Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beau Goes to McGill

In the fall of 1999 Elizabeth began her studies at McGill University’s Faculty of Music. From the outset she loved her studies and all that music had to offer.  At the start she was in a general faculty program with a major in classical piano. Later on she connected with her first love and switched to jazz piano.

            At this time, Elizabeth was sharing a ram-shackled pad with good friend Kristen.  The two spent most of their time at McGill, except for particularly blustery winter days, when the trek seemed just too long and the house a little too warm to leave.   Beau never seemed to evince any particular interest in Elizabeth’s musical life – to him a treat or a piece of cheese had much more value than a Bach fugue or the best jazz tune.

            December came, and with it exam time at the end of the term.  December in Montreal also means snow and cold.   It so happened that the two arrived simultaneously that day as Elizabeth made the trek to the music faculty to pick up a take-home exam, with Beau in tow.

            She arrived at the faculty and tied Beau up so she could go inside and collect her exam paper.   The noble dog, accustomed as he was to the comforts of central heating, ideally, in front of a roaring fireplace was not predisposed to sit outside in a Montreal winter snowstorm.  Humans did not study in the snow, so why should he have to wait in snowy conditions. Unfortunately for Beau, and for the ill-prepared Elizabeth, the exam was not a take-home, but a sit-in.  So, already arriving late, and having little choice, she sat down and began to write.  Somehow the professor became aware of the dilemma Elizabeth faced (no doubt the indignant barking outside the ground level classroom tipped him off).  He asked the class if anyone had any problems with Beau coming in while Elizabeth wrote the exam.  No dissenters were recorded and Elizabeth went outside to summons the dog.

            Beau didn’t say a lot, but it was obvious from the gleam in his eyes that he liked the idea.  The heating system worked.  The room was quiet.  And the ambiance, oh, the ambiance, seemed to connect with his spirit.  He thought of the Brott brothers and Oscar Peterson – the giants of the McGill musical tradition.  He thought of Wilder Penfield and Sir Ernest Rutherford and their work just across University Street.   Elizabeth was a McGill student.  Her dad, Glen, was a McGill graduate.  His brother, Eric, was a McGill graduate.  Was it not only right and proper that he, too, should take his place at McGill to fully develop his skills and knowledge?

            The exam passed uneventfully.  Elizabeth put on her coat and mitts and she and Beau slipped out into the magic of a Montreal winter.

            Interestingly enough, even after his education at McGill, Beau still failed to manifest any particular interest in Bach, or jazz.  His love of treats and cheese remained undiminished.  Some things just never change.

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


           Beau adapted well to life in Canada.  He liked the open space.  He missed French cheese and he missed hearing the language of his homeland.  No surprise, then, that his heart leapt when he heard we were moving to Montreal.  He could live his bicultural dream – home life in English and the occasional sortie into the richness of French life.  Our house, in the Montreal suburb of Notre-Dame-de-Grace, offered lots of room and a great fenced in backyard.  Just down the street he could go to the Loyola campus of Concordia University to run.  Just behind Hingston Hall he found a group of other dogs who brought their owners with them while they attended lodge meeting running all over the expansive grounds.

            Beau loved it. He particularly liked the cultural richness.  He spoke fondly of the Friday night we were walking through Loyola when he got ahead of his humans and went down the stairs and in through the open doors of a building to attend a concert which was set to begin shortly.  Unfortunately, the humans did not seem to share his enthusiasm for the event and ushered him out pronto.

            Montreal offered a magnificent life – trips to Franklin Centre to pick apples in the fall.  There was one place he particularly liked with a small menagerie of animals that he would chase and try to coax into the herd.  He could go out to the Wight’s house in Pointe Claire and look for Fuzzball, the cat he had terrified when we had visited there about six years earlier. 

            On that occasion Eleanor, Glen and Beau had been sleeping in the spare bedroom in the basement.  Fuzzball was upstairs with the Wights.  At some juncture during the evening Fuzzball came downstairs.  When Beau went out to patrol the basement he discovered the feline interloper and give chase.  Fuzzball took off with Beau in hot pursuit.  We heard the shrill mewing and the hot barking and stirred from slumber as the cat clambered over our faces, followed a couple of seconds later by the pounding paws of the dog.  Over the bed they went and down the other side against the wall.  We barely had time to check our bruised faces before they returned – cat on the face followed by the pursuing dog.  The cat fled and hid in the furnace room, the dog patrolled restlessly and threateningly as we tried to figure out what had hit us.  On those occasions in the future when we visited Pointe Claire, Fuzzball was careful to give Beau a wide berth.  At the first opportunity, Fuzzball escaped to the porch across the street, under which she hid until two days after Beau’s departure.

            Montreal is a land of fierce winters – any native can testify to that.  Beau had not been acclimatized, given his life in France and Toronto, both with their somewhat milder winters.  As a result, when he awoke one morning in mid-January to find two and a half feet of freshly fallen snow, he turned around in disgust before setting a paw outside the back porch for his usual morning pee.  Glen, being the only one awake enough to function at Beau’s speed, kindly took it upon himself to dig a series of trenches, with the sophistication of a war vet, in order for Beau to proceed with his duties in the yard.  It worked out beautifully for the two of them – ensuring Beau kept out floors dry, and providing Glen with a cardio workout (that he wasn’t necessarily seeking).  It was, no doubt, one of the longer winters for Glen, given the numerous snowfalls….  Occasionally Beau actually used the paths that had been so carefully carved out for him.  

Beau loved junkets to the Salvation Army camp at Lac l’Achigan where he could run and rummage around in the forest, thought he never did develop a flair for swimming in the lake.  We think that his fear of water arose as a result of being trained not to bark, by being sprayed with water. 

The highlight was a week long vacation in the summer of 2003, spent with Andy, Elizabeth, Beau and Clovis, and shared with neighbours Danny and Sean and their respective dogs, Skip and Esko.  The campgrounds were suddenly swarmed with the city boys (les gars d’en ville), marking their territory and seeking opportune begging moments at various pique-nique opportunities.  They even made it half way around the lake on one particularly ambitious walk despite Beau’s 14 years.

Unfortunately, our stint in Montreal was all too brief. After only eight months we left for France again.  Elizabeth and John would stay in Montreal and Beau went to live with Elizabeth. After eleven years it was time for Eleanor and Glen to bid Beau farewell.  Eleanor drove Beau over to stay with the Pearos who were going to look after him until Elizabeth had moved into an apartment that could accommodate the dog.  Glen didn’t come, he could not stand to say good-bye to the pooch; such was the dog’s hold on his heart.
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mail Call

Beau always responded when people came calling.  When we came home, he was there, tail wagging and panting, ready to jump up and greet us.  When company came, or the Bible study group came around he followed them everywhere, anxious to be part of the proceedings.  When the mailman came, the enthusiasm was the same, but the reaction was different.

            We first made the discovery one morning when Elizabeth was, unusually, home alone during the day. The mailman came and left our mail in the letterbox at the side of the house. Elizabeth was in the kitchen and opened the door to retrieve the mail. As she reached for the mail Beau was out of the house like a rocket in pursuit of the mailman.  The mailman claimed later that Beau attacked and bit him.  No evidence of biting was evident, but there could be no denial that Beau had pursued the mailman somewhat aggressively.

            The postman filed his complaint and Canada Post sent an official to investigate. Barbara, our neighbour, testified that there was no way that Beau could have attacked the postman – he was too nice a dog to do that.  He talked to Elizabeth and went into the backyard to interview the suspect.  Beau lay there serene, as the official talked to him and rubbed him.  It was the perfect life as far as Beau was concerned.  The official observed to Elizabeth that it seemed difficult to believe that Beau could be vicious.

            No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the mailman arrived.  Beau was off like a shot – teeth bared and growling.  The chain holding him grew taut as he pulled to get loose and show that postman once and for all that he was not welcome on our turf.  Needless to say, the Canada Post official was a little bit less certain that Beau was innocent in the case before him.

            We never did figure it out.  Beau was not by nature vicious or aggressive, but he sure went nuts with postmen.  Twice after he moved to Montreal he went after postmen.   In fact, Elizabeth finally received a notice from Canada Post that if he were to attack another postman it would be necessary to have him put down.

            My theory was that the postman must have threatened the dog to provoke such fear.  I could not help but notice a peculiar phenomenon one morning when I was at home. The persistent barking of a dog in the distance interrupted the silence of the usually tranquil neighbourhood.  Other dogs joined the chorus progressively and finally Beau also became part of the chorus as the postman arrived outside our door.  As the postman continued on his way quiet gradually returned to the neighbourhood as dogs dropped out of the barking chorus.  Was there communication in the canine community to warn of the malevolent postman on his rounds?

            The facts were never clearly established but we were certain that Beau was innocent.  Could the postman’s be at fault?  One of life’s unsolved mysteries.  

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life in Canada

            We settled into our house in Don Mills, Ontario and Beau set out to discover his new world.  The house backed onto a park with a lengthy bike path, baseball diamonds and hundreds of trees.  The bike path meant Beau could run beside our bikes.  The park meant he could go for a prolonged romp at night.  The squirrels were there to chase and the trees were for the squirrels to scamper up as the fearless hunting dog gave pursuit.  Beau tried them all.  He took advantage of all that the neighbourhood offered.  Unfortunately, Beau was not the one of the most well disciplined dogs in creation.  As we ran around the bike path, Beau could not be counted on to stay on course – he might spy a family barbecuing and choose to run off the path and see what they had to eat.  Beau found it fascinating. We found it embarrassing.  The folks barbecuing found it annoying.

      The Bible student

            More than anything else in Canada, Beau’s true self emerged as he responded to the various guests who came to the house.  On Wednesday evenings we hosted the College and Careers Bible study group associated with The Salvation Army’s North Toronto community church.  Beau longed to join the group of about 12 young adults.  He would be willing to lie on the floor and listen to the discussion.  Or, he might lick the occasional attendee.  Or he might wander around and put his paws on the occasional open Bible.  We knew that in his heart he was zealous and loved seeing everybody come. But his style was a bit disruptive, so we had to put him down the basement.  The problem, of course, was that we then had to endure 90 minutes of whimpering and scratching at the basement door as Beau indicated his displeasure at being locked out of this gathering.

“I’m going now, Beau” 

            Further social interaction took place when Eleanor’s parents came to visit – most often for Sunday dinner.  Eleanor’s dad took a real shine to Beau and loved to offer him candy when he left.  It took Beau about two visits to figure this one out.  As soon as Dad said, “I’m going now, Beau”, the pooch was there, kneeling in classical begging position.  He knew the candy was coming.  If there was not candy offered immediately, Beau would investigate Dad’s jacket pocket with his super-sensitive nose to help in the location of candy.  The routine became so predictable that Eleanor would have candies ready to give her father in the event that he was preparing to leave without offering a candy to the attentive dog.

What screen door?

            In the fall of 1994 we moved house to Parkview Hill Crescent.  It was a beautiful big house, with a sun-room on the back and a sliding screen door that opened into a big backyard.  On a nice summer evening we would sit there reading and watching television as Beau eyed the goings-on in the backyard.  Periodically a cat would wander through. The dog always rose to, as he saw it, the call of duty to rid the neighbourhood of cats.  Off he would go through the screen door to teach the cats once and for all not to trespass in his yard.  Over the course of the summer it would be necessary to replace the screen several times.  In fact it got to the point we kept a full roll of screening in the garage so that the screen could be replaced without a trip to Home Depot to purchase replacement parts.  In this, as in so many areas of life, Beau never adapted to the realities of suburban life.  He was willing to adapt to human food, but as far as he was concerned, the rest of the adaptation was up to the human community.

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award