The dog I grew up with was not at all like the large hairy mutt I live with today and he lived a much different life too. Duke, or Duke Ellington III, as was his show name, was a white, miniature purebred poodle, that my family adopted when I was about seven.
My parents found him through friends. He belonged to a single woman who loved him fiercely and showed him in dog shows, but could no longer keep him. She lived in Vancouver and would leave a window of her ground floor apartment open so he could go in and out as he pleased while she was away at work during the day. I remember that she cried when we took him home.
We were not interested in Duke as a show dog, but benefitted from his excellent manners. He had a deep bark that made him sound more like a German shepherd than a small poodle and I think he believed he was bigger than he actually was. It being the 70s and early 80s we simply opened the front door and let him outside to walk himself through the neighbourhoods. We moved around a lot and I have vivid snapshot memories of Duke in some of the places we lived. He always came back after we let him out, except one time.
When we first moved to Calgary, he went out and didn't come back. I don't know how long he was gone, but at least a week. We thought that was it. We'd never see him again. One morning my mom heard a scratch at the front door (his open-the-door cue) and there was a small black dog on the doorstep. Upon closer inspection she realized it was in fact a much filthier version of Duke, who was now a completely different colour, smelled badly and was thoroughly exhausted. Duke kept the mystery of that Calgary sojourn to himself. Though I suspect it involved unspayed female dogs and alley way garbage cans.
Also in Calgary, the first time Duke went to a groomer there, my mom received a call shortly after she dropped him off. The groomer needed to know if Duke had been given a sedative, she was annoyed that that information hadn't been disclosed. He hadn't of course, he just enjoyed his grooming sessions and would simply lie down on the table, close his eyes and let the people begin to serve him.
When we moved to New Brunswick, to save money, my dad drove our furniture and belongings across the country in a large moving truck. As you do. The rest of us flew there like normal people, but Dad and Duke took to the Trans Canada in a semi. The only problem for my father was when Duke would jump out of the cab at truck stops and pee on the tires of the large burly looking professional driver's trucks. They were probably just surprised to see an elegant white dog hop out of a truck, and not annoyed about the urine at all.
One time we were visiting family in Nova Scotia and left Duke for a few days with my aunt and uncle. We hadn't gone very far down the highway, when an announcement came on the local radio station that a small white poodle answering to the name Duke was lost somewhere near Yarmouth and if found to please call Norman. My uncle.
At this point in his life Duke was still not neutered. So he was roaming around impregnating the ladies. This came to end when we moved to Kamloops and my parents got an angry call from someone who lived several neighbourhoods away. She had a dog in heat and every time we opened the front door, Duke would race the 15 to 20 minutes it must have taken him to get there and then scratched the lacquer off her new front door. Being a responsible family, we did put an ID tag on our un-neutered dog so luckily she could contact us. That was the end of Duke's stud days.
Years after he died an old dog, I still carefully positioned my feet to not step on Duke when getting up from the couch and could feel the exact weight of him in my arms. So it is with these animals we love. Although Bixby, my dog now, leads a more tethered life, before we adopted him I know he spent his early randy months on the beaches around Tofino on Vancouver Island, half starved and running wild. Bixby still asserts his independent spirit, so I won't forget he lives with us, but he is very much his own dog. Just like Duke was.