Saturday, May 17, 2008

je me rappelle un chien

If ever there was a dog who belonged to himself it was Garth. Grown up in a time before leash laws and scooping he was happy enough to accompany us on our walks around town but if he sniffed something interesting in the air he'd say his farewells and be off like a shot.


In the early 70's we lived in a fourth floor loft in Montreal. The first person out the door in the morning would find Garth heading downstairs with them. As often as not he'd walk along as they shopped for brioches and fruit to go with breakfast coffee, buying something for him to eat as well. Back at the street door, in typical canine fashion, he'd say 'thanks and goodbye' and would stroll away for his morning constitutional. When he returned he'd stand at the door looking expectant until someone passing opened it for him. He got to be quite well known.

Walking to the top of Mt. Royal Park was something we did just about every day. The paths were wide and tree lined on one side with widening views of the city, the St Lawrence River and old neighborhoods on the other. At one side of the summit is Sacre Coeur Church with a huge metal cross above whose nighttime lights dominate the city. In the church are canes, crutches and wheelchairs presumably left by people who'd been cured of crippling diseases by crawling up the long stairs. I never saw anyone do that.


Closer to our place the park had gardens, tennis courts and playground equipment so it was a favorite place to rest on the way home. Sometimes Garth came home with us and sometimes he'd notice (or nose) something that he just couldn't ignore. It was those times I had to pretend I didn't know him. Who me? My dog? Nope, never saw him in my life before. Other times he would have love affairs, only come home for meals (if that) and I'd have to go looking for him. He never realized his tail gave him away no matter how well he'd hidden himself.







 One afternoon when we were walking along one of the nearby narrow streets a door to an old house built close to the sidewalk opened and an elderly gentleman with a sweet smile beckoned. The man spoke no English and I must admit my French was only acceptable but Garth walked right inside. It was obvious he knew the place and I was quite curious about what was going on so I followed him through the door with the smiling man motioning me to go further along.


























We went down a long hallway to a broad sunny room at the end where a beautiful female dog was lying in splendor with a litter of black and white, and white and black puppies. The two big dogs nuzzled each other and Garth examined each of the pups. The old man, very proud and happy, told me that when she came into heat Garth was the only male dog he had allowed into his backyard.




Nowadays, I never see a black and white dog without wondering if he or she is one of Garth's descendants. As all of us do he slowed down as he aged but we covered a lot of miles together in a number of cities and parks on both sides of the border and in my mind's eye I can still see the optimistic wag of that magnificent white tail.

18 comments:

  1. Delightful story to which I can readily relate. Such dogs as you describe dare not exist to day, they would be impounded!! So regretfully we never hear of such characters like Garth, except thankfully with you wonderful story. I know Garth was not only your great companion and child protector but I can now sense his character and personality. Doubtless he was the king of the dogs at the time, respected by all and sundry in the neighborhood! You didn’t mention it but I gather folk would have been known to say, “There goes Garth visiting again”!! I presume he was a respected member of the community?
    Best wishes

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  2. So nice to meet Garth and discover your beautiful illustrations. I love your blog. Really gorgeous. I am adding you to my blog roll. If that is ok with you?

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  3. I'm more of a cat person, but this story almost makes me wish I had a dog growing up.

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  4. lindsay - It always makes me happy seeing you've been by to check on latest developments around here. You're correct in your assumption that Garth was always recognized and I'd get reports from people that he'd been seen, patted and fed in distant parts of cities.

    la belette rouge - I'd be proud to be a member of your blogroll and I'm glad you came by to check out the stories.

    randal - I'm sure Garth would have been pleased to count you among his friends. I know I am.

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  5. The last picture stole my heart. The puppy picture. It reminds me of Lady and the Tramp.
    I swear I've met the second puppy from the left, but I can't remember where exactly, or when. You found some of my forgotten memories. How did you do that?

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  6. Susan - I absolutely loved this story. It reminded me of when I was teenager, we inherited a male toy French poodle named Pepe from my one of my older brother's ex-girlfriends. This little guy had an incredible wanderlust and heaven only knows how many places he "visited." There was no shortage of comments from our neighbors who would tell someone in our family, "hey, I saw your dog o the other day on...." I don't recall if I ever cringed or smiled, but either way, I miss the little guy. Thanks for sharing this and the illustrations.

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  7. Sweet story! There was a dog in our neighborhood, also black and white, aptly named "Oreo", who wandered freely and was known and either loved or at least tolerated by everyone in the neighborhood. Oreo spent all day wandering and visiting, and always found his way home at the end of the day.

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  8. sera - I don't know but I'm glad I did.

    spartacus - It was a different time and not really so very long ago.

    cdp - Oreo sounds to have been a pretty cool dog too.

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  9. This story is so touching and as always, your illustrations so lovely. What a wonderful life you allowed Garth to have... a free one!! I look forward to having a dog again one day and this post reminds me why!

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  10. b - I think it was the last good time to be a free dog. He was really clever about avoiding getting caught by anybody after a youthful lesson when some kids tied a rope to his collar and dragged him home with them. Happily, their mother reported his tag number and when we went to get him he was happier still. That's why I was surprised to see him walk into that house in Montreal.

    I hope you get your dog :-)

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  11. I loved reading that. Garth was one irrepressible dog, that's for sure. I'm glad his... father in law (?) was cool about it. Or maybe "warm' is a better word.

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  12. ben - Kindred spirits.

    scarlet - He was also a master of conservation so far as territorial marking was concerned: "Is this spot worth 2 drops or 3? Fuck it - it gets 3".

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  13. Oh, to be a free dog! I have very fond memories of my dogs and thank you... I feel certain there will be another dog or two in my future. And they already bring me such happiness, even in anticipating thought! Thanks again for reminding me of that happiness in this post and with these wonderful illustrations!

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  14. Ha. Lovely.
    The world according to Garth must (have) be(en) Louis Armstrong-esque.

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  15. sean - His full name was Garth Cold Nose Strong Heart - a magnificent animal and a very good friend.

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  16. Thank you for sending me to this great story. Your illustrations are fantastic. It was fun to see the cross on the Mont-Royal. Did you also see St-Joseph Oratory, on the Mountain, with the many steps (over 150) that people would climb on their knees, asking for a cure or a favour from God? I did it, as a little girl, with my father. We wanted my brother to come back safe from the war. On every step, I said, "S'il vous plait, Dieu, ramenez mon frère Paul, tout de suite!" He came back. Not right away, and he had been in great danger, but he returned home to us. I never told him what I had done. He didn't believe much in this sort of things.

    You brought back great memories of Montréal. Thank you very much.

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  17. claude - We lived on Boulevard St. Laurent so Mt. Royal park was very close and we walked there almost daily. I did go to see St. Joseph Oratory once and saw all the abandoned crutches, false legs and eye glasses but I was pretty healthy at the time as was everyone I knew so I never tried the the climb on my knees.

    I do look forward to going back for a visit and I'm very glad you liked the story.

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