A Dog’s Life


Gret was a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer – chocolate brown all over.

Gretchen came to us the first summer we lived in Canada. She’d been a prize winning hunting and breeding dog for years – the pride of her owner – my mother’s cousin Art. When Art was looking to retire her he thought of us newly moved to the country and living in an isolated farmhouse – we naturally needed a dog for protection, and what better dog than a highly trained elegant hound.

It was the perfect win win situation for both Gretchen and us: she to retire to open fields and forest and marsh and we to get to have a dog – an unheard of dream given that my father didn’t care for pets much and we had already won the war and gotten the cat.

But my father could not refuse the gift of this beautiful dog from my mother’s successful millionaire cousin. And he could see the sense in having a dog that people would respect especially when living in the middle of nowhere. So Gretchen came to stay with us in the summer of 1973.

I loved her on sight and was delighted when I told her to “lay down” and she did (!) by my feet – and despite my bad grammar the dog understood me.

Betty and Gretchen c 1974

Betty and Gretchen c 1974. Here I am ruining her training – getting her to bark and probably fetch a stone that I’m about to throw… she loved it.

She was a very highly trained hunting dog and incredibly sensitive and neurotic. We quickly destroyed all her training. I encouraged her to bark – she’d never been allowed to bark as a working dog, and we let her chase rabbits and other small animals – though she would often stop in the woods and shake and point too.

She was scared of thunder and shook and cried and would climb with all her long limbs into your lap for comfort. And the poor doggy “leaked” as we called it – she was incontinent due to the endless breeding and litters that she’d gone through. My mother was the only one who really sympathized with the leaking – it was very messy and constant and naturally got worse as she aged. Our kitchen rug was quite soaked after years of clean ups. But she was still a lovely dog and we all loved her gentle nature.

Art & Herman color sketch

This is a sketch my father did for a full painting of my mother’s cousin Art with his hunting dog Herman – one of Gretchen’s prize puppies all grown up. The landscape is our backyard.

And even though we knew she was a push over (especially for men with guns) no one else did, which was good – all the locals thought she was a fierce guard dog and often thought she was a Doberman Pinscher – which she certainly was not.

I often took her by myself for long walks into the woods or down the road and across the fields – we’d follow trapping lines or game trails and discover streams and secret clearings. One time I was about 2 miles down the road in the woods when a car full of drunken hunters came careening down the road. When they saw me they stopped the car and started to get out all the while calling to me – Gretchen was no where in sight – off sniffing somewhere – I called to her repeatedly getting more and more nervous as the drunken men made their way towards me (it probably all happened in a matter of seconds rather than the long time it seemed) and then Gret burst out of the woods and ran to me. Though she had lost most of her specialized training she still heeled and I was never so grateful as that day when she came to me and stood next to me. The men saw her and ran back to their car and drove off – afraid that she would attack – thank goodness none of them were carrying rifles or she would have been all over them for pats.

She heeled with me all the way home and I gave her an extra hug and treat when we got back. What a good dog.

Gretchen, Adele and Betty getting the Xmas tree c 1973

Gretchen, Adele and Betty getting the Xmas tree c 1973. Since its almost Christmas and this isn’t much of a Christmas story I thought I’d include this photo of us getting our gigantic tree from the woods. Some Christmas trees came with bird nests and other wildlife remains. Some of the trees lasted weeks in the cold front room of our house.
Note the condition of the road – this is the main road to our house in December – all muddy, slippery, rutted and yucky.


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