Perplexed and annoyed at my adolescent dog’s habit of barking at shadows incessantly and relentlessly, I took her to Lou. Lou Alorza had a passion for angling in exotic locales. As we sat in one of the inner rooms of his Veterinary hospital, I examined the many photos of Lou and his fishing companions releasing large trout in what I guessed was Argentina or Chile.
What’s the problem, Rob? Lou asked in a way that showed he was sincerely concerned. Then he listened intently as I described how Pawsome barked at shadows.
Lou’s brow furrowed and moved his mouth in a way that made his handle bar moustache turn even farther up at one end.
Just a second, he said as he found a small flashlight then put my dog on the metal table. He turned off the overhead light and shone the flashlight into her eyes.
Look at this, he said.
I gazed into my dog’s eyes. They were coated with milky clouds.
Cataracts, said Lou, his voice tinged with excitement at the discovery.
At the sound of the word, images of river water spilling over rock sprang into my mind. I could see how whoever coined the term cataract might have thought the milky opacity covering the lens of my dog’s eyes resembled the white water behind river rock – and to the ancient eyes of whoever coined the term, that natural analogue must have seemed logical. To my 20th century orbs Pawsome’s eyes more more closely resembled pictures of earth enveloped in white clouds taken from space.
Cataracts? I said. Aren’t they an old folks’ disease?
They can be congenital too, said Lou. Her vision is poor. She can’t make out things distinctly.
Lou’s diagnosis explained many of Pawsome’s odd ball behaviours. Her barking was the natural reaction of her inability to identify motion, like the rattling of leaves and branches against the truck and the flickering of shadows against on the ground on bright days.
Getting Pawsome to behave on a leash was a task that would have taxed the most skilled trainer, but this wasn’t a great concern to me. I had no intention of taking my dog into the woods on a leash. Paws’ initial training consisted of walking the trails, and the places between the trails, on Terrace mountain from the time she was so small I had to lift her over the logs. At this she shone, running just far enough ahead that I could only make out the white tip on her tail. Then, when she was straining against the invisible leash of her herding genes, she would unfailingly return to check up on my progress.
When I first took her to the river, it was at Shames. We walked down the creek from past the railway bridge then across the gravel beach to a spot where I could wade a back channel and make my way to the main river. I made the short, waist deep wade to the far side and turned. Pawsome was still at the water’s edge attempting to parse the situation. She looked at me then tentatively touched the water with a paw, then she jumped in and swam across. From that point on she unhesitatingly followed me across rivers and streams. She didn’t have the power of a retriever, but she was a strong swimmer, and except for one of her first outings, when she impetuously jumped into the river for no apparent reason and was swept under a log jam, and fortunately, popped up downstream a few anxious seconds later, she had no close calls.
When you fish salmon rivers, you need a dog that doesn’t roll in the rotting salmon carcasses that wash up, or are pulled up, onto the banks late in the fall. When we encountered that situation, Pawsome showed no interest in rotting fish.
Porcupines are another challenge for dogs. Some dogs attack them, get a face full of quills, and learn to keep their distance after that, as Chimo did. Others swear a canine vendetta against Porkies after their initial encounter and take on every one they meet thereafter. Such dogs are a liability in bush and a strain on the wallet.
Again, partly due to her herding instincts, Pawsome sat on bank and kept an eye on me during fishing trips and showed no inclination to chase critters or their scents.
On several occasions, I managed to get lost. On every one of those debacles, I simply commanded Pawsome to go to the truck, and every time she did so as I followed, marvelling at her unerring accuracy.