Dogs Behind Fences
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Bikes, bears and back country – Rossland, BC

By August 11, 2017 biking, dog stories, general, places, travel, wildlife stories

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Rossland, BC, nestled in the Monashee range in the West Kootenays, is the smallest incorporated city in Canada with a population of around 3,500.

In the 1990s it was like taking a step back in time – to an age when kids played outside until they were called in for dinner or bed — and almost no one locked their doors.

The city had grown up during a gold rush on Red Mountain in the 1890s, but the gold was long gone and now the sleepy town’s economy was based largely on the tourists that came for the world class skiing in the winter, and of course the mountain biking.

We had moved there in 1993 – so Max and Dolly got to grow up in an environment where they could walk by themselves to soccer or gymnastic classes — or even spend the day skiing with only their friends for company.

Rossland also had a long history as a centre for mountain biking – tracing back to the earliest Rubberhead bike festivals starting in the mid 1980s.  An extensive system of riding trails still extends from the outskirts of town giving easy access to the back country.  Even though we had moved to Rossland for the skiing, we made good use of those biking trails.

The other thing Rossland was famous for was its bears.

When I lived there, bears regularly walked through town, especially along the banks of Trail Creek that ran right behind our house.

Anyone who biked in the bush, routinely carried bells on their handlebars – or under the back of their bike seat – anywhere that would cause the bells to jingle as you rode along the trails.  Ringing bells to keep the bears away!

The theory was that the bears were no more interested in meeting up with bikers than the bikers were in meeting up with a bear.  The plan was for the bears to hear the bells so they could take off before the cyclist arrived.

I always had bells on my bike.  But it wasn’t always effective ….  as I found out one summer evening when my son Max and I decided to take a quick ride down the hill to Warfield after dinner.

We took the rail-grade trail because we could access it right behind our house.  It  followed the route of the old narrow-gauge railroad that ran from Trail Landing on the Columbia River, up to the gold mine on Red Mountain.  The tracks had long since been removed, and the rail bed now made a great biking and hiking trail.

Our golden retriever, Pinky, came along as well.  She loved to run with the bikes and would never miss a trip to the bush.  She was a great bike dog because she never chased other bikes or dogs – and she never got in the way of our bikes.  She was too busy enjoying herself running through the bush.

We had just started out and were just past the edge of town, when a small black dog appeared and started to chase the wheels of my bike.

He was running right beside my pedals but surprisingly he was not barking.  I was sure he was either going to get hurt himself – or make me fall – or maybe both.  So I was yelling and trying to get him to “go away” – when I realized I was looking down at two little, round, black ears that were sitting up high on top of his head.

I’d never seen a dog with ears like that.  The only thing I knew of with ears like that was a bear!!

He wasn’t much bigger than a ten-pin bowling ball with legs – and his head was almost the same size as his body.

And oh yes – he was definitely a bear!!  Just a little cub.

Now I was seriously trying to get him away from my bike – and I had no intention of stopping or even slowing down!!

I didn’t want to look over my shoulder — I was pretty sure that if baby-bear was chasing my bike then momma-bear was not too far away.  And probably not very happy with what was going on!

When I was yelling at the little bear to take off – I had also alerted Pinky to my problem and Pinky hated bears.

She hated them with a vengeance.  She would tree any bear that entered our yard.  I always thought it was because they would get into our garbage cans – and she thought she had first dibs on any garbage at our house.

And now she was racing straight down the hill towards the trail – and me.

She clearly planned to teach this little bear a lesson and of course she chose the shortest route to get to the bear – right in front of my bike.

I don’t know how I didn’t end up flying over the handle bars that night – but I managed to avoid the dog – and the bear – and I stayed on my bike.

The little guy took off down the field with Pinky in hot pursuit.  She was barking!

I didn’t look left and I didn’t look right and I certainly didn’t attempt to look behind me.  I just hollered at Max to  “keep pedalling –  as fast as you can!!”

I don’t know if he even knew what had happened — but he was always game to pedal full speed down hill.

I have been told that bears can run uphill faster than down.  And I know for sure that I can bike downhill much faster than up — so it was downhill all the way.  Non-stop to Warfield.

I never did lay eyes on momma-bear that night — but I know she was there somewhere.

In all the years we lived in Rossland – it was the closest I ever got to a baby bear – and I didn’t even take the time to enjoy it!!

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My boy Bill !!!

By August 9, 2017 dog stories, general

Willy came to our house to live, in May of 2011. I had seen his picture in an ad on our internal web-site at work.  He was a scrawny little terrier-type dog — with very sad eyes.  The ad said that he was in need of a new home.  I hit Reply!

I was put in contact with the dog’s owner, a young girl (twenty something), who had gotten a puppy she could no longer keep.  She told me he was nine months old and that friends of hers were looking after him while she looked for a new home.  She wanted to interview potential new families and then decide who would get him.

I appreciated that she wanted to find the best home for her pet — but I didn’t feel that big an attachment to the photo of her dog and we weren’t interested in entering into a competition. I wished her well but said we were no longer  interested.

Our two old dogs had gone to cancer a few years before and we had been dog-sitting periodically to fill the void – but we knew that we needed another dog to join our family – and one that needed to be rescued, just felt right.

The following Sunday morning the girl called again.  This time she was desperate – the friends who had been looking after the dog had dumped him at the pound without even telling her or letting her know there was a problem.

She said this was his third time at the pound and he was now classed as incorrigible.  If someone didn’t take him today he was going to be put down.  She had nowhere to keep him and asked if I still wanted him.  I knew that she was trying hard not to cry.

Three strikes? I had never even heard of that for dogs.  I told Kerry and he just grabbed the truck keys and said, “let’s go”.

When we met her in the parking lot at the pound, we told her we were not committing to keeping him at this point – but we would save him — and make sure he went to a good home.  And we assured her that he would not end up back there again.   She said that was good enough – but that she would find the good home — and then she went in to spring her dog!

She showed up about 20 minutes later with a copper-coloured bundle of energy in her arms. She and the dog sat on a bench on the other side of the parking lot with her back us – while she said goodbye.

He was amazing – just full of energy –  like a trout on the end of a line – twisting and turning and jumping and kissing. Kissing her face – and her ears – and her mouth.  He never stopped moving and wriggling and kissing.  It went on for a long time.

When he settled down a bit – she brought him over to our truck.  I felt so sad for her.  She said his name was Bear and that he was nine months old.  He obviously loved her a lot.

We drove her to the C-train and the kisses continued for the whole drive.  She told us she would look for a new home right away.  She thanked us and then she walked away.  She never looked back.  She didn’t even know where we lived.

I felt so sad.

The poor little guy didn’t even have a collar so we stopped and bought him one on the way home.  It was the nicest one I could find – copper coloured – just like his fur.  The leather was rolled and top stitched.  I thought that wherever he went next, at least he would be well dressed.

It was still early when we got home.  We fed him some kibbles and I took pictures of him with my phone.

He looked sad … he seemed to be trying to tell me something … just some sad story. Or maybe he was asking why we didn’t want to keep him?

He did not respond to the name Bear … not at all … not even a flicker.

Then the girl called again to say she had already found him a new home.  I took down the contact information and told Kerry someone wanted the dog – a woman who had a dog that needed company in its old age.

I told him I couldn’t make the call because I was pretty sure that I would cry.  So, he took the number and went to do the deed.

He came back a few minutes later and said … “I am not giving that dog to her … we are keeping him.”

Now I really thought I might cry — but from relief  this time.

Kerry is the one who looks after our dogs.  He walks them three times a day and trains them to go off-leash and takes them with him everywhere.  He works from home — so he and the dogs are constant companions. I had not wanted to saddle him with a dog that I had chosen, but I was so happy to hear that he couldn’t part with him either.

Kerry said he was worried that the little guy wouldn’t get enough exercise and that such an energetic puppy wasn’t a good choice as companion for an old dog — and that we should just keep him – because he was exactly the dog we were looking for.  I agreed.

We took him to the off-leash puppy park and he just went crazy.  He ran around like mad and visited all the other dogs … and peed on everything … and he just wore himself out …. then he came home with us and crashed to sleep … just like a little kid. And he was never a problem.  He just wanted to run.  So we made sure he got plenty of time to run every day.

We called him Willy.  I think he is the dog we have ever owned and we have had a bunch of great dogs … that we loved like crazy!!  But Willy has his own special aura and everyone who meets him just loves him.

And he changed before our eyes.  When we got him he was a short-haired terrier type and then he turned into a dog that grew hair everywhere … on top of his head … behind his ears …on the top of his paws … down the outside of his hind legs … everywhere.

He now looks like a miniature golden retriever.  But he is just a mutt.  A mutt that might have met a bad end if that young girl hadn’t made sure that her puppy found a good home.

When he first came to live with us he was scared of young men, I don’t like to think why.  But our son Max and his friends all spoiled Willy with chewy toys and games of fetch and catch and now he goes crazy when Max comes to visit – like his big brother has come home.  But Willy still runs and hides – in a closet  -or behind a couch if there is any loud noise in the house.  And he still has bad dreams.

We never heard from the young girl again.  And now Willy greets me with a thousand kisses.  He has so much love to give.

We are so happy we got that call that Sunday morning and that Willy became part of our family so he could join us to go looking for Dogs Behind Fences!

Did I mention that this all happened on Mother’s Day?


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Dogs behind fences

By July 22, 2017 dog stories, general

The first time I laid eyes on Pye – she looked a little bit like Cinderella before the Fairy Godmothers performed their magic – if Cinderella had been a dog, that is.  Then – just to keep things interesting – throw in a touch of Liz Taylor – partly for the black hair but mostly because her name was spelled out in rhinestones on her collar.  Yes – she was a ratty little girl in diamonds.It was the fall of 2009.

We had been mourning the loss of the two dogs that had grown up with our kids.  Both had gone to cancer – one in 2006 and the other in 2007, one age 13 and one only 12 … and both of them, way too soon.

Kerry felt disloyal to even think about getting another dog – but he was really missing his old girls – and really missing his dog walks every day.  He felt like a bit of a fraud – or a stalker – if he went to the dog park with no dog so it sounded like a great idea when offered to dog-sit for a friend of a friend over the Labour Day long weekend.

Our two old dogs had been a beautiful female golden retriever and her HUGE, black, half-Husky puppy.  Yeah — two big dogs. So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived home to find a messy little pile of black fur sitting on my kitchen floor.  This was Pye.

She was the rattiest little thing – some kind of black spaniel but really small.  She had a very flat nose, buck teeth and huge expressive eyes (her best feature) …. along with extremely bad breath.  Her hair was long and ragged everywhere — both ears were a different length – and she was covered in giant mats.

Worst of all was the hair on her feet. It was at least three inches long and wispy.  It grew out over her toes like some weird middle-eastern slipper. She really did look like something the Grinch would have owned.  The poor little thing could hardly walk.  I thought it was the long hair hanging off her toes that was making her trip but when I picked her up I found that her toe nails were so long a couple of them had curled right up under her feet. No wonder the poor little thing could hardly walk — and no wonder she was so chubby!

I knew I had to do something to help this poor little ragamuffin.  But we only had her for the weekend and we didn’t even know the owner. Who could have let this sweet little girl get into such bad shape?  The first thing we did was trim up her nails.  That was a two-man job and difficult to do because the nails were so long and we didn’t want to cause her any pain.

Then I combed/cut all of the mats out from around her ears and her bib and her tail. I wanted to trim the long hair around her ears so it would be the same length on each side, but Kerry thought we shouldn’t send her home looking like a completely different dog.  I restrained my self and just trimmed some of the length off the hair on her toes.  Enough so that she didn’t trip over them any more.

Then Kerry and Pye set off for his favorite dog spot – down by the Bow River.  We don’t think Pye had ever been off-leash before but she really enjoyed it – and she was so well behaved.  She was not very brave about other dogs so she stuck really close to Kerry.  She really was the sweetest most lovable little girl.  We kind of fell in love with her right away.

But it was when we took her to the off-leash paths in our neighborhood that she discovered the true joy in her life — dogs behind fences.

The off-leash paths run through a ravine area at the back of the houses – the yards are all fenced and many of the yards contain dogs.  Dogs that couldn’t get at Pye no matter how fiercely she barked at them.  She just loved that.  She could be a noisy, aggressive, beast as long as the other dogs were safely contained behind their fences.

We baby-sat Pye often over the next few years and her favorite outing was always to go see ‘dogs behind fences’.  That was until one day when she suffered a ‘near-miss’.

There was a yard that contained two dachshunds — they just loved to bark ferociously at every person or canine who walked by.  The fence that hid them was about six feet tall and was made of close spaced boards that you could not see through.

Kerry had always called the two dogs – Hans and Franz – until one day their owner (an older German lady) informed him that they were in fact — Dieter and Otto.

On the day of the ‘near miss’ –Pye was thoroughly enjoying herself barking madly at the fence – with her nose about 1/4 inch from the boards — when suddenly a pointy little dachshund nose stabbed completely through a knot hole in the wood – right in front of Pye’s face.

I don’t know if it was Dieter or Otto?  But which ever one it was – it almost gave Pye a heart attack.  I swear I saw her gasp and clutch her chest with her paws.  (Did I mention how hard I was laughing?)

So now a new phrase had entered our family lexicon – dogs behind fences.  It refers to something wonderful and fun – but something that could have unintended – possibly hazardous – consequences.

I hope you enjoyed Pye’s story.  If you stick around you will hear more about Pye and all our other canine friends.

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