The Happy (Sad) Camper: Dog Paddling 1

This is a blog for dog owners. Only they would understand the sadness when one’s beloved pet passes away.

My dog Ellie died yesterday. She had bone cancer. That faithful dog had hopped around on three legs since Christmas. It was difficult, but admiring to watch a springer spaniel try not to lose her spring; like Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh trying not to lose his bounce.

My eight-year-old daughter, Kyla, seemed to take it well at first. She even asked to be there when the vet came to the house to euthanize Ellie. She said that it was OK because she had watched nature shows and understood the balance of life and death. When I carried the body out the door, however, she burst into tears. “It’s not like watching a lion eat a zebra,” she explained, “I’m losing a friend.”

A few weeks back, I caught my daughter awake in the middle of the night, with a flashlight lit up under her sheets. I caught her looking at a bunch of topographic maps of Lake Superior. In her defence she was looking for a place for us to take Ellie canoeing this summer so she didn’t have to portage. Lake Superior would have been perfect. The trip was planned for the first week in August but Ellie unfortunately didn’t hold on long enough.

I did manage to take my dog out camping a couple times before she passed. About a month ago I carried her over a few portages in the Kawartha Highlands. She enjoyed it. I also took her to a campground in Algonquin where she got to snarl at a bear as it passed through our campsite; she sure was proud of herself.

How Ellie came to live with us is an interesting story. My wife, Alana, goes on a routine shopping spree when I go away on a long solo-canoe trip. It’s my punishment, and her reward, for me being absent for a number of days. Usually it’s shoes or a new dress she buys. But there was the time she bought a dog. It was a drastic purchase — more drastic than overpriced high-heels or a lavish outfit. My first dog, Bailey, had just passed away and I was set on never having another dog. I couldn’t imagine replacing such a faithful wilderness-travelling companion like Bailey. To make matters worse, the new dog — Ellie — was the ghost of Bailey; a springer spaniel with identical white and liver-coloured markings and pendant ears.

When I asked Alana why she had purchased the dog, she proudly exclaimed, “She was on sale!” Ellie was a five-year-old dog that was used for breeding before she was put up for purchase. This meant, of course, that Ellie had issues. She was a kennel dog and was incredibly anxious towards people and other dogs. (I would be too if I was put in a small cage and forced to breed for five years.) She loved me right from the start, though. My daughter nicknamed her Velcro because she seemed to be permanently attached to me. My daughter was also the reason Ellie didn’t go back to the owner the first week. The dog was on a two-week trial period and after the first week I made the decision to take her back. My daughter’s response to my decision was, “Not everyone’s perfect, Dad.” So, we kept the dog.

Ellie may have looked like Bailey but she definitely wasn’t the same dog. She came back on command, didn’t bark or whine, got into and out of the canoe when told without question and didn’t eat poop behind the campsite. But she couldn’t swim. What’s with that? I thought all dogs could swim; especially a springer spaniel. It’s like a retriever not retrieving or a husky hating the cold.

I discovered Ellie’s deficiency while lining up some rapids. Alana and Kyla were walking the shore while I worked the canoe up some swift water. Ellie insisted she stay in the boat – that is until it got into the current. I yelled at her to go to shore, and like a good dog, she did. The moment Ellie stepped out of the boat, however, she sunk like a rock and I had to go in to retrieve her. Poor Ellie. Her first canoe trip was a disaster.

Ellie’s anxiety against water, and pretty much everything else, definitely got her into some trouble. Something spooked her out in the hallway of a highway motel we had booked after a camping trip and she ran into the wrong room. When I went to retrieve her, she was cowering under a table where a female couple, replete with tattoos and piercings, were sitting and snorting cocaine. That was a little awkward. Then there was the time she was unfortunately in a bad car accident with me. Her and I weren’t injured thankfully, but Ellie was so shaken up by the event that she pooped all over the inside of my vehicle. Her fear of water caused me the most grief, however.

She nearly drowned on a past trip her and I did up in the Biscotasing area. I was landing a giant pike and found myself drifting towards shore. Ellie wanted to be on shore (she was afraid of fish!), so she leaped out of the canoe as we approached. Problem was, it was deeper than she thought and Ellie had to swim to reach safety. Another problem was that she wasn’t wearing her PFD. I forgot to put it on after the last portage. I was also too busy dealing with the big pike to help her out. Poor Ellie gulped down quite a bit of water dragging herself to the rocky shoreline, where she laid down and refused to get back into the canoe for a good hour or so.

The most astonishing moment spent with Ellie was when my daughter and I were walking Ellie in the local park and came across another dog owner with two young springer spaniels. Ellie always cowered behind me when other dogs approached but this time she pulled free of the leash and ran up to the dogs to play with them. She’s never done that before. I went to apologize and that’s when I discovered the other dogs were from the same breeder Ellie was from — and their mom was an award-winning dog named Ellie. My dog had recognized her pups after four years apart. Wow. Dogs are amazing.

Lots of good memories. I’ll miss you Ellie — my friend. Rest in peace.

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