If Nooka were a person instead of a dog, I’d say she has an eating disorder. Has had one since she was little, in fact.
Of course, humanity has been plagued with the question of why dogs eat all the disgusting things that they do ever since we domesticated them. The items that can be loosely defined as food, such as rotten fish, good leather hiking boots, cat feces and assorted other poop, still make sense in a nose-wrinkling way. Perhaps even rubber bands and plastic bags, since there tends to be a grocery connection. It’s more the tissue paper, candles, soil and sticks that I wonder about. The things Nooka will eat if given the faintest chance.
Admittedly, in our vacuum-cleanerless bush household, the faithful tongue that’s mopping up all crumbs and spills does have its advantages. But Nooka is like a vacuum gone wild: her nose is in constant quivering motion one above the floor, swinging back and forth in metal detector fashion, her ears cocked for the sound of anything falling down, for our curses that go with making a mess, and her eyes are trained on all items that succumb to gravity.
Her appetite is in no way confined to the cabin – the outdoors is a giant smorgasbord to her. She devours grass, caribou droppings, pine cones and poplar bark, tufts of feathers and punky wood in indiscriminating fashion. Obviously, what goes in has to come out again – sometimes at three in the morning and usually close to the cabin, just when and wherever the urge strikes her.
It’s mostly when she’s bored that her muzzle connects with the ground and hoses up the things she encounters. It’s been a tense situation here the last few days. The hot weather that radio announcers always get so happily excited about, that turns wilderness into a giant tinder box just waiting to go off as the smoke from distant fires creeps in and fills us bush people with a sense of foreboding – the hot weather caused plenty of boredom for our dogs. Just a short walk in the early morning for them and another at night, hours of lying around with long faces and watching me carry bucket after bucket of water to the garden and distribute the precious liquid among the thirsty potatoes, carrots and cabbages.
What else could Nooka do with her time but gobble up all wooden matter in her path, scratch at the dusty soil and chew her way into the frying crust of the Earth? Only to feel a pressing need in the middle of the night to return all this plant and mineral matter to where it came from. It was then, just as my patience was beginning to wear thin, that I decided to give the squeaky toy one more try.
Our dogs exist in almost complete ignorance of the thriving dog toy industry, but when I was gone for a few weeks in early summer, I couldn’t help myself and yielded to the guilt felt by any parent who leaves their babies behind: I bought a sturdy squeaky toy to appease my conscience and express my love.
And what a waste of money it was. Old Leshi sniffed it once, then ignored it, Milan immediately began chewing the little protruding legs off it, set on killing the thing dead, and Nooka ran away in horror every time it squeaked, although she was intrigued by it. I ended up putting it away for purposes unknown.
But now, the toy’s time had come – maybe I could get Nooka used to it and keep her busy, prevent her from eating her way through the bush. With a bit of acting as if I had a great time slapping the thing around (careful not to elicit any sound from its rubbery depths), telling Milan off in an impressive voice, and I sold Nooka on the idea that this was fun and just for her. She gingerly picked it up and began pacing around – worried to drop it and make it squeak, and unsure what to do with it. With a mixture of pride and troubled preoccupation on her face, she parades up and down the garden now when I water it, at long last ignoring all the tasty edibles at her paws and not needing to go out in the middle of the night either.
Here it was, my unexpected solution to her eating disorder: the squeaking dog pacifier.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon
River south of Whitehorse.