the dog days of spring

The puppy wasn't where he was supposed to be. Dexter, as we've dubbed him, was supposed to be at my side. Or within a five-foot gravity well.

The puppy wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Dexter, as we’ve dubbed him, was supposed to be at my side. Or within a five-foot gravity well. That’s been the norm for weeks.

We actually have two puppies—Dexter and Winston, matching springer spaniels that are approaching five months old.

Winston is the badass, the willful mutt who likes to hop up on the couch and then plays dumb when you calmly, assertively tell him to “GET THE HELL OFF!”

Dexter’s the responsible one. Larger than his brother, he knows his place in the pack.

And now he was gone.

“Sit, Winston,” I said. And, surprisingly, he sat and looked up at me. Showoff.

“Dexter was here just 15 seconds ago,” I said, scanning the brush lining the trail near our house.

I called him.

Nothing.

“Alright, Winston, let’s go find your brother.”

And off we went.

I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a puppy. And I’ve never known what it’s like to have puppies. But I do now.

It’s nuts.

They’re always watching you, and you can’t always watch them. As soon as your attention wavers, and it does, they sneak off to chew your favourite shoe. Or backpack. Or glove. Dammit.

The two of ‘em work together. As one distracts you, the other gets into mischief. Once you deal with that, the other grabs something else. You begin to wonder who’s running the show.

We got into this situation about a month ago.

Timber, our last dog, collapsed and died in our hallway one Saturday morning not long ago.

My canine buddy was, at least in my view, a lazy fellow. The Bernese-springer cross spent most of his time sprawled out around the house sleeping.

Then, when I let him off leash on our nightly walks, he’d tear down the moonlit trails, a black-and-white missile looking for adventure and whatever came his way.

I marvelled at his speed and grace, especially given his sedentary life in the house.

He ran all the time. Even when he slept.

Every night he’d be chasing rabbits, chuffing and squeaking as his paws flicked as if he was in frantic pursuit.

It was slumbering Timber’s flicking paws I missed most.

The night of his death, I was watching a movie with my wife Shona.

I looked down at the carpet where my old dog used to lie and remembered his nightly dream chases.

We were all home that night, but the house was empty.

Our house needed a dog.

Or two.

Amazingly, I found a conscientious breeder in Maple Ridge, BC, that had a litter of male springers. We spoke several times that next week.

They were willing to sell a pair to our family, but wouldn’t entrust their puppies to an airline cargo bay - we had to pick them up. In person.

But, realizing the distances involved, they graciously offered to meet us in Prince George.

Still a 1,600 kilometre drive, but better than 2,400. Done deal.

“This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done,” my best friend said to me. “I’m coming with you.”

“That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done,” I told him.

The next day, we drove down the highway.

That was a month ago. Today, I’ve got two dogs. One that behaves himself and another that’s 30 pounds of trouble.

Until now, when, in a bizarre reversal, the responsible one is missing and the idiot is a picture of decorum.

So I took a deep breath—be calm and assertive, I thought to myself -  and started back up the trail, trudging through the sun-softened, wet snow in my favourite leather shoes, the ones bearing chew marks and tufts of exposed grey foam.

“Dexter, c’mon boy,” I called. Still nothing.

I thought about coyotes

—something that had never crossed my mind with giant, lightning-fast Timber.

Winston was still at my side. We picked up the pace a bit.

Seconds later, (it seemed much, much longer) Winston dove through chest-deep snow and disappeared behind a snowbank. Dexter’s head popped up, an enormous ham bone in his mouth.

Calm, assertive…

“Dexter, c’mon boy.”

Winston, the badass, ran over to me immediately and sat down.

“What the hell…” I wondered, but slipped the leash on him and lashed him to a tree.

“I’ll be back for you in a second,” I said.

“Dexter… c’mon boy!”

And he was gone, racing down the trail with the ridiculous bone in his mouth.

I knew enough not to chase him. So I turned on my heel, called him again and strode over to his brother.

Dexter watched me a split second, then raced back with his bone.

Kneeling down, I held out my hand. “Out.”

Damn dog dropped it right into my palm. It still had hunks of meat on it too.

“Good boy,” I said, handing him a almond-sized dog treat.

It didn’t seem like a fair trade to me, but he accepted it, tail wagging, as I fixed the leash.

“C’mon guys,” I said.

We sauntered down the trail.

That afternoon, for a few moments, Dexter wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

But I was. No doubt about it.