Nunani: Qimmiq (Part three)



My new southern dog’s strength was only one thing I had to adjust to. From the time that he came into the house, he stubbornly insisted upon having the couch — my precious new couch — all to himself. I found a number of resources on bluetick coonhounds. Such resources, combined with loads of advice from “hound people” at the Humane Society, ensured that Byron’s training sped along nicely. He turned out to be intelligent, sensitive, and responsive, but — as I verified with fellow hound owners — he was completely intractable. This ran contrary to my experience with huskies, who not only typically wanted to obey when told to pull a sled, but also had no choice in the matter. Byron quickly learned a great number of commands, but would never obey them unless first convinced that there was a good reason to. I had learned that it was important not to be overly harsh with hounds, since it only made them increasingly stubborn — a discipline requiring great restraint on my part, and again controverting everything I had ever learned with huskies.

And no matter how well his training otherwise went, Byron was always up on that couch when my back was turned.

I was surprised to find that I enjoyed having a house dog. It was comforting to know that there was an extra pair of eyes and ears watching the apartment while my husband and I were out or sleeping. But I also felt as though the powers that be were punishing or playing tricks on me. There was a great deal of weirdness centred around that dog, and his presence brought out the strangest behaviour in other people.

Soon after adopting Byron I wrapped up the research on the dog. It turned out that bluetick coonhounds were bred by Ozark Mountain (USA) settlers in the late 1700’s, from giant French stag hunting hounds called Grand Bleu de Gascon, and that the blueticks were and still are used to track and tree raccoons — animals that are apparently quite tasty, having a useful pelt. It was a sort of hunting lifestyle as far from my father’s as I can imagine.

I used to regularly walk the dog down at a large, wooded park in Ottawa (the Arboretum). On some days, there were literally dozens of dogs mingling and playing with each other, so much so that it might as well have been daycare. And, of course, the sheer variety of dog breeds also reflected the variety of owners. Most, I have to say, were perfectly nice people. But then there were … others.

One of the first things I noted was the strange elitism surrounding dog ownership — especially of certain breeds. Some owners might openly brag about the lineage of their dogs, while others were so snooty that they refused to give many other people the time of day.

Why, the Inuit part of my brain kept asking, when they were only dogs?

Now, I usually avoid snooty people, but there was no getting around these sorts. Byron had the weird gangly limbs, and patterned fur, typical of a bluetick. His graceless run was more of a lope, long ears and lips flopping up and down, and he looked like a beast assembled from spare parts. You might have seen the dog on the TV commercial wherein the hound goes to the kitchen and makes a sandwich, only to toss it because he’s out of mayo. That’s Byron.

It seemed so important to southerners — especially dog enthusiasts — to peg a breed, and Byron was a rarity. So even though most of the dog-fops wouldn’t normally stop to pour their iced tea on me if I were in flames, they nevertheless felt it necessary to grit their teeth and approach me about Byron.

The question, every time of course, concerned what breed Byron happened to be. Having poured my guts into the research behind him, I was always happy to answer in full, surprising them by putting on my new hat as a coonhound historian.

“Perhaps you should report him,” the sour answer often came. “He might have been stolen.”

So how come when they had a dog of a rare breed — which I don’t care about anyway — it’s because they’re of haute culture, but when I had one it must mean the dog is stolen?

(Continued next week.)

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