Pets galore. First I remember Smokey and Dusty, the cats that would cling to the screen on my parents’ bedroom window to announce their desire to come in, until one morning they just never came home. There was the budgie that had a heart attack and fell over dead one morning when the cover was removed from his cage. The turtles … they passed of indigestion we figure, and burped themselves to death from all the moths we fed them one night. And then there was Happy the Basset Hound. But Happy was killed outside the house one evening when one of us inadvertently left a door open.
It wasn’t that we didn’t take care of our feathered and furry friends – we just seemed to have a rather long string of unfortunate luck, until we got Betsy the Basset Hound. She was my mother’s dog; so attached was she to my mother that she wouldn’t leave the house without her, which relieved my sister and me of dog walking duty. Tug and pull, cajole and plead as we might, we could not get her out through the door.
Betsy gained a reputation – if there was food, anywhere, she would find it.
– Betsy devised a way of obtaining any food that might be left on the dining table following a meal. She would take the corner of the tablecloth in her teeth and tug. First a knife or a spoon might clatter to the floor but she knew that the food that her nose told her was up there would eventually follow – we lost a lot of butter that way.
– My mother took Betsy to obedience classes. The final night included a graduation tea. As the evening was coming to an end the dogs and masters formed a circle for the last exercise: heel. Betsy did very well, keeping right at my mother’s side … until the came to the door to the kitchen where the food was being prepped. Each rotation, as she approached that door, she would veer off and follow her nose. It was only with great difficulty that Mum could bring her back to heel.
– As my mother chatted with a neighbour, Betsy put nose to ground and sloped off on her own. The scent led her to the neighbour’s house – the door was open, in she went and there she found the object of her search. Bacon – a whole pound of it. Effortlessly she was up on her hind legs, nipped it right off the counter and boldly, without remorse, with pride even, she trotted back down the path – right passed Mum, still chatting with the neighbour.
When Betsy was about seven she became weak and then paralyzed in the hind legs. The vet recommended she be put down. Mum refused, so Dad fetched her from the vet and brought her home. He carried her in and placed her gently on the floor. Betsy had lost weight and beyond the sad eyes and long ears of her breed, her whole demeanour was one of absolute dejection and misery. Then, she looked up and saw my mother. Betsy gathered herself and using just her front legs, her hindquarters dragging, she pulled herself over the hardwood floors to my mother.
This was perhaps my first lesson in the power of the spirit. Betsy was walking again within a few weeks and lived another five years.