Editorial – The Trouble with Dogs by John Dokurno

“Life is a series of dogs” – George Carlin (2002)

  I have been a dog owner for over 40 years. The simple reason for me is, that once I experienced the joys of dog ownership, it was difficult to walk away from. My first dog was a pure-bred Siberian Husky with bi-colored eyes. Named after the State that I had always dreamed of visiting- Alaska. I was 18 and probably not fully committed to the task. I was beginning university and would be gone for much of the day and with a high energy dog trapped in a house with 2 angry cats the results were predictable. This dog needed an outlet.

   I had always wanted to own land up north and after a summer of work at the Oakville Ford Plant I saved enough to purchase 100 acres of mixed bush near Burk’s Falls for nine thousand dollars. Not a bad sum at the time. This was a place for me and this was the place for Alaska, both free spirits who loved the woods. Lynne and I were dating and weekends would find us in our small travel trailer watching Dallas on a black and white, one channel TV, generator droning in the background.  Alaska loved the property and enjoyed his best years there. I wish I could have kept the land but our upcoming marriage and the need for a house set us on a different path.

  Soon after, Lynne and I married and travelled to Alaska, of course, for our honeymoon. There we visited Denali National Park, home to Mount McKinley or Denali by its Native Alaskan Koyukon language meaning “the tall one”, the highest peak in North America. That was the inspiration for our second dog- Denali.  He was a silver Siberian Husky with two piercing blue eyes. Both dogs got along well but Alaska was always the pack leader, leading by bad example. By now Alaska was getting on in years and at the early age of 10 I lost my first dog.  I was sad to have lost him but Denali was there to fill the void. Soon after, we lost Denali early to cancer. That’s the trouble with dogs. But no more. We were done with the pain of the loss. Why on earth would we do it again you say?

  Kids!  All kids want a puppy. Lynne and I weighed the pros and cons and finally visited the local pet store. I don’t personally condone buying puppies from a pet store, as there are thousands awaiting adoption, but it was an impulse decision. Those dogs need to be saved as well.  There, we found a tiny mixed Black Lab pup who rushed to greet us. It was the only male pup and we wanted that black beauty. Lynne picked him up immediately from his enclosure and firmly refused to allow another customer’s request to hold it. “He’s mine” she replied. That day we welcomed home Merlin.

 Merlin was all a good dog could be. Gentle with the children, loyal and obedient. Again, we managed to scrape up enough to purchase some acreage near Bracebridge on the Black River. Here, Merlin enjoyed his best years, frolicking in the river with the kids and lying beside us at the campfire. His pack. After beating cancer at ten years of age we enjoyed his company for four more years before the disease finally took him. We were devastated as a family as he was such a large part of our lives for so many years. That’s the trouble with dogs. We were hanging up the leash for good.

 Fast forward to Taylor. Her journey was a long and sad one. She was found abandoned on a county road in Quinte at five months of age and sent to the Toronto Humane Society for adoption. After two failed adoptions she fell under the eye of my daughter Lizz, who rescued her, issues and all.  She was a hound mix and my son in laws older hound, Halen, would become her lifelong dog pal. Sadly, Halen, the gentlest of creatures, passed suddenly this summer and I lost a special dog friend.

 Soon after her adoption, Taylor began showing signs of separation anxiety along with a host of other issues. We all worried that things would get worse and they did. Soon after the birth of my granddaughter, Taylor became aggressive towards her, with snarling and barring of teeth. We were all alarmed by this sudden behaviour.  After consulting both veterinarians and behavioural specialists it was clear Taylor could not stay in that home. The general consensus was that after 3 failed rescues she was probably unadoptable at her age and euthanasia was strongly recommended. A tough decision for our daughter. One that I dreaded for her. During a tearful phone call Lynne and I looked at each other and made a decision that changed our lives. That’s the trouble with dogs. In a lapse of mental acuity, we decided we would adopt her.

  The first year was terrifying. She was unpredictable at every turn. Growling and snarling at us constantly as we tried desperately to adapt to her. If left alone she would cause hundreds of dollars in damage to our home.  Lynne was working from home and would walk Taylor daily, trying to earn her trust, to no avail. We built her a large outdoor enclosure with galvanized fence which she managed to pull apart and run amok. What had we done! She did not want to be here. Our anxiety levels were sky high.

  After Covid hit I lost my business of 22 years and found myself at home. It gave me a chance to start a daily regime with Taylor. Now, someone was home everyday, and she seemed to relax a bit. I took her on long walks in the woods near our home and we slowly began to see a different side of her. Her growling became less and she started following us around the house and sleeping near us. Her new pack. We actually broke through! Leaving her alone is still an issue but we are gradually leaving her for longer periods of time and she has responded well. Today, she is obedient, loyal, but clingy and not particularly loving. Doggie hugs are often met with quiet growls. That may take time. No matter. We spoil her anyway. She just turned 10 and is enjoying her best life, here on the property.

  Life for us has been a series of dogs. We have some regrets for the freedom we’ve lost over the years and I know there won’t be another dog in our future.  My daughter just welcomed a German Sheppard pup named Loki into their home and I will be happy to have another dog friend in my life. In the end I guess I really don’t have any trouble with dogs at all.


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