The Dog Nobody Wanted
Once upon an Arctic vacation, I was paddling near Inuvik (Northwest Territories) with a canoe I had rented for the day. I was only a mile out of the town but the riverbank was already empty of most signs of human habitation.
Hidden between the stunted arctic spruce trees were the occasional Indian hunting camps, ranging from well-kept cabins to ramshackle shelters made of old plywood and blue tarps.
Suddenly, I saw movement in the bush on shore and my heart leapt. Wildlife! I got my camera out, hoping for the chance to photograph a bear, or maybe a wolf.
As I approached, I was disappointed to see it was just a garden-variety mongrel-mutt It was a half-grown pup, probably part shepherd, part husky, weighing about 30-40 pounds.
I called to it, and the dog responded by coming to shore to greet me. As I pulled up the canoe up the river bank, the stupid critter jumped into the canoe, put her paws on around my neck. She slobbered me with kisses, and covered me with black mud. (Thaaaank you!)
Okay, nice doggie, I said as I petted her. Both of us were filthy. She didn’t mind, and didn’t seem to want to leave. But after a few more pats and ear-rubs, I told her bye-bye, and pushed her out of the canoe, and continued my paddle up the river.
I soon saw movement in the bush, however, and realized the dog was following me from shore. Oh well, she’s probably bored, I thought. Her owner is probably around one of these camps. She’ll eventually go home.
But she didn’t. The dog kept following me for quite a while. When she finally disappeared, and I felt relieved. Good. She’s gone home.
But then she’d reappear. And then disappear again. This hide-and-seek game went on for a good 90 minutes.
It started to become a bit disconcerting. What did I do that was so special that this dog so desperately wanted to be with me? Maybe she was lost. But she looked well-fed. I suspected the dogs up here knew how to fend for themselves.
And still, she followed me.
Now I reached a small creek that would lead me back to town. Surely this would be the end of the road for my furry friend. She wouldn’t bother to swim across the creek and then cross the lake to where I’d be returning the canoe. This is where she’ll turn around.
But she didn’t. She seemed alarmed that I was leaving her, and bush-whacked through shrubs and the stunted willows, making her way towards the water’s edge. She looked panicked.
As I paddled on, she jumped in the water and started swimming after me. She just kept coming and coming, reminding me of the robot in Terminator Two.
I saw her sputter and struggle in the water, getting caught in the weeds, her head barely above the surface. There was desperation in her eyes. She seemed determined to catch up with me or drown herself trying.
(Oh, for CRYING OUT LOUD…! You STUPID dog! )
I paddled back, and at the risk of capsizing myself, I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and managed to drag her into the canoe with me.
So now I had this bedraggled, soaking wet, mud-splattered skinny wolf-dog in my canoe, looking up at me with her big sorry eyes. But she wasn’t really sorry at all, for her tail was wagging. She had accomplished her mission: she was with me again.
Okay…so NOW what? This dog was obviously lost. Inuvik was a small community 4000 people…there were half-wild husky dogs everywhere. But maybe there was an animal shelter, or a dog pound where I could drop her off and her owner would find her.
When we reached the shore, I beached the canoe and proceeded to town. As we approached civilization, the dog’s confidence melted away. Suddenly she became morose and submissive, with her tail between her legs.
I gave her some bacon from my knapsack which she instantly inhaled. Then she pathetically squatted in the grass and took a crap. I think this was more out of fear and submission rather than actually having to go poo.
It was hard to judge the time of day with the 24 hour daylight, but all the businesses were closed. The only place that was open was the local RCMP headquarters. I walked into the office with the dog skulking beside me.
I asked the Police Constable at the desk if there was any animal shelter or any place I could leave this lost dog.
The cop looked at me, rolled his eyes, and just shook his head. God-Damn tourists, I could almost hear him say.
He looked at the dog in disgust, and said:
“Typical God-Damned Inbred dog…there’s so many of these around here. You know what the best thing you can do is? Just take that dog back to where you found it…and leave it there. That’s probably where it lives, and it’ll find it’s way back home “.
So obviously he didn’t want her.
I was from out of town with a rented car, and 5 days drive from the airport, with only my camping gear and sleeping bag. I didn’t know what else to do. Seems the cop knew what he was talking about, so I followed his advice.
We got back into the canoe, and as I paddled back through the swamp, I heard voices in the bush. As I approached, I saw a large canvas tent, big enough to drive a truck inside. Inside were two native guys in their 30’s, sitting on a big living room sofa (How it got there, I haven’t the foggiest).
Luke and Sam were their names. They were quite friendly. I asked what they were doing there. They said they set up this camp, but they had to stay there during the day to guard it. Because otherwise, the drunk teenagers would probably vandalize it and burn it down.
It was very nonchalant, the way they said this, as if they were discussing last nights hockey scores. Up north, where alcohol abuse runs rampant, I guess these type of things happened all the time.
When I asked if they knew whose dog this was, they said they didn’t know.
Then the dog approached Luke out of curiosity. He suddenly put his foot up, and yelled out “YAHHHH!” as if he was going to kick her in the face.
Strike two. He also didn’t want her.
She skittered away, and then tried to greet Sam. She got the same reaction: “YAHHHH…Ssssss”, Sam hissed, and again showed her his boot.
Strike three. He didn’t want her, either.
I was a bit shocked when I saw abusive behavior. But Luke explained to me that he was mauled by a pack of husky dogs as a kid. Some of these dogs can be pretty ferocious, he told me, and he’s always been afraid of them ever since.
It was time to go. The dog got back in my canoe, and we and paddled on. I met a barge full of a dozen natives heading downriver. As I pulled up alongside them, the dog seemed excited, as if these were people she knew.
She started to wag her tail, and wanted jump in the boat. I asked the group if anyone knew who’s dog this was.
A fat, unfriendly-looking woman screamed: “Yaah! No! Get away! We don’t want it!” And the poor dog was rejected, yet once again.
I really started to feel sorry for this mutt. I began to suspect she didn’t have the easiest life up here. I sure hoped I would find the owner upstream. But what if I didn’t? What were my options?
I was pondering this dilemma, paddling in the Artic evening that never ended. The sky was golden yellow, the water was calm, lapping against the canoe, and the birds were chirping. The dog was lying quietly in the canoe, seemingly at peace.
As we came closer to the spot where I had originally met her, for some reason, she turned around, and sat facing me.
And…very gently…..she rested her head on my lap. I stopped paddling, and put my palm on her head. It was almost as if she sensed that I was taking her back, and she didn’t want to go.
Those dark soulful eyes looking up at me.
That’s when I lost it.
It’s almost like I could read her mind: “Please, Friar. Don’t leave me. Nobody here likes me…please take me with you“.
My heart broke. Hot tears streamed down my face.
You stupid dog.
You God-damned stupid dog.
What the hell am I going to do with you?
Here I was, 5000 miles from home, I just wanted to go out for a simple canoe paddle. And I had to bump into this unwanted, unloved lost mongrel mutt. Who’s now resting her head on my lap, not moving, just wanting to be patted.
I suddenly realized that she’d probably been treated like crap all her life. Beaten, yelled at, kicked. Maybe worse. All she wanted was a bit of love and I’m the first person who probably ever showed her any affection.
I was THAT close to adopting the dog, right there, on the spot.
But there were a lot of unknowns. Questions poured through my head. How would I get the dog back to Montreal? How could I load her on the plane? Would they even let me?
I rent a town house…was I allowed to have pets? Would it be fair to keep an outdoor dog in the city? How wild was she? How big would she get? Could she be trained or would she be dangerous when full-grown?
Dammit, I’m not ready to have a dog in my life…I don’t NEED THIS. But I would never forgive myself if I abandoned here.
She knew I was thinking this. She just patiently sat there, still leaning on me.
I didn’t know what to do, except keep paddling. Let’s see what happens when I reach the spot I had met her. As I pulled ashore, as luck would have it, an Indian guy was there. An older gentleman, in his 50’s or 60’s. He seemed friendly enough. Wendell his name. He said hi.
The dog didn’t respond. Not even a tail wag. Based on her lukewarm reception, I assumed he probably wasn’t her owner. He’d probably want to go Yaaah! and kick her like all the others.
I asked if he knew who’s dog this was, and surprisingly he said it was his. He didn’t seem to be worried that his pooch had been gone for 4 hours.
“Her name is Daisy” he told me. “She’s half-wolf. I raised her. She’ll take a one-inch thick bone, and just like that…CRACK! She’ll break it in two, with her teeth!”
Thank God, I had found Daisy’s owner! At least I was off the hook and wouldn’t have to worry what to do anymore.
“Half-wolf…”, Wendell informed me again.
The more I spoke to him, the more I realized the man wasn’t quite right. He appeared either pissed drunk and/or to be suffering the effects of long-term alcohol abuse. Either way, he was a few fries short of happy meal.
He called Daisy over, and she reluctantly came to him, and cowered. “YAHHH!”, he yelled, and cuffed her upside the head.
Jesus Christ, you call the dog to come to you, and then you SMACK IT? I couldn’t believe it.
Daisy didn’t even react or yelp. Her reaction said it all…this happened to her all the time.
I didn’t say anything, though. I don’t know why. I felt out of my element. Here I was… a white city-slicker tourist. Here was this old Indian guy next to his hunting camp with his own dog, out in the bush. Was it my place to tell him what to do?
“She’ll take a one-inch bone, and CRACK! Just like that…she’ll break it in two…Half-Wolf! ” he re-iterated.
“Come here….”, he called her..and once again, SMACK! He hit the dog. She seemed to just accept this.
Oh, you poor, poor, dog, I thought. Maybe you were better off with me… But what was I to do? She was his dog.
I lost track of how many times he told me Daisy was “Half Wolf”. I also lost track of how many times he smacked her.
At that point, another woman from town pulled up in a truck, apparently out for an evening stroll by the river. She was reasonably friendly to me, but she was cool towards Wendell, as if she knew him. He reeked of booze, and she gave him a withering look of disgust.
I tested the waters with her, and asked if she knew anything about Daisy…and why did the dog follow me so intently?
“Ohhh…THAT! That dog does that to everyone….it follows people for hours!”.
Wendell chimed in: “One inch thick-bone…CRACK!”. He seemed very intent on getting this point across.
Half-wolf. Yes. I get the picture.
It was finally time to go. Wendell got into his canoe, and I got into mine. He headed up-river, towards his hunting camp. I headed in the opposite direction back towards town. He called for Daisy to “come”.
Daisy stood on shore, her ears pricked, looking conflicted, watching each of us paddle away from her.
She looked at me, and then looked towards her drunken master. She was at a crossroads, literally. The two of us were heading in two different directions, each representing the two diametrically opposed lives she could have had. Love and affection, versus abuse and neglect. Would she try to follow me again?
Daisy paused, and then made her decision. She knew she wasn’t my dog. She knew belonged to Wendell.
She game me one last look, almost as if to say “Too bad it didn’t work out, Friar. But thanks for being my friend. Even if it was just for one day“.
And then she trotted off after Wendell, without looking back.
As I watched them go around the corner, that’s the last I ever saw of her.
I paddled back to town, with a lump in my throat.
It was the end of a bittersweet day.