Episode Eighty-three: Farewell to our beloved pet.

Two weeks after our shows were finished for the season, my fears at that closing matinee were justified. January had brought snow, and although it was not a heavy fall, the park and trails were lined with patches of white. On one morning walk, as we crossed the top of the park, Edna and I suddenly saw a patch of red where Max had christened the snow. I took him to the vet that afternoon and Dr. Foukal ran a series of tests and prescribed medication. Our hope was that Max had an infection that was curable, and for a couple of weeks, it seemed as if this was the case.

Happy to be in his cottage garden.
Happy to be in his cottage garden.

Pleased to see that the bleeding had stopped, we decided to go to the cottage for a week. Max, as usual, was delighted to set off. How we relished that week of Coast walks and cozy time in the cottage! Max enjoyed every minute of it and we returned to town, relieved, for everything seemed to have settled down again. However, that evening, when I went to see why Max had not come up to our bedroom, I found him sitting by the back door, unusually subdued and reluctant to come past Minx, who was perched in the middle of the kitchen with a feisty look on her face.

Or on his cottage deck.
Or on his cottage deck.

On February 1, however, Max seemed his usual spirited self. He growled at one of the dogs in the park and played his ‘hunt the cookie’ game once we were home. But that afternoon, I took him for a second walk, and to my dismay, I noticed that the bleeding had started again. I phoned the vet right away. Dr. Foukal was tied up with an emergency, but I managed to get an appointment for the next day.

Defiant to the last.
Defiant to the last.

The next morning, Max refused to eat his breakfast. I took him for a stroll up and down the lane. He had no trouble walking, but when he tried to pee on the neighbouring Rottweiler’s fence, nothing came out. When we returned to the house, I tried to tempt him with a piece of chicken. His reaction reminded me of the time all those years before when I had ordered him to drop the dead mouse and he had looked me straight in the eye as he dropped it down his gullet. Now, with the same defiant stare, Max spat the piece of chicken out at my feet.

The end of an era.
The end of an era.

Once Dr. Foukal examined Max, we realized the situation was grim. We were referred to the clinic in Central Valley, and we had to leave Max there for further tests. When the specialist contacted us a couple of hours later, she was in tears. Max was dying. He had cancer and his kidneys were about to fail. There was very little time left, and if we didn’t make the decision to have him put to sleep, he would die in agony.

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A lovely tribute to a special pet.

Our last two hours with Max were spent in the family room at the clinic. Ironically, he seemed much as usual, happy to see us and content to settle down beside his people. Katie came from work to join us, and the three of us stayed with him, prolonging the visit as much as we could. In the end, Max went quickly and peacefully, but for us, it was not just the heartbreaking loss of a beloved family member, it seemed like the end of an era.

Our star.
Our star.

Max’s passing was mourned deeply by us. I cried for many weeks after he had gone, but the cards and condolences from friends or people who had attended the shows made us realize what a special place he had taken in so many other people’s hearts. Dan Hillborn wrote a moving article in the Burnaby Now, and Hugh and I couldn’t walk around New Westminster without someone who had seen the obituary expressing their commiseration at our loss. Max, the Ho Hum Husky, might have started out as a rescue dog with a lot of issues that needed to be resolved but, bless him, he ended up a star.

Episode Eighty-two: The Last Hurrah

Max was rejuvenated by his new friend, but sadly, he was only to enjoy her for a few months. As 2005 wore on, he seemed happy, but he continued his disconcerting new habit of sitting on our former cat’s grave. He was also increasingly thin and gaunt. However, he showed his usual excitement when we began preparations for the Christmas show, which that year was The Christmas Present of Christmas Past.

The show began in the present.
The show began in the present.

XPXP, as we abbreviated the show for its working title, was a particularly lavish production. It began in the present, with Max and Minx as rival household pets. However, Max, along with Santa, a clever schoolboy named Cedric, and Cedric’s teacher, Robert, inadvertently went back to ancient Rome in a time machine.

On stage and off with that darn cat.
Pampered pet of the Empress Messalina.

Here, Max, to his horror, came across what he thought was Minx, also transported in time. However, the cat turned out to be I Clawdia, the pampered pet of the Empress Messalina. In spite of his annoyance at being plagued by another cat, Max fought off a wolf and saved Clawdia’s life.

Friend of Felines.
Friend of Felines.

For this service, she gave him the title of ‘Friend of Felines’. Max was not impressed by this honour, although it proved extremely useful later in the show when he and his friends ended up in the Colosseum facing the big cats. The show was a play on the theme of Androcles and the Lion with a lot of other ingredients to add to the satire.

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Our attempt at a Roman spectacle!

Since Hugh retired, we had always run a series of performances during the day so that school groups could attend the shows. Max, as usual, took his place in the stage-manager’s corner for these group matinees, although sometimes he would look rather perturbed at the amount of noise emanating from the other side of the curtain prior to show-time. The school groups were lively audiences, but generally settled down once the show started. Certainly, their reaction gave us a good idea of how effective the show was.

My favourite student letter. This kid had the pecking order figured out!
My favourite student letter. This kid had the pecking order figured out! Check her cartoon caption.

Usually the teachers selected the middle elementary grades for these matinees. These students were old enough to follow the story, yet still at an age to be caught up in the magic. However, one of the matinees for XPXP was packed with Grade Six students, who obviously considered it hilarious that they’d been brought to a puppet show. The group arrived a good half-hour prior to curtain time and the noise from out front sounded like World War Three had erupted. Every so often, the teacher would bellow threats to his group, detailing what would happen if anyone misbehaved during the show. Max sat quailing in his corner; Hugh and I stood quailing behind the puppet theatre.

The Colosseum.
The Colosseum.

However, much to our relief, silence descended once the show began, and other than the occasional cheery audience comment floating back to us, such as cheers when Max defeated the wolf, or glee at Messalina’s bust size, the Grade Six students behaved impeccably. Feeling reassured, we forged on through the show. When we reached the scene in the Colosseum, the silence out front became almost palpable. Cedric, of course, comes to the rescue of the puppets and hovers above the Colosseum in his time machine, gradually zapping each of the characters forward in time and out of the arena.

Rescued back to the present.
Rescued back to the present.

First, Santa is rescued, and then the teacher, Robert, along with the beautiful Roman girl he loves. But as the gladiators approach, poor Max remains, sadly alone in the spotlight. But at the last split second, he, too, is airlifted to safety, and as Max shot upwards, there was a huge chorus of “Yes!” from the student audience. What a great moment that was. Even with those ‘cool’ Grade Six students, The Christmas Present of Christmas Past was a big hit.

Max fights the wolf.
Max fights the wolf.

As we began the public run, we received another nice boost. One of the teachers brought us a package of letters and pictures from the students. The delightful comments and the variety of subject matter in the drawings were most entertaining, but we were particularly struck by one picture that was very different in nature from the others.

A very different perspective from a recent immigrant.
Max fights the wolf. A very different perspective from a recent immigrant.

Whereas most children had drawn Max, Brandy and Minx, usually with happy faces and Christmas trees, this student had drawn a darkly dramatic picture of Max fighting the wolf. The teacher had included a note along with the drawing. The student was a recent immigrant to Canada. He spoke little English and was from the Sudan. It was fascinating proof that people’s response to Art reflects their own personal experience.

Everyone loved that bow.
Everyone loved that bow.

The public run was a happy and successful one. Max was as enthusiastic as ever about our routine of morning walk, afternoon shows and an evening spent relaxing around the Christmas tree. We were sad as the run drew to an end. The final performance was a Sunday matinee, and the theatre was packed. The show was well received, and, as usual, Max came out to bow with his puppet after the final curtain. Then something happened that had never occurred in all our years of performing. A little boy at the back of the theatre started to run down the aisle, and before we knew it, the other children joined him. Suddenly, there was a run on the stage. It was as if Max were a rock star. Our poor dog looked panic stricken, seeing the mob charging towards him, and Hugh quickly whisked him backstage, leaving me to show the children the puppet and answer questions about the real Max. What an exciting finish that was.

Max and friends.
A well-loved puppet dog.

But, once I had finished with the children and joined Hugh and Max backstage, a sudden, frightening thought flashed through my mind: I hope this isn’t it. It was irrational, yet something about that grand finale bothered me. I am not a superstitious person, yet I had a sense that the farewell at that last performance was prophetic and I hoped fervently that I was wrong.

Reflections on a State Dinner – The times they are a changin!

Back in 1986, when my husband was involved on a variety of boards and community associations, we were invited to a State dinner for Vice President, George H. W. Bush, which was hosted by the Honorable Pat Carney, then Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, and the Honourable Don Mazankowski, who was Minister of Transport at the time. That sounds very grand, but of course, we were not invited because we were in any way important—simply because we were considered ‘safe’. Basically, when any VIPs come to town and are the featured guests at a banquet, the place has to be filled with appropriate attendees who can be guaranteed to behave themselves, and the local community and political associations are raided for bodies.

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The invitation.

Naturally, we were very chuffed to receive the invitation, for the event promised to be something to remember. The thick, cream-coloured card specified black tie, along with an addendum on the RSVP card that ballerina-length gowns were also acceptable for women. Since I was young and glamorous and loved dressing up, I was even more excited than my husband, who gloomily agreed that he would have to rent a tuxedo. As Hugh and I had been married in our home and I had worn an evening gown as my wedding dress, this dinner was the perfect opportunity to get my gown out again.

Hughie
Hugh had to rent a tux.

On the night of the event, we made our way downtown to the Hyatt Regency, and elegant in our finery, entered the foyer by the ballroom. I was stunned. In spite of the specific directions for the dress code, the majority of the men were in business suits and a significant number of women were underdressed as well. Many were not even in cocktail dresses, but simply wore suits or day dresses, and those of us who wore the specified gowns felt over-dressed, even though we were not. West Coast laid-back ethos with a vengeance!

Liz wedding
My evening-wedding gown got an outing.

Once we got over our amazement at the way people had ignored the dress code, we settled down to enjoy the hors d’oevres and the fascinating social scene. As Hugh quipped, seeing another keen-eyed, ear-plugged, sombre-suited gentleman glide by, “All the deaf men are security.” We soon found several people that we knew and remained in the lobby chatting until the final call, since within the ballroom, we were to be seated at assigned tables. Hugh, having fully appreciated the open bar, had to make a last-minute bathroom break, which meant leaving the foyer and passing security yet again on the way out of the men’s washroom. On his emergence, he looked across to the ladies where a female RCMP officer stood on duty and informed the policeman by the men’s that, if he had to be frisked, he wanted that one to do it. This caused great hilarity among the uniformed police, but not a smile was cracked by the plain-clothes team, all intent on making sure there were no threats to the guest of honour.

menu
The menu.

The rest of the evening was greatly enjoyable. Our table companions were interesting and the meal was definitely not the rubber chicken that one often gets at group events. When the President and his Lady appeared, we felt vindicated to see him in his tuxedo and Barbara Bush glittering from neck to toe in red sequins. The speeches were short and to the point, and when the guests of honour left, their route took them right by our table, where they paused to shake hands in the homey, friendly way that we tend to expect from our U.S. neighbours. The evening had been fun—a buzz, as my Australian cousins would say—an experience to remember. My wedding dress went back into the closet, where it has hung ever since, but the memories were taken out recently, because I realized that this was a great setting that I could use for one of my mystery stories. So when Bertram and Edwina Beary embark on “A Tale of Vice and Villainy” in an upcoming book, you’ll know where all the background detail came from. Not that we had any corpses dropping into the soup at the real event, but mystery writers are entitled to a little dramatic licence.

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The guests of honour.

Looking back on that evening from so many years later, I feel a little sad as I realize that there are several differences today that are a sad reflection on our society. We are now so bound by political correctness that almost any remark can be construed to be offensive. When my husband made his quip outside the men’s washroom, the officers on duty laughed and sent him on his way, but I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been today. Leaving aside the issues of ‘speech’ crime, the police have so many additional stresses to deal with that they seem to have lost their sense of humour. One can’t stop and chat with a policeman these days without being surveyed with suspicion. The old community feeling of easy interaction between honest citizens and the Force seems to have disappeared into the ether. Everyone was much less edgy in the pre-911 days.

CHAPTERS BOOK SIGNING
Not so cozy any more!

The other major difference that struck me was our own attitude towards the host of security men. We, along with our other friends who were present, thought it was vastly entertaining to see a raft of plain-clothes policemen on duty to protect the Vice-President. Today, our reaction would have been quite different, for the sight of all the security personnel would have simply reminded us of our own vulnerability in a world where terrorism has become a common term in daily news. Instead of being relaxed, we would have been surveying the crowd with the same suspicious eye as the men and women on duty. Hey ho! Writing my ‘cozy’ mystery simply reminded me that our corner of the world is not as cozy a place as it was thirty years ago.

Episode Eighty-one: Spice Girl

Edna had been very low since the loss of Brandy and Neisha. She desperately missed having a dog, and not long after Neisha passed on, she began to look for another pet. No sooner had she begun her search than she came across a dog that reminded her of Brandy. This was Spice, another exuberant Heinz 57 female whose resemblance to Brandy was remarkable, other than the fact that she was golden in colour. Suddenly, Max, the tired old dog, found himself walking with a young female pup.

Life in the old dog yet.
Life in the old dog yet.

It was amazing. Edna and I were delighted to see that there was life in the old dog yet. Max didn’t even seem tired any more. He loved his new companion from the moment they met. Smaller than Max to begin with, Spice was destined to be a big dog and she grew rapidly. She had an abundance of energy and she imparted this to Max. He might not run and play as boisterously as in his youth, but he always managed a frolic with his new pal.

No Goody-Two-Shoes!
No Goody-Two-Shoes!

After two or three months, Edna and I began to notice an interesting phenomenon. Spice, we discovered, was not the Goody-Two-Shoes that Brandy had been. Spice did not necessarily pay attention when Edna gave her orders, and she was quite stubborn at times. If Edna called Spice when she was running free, she always looked around to see what she might be missing before deciding whether to obey or not. She could also be a little feisty at times.

Edna and Spice
Edna and Spice

Suddenly, we realized what was happening. Spice was displaying some of the traits of her walking companion. Edna and I had to see the funny side of this. It was as if ‘Uncle Max’ was whispering tips in Spice’s ear: “You don’t have to come the instant you’re called. Always look to see if you’re missing something exciting. Don’t let other dogs push you around. Keep your mistress on your toes.”

His star pupil.
His star pupil.

And as for Max, he looked pleased as punch when Spice got into trouble. He was like a proud teacher beaming benevolently at his star pupil. Spice was not going to grow up a wimp; she was going to be a girl with spirit, a chip off the old Max block. Max was rejuvenated and there was no question why. Spice Girl was a real tonic! Living up to her name, she became his Spice of Life.

Episode Eighty: Loss of his very best friend

Brandy lived on for several months. Although she became thinner and was not as exuberant as in her youth, she still retained her wonderful spirit and seemed to enjoy her daily walks with Max. The two dogs were like an elderly couple, so used to each-other’s ways that they ambled along companionably, always second-guessing the other’s movements and moods. Neisha plodded along too, a little apart, probably remembering Max’s assault in their youth and recognizing that, although he had mellowed somewhat with the years, he still had the potential to be a grumpy-old-man.

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Best Friends

When Brandy finally passed on, it was hard to know how much her disappearance had registered on Max. He looked a little puzzled to see Edna without Brandy, but then fell into step with us as usual. We often thought that both dogs were conscious that time was running out, and that Max’s wolf instinct told him that his friend was ill and gradually failing. Whether he was more subdued due to advanced age, or whether he really felt the loss of his beloved friend, we could never tell. He quietly adjusted to walking with Neisha, and one day, when we saw the two of them pausing to share a sniff in a patch of ferns, we realized that, if not friends on the scale that he and Brandy had been, they had accepted each other as companions.

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Neisha

Sadly, Max was to lose Neisha as well before too long. Neisha was older of the two, and she died within a year of Brandy’s death. Max became the sole dog on my daily walks with Edna. He was still happy to set out for our walk, and was still feisty enough to growl if another four-footed alpha male appeared in his path. However, he was slowing down, and even though he was only eleven, I was anxious about him. He had developed a habit that unnerved me, especially in the wake of all the recent losses. Our little black cat, Georgina, the household pet from before Max’s time, had been buried many years before at the side of our garden, and suddenly, Max started sitting on her grave and staring at me with his wolf mask set as if he was trying to tell me something. I had a worrying premonition whenever he took up this position. How could he know what was there? It made no sense, but Max was definitely trying to communicate something. Was it merely the result of him losing so many of his friends, or had the illness two years back triggered something that was irreversible?

Book-promo dog.
Book-promo dog.

I was embarking on a new project around this time: the publication of my first book of mystery stories. Max, as usual, was a great companion, sitting at my feet as I proof-read my manuscript. Naturally, when a local reporter came to do a story on the book, Max was included in the publicity photograph. He deserved it after all those hours under the computer table. However, it was clear from the picture that he was not the robust dog of his early years. He wasn’t even glowering at the photographer! The dear old fellow was feeling his age.

Episode Seventy-nine: Later life – A reprieve for Max, but not for Brandy

In later years, Max gained another walking companion. Sadly, Edna’s mother had developed cancer, and as her illness progressed, Neisha became a regular visitor at Edna’s house. After Edna’s mother died, Neisha became Edna’s dog, so from then on, Max had two female companions on his morning walk. He and Neisha had never particularly liked each other, but with the mellowness of age, they learned to tolerate each other. Neisha was elderly and had always been less active than the other two, so she never interfered when Max and Brandy were playing. Instead, she looked bored and indifferent, preferring to waddle along, occasionally stopping to make a solitary and leisurely investigation of a particularly interesting smell.

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Edna’s mother with Neisha

Cancer, that dreaded illness that had claimed my father and Edna’s mother, also took its toll on the dogs we knew and loved. Several of the aging pets we had met on our walks had succumbed to the disease, including Max’s recently discovered sister Samantha. Both Max and Brandy were beginning to show their age, and were thinner and gaunter than in their youth, so Edna and I were always conscious of the fact that our time with our precious pets was limited.

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Max had also lost his sister, Sam.

Therefore, when Max suddenly became lethargic and started to run a fever, Hugh and I became extremely anxious. Dr. Foukal, who had taken over Dr. Zinger’s practice, did a variety of tests, and to our relief, there was no indication of cancer. However, Max was suffering from a liver infection and had to undergo a course of powerful antibiotics, along with another drug that was supposed to aid his recovery. To our distress, after an initial rally, Max took a turn for the worse. Suddenly, he began to stumble and have problems with balance. Over the next couple of days, this instability progressed until he completely lost control of his hindquarters. Max, his wolf instincts telling him that it was game-over, gave up on life. He refused to eat and lay on a blanket in our garden room, simply waiting to die. Hugh and I fed him water with an eye dropper, but our sad dog resisted all our attempts. He simply stared at us with a glowering look that said: “Leave me alone. Let me go.”

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Neisha

Needless to say, we had been making frequent calls to our vet during this process. Dr. Foukal was amazed at what was happening and had no idea what to do. However, he said he would make some calls and get back to us. We were preparing to resign ourselves to the worst when, like a miracle, he phoned back and told us to take Max off the second medication. While we had been in despair, nursing Max as best we could, Dr. Foukal’s research had uncovered the fact that paralysis was a possible side effect of the drug. The good news was that this was completely reversible once the drug was out of the animal’s system.

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Back on his feet.

We tossed the pills right away and continued to force-feed fluids into our reluctant dog. By the next morning, the death-look in Max’s eye was gone. He looked bewildered and tired, but when I put a harness and leash on him and urged him forward, he dragged himself to his feet, then reeled towards the French doors, staggering precariously, and made it out onto the lawn. Hugh and I had to guide him, and I had to counter his sagging weight by pulling on the harness in the opposite direction. With me in the centre of the lawn, acting like the pin in the middle of a roundabout, Max reeled around in a big circle, even managing to cock a wobbly leg along the way. And so we continued for the rest of the day, letting him rest in between, and by dinner time, when we put his bowl between his front paws, he condescended to eat a few mouthfuls.

Playing with Brandy again.
Playing with Brandy again.

By the next day, Max managed a solo flight. He no longer needed the leash and harness, but wobbled around the garden by himself. He ate his meals and saw to business. He was unsteady, but I have never seen such a happy dog. He had a new lease on life, and by the third day, he was completely back to normal. We were overjoyed. All the next year, it was as if we had a young dog again. He ran and played with Brandy. His energy was high. He relished his trips to the cottage. He had been reprieved, and the whole family was delighted.

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Brandy.

However, sorrow was around the corner for my dear friend, Edna, for Brandy was not so fortunate. She had also been losing weight and had not been as energetic as usual, and when Edna took her to the vet for a check-up, it was the worst possible verdict. Brandy had cancer and had only a few months to live.
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Episode Seventy-eight: Cottage Dog

In 2004, Max gained added novelty to his life when we started using our Pender Harbour cottage as a summer/weekend retreat. Our first tenants had been great, but work had taken them elsewhere, and there were problems with their replacements. These were serious enough that we had to issue an eviction notice, so rather than rent again, we decided to fix the place up so that all the family could enjoy it. Hugh had just retired from teaching, so cottage renovation became his first retirement project.

A rural cottage garden.
A rural cottage garden.

Max took to his new home-away-from-home like the proverbial duck to water. There was a fair-sized garden, and Hugh built a fence around the property, so Max had a big lawn to run on and a wild grassy slope to explore. He had cottage toys and town toys; he had treats and his own bowls in each location; best of all, he had a whole new set of walks to enjoy.

At the marine park.
At the marine park.

He loved the marine park, where he was able to run on the trails, but he also liked his extender-leash walks around the lagoon or up the road to the lake.  In town, Max had his morning walk, and the rest of the day was usually spent at home. However, at Pender Harbour, he would enjoy a long morning walk, and then have two or three more outings. I did most of my writing at the cottage, so had to get up and stretch my legs after a couple of hours at the computer. Max reaped the benefit as my break always included a stroll around the pub path and the lagoon.

ANOTHER VIEW OF RAPIDS
The Skookumchuck rapids.

There were several hiking trails that we could drive to from the cottage. Ruby Lake was bordered by a narrow, but accessible path, and the Lion’s Club park had a loop through the woods that was a great adventure walk for dogs. The longest hike was at the Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park. This walk provided Max with a good run—though he had to be leashed once we reached the rocks on the far side of the park. We kept him well back from the cliff while we watched the raging whirlpools below.

On the pub path.
On the pub path.

Max adapted well to the laid-back ambiance in Garden Bay. There was a disparate but congenial assortment of characters living in the area, and rich and poor alike seemed to like dogs. There were a lot of local dogs, but there was also an abundance of four-footed visitors during the summer months. The Royal Vancouver Yacht club had an outpost in the bay, so there was a frequent parade of boaters exercising their dogs around the lagoon. Unlike in town, where Max tended to be feisty, at the cottage he seemed to accept all these other canines as being part of the scenery.

Making friends with the locals.
Making friends with the locals.

Max soon became familiar with the locations that provided treats. He enjoyed ice-cream cones from Laverne’s fish and chip shop, which was next door to our cottage, or soft cones from John Henry’s Store if Laverne’s was closed. Shopping excursions by boat to the other side of the harbour usually included a hot-dog break at the stand by the IGA. Max also figured out quickly which of the locals kept treats in their pockets. Bribery worked every time if people wanted to make Max their friend.

Visiting the other side of the harbour.
Visiting the other side of the harbour.

On one occasion, when we had been in town for the winter months, Max really made us laugh on our arrival at the cottage. He had received his usual batch of new toys for Christmas, and forgetting that he already had a squeaky Kermit frog at Pender Harbour, we had bought him another one to be that year’s ‘cottage toy’.

Sometimes the kids came to stay.
Sometimes the kids came to stay.

When we arrived, I realized our mistake because the old green Kermit lay in the middle of the living-room rug, along with a variety of other cottage toys. However, I took the new toy out of the bag and gave it to Max anyway. He looked a little puzzled as I gave him the frog. Then, frowning as if concentrating took a huge effort, he took the toy over to the rug, dropped it to one side, then picked up the old Kermit toy and placed it side by side with the new one. Max was one smart dog, for all his naughty ways.

Those tempting toes.
Those tempting toes.

Usually, it was just me and Hugh present on these holidays, but sometimes the girls would drive up to join us too. When Caroline came with her children, we had to be vigilant. Max had never been overly tolerant of little people so the children were issued with strict instructions that they could talk to Max but were not to pat him. If I was busy and unable to properly supervise, Max would be banished to our bedroom. However, one morning when two-year-old Veronica was still asleep on the living-room sofa-bed with her little bare feet sticking out from under the quilt, Max showed a surprisingly benevolent side. He ambled out of the bedroom, sniffed the tiny feet and deposited a gentle lick on Veronica’s toes.

On his deck - old but content.
On his deck – old but content.

Max spent many happy holidays at the cottage. He was always excited when it was time to set off, and settled in, blissfully content, when we arrived. He particularly liked our cottage deck, where he could sit above the road and view all the action as trippers and boat dogs paraded around the lagoon. He sat king-like, viewing his subjects, happy in his superior position with the 180 degree view. Was it the advancement of age, or simply the laid-back Coast ethos that made him a much more mellow fellow? Who knows, but whatever the reason, Max loved being a cottage dog.

From play to mystery story —Shadow of Murder and “Mary Poppins, Where are you?”

My third play was another murder mystery. The idea came to me years ago when I was home with a dose of flu. I was too ill to concentrate on a book so I resorted to browsing through the want ads. Suddenly, I came across a notice for a children’s nanny. It read: “Mary Poppins, Where are You?” This was around the time of the Bernardo/Homolka murders and the thought popped into my head: What if the nanny had been one half of a homicidal couple and the ad had been placed by her partner in crime after she had been released from jail. Suddenly the cheerful wording of the notice took on a sinister tone.

Chris O'Connor and Isabel Mendenhall
Chris O’Connor and Isabel Mendenhall

A lot has been written and filmed about couples who have been convicted of multiple murders. The inevitable question that comes to mind is: Was the female half of the partnership a willing participant, or was she intimidated into aiding and abetting her partner? This became the subject of my play. The script deals with a serial killer named Peter Crampton who has escaped from jail in order to get even with the girlfriend who gave evidence against him. When the play begins, his girlfriend has been released from jail, but she has disappeared from view and no one knows where she is.

THE-BEACON-COVER
“Mary Poppins, Where are you” was published in The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories

I set the play in a hunting lodge in the mountains.  Although I was very attached to the title that had given me the idea for the plot, I realized that it would have to be changed as it would be misleading on a marquee. Therefore, the play-script became Shadow of Murder. However, I decided to re-use the plot for one of my mystery books, and in that format, I was able to keep the original title. As it turned out, “Mary Poppins, Where are you?” was already in print before the play was produced, so the short story provided a great resource for the actors’ character studies.

PAT MCDERMOTT AND MARY ADAMS
Pat McDermott and Mary Adams

Although the play has a very dark theme, its tone is that of a typical community-theatre murder mystery. There are elements of romance and humour that offset the serious subject matter. The suspense comes from the fact that the characters are isolated at the lodge and a dangerous killer is at large in the vicinity. Without these elements, the play would have been irretrievably gloomy. However, most of these features were unnecessary when I rewrote the script as a short story. Therefore, I dispensed with the humour and romance, and kept the tone serious and sinister.

Shadow Set
The Lodge

Transforming Shadow of Murder into story form was fun. I’d learned my lesson on my previous projects and I took a different approach right from the start. The biggest plus was being able to take the action outside the hunting lodge. Dialogues took place by the lake; characters mulled over problems while walking forested trails; squad cars raced along highways in high winds; motorists were stranded by landslides; policemen discovered bodies in the river. It was so much easier to narrate the events as they happened rather than write dialogue to let the audience know about the action that was occurring outside the stage set.

collcombo
The Vagabond Players cast

It was easy to create suspense with the short-story format, too. Instead of writing dialogue, I could describe the thoughts of the characters, far more evocative than the spoken word for communicating the fear that gripped them. The varied settings helped too. The dark forest, the raging storm, the turbulent river and the cold, sinister lake all generated a doom-laden atmosphere.

CHARLENE AND JOHN
Isabel Mendenhall and Dwayne Campbell

Other differences between the two formats? With a story, it is easier to insert red-herrings into the plot. The clues can hide amid pages of description or exposition. The stream-of-consciousness technique works well. Character’s thoughts can be written in a way that is entirely accurate, yet still leads the reader in the wrong direction.   Red herrings in a theatrical production are trickier. It is hard to fool a group of people collectively focussed on a live performance, so a play demands visual trickery and extraneous action to divert the audience from the clues in the dialogue.

MARY ADAMS, DWAYNE CAMPBELL, CHRIS O'CONNOR, DONNA THOMPSON AND RICK PARE
Whodunnit?

The final major difference between the two forms was in the endings. In spite of the darkness of the theme, I was able to end the stage play on an upbeat note that left the audience smiling. However, in translating that plot into a story, levity simply did not work. “Mary Poppins, Where are you?” had to be ‘played’ straight, and the story’s conclusion resounded with bitterness and a desire for retribution.  Same plot, totally different mood. The power of style and structure over content never ceases to delight me.

[box]Black and white photos by Doug Goodwyn. ‘Whodunnit’ by Craig Premack.[/box]

Episode Seventy-seven: Arvy Dog

In addition to being a local celebrity, Max gained some other bonuses in later life. Soon after we built the suite for my mother, we also sold Lisa, our old motorhome and acquired a newer one, suitably christened Arvy. Since Katie still lived at home and Mum’s caregivers were willing to put in more time, Hugh and I decided to try out Arvy with a trip to the Kootenays. Naturally, Max came along too.

On the road again!
On the road again!

Max thoroughly enjoyed the trip, sitting sedately between the two front seats when on the road, and snuggling up on his blanket when we tucked down at night. He seemed content to have walks on his extender leash at the various rest stops and RV sites, and didn’t appear at all bothered that he wasn’t getting to run off-leash. The sheer novelty of all those new smells and fellow travel-dogs was ample compensation for the loss of freedom.

Max liked the RV sites.
Max liked the RV sites.

Max found the RV sites generally entertaining. There was enough distance between us and the other campers that he didn’t feel threatened, yet there were always other dogs to glower at (if male) or flirt with (if female). Max also adapted happily to the campsite meals. He would eat his dinner outside, glaring suspiciously towards any other camp dogs in the vicinity or whiffling his nose in the air if other camp meals wafted enticing scents his way.

Sightseeing at Kaslo.
Sightseeing at Kaslo.

The Kootenays were glorious. The scenery was spectacular, with soaring mountains, vast stretches of water and quaint little towns. Max waited patiently and comfortably in Arvy when Hugh and I visited non-dog-friendly sites such as the paddle-wheeler at Kaslo. However, most of the time, Max could share in our fun.

Taking a dip.
Taking a dip.

Whenever we stopped at a lake, Max went swimming. However, since the scent of wildlife followed us at every stop, Max’s swims always had to be on the end of his long line or on his extender leash. Not that Max seemed to mind. We just had to make sure we didn’t throw the stick out too far. Knowing Max, he would have towed one of us into the water.

Boat dog again.
Boat dog again.

On one occasion, Hugh decided to rent a boat so we could explore one of the lakes, so naturally Max came along. He had adapted to boating early in his life, and was quite happy to leap into the rented boat and roar around the lake with us, checking the small islands and coves as we went. Everything was a grand adventure.

Treats along the way.
Treats along the way.

There were treats along the way too. Each day we made a coffee stop for us and an ice-cream stop for Max. Whatever we decided to do, Max eagerly took part. He rode on ferries, hiked on trails, ate heartily at our campsites, and generally had a wonderful time.

After the storm.
After the storm.

On the return trip, we stopped in Merritt, and this was one visit that Max didn’t enjoy. He liked the walk along the Coldwater River, but that night, there was a ferocious wind storm with gusts that buffeted Arvy back and forth. Max was very anxious at the rocking and bucking. He also picked up my anxiety, for the RV site was surrounded by trees and I was worried about the possibility of one of them coming down on our motorhome. Hugh, in typical fashion, pooh-poohed my fears and went to sleep, but in the morning, he admitted that I’d had cause for concern. When we went for the morning walk by the river, we were climbing over tree trunks all the way.

Arvy Dog.
Arvy Dog.

Still, other than that one night, the trip was a big success. Max also benefitted from the fact that there were no children along to divert us with kid-friendly activities. He was the centre of attention, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy this changed family dynamic. We suspected that he considered this the best holiday he’d ever had. From then on, there was no question that he was Arvy dog. Any time that camper door was opened, Max was in there waiting for a ride.

Episode Seventy-six – Celebrity Dog

Well before my father died, the girls had grown up sufficiently that they were far too ‘cool’ for puppets. Hugh became my co-puppeteer as well as craftsman and technician and the team was reduced to the three of us: Hugh, me and Max. Caroline, however, married at eighteen and rapidly produced three children, so it was not long before Max and the puppets had a new adoring audience in the form of our grandchildren. Naturally, Max’s new fans liked coming to the shows since they were allowed to come backstage and play with the puppets after the final curtain.

Regular press photos with his puppet.
Regular press photos with his puppet.

During these years, Max became quite the celebrity dog. The local cable company did several features on him with his puppets, and twice CBC came to the theatre to film clips for the news. The local papers covered the Christmas shows every year, sending photographers who often wanted to include Max in the pictures alongside the puppets and puppeteers.

Celebrity chef
Celebrity chef!

The Max puppet was such an attraction I was even asked to be part of a celebrity cooking feature in the local paper. Dutifully I churned out my seafood crepes and posed with them for the photographer, but I was in no doubt that the celebrity they were really interested in was the little wooden one on my shoulder!

Max was much more interested in playing with Brandy.
Max was much more interested in playing with Brandy.

However, on one notable occasion when CBC was coming to film an excerpt, we thought it would be fun to have Brandy along for the photo session. What a disaster that was! Max was so distracted by having his girlfriend present that he forgot all his tricks and was thoroughly misbehaved. The cameraman dutifully took some clips of the naughty pair, but he was obviously not impressed. We were not surprised when the final airing showed lots of puppets but no dogs. Max learned the lesson that other temperamental actors have discovered the hard way. If you have an attitude, you end up on the cutting-room floor.

Max and Rudolph puppets were great for the Christmas parade.
Max and Rudolph puppets were great for the Christmas parade.

We realized that Max, the Ho Hum Husky had become a local celebrity when we began taking the puppet into the Hyack parades. Vagabond Players often had a troupe walking in the parade or riding on a float, so Hugh and I would walk on either side of the group, each one of us holding a puppet. In the spring, I would work the Max puppet and Hugh would take Brandy. For the Christmas parade, it would be Max and Rudolph. Whatever the season, every so often we’d hear a voice from the crowd cry out, “There’s Max! Hi Max!”

Dwayne Campbell, Max's perfect voice.
Dwayne Campbell, Max’s perfect voice.

This familiarity with the puppet began to show up at the theatre performances too. Every so often, the Max puppet would be applauded on his entrance like some big star on Broadway. What made that puppet so popular? It was certainly the efforts of three people that brought the character to life: Hugh, with his wonderful craftsmanship that created such an appealing marionette; myself, of course, with my scripts that put words in the puppet’s mouth; and Dwayne Campbell, our actor friend, who interpreted those scripts so perfectly in giving Max his voice.

Practicing his bow onstage.
Practicing his bow onstage.

However, the fact that Max was based on a real dog provided the extra magic. Children loved to hear stories about the real Max after the shows, and when Max, the flesh-and-blood husky, performed his tricks or took his bow, the oohs and aahs were enough to give any dog a swelled head. No wonder Max considered himself a star. Even today, children at the puppet shows are delighted to hear that Max was a real dog …. and yes, he really did eat a Christmas tree light bulb!

SEXTET
Boris never made it on stage!

Max’s personality made its way into my other arts activities too. My play, Renovations, included several references to a feisty dog named Boris who was always locked up in some other room so that he didn’t chew up the workmen. In my mystery books, Max appears as MacPuff, Bertram Beary ‘s well-loved, misbehaved mutt.

Hum Ho, the princess's bodyguard.
Hum Ho, the princess’s bodyguard.

However, it was the Vagabond Players puppet shows that gave Max his fame in our local community. Because he was so popular, I found a way to incorporate his character into all the shows, even if they were traditional stories. In Aladdin, Max appeared as Hum Ho, the princess’s bodyguard; in King John’s Christmas, he was Sir Max, the Ho Hum, saving Santa from a dastardly plot thought up by Bad King John and his pet dragon.

Sir Max, the Ho Hum to the rescue!
Sir Max, the Ho Hum to the rescue!

Max used to love going to the Bernie Legge Theatre. The minute we arrived to set up, he would run to the apron of the stage and take a bow. Of course, he knew that he would get a cookie, whether the audience was there or not. Then he would settle down on his blanket in the stage-manager’s corner and sleep there contentedly while we performed the shows. However, he always woke up in time for his bow. We were convinced that our clever dog could recognize a final chorus, no matter what show was being performed.

Around the Christmas Tree.
Around the Christmas Tree.

Those years were good ones. We worked very hard, some Christmas seasons performing as many as eighteen shows at the Bernie Legge Theatre, followed by another dozen or so at the Burnaby Village Museum. However, our house was always decorated early and we would go home after performances and sit by the tree, enjoying Spanish coffees and Christmas treats, listening to carols and lapping up the festive atmosphere. Max would be at our feet, tired from the excitement of his outing at the theatre, but blissfully content. If friends had attended the shows, they would come back for drinks and snacks, and that was how we did our Christmas socializing for we were far too tired and busy to get out to parties. It was a routine I look back on with pleasure: Good company, the memory of children’s smiling faces, the joy of Christmas festivity, the knowledge of a job well done.

A Dog with a Job!
A Dog with a Job!

These days, whenever I watch the Knowledge Network’s ‘Dogs with Jobs’ program, I always remember how happy Max was when we came home from a show. Much as he was loved and cared for, Max needed challenges and discipline too. Being a dog with a job had been in large measure the reason our difficult adopted pet had found contentment. Those post-show Christmas interludes demonstrated just how well the lesson had been learned.