He was a foundling on the streets of Edmonton – a golden cocker spaniel whose hair was so matted with burrs that much of it had to be shaved off.
It was my 6-year-old daughter and two of her friends who brought him home, after he had attached himself to them on the playground.
Of course, we did the responsible things: put posters around the neighbourhood, contacted local vet offices and the SPCA, bought ads in the Edmonton Journal in a vain attempt to locate his owner.
Since their house already had one dog, my daughter’s mother said thanks, but no thanks, so responsibility for the dislocated dust-mop fell to my lot.
My daughter named him George, in honour of her favourite stuffed animal, Curious George. The appellation was appropriate; he wasn’t the keenest knife in the intellectual drawer, but he certainly had curiosity.
As his hair grew back in, his legs took on a dense feathering that would make a draft horse proud, and his droopy ears became a riot of silky tassels.
George’s most distinguishing feature, though, was an unruly blonde top knot that made him look like Punkinhead, the “sad little bear” made famous by Eaton’s department store in the 1940s and ’50s.
Either that, or the quintessential California surfer dude, Troy Donahue. When people asked what breed he was, I replied enigmatically that he was a purebred California Golden Cocker spaniel. No one ever called my bluff.
I thought the jig might be up the summer a girlfriend and I took him with us on a trip to the Golden State to attend a wedding in the posh Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air. Not so. Indeed, Californians seemed especially proud to consider him one of their own.
The drive from Edmonton had been arduous, but pleasant. George spent most of the trip either lying placidly on the back seat, or thrusting his head out the side window to check out the action and catch the breeze.
The day we got to San Francisco was a scorcher, but we were determined to spend at least a bit of time sight-seeing after driving all that way. But what to do about George?
We finally found a shady street, where it also looked safe enough to leave the car windows at half-mast. As an extra precaution, we had brought one of those foil-covered cardboard screens that blocked the entire windshield from solar rays.
We left George snoozing contentedly on the floor in back, beside a massive bowl of water that should have lasted all day, while we went about the serious business of being tourists in a city we both loved.
It was only after we returned that a sickening thought occurred: did we really leave a half-dozen plump rum balls in a warm car?
Where there should have been six rum balls, there was just a chocolate-smeared box and a shaggy dog with a contented smile. George’s curiosity had clearly got the best of him again.
Now, we all know chocolate and dogs don’t mix. Fortunately, George survived, with nothing more than a bout of diarrhea to show for his adventure.
And the rest of the trip to L.A. was done with the windows rolled down all the way.