Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Old Man" Turns Nineteen

There have times when I didn't think Buddy would make it all the way to his nineteenth birthday, but against all the odds, he's done it.

His carriage is still regal, but under that glossy black coat, Buddy's skin and bones. I wish he were a bit heavier, but his frail digestive system suggests otherwise. The vet has removed a good many of his teeth and the sad old eyes are watery and opaque with cataracts. He'll climb a set of stairs with some encouragement, but he has to be guided or carried down.

With his swaying, halting gate we've nicknamed Buddy "Old Man".

When I reach for my coat each morning there is always a flurry of excitement among the two younger dogs. They know the routine.

When I sit to put on my sneakers Piper, the young upstart, notoriously swoops in to grab one of my house shippers. With my slipper held high like a trophy, he will then prance in a circular tour of the main floor of the house. If I manage to wrench my slipper out of his mouth, he'll pounce on the slipper's mate and do a fresh junket with it instead. My husband urges me not to let him get away with such bad behaviour, but I know it is Piper's way to tell me how happy he is that I've decided it's time to go out and play.

And where is the "Old Man" in all this excitement?

Usually he's lying fast asleep on his bed enjoying a very sound post-breakfast nap. How he sleeps through all the barking I'll never know!

"Come on Old Man," I say, bending to attach his red leash, "It's time to go play ball." The lead is necessary or Buddy would get lost on the way to the back gate. He can see what's right in front of him, but not much more.

Feeling the leash being clipped onto his collar, the old dog sits up startled and a little confused. It  takes him a few minutes to get his bearings.

For me this is a telling moment. Right now, there is still enough joy in the old dog's life that he rises to go out to play, but I know there is a time coming soon when this may not be the case. How I dread the day! As he nears the end of a very long life, I know there will come a day when he is no longer able to rally and stand to do the thing he loves best in the world–play ball.

Scarp is himself as old as Sheltie's usually get (he's twelve), and Piper will soon turn two.

Sometimes when Buddy is in one of those deep, deep sleeps, I'm torn with mixed emotions. My own breath catches in my throat as I wait for his chest to rise and then fall. And then there is a part of me wishes he could drift into death as easily as one drifts into sleep. 

Sadly death is rarely that kind.

Like most people, I want to do what's best for my dogs even if that means making a gut-wrenching decision. It will break my heart, but I will not let him linger in pain or discomfort. We'll face our loss head-on and do what's best for him.

But for now, I'm  so very glad for a raucous, three-way game of soccer while I attempt to get in the last of my spring bulbs. 

Buddy may be ancient as Shelties go, but his days are happy and I think that's what I think keeps him going.

Piper smiling for the camera.

Buddy has achieved an impressive milestone (the average lifespan for a Sheltie is twelve or thirteen years) and I just want to take this moment to celebrate it. Nineteen years! 

Well done "Old Man"!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Moose and the Bear that went to War

It was August, 1916. War had made a hard life in Northern Ontario even more difficult. At that time, my great grandfather William Henry Guppy, or "Bill" as he was actually known, had a small business buying and selling furs out of a humble wood-frame store.

To keep food on the table for a wife and six children, he also hunted and trapped in the winter. The most lucrative part of his income however, came from guiding southern tourists looking to hunt and fish in the Canadian north. With the outbreak of the First World War, those tourists had all but disappeared.

This is a faded image of my grandfather's store near Timiskaming Ontario. The store in the wilds of northern Canada sold supplies to fur trappers and groceries to locals and visiting tourists.

Times were tough, but it was more than financial hardship that made my great grandfather sign up to fight for Canada.

He was a woodsman, who lived for adventure. The chance to fight for his country and see parts of Europe were hard to resist.

William Henry "Bill" Guppy (seen on the left) was a short, wiry man. The Native North Americans had named him Pijeense, the Little Lynx because his eyebrows stuck out like the distinctive tufts of fur on the ears of a lynx. My great grandfather is pictured here with his son Willie, who at sixteen, got lost in a snow storm and perished.

Young men had answered the call to battle in the early days of the First World War, but in 1916 the Canadian war effort was asking older men to enlist.

So my 42 year old great grandfather left a wife and large family behind and went with his brother Alex and his seventeen year old son Harold to the recruitment office in North Bay. Ontario.

 The 159th Battalion of the 1st Algonquin Overseas Regiment were known as the "Northern Pioneers". Their motto "Nekahnetah" translates as "Let us lead". Image Source

If it was adventure they were seeking, the early days of their lives as a privates in the 159th Battalion of the 1st Algonquin Overseas Regiment had to have been a huge disappointment.

New recruits from northern Ontario found themselves billeted in a skating rink in North Bay for the winter. Army discipline and order wasn't sitting well with a group of men who made their living in the wild working as woodsmen, lumberjacks, trappers and road builders. Bored and restless, fighting and drinking became a problem.

Looking to build moral, the adjutant in charge sent my great grandfather out to find and purchase a regimental mascot. After a quick break to visit his wife and family, Bill bought a two year old moose cow for fifteen dollars cash.

The mascot of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion. Image Source

A goat, possibly the mascot for the 16th Battalion, marches past Major-General S.C. Mewburn, the Minister of Militia and Defence from 1917 to 1920.  Image Source

Having an animal serve as a wartime mascot was fairly common. In fact animals in general played a key role in the First World War.

A Canadian soldier sits with his dog, reading the day's paper. The packed equipment suggests that he is waiting to move up the line and to the trenches. Image Source

Many soldiers had small dogs and cats as pets. A beloved pet helped soldiers far from home cope with the harsh realities of war.

Dogs played an important role in detecting dangerous gases, explosives and landmines.  Both dogs and cats carried messages onto the battlefield with notes fastened around their necks.

A member of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps and a horse pose wearing gas masks. Horses could withstand higher concentrations of poison gas than humans, but chemicals could still damage their lungs or burn their legs and hoofs, eventually requiring their destruction. Image Source

Members of the 20th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, stand beside their pack horses, loaded with 18-pounder shells. This photograph was taken before the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. At Vimy, the Canadian gunners had an estimated 1.6 million shells and every one had to be carried forward to the guns. Image Source

Battlefields were mud-soaked, and the terrain at the front was often without roads. This made transportation using motor vehicles impossible. Instead horses, mules and donkeys were used to haul food, equipment and ammunition. Horses were even used to carry war wounded.

By the end of World War 1, eight million horses were lost. That's a staggering number!

The only picture that survives showing my great grandfather with Bessie the Moose 
and Kitchener the Bear. From the book King of the Woodsman by Hal Pink.

"Bessie the moose soon became famous," my great grandfather recounts in a memoir entitled King of the Woodsman"She learned to come to me when I whistled a certain call, and would follow round at my heels like a dog when I went out collecting food for her... It was on parade that she shone... Bessie threw out her chest and paraded like a veteran...she walked beside me, step for step, the proudest moose in Canada."

The moose was a great rallying point for the bored and restless men waiting for their time to be deployed. The second mascot Bill was ordered to find and train proved to be a more difficult challenge. My great grandfather recounts that the young bear cub he purchased was “a nasty little brute with a vile temper, showing his teeth and ready to fight at the drop of a hat.”

When the regiment were called up, Kitchener the bear and Bessie the moose boarded the Empress of Britain along with the troops. It was a fourteen day trip to Liverpool, England. Neither Bill nor the bear were seasick, but Bessie faired badly. She grew steadily weaker and eventually died.

A horse drawn hansom cab, circa 1900.  Image from the London Transport Museum.

When the call to the front approached, Bill was ordered to take the bear to the London Zoo for safekeeping. A Canadian black bear was not a typical passenger on an English rail line, so it took quite a bit of persuasion before Bill and Kitchener the bear could board the train bound for London.

When my great grandfather and his bear arrived in London, the station was packed with troops leaving for France and the families seeing them off. The station was quickly in a state of pandemonium, complete with shrieks and yells, as everyone shoved and elbowed to clear a path for the Canadian soldier with his black bear.

Bill and Kitchener rattled through the streets of London in a hansom cab, Kitchener standing on the cab's splashboard, showing his white teeth to the staring crowds of astonished Londoners. 

After releasing the bear into his new pen at the London Zoo, Bill left for the front line in France, where he went for a stretch of 39 days without rest. At one point a German shell exploded burying Bill and several other men alive in their trench. Amazingly, he escaped with only minor cuts and bruises.

In 1917, my great grandfather wrote home in a letter that survives to this day. The letter was written hurriedly in pencil on Salvation Army stationary and uses the plain simple language of a man with limited education. Words are misspelled and sentences run together without capitals or periods. He writes to my sixteen year old grandfather, "Go straight, be gentle and honest and you can't go wrong."

What probably saved my great grandfather's life was a chance friendship he struck up with the army cook of the Fourth Canadian Mounted Rifles. Bill became a cook in the field kitchens for the remainder of the war. The life of a cook was not without its perils. "In the daytime bullets popped and pinged and whizzed by like gnats...", Bill reminisced years later.

After the war Bill went back to the London Zoo to see Kitchener. He recounts in his memoir, "He showed his teeth at me when I spoke to him, and shambled over to inspect me. But I was nothing in his young life now, so with a snort through the bars he rolled away again."

The ending to this story is a sad one. Bill goes on to say,"Years later, in 1937, I learned that Kitchener the mascot had died in London, and had been given a military funeral. Like Bessie the moose, he never returned to his native soil. I've often wondered what he thought about that trip across London in a hansom cab!"