them.

As the plaque on the British memorial reads: “From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.

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Sources:

Trakr the Dog – Top 10 Heroic Animals – TIME

The Animals in War Memorial

Wikipedia

It’s About the Little Things – A Valentine’s Day Ode to My Dog

It’s no secret that the purportedly most romantic day of the year fills me with more irritation than it does love. From the forced gestures to the poor quality chocolate, I have never been big on celebrating Valentine’s Day. There is something about bright red heart-shaped boxes that makes my eyebrow twitch. It’s not that the concept behind the day bothers me. The idea of taking time to appreciate loved ones is a good one. But the way it is all packaged up gives me hives. It’s all just so… Artificial. Is there anything more offensive than obligatory affection?

TC Valentine

Not to me there isn’t. If grand gestures and “I Wuv U” teddy bears are your thing, that is fine. For me, there is far more romance in the every day, little things we do for each other to show we care. Things like scraping ice off your car, or picking you up after work on a rainy day so you don’t have to take the bus. Laundry might not sound very romantic, but if you do a load for me, I will feel special.

Shiva Valentine Our animals understand this instinctively. Dogs aren’t big on shiny jewelry or fancy dinner dates. All they want is our company and attention. They know that large gifts, like expensive new toys or the  latest in dog collars, are empty unless they have someone with whom to enjoy them. There is no point in buying your dog a trendy, scientifically tested tug toy unless you are willing to hold the other end. We could spend hundreds on cozy memory foam dogs beds for Shiva and she would still prefer to sleep on the couch with us.

Dogs get that it is the little things we do for each other that run the deepest. Cuddling on the coach after a long hike, throwing that stick just one more time, forgiving them when they chew a hole in our favourite slippers. On the flip side, no matter how I am feeling, when Shiva runs towards me with a wiggling bum and a wagging tail, suddenly I know everything will be okay. She puts up with my having to go to work and I put up with her occasionally humiliating me in public. We show we care not by purchasing big bouquets of flowers one day a year, but in the small things we do for each other every day.

In my opinion, that’s what love is all about.

Thanks so much to Ann at Pawsitively Pets for the adorable Shiva and “TC” Valentine images! They are just too sweet.

When Animals Save the Day

I am a gigantic sucker for a sweet animal-saves-human story. Even the suspect ones where the animal was probably just doing what comes naturally. It probably all began in my early years – doesn’t everything? I watched quite a few cartoons as a kid that featured dog-human child relationships. The dog was usually somewhat feral or maligned by society in some other way. Almost every episode included at least one scene where the child was in danger and the dog came to his or her rescue. My favourite of all was called Belle and Sebastian.

Did anyone else watch that? I didn’t miss an episode. Here is a clip of the opening to jog your memory. Gosh, I miss that show.

Anyway, many of my childhood fantasies revolved around meeting some sort of wild animal in the forest and forging a bond. Sometimes it was a wolf, sometimes a tiger, sometimes the animal was more mythological in nature. I didn’t have an imaginary friend as such, but I had lots of imaginary pets.

To this day, stories of animals risking their lives for their human friends, and vice versa, give me the warm fuzzies. This is the main reason I had to share a recent infographic put together byMoneySupermarket.com. Animals have impacted all of us and sometimes that impact actually saves our lives. To me, it doesn’t matter if this was the dog’s – or pig’s or dolphin’s – original intention. What matters is that our lives are clearly connected. We have more in common with them than we think.

I hope it makes you smile as well.

SUPER_FURRY_ANIMALS 4

If Only The Love Dog Was A Real Thing in The World

There need to be more reality shows on television that feature dogs. I never thought I would type those first nine words. Let me paraphrase. There need to be more dog shows on television. One could make the argument there are plenty of dog shows on Animal Planet and other cable, specialty channels. That’s not enough for me any more. There is a wide, dog-less hole in network television howling to be filled. I can’t think of a single show since Lassie – or the better, Canadian equivalent, The Littlest Hobo – that gave a dog a prominent role. It’s just wrong.

51cbbukMnvL._SL500_AA300_I came to this conclusion after reading Elsa Watson‘s latest book, titled The Love Dog. When I was approached to review the book, I had no idea I could be sucked in to the idea of a reality show – even one that stars a gorgeous Golden Retriever. Especially a dating reality show. Yes, I love dogs. But my disdain for dating shows knows no bounds. I pride myself on being one of the least sentimental people on the planet. Heck, I don’t even know the date of my own anniversary! Shows about romantic love hold little interest for me. I have yet to see one episode of The Bachelor. Yet, it wasn’t long after I opened The Love Dog that I was hooked on central concept.

Elsa Watson is on to something pretty brilliant.

I should clarify that her book is a work of fiction. It is a story about a dog named Apollo who had been trained to perform on a reality program designed to repair relationships. Like most reality shows, this one is scripted. Well, at first anyway. It becomes bit more complicated than that but I don’t want to give too much away.

The story is light, fun, and entertaining, even if you have no interest in reading about a celebrity canine. The narrative is broken up into different parts and perspectives, which gives a full picture of each character’s experiences. My favourite parts, naturally, were those written in Apollo’s point of view.

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Author Watson has a great handle on the rich inner life I like to think dogs lead. Apollo is a special dog for a lot of reasons but he still experienced many of the same desires of many dogs I know. I really appreciated the delicate approach the book applied to his emotions without overly anthropomorphizing.  It did not surprise me at all to learn from her website that Elsa Watson lives with two equally special dogs. Their inspiration definitely comes through in her writing. I knew immediately I would like the book’s writer when I read her motto: “Any day on which you pet a dog is a good day.”

Can’t argue with that.

It might sound silly, but I think a show like the one Watson created in her novel, would be just as big a success in real life. I’d love to see an actual televised version of The Love Dog. Disdain for corny romance aside, I do believe dogs have the ability to bring people together. It’s always beautiful to watch people fall in love with their animals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my PH’s cat was one of the largest reasons I agreed to go out with him. He is proof our pets are capable of uniting us. It’s time a major network gave a dog a chance to reach fame in our living rooms once more.

Or perhaps I am just as sentimental as everyone else after all.

If you would like to meet Apollo yourself, I have some happy news! One lucky reader has a chance to win a copy of Elsa Watson’s latest book right here on this blog. To enter, just leave a comment below by Friday, February 1st at midnight Pacific. I’ll run them through Random.org and announce the winner next week! Thank you so much for participating!