Journey to Tofino and life save number five

To not think of dying, is to not think of living.” – Jan Arden

Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will”)

There is a back story to my re-telling of last weekends events, which helps explain the unique significance of my daughter Cates’ recent near death experiences , yes, plural, in about a 6 hour span.

It begins with Apple, the Wonder Dog.

Seven years ago we lost our beloved golden labrador Bailey, a happy , goofy and immensely sweet dog, much-loved by all of us. There were many tears the day she died and the next and then we all tried to move on with living. Back to work and back to school . Three days after Bailey died Angus and I were driving home from a lunch meeting  when we saw a sign at the end of a farm lane. It said, ” Puppies for sale “. The sign had “Dalmatian” written in black paint, then crossed out and painted next to that “Lab” .

It wouldn’t hurt to look, we decided, obviously we were not ready for another dog but were curious about what kind of puppies there were since the sign painter himself seemed confused. It was an Old Order Mennonite farm, with black buggies and horses tied up by the house and a number of children, boys in dark pants and suspenders and girls in cotton dresses and white bonnets, all of them barefoot, rushing up to the car to greet us. They directed us to a corral of sorts built out of hay bales and containing what looked like at least ten puppies. The mother was a red liver spotted dog who was most definitely a German Short-Haired Pointer. The father, we were told simply, was ” not around”. I’m pretty sure that meant they had no idea who daddy dog was. I immediately locked eyes with the tubbiest’ of the bunch, a black dog with spotted paws and a stripe of white down her face, topped off with what looked like white paint on the tip of her tail. I was in love and she was not about to let me go. I reached in and up into my arms came Aerie, determined, connected and forever true. I was about to turn and leave with my new friend when I remembered Angus was with me. He was standing at the other end of the bales with a crooked grin on his face. He was watching the smallest puppy, the runt, walk across the backs of her brothers and sisters and leap at the wall until she had scaled it and climbed to the top. Apple walked straight down the bales and jumped into his arms. Stalemate …neither one of us was leaving without our puppy and so it was we went home that day with two.

The vet told us that the puppies were very young, probably too young to have been taken from their mother but probably also what saved Apple, the runt , who had nothing in her system but straw and was desperately hungry. Life save one of note for Apple, trust me dear reader keep count, it’s ridiculous. The girls forgave us for being impetuous and dragging home puppies and agreed we could keep them, surprise !  Aerie was our regal beauty and Apple was lovingly referred to as ” discount puppy “.

At about one year of age Apple came home one day from a run on the farm with a big cut on her long ,spindly tail. Apple was practically fur-less, resembling something between a pot-bellied pig and a seal with four legs. The cut refused to heal because the tail was always wagging. Bandages flew across the room almost as soon as they were applied and the blood splatter was horrific, Dexter would have been impressed. She was on antibiotics to prevent infection in the open wound that wouldn’t heal and couldn’t be contained for months. So it was that we finally decided in consultation with the vet that her tail needed to be docked, leaving a little stub where once a giant wag once lived. She was extremely disturbed when anyone approached from behind for sometime following that surgery but very soon the little stub resumed its’ perpetual motion. Life save number two.

In December the next year it was dark by 5 o’clock. My daughter Aidan and I were home on the farm and we let Apple out just before dinner. No sooner did we close the door than a bloody racket started up outside. It was the ‘cacophonous song of coyotes and they were not amused. We ran outside in sock feet with flashlights and all that was illuminated was an array of reflected eyes, not 20 feet from the house , no apple to be seen. We jumped up and down and yelled and called for her and had almost given up when a black streak flew past us and up the steps of the house. Apple was home, sans half of her backside. The coyotes got a mouthful for sure, but she made it home. Numerous stitches and sigh, veterinary dollars later, her backside was again healed. Life save number three.

Almost exactly a year later we were walking one Sunday morning on our farm with Apple and Aerie. In our back field there was a family of  wild turkeys. Aerie had once carried one of their eggs in her mouth for over an hour without breaking it. The dogs went sniffing in that direction, maybe twenty yards away from Angus and I when we heard a loud bang. Apple came stumbling through the long grass towards us and my heart fell away in my chest. She had been shot by some negligent hunter. My wail of grief was matched by Apples as we carried her desperately to the house. The bullet lodged between her spinal cord and her bowel, not severing anything and the vet decided best course of action was to leave it over the risk of surgical removal. She came home to us and spent the next month recuperating, her stubby tail now only a broken wag that makes semi-circles,  even more anxiety regarding her derrieire, a funny sort of tilt to her walk and still the happiest, sweetest dog alive to her family. Life save number four.

Finally I have leapt’ forward a few years to last week-end and our trip to Tofino. One daughter, Aidan, is here in Canada and is hard at work in Ontario working on her Masters degree. The other daughter, Cate, was home from Med school in Australia, where their long summer break coincides with Christmas and January blahs in Canada. The weather here in Shawnigan Lake has been unseasonably cold so we thought for a last hurrah before she went back to start a new year of studies in the Land of Oz, we’d head to Tofino. Aerie went to spend the weekend with Grandma, where she loves to run about and play with her dog cousin Daisy. Apple, who is, needless to say, a little more high-strung and needy, came with us. We stopped along the way to walk the dog and stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful Old Growth forest we were driving through. Apple was on leash and happily pulling along, snuffing and snorting and happy to be out of the car. She wanted to drink so we took her to the edge of a river, rushing and frothing with snow melt and glacial temperatures. The edge of the bank was too steep to reach and she lost her footing in an instant. Suddenly Apple was in the water, being swept downstream in the strong current and her collar, still attached to the leash, came up over her head and off. Cate, who happens to be a Type 1 Diabetic, immediately unplugged her insulin pump from her abdomen, thrust it into my hands and jumped in after the dog. Apple was caught up in branches and tree roots and stuck, just her head above the water and evidently slowly freezing. Cate had to wade downstream to her and disentangle her legs from the roots. Cates teeth were literally chattering, she was up to her chest in the water and the current was almost toppling her. She managed to get the  dog out and pushed her up to us and then we pulled Cate up using the leash. Cates’ pants were torn, her legs cut and bruised and she was nearly hypothermic, as was Apple. Luckily we had dry clothes with us and the car to warm up in until we got to the hotel. What a scare . Life save number five.

You would think this was the end of this story but alas it was not. We got to our hotel, had hot showers and admired the view and decided to go out for dinner. Apple was asleep with the gas fireplace and we decided a nice dinner in one of the nicer restaurants in town was in order. It was cold and wet so Angus let us out and went to park the car. The restaurant was glowing literally with candlelight and vibey’ music and I was looking forward to a nice meal. Cate and I were ushered to our table and I sat across from her, thinking it was sad that she’s be leaving very soon and how much I’d miss her. Then I started thinking about the glow growing behind her, then I started screaming ” Cate, you’re on fire “!!!!!

Actually, Cates, coat , which was on the back of her chair, was on fire because there was a burning candle on the window sill behind her. When I screamed she stood up and spun around and pushed the coat to the floor. She burnt her hand , melted her coat and her shoe and we spent the next several hours in Emergency, Tofino style. On the upside, it wasn’t worse and it really could have been tragic. Her hand was badly burned and as I write she has just had to fly the many hours back to Melbourne and figure out how to move to her new residence for this year without the use of her hand. In one day she lost her pants, her coat and her shoes, bruised and scratched her legs and suffered second and third degree burns. However, she saved her sweet friend Apple and she managed somehow to keep smiling through it all. Life save again 🙂

She said that in a few years we’ll laugh about that day. ” Gawd mother, she said, with just a touch of sarcasm, ” you spent half the day screaming .” She was surprised a little by her instinct to save Apple, saying, ” it’s like she’s my child I think, even though I’ve never had one”. She’s right about that and it led me to read an article in Science magazine  (DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2491) about our bond with dogs. To paraphrase, it said essentially that our bond with our dogs is real. That a recent study showed that when we stare into their eyes and they stare back into ours, a feel good kind of hormone called Oxytocin is released, the same way it works with mothers and infants. It helps to build bonds, trust and altruism.So dogs are good for us, loving them is good for us and it’s real. Which I guess is why we’d jump into a raging, almost frozen river to save them. Especially Apple, the wonder Dog:)


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