Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter dog

When I was a boy, I had a Husky named Sheba. I found Sheba, or perhaps Sheba found me, one afternoon as I was tobogganing at a neighbourhood ravine and she followed me home. She stayed with me for the next thirteen years through high school, university and my first two years of work as an engineer. But that was a previous life and anyway this isn't about Sheba. This is about Tico, who was for a short while, her housemate.

It was the late fall and I'd already had Sheba for a few years. My father came home from work one day and told me about a colleague who was giving away a pup - a half German Shepherd, half wolf pup, the last one in the litter. Now if someone were to tell me this today, I'd be pretty suspicious and ask all sorts of questions about the origins of the dog but that was then, which is like a century ago, and all I was thinking about at the time was that it would be pretty cool to have a wolfdog.

I don't know why my father even brought up the topic because I'm sure he knew what was going to come next.

"Oh, can I have it? Can you bring it home? Can we keep it?" I asked.

"No, you've got a dog already," he said but maybe, deep down, he thought it would be pretty cool to have a wolfdog as well.

"But I can take care of it. Sheba can play with it. Look, she needs a friend." Sheba was lying in her usual cool corner, by the cold door to the garage, sleeping and quietly snoring.

"No," my father said.

"Just for one week. We can see if it works."

"No," he said but I knew I was getting through to him.

"Just for a few days," I pleaded.

Actually, I don't remember exactly what I said but whatever it was, it was probably pretty lame, about as lame as anything a kid who wanted a dog would say. Which is why it was somewhat surprising that a few days later, my father arrived home from work with a five month old puppy. It had a long, fine muzzle. Its fur was a creamy white with darker accents of greyish brown. It had dark, dark eyes.

I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran over to it. It immediately ran away from me. It ran towards Sheba who immediately got up from her snooze and started growling and barking at it. I ran over to Sheba to calm her down and the pup ran behind the sofa in the living room. And there it stayed for the rest of the evening.

My preconceptions of a wolfdog were totally shattered. I was thinking courageous hero and this thing was a frightened animal. I was disappointed but I was also feeling sorry for it.

Eventually, I did get the pup to come out from behind the sofa and I lead it to our backyard to let it relieve itself - which it did. That was one good thing. It came housetrained.

I named him Tico.

The next morning I got Sheba ready for her walk and then got Tico leashed up as well. It was a strangely exhilerating feeling walking out the front door with two dogs instead of one especially since one of them was a wolfdog puppy. I was already imagining ways I could harness them up to my sled so I could get in some free rides across the soon to be snowy fields just behind our property.

Tico didn't much like the outdoors, though, at least not the wide open outdoors that he had just stepped into, not the outdoors with the noisy cars, the kids playing street hockey, the children rushing about. We barely made it halfway across my neighbour's front yard when Tico yanked on the leash to retreat back to the safety of our house. The leash slipped out of my hand and Tico ran to our front door and tried to scratch it open but of course that didn't work so he got frantic and ran into our backyard.

I ran after him, worried that he might take off but luckily my mother had the back patio door open and Tico had ran inside. He was back behind the sofa.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to get Tico to go out on walks with Sheba and me but whatever it was ingrained in him to be so fearful of the big world was beyond my skills to change. At some point, he wouldn't even go near the front door anymore, knowing what was on the other side.

It was the backyard that eventually became his domain. It wasn't a big backyard but there were no frightening metal beasts making loud roaring noises, no strange creatures laughing and screaming, no hockey sticks banging against hockey sticks. When early December came around and snow covered everything in a cold thick blanket, Tico would spend hours out there before wanting to come back in. I'm sure there were nights when he would've slept out there if I let him.

His whole world, then, at least the world he allowed himself, was our small, rather bare backyard. It made me unhappy to see him out there, playing with chunks of ice and frozen poop by himself and burrowing holes in the snow to hide in. I often tried getting Sheba to go out there with him but she would just look at him and then look at me with a "You think I'm crazy too?" expression and want to come back inside.

Tico liked Sheba well enough though she didn't have the time of day for him so they never really bonded. Tico liked me somewhat less. He liked my father the most though I don't know why because my father, though he was kind to Tico, didn't really pay that much attention to him either. But maybe that was why he liked my father - because my father didn't bug him like I did, didn't fuss over him. Or maybe it was because Tico instinctively knew that my father was the alpha in the house. Although, truthfully, I think my mother was the alpha in the house but, hey, I'm sure even wolfdogs make errors in judgment.

Eventually, it became clear that Tico was living a restricted life with us.

I talked to my father about this and one day late in February, my father told me that someone at work who lived on a farm was willing to take Tico. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Someone on a farm? Yeah, right. How gullible can you be?" I wasn't quite sure about it either but my father had never even lied to me about Santa Claus the first time I asked about that venerable old myth at like four years old (not sure if that's good parenting skills or bad), so I had no real reason to doubt him. A couple of days later, then, my father took Tico with him to work and I never saw my wolfdog again.

When I look now at the one remaining photo I have of Tico, I don't think he looks much like a wolfdog, not that I really know what a wolfdog looks like. I can see the German Shepherd in him but I don't know about the other part. He doesn't seem big enough to be related to a wolf. If the other half was something wild, maybe it was coyote. Maybe he was just a mutt with some serious behavioural issues and his first owners just wanted to get rid of him with the help of some creative storytelling about his origins.

As it turned out, my father actually did give Tico to a colleague who lived on a farm. The guy already had two dogs and he had told my father he didn't mind having another. For the next few months, my father brought home photos of Tico living his new life. In one of them, Tico, is chasing around a couple of big hairy mutts through the snow. He looks like he's smiling.


spotted dog farm said...

that's such a lovely story, thanks for sharing it. i've never outgrown my childhood fascination with wolves and wolf hybrids, although i've never known one. i'm smiling thinking of tico chasing mutts on the farm.

Caveat said...

Beautiful dog and a good story.