Dog-sitting Duke: Confessions of a Turncoat

I grew up with a pretty cool cat named Bing. He was a grey, striped little scrapper who menaced the neighborhood biodiversity for most of his 15 years. Until one night in August 2006 when karma enlisted the services of coyotes, and Bing was never heard from again.

I am now pet-less, but have relished the opportunity to play “crazy uncle” to an assortment of friend’s pets. I’ve noticed cats don’t appreciate me the way dogs do.

Off hand, I can name three dogs that I’ve genuinely bonded with over the past four years (Zoey Pancake, Farley, and Wednesday) but the cats’ side of the ledger remains blank.

This forced me to reconsider my place on that great middle-class dichotomy: dog-people vs. cat-people. Then I met Duke, and now the debate is settled.

Duke (or El Dukerino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) is a three-year old shepherd/husky cross with the eyes of a mystic and the temperament of a skeptic. My friend Mary Ellen Read, who gave him a wonderful home in Echo Valley, took him out of the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter a year ago. But his upbringing as an orphan still weighs on him; he is skittish around strangers and forces people to earn his love before he gives it.

Duke and I have fostered a touching inter-species bromance. So when Mary Ellen announced her plans to visit Ontario and New York, I eagerly signed up for a two-week stint as dog sitter, or, err, Duke-sitter.

Among the great the pleasures of Duke-sitting is taking him for “off-leash” on the trail network by McIntyre Creek. In the early 1960s, counter-culture guru Timothy Leary speculated that if only he could get Khrushchev and Kennedy together for an LSD trip, world peace might be within reach. I believe taking Duke for a trot has the power to awaken similar reconciliatory instincts.

The experience of calling Duke from 100 metres away and watching as he gallops towards me — ears pinned back, feet a tawny blur, tongue wagging — has few rivals when it comes affirming the general goodness of the Universe; perhaps there would be a little less street fighting if only Ken and Ryu could spend an afternoon frolicking with him.

So I’m officially handing in my cat-person credentials and joining team dog (team yappy-dog is a totally different team. I haven’t joined that roster and likely never will). Maybe this betrayal was inevitable, given that we live in a territory that idolizes dogs to such a degree that we slapped one on our flag.

But I think my conversion has less to do with the place of dogs in Yukon mythology than with the place of Duke in my life. As awesome as Bing was, he was never able to make me rejoice the way that Duke has, no matter how many decapitated squirrels he left on our porch.

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