Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle by Lou Allin

Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English.
With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder.
Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens.
Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.

I’m the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle
by Lou Allin
          "The hunchback of Notre Dame with a Rastafarian haircut. Cute," Belle Palmer observed as a six-pound bundle of coppery fur with a woolly chest squirrelled past, leaped to pose standing on thin, shaved legs on a rocky outcrop, and then sprang off to clamp onto Freya's nodding German shepherd tail until long hairs dangled from its tiny jaws. An insult to the dog kingdom, she thought, a $700 rodent.
          "Strudel's her name. She's good enough to eat," Miriam MacDonald said.
          How many dogs have their own mystery novel? I’m a writer and a dog lover, so all of my dogs get that privilege. This excerpt comes from Bush Poodles are Murder, written in 2001. Friday (her real name) is now ten and blind. It’s both a special responsibility and a great honour to have her as my friend and companion.
          I first saw Chile Pepper (as she was called by her breeder) when she was eight weeks old. We had gone down to southern Ontario to buy a mini-poodle to fit well with our German shepherd when traveling in our truck’s extended cab. At that time we thought that poodles were low maintenance since they didn’t shed. Big mistake, that.
          The GMC’s rear seats had been replaced with a padded platform. That’s where Friday’s crate went. Her 120 pound  “brother” Nikon was instructed firmly not to approach the baby. He became her guardian for the five years he had left, a gentle giant.
          On our honeymoon night we camped in a crowded provincial park near a shale beach. It was humid and hotter than hell, even for Ontario. As we took her leashless around the large campground, she stayed by our feet like a furry magnet. But just in case, we put a collar and rope on her and tied her to a picnic table while we made dinner. Like a wild colt, she thrashed and screamed like she was being tortured. What she was telling us was that she was bonded. Friday was smart enough to know that she was home wherever we were.
          As we sweltered in the small tent, flaps open, with our two dogs and bulky air mattresses, Nikon stepped out for a breath of air. Fumbling in the dark, I went after him. When he got back in the tent, he stepped on the keys and hit the remote horn. The truck started blasting all over the campground, waking two hundred people before we found the control tangled in the sleeping bags. It was an auspicious start.
          How could I resist putting her in my next series book? To hype the necessary conflict, I made her a spoiled little girl, but a gutsy heroine in the final scenes where she and the main character find themselves without shelter during a Northern Ontario blizzard. There’s a reason that in the picture she has blood on her mouth and a look of satisfaction. She’s also wearing her Anna Karenina cape. A picture of her jumping with snow in the background put her on the cover of Dogs in Canada. Not bad for a six-month pup.       
          Since we lived in the woods, aka the bush, she was out every day, winter and summer, hiking or snowshoeing. A mighty mouse, she was fearless but prudent. Speed was her salvation. Once an agile young Doberman met us around a corner and started chasing her. Off they went down the woodsy paths and out of sight. “My money’s on the poodle,” my partner said. I envisioned the worst, but in a few minutes, back she came, having led the hapless Dobe on a wild chase and looping back through the woods. Agile lightning.
          Even at -25C, she never missed a trek, wearing her monogrammed purple fleece and nylon parka with slots for handwarmers. The corkscrew nature of poodle hair meant that her paws would become duck feet and have to be “deballed” every fifteen minutes. Once we tried a pair of Mutlucks, but they flew off as she sped along. I tied them in a fir tree on our favourite path.
          As five years passed and we moved to Vancouver Island, Friday’s night vision was worsening. An exam showed the beginning stages of retinal atrophy, a  common genetic weakness. Since the onset occurs after the age of five, her parents wouldn’t have shown the disposition.
          She carried on normally for a few more years as we moved into border collies and started agility training. Friday would chase hell for leather after the bouncing tennis balls from the Chuck-it. Woe to the border collie who got in her way. She was Alpha Bitch at fifteen pounds. She soon adapted to the winter rains and traded her parka for a yellow rain slicker.
          Two years ago, cataracts put her lights out. There was no use operating on them with the underlying retinal problem. But the blindness had come so slowly that she adapted perfectly. Now she uses her sense of smell and hearing to follow our feet into the rainforest and up and down clear-cut roads. Only near a precipice do I use a leash just for precaution.

          When we reach a lake or creek, she remembers that she used to dive for stones, pull them onto shore, and then paw at them in an homage to her terrier roots. She still does this at shore’s edge, but we spit on the stone so that she can better locate it and drop it only inches from her powerful nose. She’s still in on the game! Next treat for her will be a salmonberry or blackberry as they ripen on our magical island. As for mud, she slogs with us through the worst bogs in spring, navigating roots and rocks and up to her knees in muck. At home it’s into the bathtub with me for a good soaping.
          Does she bump into things? Of course. She gives an “oof,” has a restorative shake, and marches on. We never leave her behind, even when we’re backpacking into the wilderness where she might (and we might) might be cougar bait. Life is no fun behind the door. Inclusion is a debt we will happily pay for the years of happiness she’s given us.
          In the tri-level house, she goes up and down the stairs like a pro, then jumps onto the ottoman where she holds court in safety while the border collie chases a toy. The ritual is familiar. “Ready, steady,” then “break!” On the last word, she jumps to a pouncing position. “Ruff, ruff!” she calls down in that commanding poodle way. She’s still participating.
           While she used to jump on the bed with aplomb, that was one trick she had to abandon, or so I thought. Having been in a kennel for a few days while we flew to Arizona, she was very excited on my return. She leaped up on pure faith when I patted the bed. The other day she did the same thing in the rear of our Ford Focus wagon where she rides in a crate. So eager was she to leave for the walk that she leaped up into the back by herself. Our border collie Zia, already crated, might have been telling her that the way was clear.
          Friday depends on us to watch out for her without setting too many limits.  She is as much a lover of life and challenges as she ever was, teaching us lessons about bravery and adaptation AND the sheer joy of action. I’m not her owner. I’m the partner of one very intelligent and truly amazing little dog.



Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Lou - Thank You for sharing this special little fella with us! I am totally smitten with Friday and send smooches all over that adorable face!

LJ Roberts said...

I had a friend with a pair of standard poodles, both blind. It never slowed them down a bit as they romped and played and chased each other--and the cat-- through the house and their yard. Sweetest dogs ever.