Trouble January 15, 2005-January 29, 2019

Trouble died yesterday very peacefully, after declining over the past few weeks. She was fourteen.

Trouble .jpgWhen she came to me, she was already a treasure: a Canadian Champion with an obedience title and a working certificate. She was also the no-nonsense mother of excellent puppies. In her seven years with me, she became a much-loved St. John Ambulance Therapy dog with seniors and sick kids, and of course, a teaching aid/e in my work as a teacher of writing.

Mostly she was a good friend. I’ll miss her.



February 8th


When someone Trouble loves reappears after a significant absence, there is an immediate love-in, usually just inside the front door. Trouble’s greeting is rapturous, beginning with a tail wagging that involves the full body, followed by a slow sideways slide to the floor, and a paw-waving rollover that clearly indicates that the favoured visitor is permitted to provide a belly rub.


The rapture is contagious, as, for instance, when Daughter comes home after farflung travels. Not everyone is so privileged or so loved.

One Friend, however, receives the same welcome — Daughter’s Friend, who from time to time looks after Trouble when her People go away. Daughter’s Friend is beloved of the whole household, in fact, to the extent that we have coined a new category of relationship in her honour. You’ve heard of daughters-in-law: Daughter’s Friend is also our Daughter-in-Paw.

And, since February 8th is her birthday, we offer her our congratulations and our best wishes for much happiness and our love. One of us is also offering a belly rub, but that has to be claimed in person.

Trouble in print

Though she is not permitted to attend her own party, Trouble’s contributions to a new book will be celebrated next week when Professorial Paws: Dogs in Scholars’ Lives and Work will have its Halifax launch.

The book’s title is an accurate description, but can’t indicate the range of the pieces included — from graphic narrative through memoir to poetry. Among them are several of the posts from this blog, including photos (alas, not in glorious colour).

Paws poster

Edited by Ardra Cole and Sharon Sbrocchi, the book is published in Halifax by Backalong Books, and all proceeds from the sale of the book and of its predecessor in Ardra Cole’s Animal-Human Bond Series will go to ElderDog Canada. ElderDog is a non-profit organization that supports older dogs and older dog-people and educated the community about the importance of the animal-human bond, especially in later life.

All welcome!

Where do ideas come from?

nose downTrouble, her nose on a scent, is literally down-to-earth when it comes to new ideas. She skims the ground or pushes her nose right into things, seeking and discovering – a peanut hidden by a jay in a drift of yellow leaves, a bit of dead crab inside a fractured shell, a biscuit in a closed hand. What she makes of these discoveries I cannot tell, though I’m pretty sure that she connects them. Like a researcher examining her findings, she formulates a hypothesis and tests it on every excursion, until her conclusions are clear. The neighbourhood is a good place to turn over leaves: if the jays haven’t left peanuts, the cats have often left something else. Beaches are dead-crab buffets. And the nursing home is a good place to snuffle fists.(Old hands hungry for touch often conceal a treat, and the soft thrusting of a nose provides it. Win-win.)

snuffling cropSo often has the hypothesis been tested and proven that Trouble’s discoveries are fast becoming canine laws, and she is disappointed if her neighbourhood experiments yield nothing but an empty coffee cup under the leaves. Generally they confirm an even larger theory – that the world is full of good things.

Human’s ideas come from her own version of sniffing around, and then the application of questions that were instinctive in childhood but became systematic later.

When and where?
And always, insistently, like any two-year-old, why?

The questions launch speculation. What place has this phenomenon in a larger pattern? That’s the intellectual work of the academy, in its simplest terms. What every undergraduate essay is doing. Asking – and answering – so what?

Once in a while, however, an observation, a fact, a detail resists a pattern.

shoe cropThe same questions come into play: Who lost this shoe? And who placed it here to be found? Whatever was the wearer doing to lose one shoe, and not search until it was found again?

An empty shoe on a bleached stump on a sunny autumn day. Innocent, surely. Or is there another shoe somewhere in the undergrowth? And something more sinister?

Speculation begins: is this a murder mystery unsolved? A love story gone wrong? A scavenger hunt abandoned?
Where do ideas come from?

From something familiar uncovered or something odd in plain sight.

So what?

The same question yields both science and story.


inukshuk trouble squinting crop
Trouble knows what an inukshuk is. It’s a pile of rocks for other dogs to mark in their predictable fashion, and for Trouble to sniff.

Human knows a little more about them. Inuksuit  are rock monuments of varying complexity built by generations of Inuit in the Arctic. They may indicate a direction or a cache or a burial place, but in the lonely expanses of the Arctic, whether in snow or in the brief summer, they all say “Someone was here.”

You are not alone.

It was odd, then, one Monday morning in spring, to find Point Pleasant Park marked with a series of inuksuit, of varying sizes, along the shoreline ledge of rock and shale and shells. No individual effort could have constructed them all between this visit and our last. Had someone instituted an inukshuk installation? Thrown a beach party with a difference? Tried to rival Clam Harbour’s Annual Sandcastle and Sandsculpture Contest?

Perhaps it was just an attempt to make us smile.

These inuksuit were not saying “You are not alone.” First of all, we are never alone in the Park, for it is one of the most popular places in the city. They weren’t saying, “You aren’t lost,” because the shoreline path is impossible to lose. They weren’t saying, “This way to the container port,” for they were too small for any ship’s captain to see.

Perhaps, in juxtaposition with the cranes of the port, they were intended to highlight the contrast of industrial and natural. Or evoke, as I couldn’t help thinking, a flock of ungainly geese with trailing goslings yet to acquire their adult colouring.inukshuk and cranes crop

In other words, the message, if there was one, was lost on me. (Trouble found much to absorb her, but it was from the aforementioned other dogs, not the stones themselves.) Out of its ordinary context, the text which is an inukshuk just didn’t work. Multiple versions didn’t make the message any clearer, just as repeating your words, ever more loudly, to someone who doesn’t understand your language, doesn’t work.

In James Kinneavy’s*  terms, then, this is a piece of discourse that, if intended to be informative or persuasive, failed. That leaves two other possibilities: it could be expressive discourse.  “I was here,” it says, like any graffito on a fence or name on a bathroom stall. Or it could be artistic discourse, in which the text, the work, is the most important thing, crafted to stand on its own, to be interpreted and appreciated for what it is.

Anyway, it made me smile. And Trouble?  Look closely. Trouble decided to roll in something smelly.

inukshuk trouble rolling crop*James Kinneavy. “The Basic Aims of Discourse.” College Composition and Communication 20.4 (1969): 297-304.

Counterintuitive: PS to “Cone of Shame”

Trouble doesn’t overthink things, which is one of the reasons she’s such good company. So she is not puzzling over the whys and the hows, as Human is — she is just delighted to be free of the cone of shame and to have the regimen of medications reduced to just lubricating drops until her next check with the surgeon.


Photo Credit: Eileen Donahoe

The keratectomy has done its magic: within six days of the procedure the ulcer had shrunk to a pinpoint; on day twelve, it was pronounced fully healed. No stain uptake in any tissue. The vet, the assistant, the office manager, other clients in the waiting room — everyone had a huge smile, and there was a little wine with dinner that night.

Human continues to puzzle over how removing a microscopic layer of tissue can promote healing — it’s counterintuitive that a large raw surface should heal faster than a partially healed ulcer. But that’s what happens, in nine out of ten dogs, the surgeon says, and in the tenth, there’s usually some underlying unsuspected condition which has been interfering with the healing.

But of course, it does make sense. It’s a bit like throwing pots. When you work your clay on the wheel, you shape it to bring it closer and closer to your vision — but there are times when you have to let the whole thing collapse and start afresh. Fiddling with it, like debriding the ulcer, is just not working. Go back to the raw clay.

And throwing pots is like writing (isn’t everything?). Human believes in the power of revision, working with the draft until it becomes, through successive versions, closer and closer to what it should be. But there are also times when you have to put the whole mess aside, and start fresh. Go back to the raw clay. Whatever your chosen technique — blank paper, free writing, writing against the clock, turning off the monitor and writing blind — it somehow frees the clouded vision.

Warm thanks to Trouble’s vets in Halifax and to CullenWeb Animal Eye Specialists in Moncton.


The Cone of Shame

Trouble fiFed up cropnds the yellow-splashed plastic cone that frames her head very tiresome. Almost as tiresome is the inevitable greeting from passers-by – “oh,” they say, “the cone of shame.” Sympathy quickly follows (“What’s the matter with her?”) but the first reaction always refers to shame.

Trouble’s trouble is an indolent ulcer of the cornea. She scratched her eye, somehow, somewhere, at the end of April, and now (past the middle of June) it’s an indolent ulcer – one that can’t be bothered to heal itself. Certainly it resists treatment, including but not limited to pain meds systemic and topical, antibiotic drops, lubricating gel, and even her own blood serum, spun out of a blood sample and instilled drop by refrigerated drop into the eye. Right now, it’s four kinds of drops, four times a day, with five to ten minute intervals between them. Human has a wall chart to check them off, which she does faithfully though not without grumbling.

You grumble, thinks Trouble, squinting upward and sliding her third eyelid toward the ulcer; you aren’t getting the sting and blur sixteen times a day, with only the tiniest of liver treats to compensate.

Three local vets have consulted, prescribed and debrided without making much impact on the ulcer’s indolence. Earlier this week Trouble was examined by the veterinary ophthalmologist – a round trip of 525 kms – and will make that trip again next week for a keratectomy. Human is not so secretly hoping that the pre-op examination will reveal the ulcer finally starting to heal. Time will tell.

Beach bonnet

Not the park, but pretty good!

Meanwhile, Trouble is not permitted to run free in the park, for fear of brambles. She wears her collar almost all the time: it only takes a moment to scratch or rub the painful eye, and make things worse.

And Human wishes she had a collar to prevent her from worrying her own injury. The letter has finally come from Publisher N – “Thank you for submitting your proposal, but no, we will not publish your book.” Her pride and confidence are severely damaged, despite stern self-talk.

“All published writers suffer rejection from multiple publishers. This is only the second attempt and second rejection for this proposal. You’ve got a few more to go to match Stephen King.”

“The publishers said they thought long and hard about it. It was worth consideration. In fact, they said outright it was publishable. Who are you to dispute it?”

Even the positive talk galls the injury, notice: “Who are you to dispute it?” Humans, Trouble knows, are apt to make life more complicated than it needs to be, and Writing Humans are worse. A manuscript rejection? That’s no poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Human is still intact. Her capacity to throw sticks and dish up kibble is unimpaired, and so is her capacity to rewrite the cover letter and address an envelope to another publisher.

Easter bonnet

Her good side. Photo credit: Eileen Donahoe

If she’d only stop scratching the sore spot. Someone give that Human a cone of shame, and a deadline to get the next proposal off.