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PET TALES

Gary Sim, November 1, 1996

Years ago, in another life, I was married, and we lived in an old country house in the interior, with a cat named Kitty and a dog named Koulou. A smart dog. She was the product of a brief encounter between her father the whippet, and her mother the blue heeler (it most likely wouldn’t have happened the other way around) and Koulou came out looking mostly whippet, had whippet brains and whippet speed, but she shed hair like a champion blue heeler.

So we didn’t let Koulou snooze on the furniture. Which of course, she did, any time we were out, and she was in. We’d come home, and she’d be at the door to greet us, but somewhere in the house there would be a fresh thick swirl of light brown dog hair on one dog-body warm couch pillow. “Bad dog!” we would say without conviction, and look for the vaccuum.

We never caught her doing it, but we didn’t really care that much anyway. If we did, we would’ve left her outside in her doghouse, or in the mudroom with the door closed. She was very well house-trained, and would only err in total desperation. She didn’t chew on the furniture, or rip it up with her claws, that was Kitty’s job. Koulou just matted it with hair. And with a cat and a dog in the house all the time anyway, Environment Canada would have said that the air had a particulate count, a hair per million count, if you would, of about 100,000. It just sort of seemed to materialize from out of nowhere as you watched, and drift down to the furniture or the floor.

Even the slightest air movement would waft the recently fallen hairs into hair dunes, which migrated with ease across the polished and incredibly slippery surface of my wife Christiane’s famous waxed floors. At some point the hair dunes tended to coalesce into mouselike little clumps under the couches, matching Kitty’s battleship grey hair almost exactly. (And why not, she dropped even more hair than Koulou). These proto-mice were so lifelike and full of movement on the floor that Kitty would pounce on them once in a while by mistake, or maybe just for practice.

Don’t get me wrong. This was not a case of bad housekeeping. This was six or eight new hair mice per day. Six or eight per day, under each, and every, table, chair, couch, desk, bed, or simply growing restlessly in back eddies and dark corners. So Koulou sleeping on the couch was not a big deal to us.

We went into town shopping one day, and had to leave Koulou at home, inside. We made it to town and back again, and as we turned into our driveway, we both saw Koulou’s head pop up in the living room window for a split second, where she could only be standing on the couch, her little ears perked up like flying nun headgear, and a clearly visible look of “oh shit, they’re home!” on her face. I parked the truck by the back door of the house, and we got out with the groceries. As we walked up to the kitchen door, we could see through the window, and there was Koulou, sleeping in her bed.

There she was. Flat on her side, eyes closed, ears limp, four legs out, paws twitching as she chased rabbits, or perhaps Kitty, in her dream, her jaws snapping feebly at their heels, as she came close to catching them but never quite doing so. A slight snore, REM sleep, the very picture of canine hibernation. I could swear that for a microsecond I could see a glint from her lower eye as she checked to see where we were and the effect of her performance on us, otherwise she looked like she’d been drugged, or was having an out-of-dog-body experience.

Any other time, she’d already be up and wildly scratching at the door, body and tail wagging, barking and howling with excitement at our arrival. But not today. We opened the door, and as we walked in, she sort of “woke up”, and flopped an ear over, opened and slowly focused one sleepy eye on us, yawned, opened and focused the other eye, (the first eye closing again from the effort), smacked her chops and, then, finally getting both eyes open at once and having recognized us, ever so tiredly managed to roll out of bed, stretch slowly and luxuriously, butt up and foreclaws stretched out, shake herself lethargically, and then slowly, tail wagging at half mast, amble over to see us...all of which as if to say “Oh hi. Sorry I wasn’t up, but I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”

This dog was bull-shitting us. Big time. Half a minute ago, literally, she was standing on the living room couch, 40 feet and two corners away. She was an incredibly fast dog, and could run fast enough to leave a contrail of light brown dog hair swirling in the air behind her, but still, picture this with me, if you will, as she made the dash from the living room couch to her bed.

Once she’d ducked from view out of the living room window, she had to do a quick 180 degree turn on the couch, take a 10 or 12 foot leap (at least) from the couch to get started, a couple of quick power strides over the living room throw rug to get up to full operating speed, and straight off the living room rug and into the dining room.

Then a hard left turn from the dining room into the kitchen....claws suddenly scrabbling frantically as she completely lost control while attempting the tight, high speed and totally impossible corner on one of Christiane’s famous waxed floors...in this case the glorious and quite magnificent, highly polished, tongue and groove, aged, maple hardwood.

It’s easy for me to picture this scene. Koulou and Kitty would chase each other around the house all the time, and bowl themselves into the walls and kitchen cabinets or the side of the stove when they lost traction at high speed. They would also have trouble getting up to speed on this floor, and if they just happened to be sitting or standing there motionless when a sneak attack came in, they would literally run on the spot for a few frantic hilarious moments before they started to even move.

So we all launched sneak attacks constantly. It was life in the country, after all...no cable...so we’d seen Kitty and Koulou scrabbling around a lot on Christiane’s famous waxed floors. Even people in socks were in real danger of doing the splits if they weren’t careful.

Koulou would have slid 20 feet sideways into the front entrance hall, clawing and fighting for traction all the way, yet unable to stop or even alter course until she hit the wall. She was good at rebounding, though, lots of practice, so she’d be back into the dining room and re-attempting the turn in a flash...and if she made it on the second try, then 20 feet straight ahead, another hard right, 15 feet further, a dead stop at the screen door, and a final right turn into her bed...

I was surprised we hadn't heard the crashes of Koulou losing it on every corner, and sliding into, in order,
         1.) the hall wall
         2.) the telephone desk on the second attempt at the first corner
         3.) the cabinet under the sink, unable to make the second corner, and
         4.) the screen door or the wall beside it, near her bed as she ended the home stretch.

All of this would be interspersed with the frantic high speed clattering of her claws trying to achieve the impossible, and get immediate traction as she alternately tried to stop or turn, and then get going again, first on the hardwood floor in the dining room, and then on the kitchen linoleum, coated with at least 6 layers of extra hard #1 Grade Brazilian Carnauba wax, lovingly buffed to a high gloss, between applications even, another one of Christiane’s famous waxed floors.

So, Koulou must have gone off course a couple of times while making the dash from the couch to her bed, losing valuable time, and then, in her panic, making the wrong choice. “I’ll pretend I’m asleep!” She might as well have just kept running and greeted us at the door as usual, or perhaps faked an urgent need for a poop, and simply escaped outside for a while. But no, she leapt into bed, quickly settled into position, ran through a checklist of things to fake, (looks at door...they’re here...‘be still oh beating heart’...’you’re a dog...a tired dog...your eyes are very heavy...’)

The performance was incredible. Every gross characterization of sleep that you could imagine. Total body control as well. No heavy breathing, her ears and tail limp, we just killed ourselves laughing. And who wouldn’t want to own a dog that smart? We could tell that Koulou wanted to look offended at our laughter, in a true thespian sulk, but she knew that that would show that she knew why we were laughing (which a dog wouldn’t allow itself to do), so she controlled her emotions, and tried to look puzzled instead, as if she’d simply missed the joke.

In the same way that I would usually say something like “There’s my dog, that’s my good dog Koulou” when I got home from work, I said “There’s my Koulou, that’s my good dog Koulou, you lying little swine...”, and again, for a split second, her look was transparent, “shit, how did he know?”, and she only barely managed to stop herself from looking back over her shoulder at the living room to check for evidence of her dash for the bed.



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