Ongoing canine conversation

Columnist Peter Warland recounts conversations on dogs

Peter Warland

“Don’t reason with a hungry stomach, it has no ears.”

Greek dogs’ proverb

Emma fell through the ice on Premier Lake last winter. She’d found her old ice-skates and was determined to see how she could handle herself on them. She had her dog with her — a sort of rottie called Rogue — and after attempting a kind of Schnitzel, or whatever they call those jumps, she went through.

Rogue came to the rescue by bounding round his mistress and barking excitedly.

Then two men, who heard the ruckus, came to the rescue with a long pole, a sapling. However, Rogue wouldn’t let the would-be rescuers near his mistress and, when they tried to sneak close to Emma, like seals on their bellies, the dog bit both of them. One of the exasperated men gave Rogue a good belt round the head with the rescue pole, then got on with things.

Later, in the dry warmth of her car, Emma suggested that the blow to her dog’s head was a trifle too much. “You shouldn’t punish a dog for trying to help,” she suggested as the two rescuers nursed their bites.

She was recounting this tale to two female friends. One, Dorothy, sympathised and said, “The more I have to deal with men, the more I appreciate dogs.”

But Thora, who had spent most of her life on a farm, didn’t concur one bit. She said, “Dog are all right in their place and living outside, being useful, not pets.”

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the menfolk had got on to the topic. Fred, who had received a classical education and had a dog he called Styx, was a tad cynical. He felt that dogs only had one thing in mind and that was food. He recounted how he’d been looking for a snack in the fridge when Styx, drooling heavily, had implied, ‘Why hesitate? Why don’t we eat everything?’

Harold added: “That’s the objective of all nature: food. Any other topic is incidental. Every living thing, except maybe supermodels, must eat something and, in each case, this must be some other living thing.” Harold can be heavy duty sometimes.

George added, “Friend Henry has two dogs that let him pamper and feed them. One of them, I reckon, seems to be a survivor. If they’re in the bush, she’ll find a rotting corpse, especially if suitably ripe, then she’ll roll in it. This is known as survival of the fittest.” George was also of the opinion that Fred called his mutt Styx because he had to keep throwing them for the stupid animal.

Back in the living room, the ladies had switched topics several times, as is their wont. “The trouble is: dogs are pack animals and they’re supposed to hunt in packs.” suggested Dorothy, “They’re also supposed to know what to do when they catch even a large animal.”

“‘Now what happens?’ said the Chihuahua when it caught up with the logging truck.” chipped in Thora, helping herself to another slice of cake.

She recalled some TV special about the case of those wolves that had been brought up, in packs on an island in Quebec somewhere. They had never had to hunt as they had been fed since birth by humans. When they were released up in caribou country somewhere, they instinctively chased the first herd of caribou they encountered but, like your dogs, they didn’t know how to attack and kill. For some time, the rangers had to shoot caribou until the wolves got the hang of things.

Slurping his third beer in the kitchen, Harold once more held the floor. He explained that dogs were once wolves that came to men in order to scavenge for food in the dumps, and were not killed if they were useful. If they helped guard cattle or proved useful on hunts, they were allowed to stay around. “Now look at we’ve got. My sister’s got an odd vintage mutt she calls Chablis, for crying out loud. Useless thing! Costs her a fortune to upkeep.”