Unconditional love abounds in the most unexpected form of a beloved furry creature. Our Baby, our beloved dog of 11 and ½ years, a pure being so full of joy, spirited, protective, playful, majestic passed away on February 8, 2018. When she first passed I was so distraught with grief it hurt to breathe. She has been my companion, my confident, my solace in rough times, my beautiful, amazing fluffy child.
In August 2006, Lindsay my spouse was offered a teaching position on a Cree Reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. Lindsay, the kids and I made the long trek from St. John’s, NL to the Northern prairies. Our new home was a beautiful duplex in the teacherage which backed onto the school’s playground. The next day the kids were enrolled in the state of the art school.
Two months later I met two-month-old Baby. One of Tamara’s school friends knocked on the door and told me to watch her as she tied; a tiny little black and tan shepherd cross puppy with a long black nose, skinny tail and gangly feet, to our fence.
A short while later the other community dogs were biting her belly, becoming aggressive and playing extremely rough with her. I brought her inside, gave her food and water. She was adorable, so gentle, quiet and very well-mannered. Tamara’s friend picked her up after school then the next day she knocked on the door and told me to look after Baby again. This became a daily occurrence for a few weeks. I would take her in, care for her, bathe her and make sure she was ok. I tried to get her to play but she was very timid. We enjoyed each others company nonetheless.
Then I didn’t see Baby or Tamara’s friend. I asked of them both, but the kids would just shrug their shoulders each time. I continued to ask the kids that hung around the teacherage and eventually was told Baby was dead. I was told kids were kicking her and hitting her with sticks. I asked the kids to show me where this was happening then one of Tamara friends came with her arms outstretched carrying a much longer black and tan emaciated puppy of about 4 or 5 months old. I did not recognize her and assumed she was no longer living as she was not moving. When I looked at her I was amazed to see her move to look up at me. Her eyes seemed filled with pain but still full of life saying please help me.
I brought her inside, held her and tried to get her to drink and eat without avail. A laundry basket with a warm blanket became her bed as I syringed water into her dehydrated body. It seemed like more water came out than went in. I watched over her all night then the following day. She didn’t move, she was deathly thin, she did not have the energy to lift her head and still had no interest in food or water. I feared she would pass away that second night.
The next day I knew I was on borrowed time with Baby. I bundled her up, put her in the car, sped out the long dirt road to the highway and 40 minutes on towards Cold Lake Alberta. I stopped at the first veterinarian office I could find. The vet told me if I had waited any longer she would have died. I left her in the care of the compassionate vet who recommended a 24 hour IV and drove back home.
24 hours later I was back in Cold Lake, fearing the worst. What I found was an energetic, tail wagging, jumping all over the place, barking with happiness pup. Even her fur seemed to be healthier and the white crusty flakes that covered her fur before seemed much better and her beautiful brown eyes were gleaming with joy. I could not believe my eyes! Several hundred dollars later the vet told me to enjoy “MY DOG”! I stood there for a minute. WAIT! NO! This is not my dog. I was just trying to help her!!! Then he was gone, off to see his next patient.
It took everything to get her in the car as she was so full of happiness, running, jumping and barking. Once she and I were in, I just looked at her and said what now Baby? I only had a couple of dogs when I was a kid. I’m a cat person! I love cats but don’t have a clue how to care for a dog. I don’t need a dog, I don’t want a dog. OMG!!!! So, I brought her home, what else could I do? Lindsay wasn’t too impressed. He didn’t want a dog either, but the kids were jumping for joy just like Baby was.
The first few weeks were challenging as she was very active, chewed everything in sight, including, fingers, hands and toes and barked a lot. She didn’t want to be left alone in the living room at night. She whined and whined until the kids or I brought her into our beds.
We discovered right away she loved kids and women. The more kids that were around the happier she was. However, men were a different story, she barked and became aggressive when a man came to the house or tried to pet her. We were told she was kicked a lot and we assumed she would eventually get over her fears as time went on. This was always a challenge when male friends would come over to visit. We often had to put her in a different room until she got used to the man’s voice then she would come out seeking lots of cuddles and attention from her new best friend.
That Spring one of the male dogs named Puppy jumped over our extremely tall fence and mounted Baby. I was right there and managed to get him off and out of the yard in a few seconds. Even though she was in a fully fenced yard and should be safe I always watched her to make sure she was ok.
Two months later Baby had a litter of 6 puppies. They were absolutely adorable, all different with their own unique personalities. Most memorable were Killer; black and tan like his mom who loved to bite playfully, Midnight; all black with a tiny white spot on her chest, very gentle soul, Cocoa; who looked like the fence jumping dad, a very silly wiggly girl.
As they got older I would open their crate in the morning to let them out to do their business. They would run out single file to the back door, down the steps then into the back yard. Everyone except Cocoa would wait until they got outside. Cocoa would dribble all over the floor all the way out. Momma Baby would bring up the rear then play with the kids outside while I prepared breakfast. Such fun, joyful memories. Our friend who worked for the Bonnyville, AB shelter helped us find good homes for them all. It was a heart wrenching day to say goodbye as I am sure it was for Baby as well. She was such a wonderful, caring although sometimes rough mom.
When Lindsay was laid off from the school we had to search for another place to live as we could no longer stay in the teacherage. It took some time as we were very rural and there were no places available for rent. The nearest community was a village of 600 people. We contemplated moving to Cold Lake however we had grown to love the Saskatchewan area we lived in for the big blue sky, northern lights, fields of wheat, sounds of coyotes, massive amounts of dear, bison and wolves (at a distance of course). A couple in the Village heard of our situation and offered us their grandfather’s cabin to rent.
I envisioned a cute little cabin surrounded by trees with a pond and other idyllic picturesque scenes. We took the 20-minute trek to meet the couple in the village, then 16 km on a dirt road south we came to another dirt road. A ¼ mile later we came across a dirt driveway surrounded by trees. A ¼ mile up the treed driveway opened into 5 acres of lush green grass with a shack in the middle of the woods surrounded by a barbed wire fence. It must have been smaller than the Little House on the Prairie shack but it was in much worse shape. I tried to keep an open mind.
Inside was worse. It had been vacant for years since the grandfather passed away. Inside was riddled with cobwebs, old, dirty, dusty mattresses, things of days gone by, smelled terrible and the walls were a putrid colour of yellow I have never seen. I gasped, started crying and thought there is no way this place is fit for humans let alone a family to live in. It was 600 square feet with no central heat. There was a furnace between the living room and kitchen only. It was the middle of summer and it was freezing. The couple was smiling and said with a little elbow grease this place will be perfect for you. I stood there with mouth agape thinking they surely must be insane. Lindsay thought it was great and agreed. Then the couple told us there’s one catch! Their cat Elizabeth will live here to take care of the mice. We must decide today as they were moving further north for new jobs the following day. OMG!!! I went outside suddenly feeling trapped, the 600 feet of shack spinning around me.
That night Lindsay talked me into living in the shack as we had no other choice. The band wanted us off the reserve as he no longer worked at the school and had been very patient with us finding a new home. I couldn’t believe that our life had come to this.
We spent the next few days cleaning up the shack as best we could, then moved in. While I was gone to work during the day in Cold Lake, Lindsay ripped up the kitchen flooring, replaced the badly rotted subfloor then laid new vinyl flooring. He installed laminate flooring in the living room and the hallway between the bedrooms. In the evenings I painted over the putrid yellow, stained the kitchen cupboards, painted and decorated the kids’ bedrooms, hung curtains and whitewashed the front door and inside the front porch. I helped Lindsay gut the bathroom. For a week or so we had to shower with a hose while wearing our rubber boots. Thankfully the previous owner had installed hot and cold water outside. One day while showering I heard a car coming up the drive. Thank goodness it was ¼ mile long as it gave me time to get inside and get dressed before they came into the clearing.
In a few weeks the old shack was looking pretty good, clean, very cozy and was starting to feel like home. Despite it being small in stature, the living room, kitchen and our bedroom had huge windows. The view of the fields of grass, trees and visiting deer was breathtaking. At night we would sit by the fire in the side yard listening to the croaking frogs in the slough or the nearby coyotes howling. Some nights it sounded like they were right behind us. In the daytime, the kids, Baby and Elizabeth our new cat would explore the 250 acres of land the shack was housed on. There was always something to find, an old barn, 1950’s rusted abandoned car, strange massive piles of wood, animal skulls and lots of trails. I took so many pictures around the farm, the beautiful sky, trees, rustic yet scenic nature during that time that are dear to my heart.
Baby loved the time on the farm. She was free to roam around and extremely happy. Several times when the coyotes were very close to the house, she took off running down the driveway barking madly. I was afraid she wouldn’t come back and would stay up waiting or search for her. There were no street lights! It was pitch black and a little spooky alone when Lindsay went up to Fort McMurray to work. I had a couple of great flashlights to help me navigate my way or would turn on my car lights to illuminate the yard.
There was an electric barbed wire fence around the shack with two gates on either side of the house. The story goes the grandfather was out in the yard when a bear tried to attack him and his dog. The next day he built the fence and kept the gates closed. The day we moved in I saw bear scat at every corner outside the house. I was always mindful there could be bears and wolves around anytime but always felt safe with Baby around as she was very protective of us.
One day our nearest neighbour 5 miles away came to visit for coffee. Baby was very excited to see her, lavishing her with affection. A brief time later an insurance salesman came unannounced. Baby being the protector of the farm went running sending him quickly back to his car.
Baby’s male dog friend from the reserve often came to visit with Spencer’s friend. They would both run, jump and frolic in the fields for hours. Another time they brought another female dog. Baby didn’t like that too much and dominated her the whole visit. We eventually had to leash her for the first time since we moved there.
One morning Elizabeth demanded to go out at 3 a.m. I let her out, then what seemed like hundreds of mice scurried out from under the front step. Baby ran out and started catching the mice. She flicked them up in the air playing with them but would never eat them. Eventually we didn’t see anymore mice. Elizabeth was not a mouser, but Baby was the BEST. Often Baby would come back with gifts! She brought a deer leg including the hoof, a side of a cow hide, a bundle of sausages then months later another bundle of sausages. The sausages were a mystery as our closest neighbours were 5 miles away. The worst was when she encountered a skunk. No remedy or bath would work so she had to sleep disgruntled in the front porch.
I believe this was the happiest time of her life, being free to roam, wander and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. We had so much fun playing with her in the summer and the winter. Baby always enjoyed sticking her whole head in the snow coming out all covered in snow except her eyes then jumping up and down. She was in her glee.
She had much more life to live when we moved to Fort McMurray, walks, camping, travel, exploring, canoeing and having all kinds of fun with lots of love and cuddles.
She was still like a pup enjoying life even as she got older. Last winter we discovered a tumour on her belly. The vet took a biopsy and informed us she had breast cancer, the prognosis was not good. We could remove the lump and spay her to lessen the chances of the cancer returning or we could let nature take its course. It was a very difficult decision but other than the lump she seemed like her normal happy-go-lucky living life pup. We chose the surgery. It was major surgery and a very difficult time for all of us. A few days later this incredible resilient beauty of a being was showing her zest for life again. We had our amazing pup back again and we enjoyed every minute of her to the fullest with lots of walks, hugs, car trips and treats.
Spring brought camping and a new RV, Baby came a couple of times but was no longer enjoying the car trips or able to get up in the RV comfortably. She was content to sleep outside and be our protector once again. As the days of summer melted away we discovered another lump. We could not put her through another major surgery again at her age. With our amazing vet’s help and heavy hearts, we decided to let nature take its course while ensuring she was kept comfortable. She was such a fighter! She continued her walks, ran out the back gate when I took Spencer to school as if saying I’m coming try to stop me, loved playing with us and her stuffies. I was praying she would make it to Christmas.
We had a wonderful Christmas full of treats and new toys. This year we had to help her open her presents, she was slowing down, sleeping more and not wanting to go outside as the stairs were getting difficult for her. She still went for walks, slower and not as far, she needed help up into the car to bring Spencer to school.
The next vet visit found a tumour in her mouth. It continued to grow and was becoming uncomfortable for her. The end of January she was in visible pain, she cried out in the middle of the night. I would lay down with her sobbing trying to comfort her and me. He tumour was quite large. Her beautiful fluffy black tail with tan undercoat no longer wagged. It used to always be up wagging and wagging knocking things over in her excitement. She could barely lift her tail anymore, she seemed to be protecting her bottom with it. The following week she lost use of her legs. We had to help her outside, all 80 pounds of her beautiful self. Then we couldn’t get her inside. It would take two of three of us to lift her in the blanket up over the stairs. Then she didn’t want to come out of the bedroom or out of her bed. I would bring her out and entice her with her favorite stuffies to encourage play, but she only wanted to sleep. She would eat and drink when I brought it to her.
We spoke with the vet and made the hardest decision we ever had to make. It broke my heart. Her body was wearing down, but her spirit was so strong. We spent the next few days filling her with so much love, spending alone time and family time with her, caring for her, bathing her and doing everything to make her comfortable.
The day the vet was coming to take her pain away was the hardest day of my life. I managed to get Baby outside and in the car, to take Spencer to school. This was the first time in weeks she wanted to come. I rolled the window down for her even though it was freezing so she could sniff everything and feel the wind through her fur. Getting her back out of the car was very difficult.
Once she was back in the yard, she stuck her entire head in the snow then looked up grinning covered in a flurry of white. I let her stay out while I cooked scrambled eggs, both of us enjoyed breakfast together on the living room floor. We cuddled, sang and talked about all the wonderful years we had together. I reminded her of how we met and the first time I brought her to the vet before she was mine. Later, I made her a steak. I gave her a small piece, but she wanted more and more which I indulged.
The day before we had a huge snowstorm, so the walkways needed shovelling for the vet. I brought her outside in the backyard while I shovelled the back walkway then the side yard. I looked at her all covered in snow looking very majestic reminding me of the Sphinx guarding the pyramids. She was guarding her yard and her person.
We stayed like that. Her guarding, me watching her, loving her for everything she has given me.
That evening we each took turns caressing her silky fur, telling her how much we loved her and thanked her for the precious gift she gave us by choosing us as her family. We kissed her endlessly as we said goodbye our hearts breaking with every breath as she took her last.