Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm. It felt as though we’d finally moved out of the shadow of winter, and into the first rays of spring. I asked Rui if he’d like to go down to Humber Bay and walk along the shores of Lake Ontario, rather than doing the same walk we always do through High Park. He was enthusiastic about the idea, so we drove down and strolled the banks taking pictures (Peter) and peeing enthusiastically (Rui) as we went. The new season was intoxicating, though the clouds of midges prevented one from drinking too deeply.
Rui was clearly enjoying himself. On our usual walk he usually trudges along behind me, trapped as he is between the fences on either side of the path that deliminate the off leash area. Here he would run ahead or disappear behind, investigating the new smells. As is his manner, he happily wolfed down the newly grown spring grass, then happily regurgitated it a few minutes later. Dogs seem to enjoy this, and owners seem puzzled. It is how it is. But all went well, at least until we reached the stepping stones.
The Humber Bay park borders on Lake Ontario, but has a few slow and muddy streams that seep through it. One of them has stepping stones that go across it, and Rui has previously used them to cross over, and then to return. This time he looked into the swampy water, and leapt in. I knew this was not good; the water is filthy, redolent with mud and decayed vegetation and he would not be a fit travelling companion till he was much cleaner. But I was missing the real problem.
The stones are at water level, and the pond is fairly deep, with a bottom that’s pure ooze. Rui soaked happily in the mud, then put his forelegs up onto the stepping stones. But now what? The stones offered no purchase by which he could pull his mud-weighted body up; the swamp had no bottom off which he could push himself. He realized he was trapped and was clearly very unhappy about this. He whimpered, and as he tried unsuccessfully to scramble up, his whimpers became more desperate. I could easily reach his collar, but pulling on it would only choke him. So I reached around underneath him, into the guck, and got my hand underneath his bum. Together we got him hoisted up. He was utterly filthy, but so happy to be out that he shook mud all over me.
Rui realizes he's in trouble...
We walked back to the lakeshore, where I found a stick. I showed it to him, then threw it about ten yards into the lake, close enough that he could swim out to it, far enough that he would have to wash himself in clean water to do it. That was how he had learned to swim when he was under a year old, and he has always leapt into water after sticks with dogged determination. But now he didn’t go. He just walked in to knee depth, then stared unhappily at the stick, and barked mournfully. The stick ignored him and continued to float where it was. I urged him to go get it, but he was not going any deeper into any water. Instead he continued to bark, occasionally whimpering. I led him down the shore, to where the six inch waves were only four inches, and threw out another stick, but he was not fooled. Again, mournful barks were all he would do to get the stick back. This stick also proved indifferent to this approach.
So I gave up, and put him into the hatchback, drove home and told him he was going to have to get a shower. Showers are never Rui’s favourite thing, but he was still covered in mud between knee and shoulder, and there was really no alternative. But when I pointed at the stairs to the basement, where the shower is, Rui started to shiver and tremble, and refused to go down the stairs. He’s never done that. He clearly knew that he was going to get a shower and clearly did not want any more water trauma. I pulled him and he reluctantly went down the stairs, then tried to hide in the basement bedroom. When I made him go into the bathroom and closed the door, he stood and shivered and trembled and looked so utterly woebegone that I stroked him and tried to reassure him that showers rarely proved fatal, and that he could do this. But nothing helped.
One of my mother’s finer admonitions was not to cut off the dog’s tail little by little so it wouldn’t hurt so much. If there’s something unpleasant that has to happen, just do it. So I lifted his front paws and put them in the tub, and he sadly jumped in the rest of the way. I showered him and rinsed him, and told him he could get out. He jumped out very quickly and gratefully went to shake himself over my shirt, which I had taken off so as to keep it dry. Then he raced out of the bathroom and ran upstairs.
I went to get him breakfast, but as his kibble box was empty, I went to refill it, from the barrel in the basement. As soon as Rui heard the sound of kibble being scooped out, he happily raced down into the basement and stood watching the kibble scooping process in much the same way the early Jews must have watched manna descending from heaven. It was clear that the basement itself wasn’t scary.
The next day we went for a long walk along the Humber river, north of the bay. There the water is fast flowing, and clean. Rui waded into it to drink, and seemed significantly more comfortable near water than he had been the day before. But he didn’t go swimming, and seemed quite happy to lie on the banks, with a stick, and stare curiously out at this peculiarly dangerous element. He may be an old dog, but he has clearly learned to be wary of water’s new tricks.