It’s a dog’s life in B.C. backcountry

Columnist Lawrence Woodall shares traits of the best — and worst — trail companions

It’s been a few seasons now since I’ve had a dog on the trails with me. Every once in awhile, while naval gazing into a glass of merlot, I’ll think of those comedic, disciplined, heroic, and quirky attributes of man’s best friend. They were dogs that spent a good portion of their lives in the backcountry, well trained dogs that didn’t chase and stress wildlife and, in the case of bears, didn’t bring a angry bruin back to your location — aka doggy bear burger. Not too sure if man’s best friend would apply in that case.

There was one exception to the disciplined pups, a 24-pound sack of energy named Ranger. A beagle with small-man syndrome, he was always attempting to pick a fight with the biggest bear in the neighbourhood. There was nothing more outrageous than watching a 400-lb terrified bruin scamper up a tree with a white and reddish blur in hot pursuit.

No training stopped his habit of chasing bears; we always hoped one day that one of the big guys would put a bit of fear into Ranger to stop his errant ways, but it never happened. Along with his aggressive behaviour was his habit of rolling in bear scat and only bear scat.

On one occasion Gary and I were performing our autumn cleanup of canoe sites. Upon reaching Otter Lake, Ranger joined us on the portage trail covered head to tail in red berry poo.

A dose of tough love was in order, so he swam alongside the canoe to the next portage. Well, you’d think a lesson had been learned, but the next portage saw another red berried beagle join us. Ranger was definitely unique, he even had a strange relationship with a number of local foxes who he use to share his food with.

There was Silver Dog, a heinz 57, who had the seasoned Purdy Dog as a mentor for one season, It was a fairly smooth transition, as Silver had the same calm demeanor as Purdy, and his discipline was iron, never chasing bear, wolf, coyote, or any other species wandering the high country of BC, for several years.

Silver would emit low growls to warn both horse and rider of predators in the area. Of all the dogs, Silver was the only one I can remember who didn’t have some quirky habit of rolling in scat or urine. He was the composite professional, and in some ways he appeared aloof, much like a cold blooded cat.

His trail adventures were short lived, as early in December over a decade ago, when the local school bus dropped the kids off near the farm, a pack of coyotes wandered onto the scene. For the first time ever, Silver Dog charged wildlife as he tore into the pack to fight off the perceived threat to the school children. Silver was torn apart; a few of those coyotes paid with their lives.

Well, Taku, a full-blooded malamute, was adopted into the back-country. She had some pretty big paws of Silver Dog to fill, and she did a pretty good job of it. Unlike Silver, Taku was literally an oversized, 100-lb plus lap dog. You’d be relaxing by the camp fire, your body entirely relaxed, and — poof! Like magic, she would literally drop on you as she would silently emerge from the bush.

She had a quirky trait of rolling in elk urine, and being the loveable lap dog she’d want to share that scent with you. There’s nothing like wandering off to your tent with your clothing suffocating in the scent of elk urine in grizzly country.

And when you had Taku on trips, one of the prerequisites was having a strong heart. She had a nasty habit of placing her face by your tent door in the morning when she heard you getting up. I discovered that habit on the first trip, crawling out the vestibule flap in the wee hours to prep for the day, my face planting in a large furry head, sending my heart into cardiac arrest, bad dog, bad dog!

Before all the rest came Rembrandt, she was wilder than the wilderness, you couldn’t put a collar or leash on her, and she had the largest set of teeth I’ve ever seen in a dog. When she’d curl her lips back with her charcoal gray coat for trespassing salesman, she made them believe in werewolves and the devil.

She was great on the trails, but back at the country house you couldn’t contain her. She’d jump the six-foot fence and disappear for days on end. My favourite story was my neighbour Bob and Karen, a couple of farms over, had a family get-together and were planning on having the roast beast outside. I wondered where Rembrandt had picked up the slab of meat.

She disappeared in her seventh year on the trails. Most likely wolves picked her off, but I’d like to believe that the rancher I adopted her from said she was a wolf mix and had found a new pack. Though I never heard her bark, a trait of wolves. Outside of her wild side she had the stinkiest trait of constantly locating skunks, being sprayed several times annually. Thankfully it was never porcupines.

These are the back country dogs, each with their unique personality and quirky behaviours, but all were valuable trail companions, each with their own rancid tail.

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