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Rolling in dead things

June 27, 2014

Fingal Wildlife Conservation Area

It happened again. I turned the corner onto a path in the Fingal Wildlife Management Area just in time to spot our golden retriever Nellie suck up a toad, spit it out and, lips curled back in a hideous grimace, start foaming wildly at the mouth. And when I say ‘wildly’, I’m not exaggerating. Imagine a firefighter spraying flame retardant on a raging fire from a hose. That’s the kind of volume we're talking about -- the kind that just keeps coming.

One time she licked a toad just at the start of our walk and I had to drag her back to the car to wash her mouth out. We encountered a group of Downs Syndrome children out for a walk with their parents. I was concerned that the sight of a grimacing dog foaming at the mouth would frighten them. “She’s not rabid,” I explained. “She just licked a toad.” Far from being terrified, they offered us their water, which was very helpful since I had a limited supply in the car. You need a lot of water to wash away toad juice; the procedure is a violent one and not unlike water boarding.

Every time Nellie licks a toad and we go through the tantamount to torture thing, I think, “Well, that’s the last time she’ll try that!” Time and time again, she proves me wrong. That’s because Nellie isn’t very bright. What she is is enthusiastic. One of the things she is enthusiastic about is toads.

Another thing Nellie is enthusiastic about is visitors. When Nellie spots someone coming up the walk to our house, she becomes unhinged, ricocheting around the hall like an Asian Carp in a bath tub. Think Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away when he finally glimpses the ship that will rescue him from the desert island on which he has been stranded. It’s all I can do to keep her from exploding through the front door and flattening the hapless visitor. I hold her at bay with one arm while I slide my body through the smallest crack in the door I can manage and onto the front porch to see what this person wants. Of course, there have been occasions when I have let Nellie have her way – the time the Jehovah’s Witness came to the door, for example. As it turned out, Nellie’s extreme pleasure in greeting the Jehovah’s Witness proved a more powerful deterrent to future visits than my insistence that I am a secular humanist and uninterested in that sect's blood-soaked brand of Salvation.

Good dog.

(Right now some of you are saying, “Why doesn’t she train that dog properly?” And you would be right. And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.)

Another thing Nellie likes is dead things. All dogs like dead things, although, for the life of me, I don’t know why. I go out of my way to avoid dead things. Nellie goes out of her way to roll in dead things. My previous dog, Buddy, was an intellectual. He may have liked to roll in dead things, but he didn’t publicize it. He was discreet. Not Nellie. The moment she gets a whiff of a dead thing, she hurtles towards it like Superman towards a disaster in progress. She hits the ground rolling, her legs joyously pumping in the air and a big canine grin on her face. Right now there are a lot of dead things at Fingal. I know because Nellie has rolled in each and every one to the accompaniment of me shrieking: “No, Nellie! Stop that! I just bathed you! No!”

Nellie is a water dog, which you would think might lend itself well to living on a great inland sea as we do. There are, however, a lot of dead things on the beach – mainly fish, but also the odd sea gull or tern. Once my daughter and I took Nellie and my grand dog Albert to Port Burwell’s dog beach. It was a little off season and there was no one there to watch as Sabrina and I ran after the two dogs, flailing our arms and screaming, “No! Put that down! I mean it! No, stop! Don’t eat that!”

Over the Easter weekend, my husband and I took the dogs to the pond side of Fingal. As we were finishing up the walk, Nellie fell behind. We called and called and eventually she appeared. She was a little dirty so my husband threw a couple of sticks far into the pond for her to fetch before we loaded her in the car and started back to Port Stanley. On the way home we sang along to bluegrass music. We sang loudly.

When we arrived home and opened the back of the car to let Nellie out, we found a pool of vomit. In the pool of vomit were three tiny critters, each about three inches long. Apparently Nellie had discovered a nest of baby animals, snarfed up three, gone for a couple of energetic swims, then upchucked the poor things in the boot of the car in that extravagant way dogs vomit, all the while my husband and I were yodeling away in the front seat to "Little Miss Blue Eyes." The babies were intact, not chewed. She had literally hoovered them up before spewing them out. We tossed them in the ravine, feeling bad that they had died for naught. Later we asked our exterminator what the animals likely were. He said they were probably moles. We dined out on the story for weeks, but we changed the critters from moles to bunnies.

It was Easter, after all, and that made for a better story.

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