Dogs are hard wired to please people. Provided they have a decent upbringing, they are loyal to a fault. As proof, I offer the story my friend Fred told me.
Fred works in the bush. One day, years ago, he was walking in the woods near Kitwanga with his lab, Blackie, when they came upon a grizzly bear. All bears seem large. Fred has seen plenty of them. When he tells me a bear was large, as he told me this particular bear was, I know it was really big. It was soon evident that the bear resented the intrusion. Before Fred could gather his thoughts, Blackie raced at the bear and began barking. The grizzly, who had been focused on Fred until that moment, grew increasingly annoyed at the smaller black yappy creature in front of him and took off after it. Shaken, Fred made for the truck. As he did, he heard Blackie’s barking farther and farther in the distance.
The speed of grizzlies is well known. If they can outrun a race horse, they can certainly outrun a dog. Fred knew this.
You’ve been a good dog, Blackie, he said to himself, with resignation and the sadness that later inevitably turns to grief.
It was a fair distance to his truck. When Fred got there, Blackie was waiting for him.
If there is an award for canine valour – a Golden Bone, perhaps – Fred’s Labrador retriever certainly deserved it. In less dire circumstances, having a mid to large sized dog is a very useful companion to have in the woods. Because of their acute sense of smell, dogs will sense the presence of other creatures a long time before a man does.
If you watch your dog carefully you will come to recognize the mannerisms, those small perturbations, like a particularly alert posture or twitching of the muzzle, that indicate a wild creature is close by.
By way of illustration, there was one cold and clear March day, about ten years ago, when Pawsome and I were out on Winsman’s bar. I was thigh high in the clear and low Skeena. Pawsome was sitting atop the snowbank a dozen feet or so below me.
As I made my way to shore, intent upon finding a log to sit down on for lunch, I noticed that Pawsome was craning her neck to sniff the air.
I scanned the wide distances, upstream and downstream. Nothing, save for the river, moved.
What is it girl? I asked as my dog, who was up on all fours now, grew increasingly agitated.
Would you like a treat? I asked, putting stress on the final word of the sentence, the utterance of which normally brings her running.
Not that time. She stared fixedly downstream and across the river toward the area where a wide high water channel leaves the river. Saying the magic word a few more times would not pry her off whatever it was she was fixed upon.
Strange, I thought, then began to make my way across the hard smooth snow. I’d taken but a few steps when I heard clattering sound. Pawsome began to bark. I turned to see a bull moose emerge from the side channel downstream at full gallop. Without breaking stride it plunged into the icy water and swam the river, only its head and hump visible. In what seemed an incredibly short time, the big animal reached the side of the river we were on, scrambled up the snow bank, loped across the snow covered beach, and vanished into the dense brush.
All of this had taken only a few minutes. Pawsome had stopped barking, but was still visibly agitated. A few minutes passed, then a pack of wolves ran out of the same channel hard upon the scent trail. They stopped where the moose had entered the water, yipped and howled, clearly irritated by the lost opportunity.
At the sight of her larger and wilder cousins, Pawsome stopped barking. The hair on her back stood up. She was clearly cowed. Meanwhile, the wolves soon over their disappointment began cavorting atop the high snow banks on their side of the river. Unconcerned about the two creatures on the far side of the river – for they must have sensed our presence, just as Pawsome had theirs – they played for long time then left the way they had come.
Over the years, my dog has not only widened my apprehension of my surroundings, but, thanks to the border collie instincts in her, has always run ahead only to return a short time later as if to check on my well being and that of my companion when I’ve had one. When she was young, she treed black bears. I would arrived at the sight of these treeings and find her at the bottom of the tree with a “what now?” look. As she got older, she would simply use a distinctive bark she reserved for bears.
continued next week