My friendly Neighbour

Animal Chatter

 By Iris Winston

Photos by Hannah Lopes

A single bark at the door signals that Emmie has dropped by for a visit. Emmie is the very friendly Labrador/Golden Retriever cross who lives next door.

She and Marnie, my Irish Setter, are good friends, who, after a quiet discussion about sharing such items as rawhide chews, bones or balls, settle into quiet companionship in comfortable places around the house.

Emmie and Addy Lopes, head to head.

For the last few minutes, Emmie has been busy with a rawhide chewy that she was delighted to find hidden under a chair. This chewy has something of a history. It belonged to Emmie originally, but when one of the delightful little girls in Emmie’s family handed it to Marnie, she immediately took over ownership. To avoid any possible conflict, I offered Emmie an alternate toy to chew. It was rejected as inferior and unworthy of consideration. However, she was happy to return home carrying another treasure: a large bone.

Clearly, she didn’t forget her special rawhide chewy and resumed ownership on today’s visit. Marnie made no attempt to recapture the now-used chewy. She just watched quietly as Emmie chewed on. But, when Emmie left the room carrying the chewy and then returned empty-mouthed, Marnie went hunting for it—so far unsuccessfully, as Emmie had hidden it well.

Emmie, Ava and Addy watching the world go by.

The chewy time over, both dogs took long drinks from their water bowls and then settled down for their mid-morning naps, lying alongside each other. Although they both seem fast asleep, I have only to whisper the suggestion of a walk or simply go to the cupboard to fetch leashes and they will be alert and ready for action.

We often walk together, frequently with my two cats tagging along. Freya, my Norwegian Forest Cat, generally walks at her own pace a few steps behind the dogs, but Rufus, the red and white North American shorthair, prefers to walk between the dogs, looking for all the world as though he is on a leash as they are, until we reach the park. (Did I mention that our outings are something of the neighbourhood cabaret, raising smiles as people walk or drive by the group?)

When the sun is shining, that walk in the park can be one of the highlights of the day for all of us as the dogs and cats run, roll or relax. Both dogs check in for the occasional treat. Freya settles in the grass to watch. Rufus rubs against Marnie’s legs or ducks under Emmie’s tail, staying close to the dogs.

Emmie cuddles with Ava Lopes.

It is the togetherness of the walks that makes this a special time for all of us. For the dogs, there are so many good smells along the way. Rufus rolls in the grass close by to demonstrate how happy he is, while Freya calls from behind to remind us that at the great age of 19, she would prefer us to slow down and give her time to catch up.

There are occasions, usually when Emmie’s people are in their backyard with her and away from the phone, when I haven’t made contact to ask whether she would like to come for a walk. If she is at the garden gate to see me walking by with Marnie, she gives her “please take me too” bark until the humans respond appropriately and do as bidden.

Her people tell me that as soon as she hears the phone ring at the usual morning walk time, she runs to the door, even if she appeared to be sleeping soundly until that moment. She also responds positively to such questions as “Do you want to go see Iris?” or “Go see Marnie.”

It is always a pleasure to be joined by Emmie, whether it’s for a short visit, a walk or a sleepover. She is a special dog in so many ways. She is a friend to everyone she meets, whether they have two legs or four. She is calm and easygoing with children. She understands and responds to long sentences, not only to one-word commands. Who wouldn’t want to be visited by such a bright, loving dog?

Almonte, Ontario, writer Iris Winston is a former executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family.