Though she is wise in the ways of God and humankind, Trouble is not actually a Doctor of Divinity, but a Dobirstein Dog. The Dobirstein Award is given to Tollers who earn Canadian titles in the show ring, in obedience, and in field or hunt tests. Its purpose is to “recognize and encourage the versatility of the Toller and to discourage the split between the show dogs and the working dogs that is seen in other breeds.”
We Toller folks value versatility. Trouble doesn’t retrieve ducks any more, but she tirelessly locates and returns the various objects that Human throws. She’s retired from showing, too, but when people say, “Isn’t she small for a Toller?” Human can confidently say that she conforms to the breed standard. And Trouble’s behaviour is impeccable whenever she wears her St. John Ambulance kerchief and photo ID to visit the retirement home. You don’t need an obedience title to be a therapy dog, but you do need to watch your Human and trust her, even in Trying Circumstances. A patient with dementia can be a Trying Circumstance.
Trouble is a rhetorician, though that term is in bad odour these days – you might as well call someone a pitbull. Rhetoric, however, is not just a polite term for hot air or spindoctoring or outright BS. It is the art of using language effectively.
A rhetorician assesses a situation and choose the best strategies to address it, taking into account the reader or audience, the particular context, the purpose, and the appropriate conventions. A rhetorician makes choices.
All writers should have a repertoire of choices, but our schools seem to find that too challenging a goal. My students tell me they still learn writing as a matter of templates to follow, or a series of prescriptions and proscriptions regarding usage. A paragraph must start with a topic sentence; an essay always has an introduction, a conclusion, and three paragraphs of development. Don’t start a sentence with “because.” Eschew “I.” Avoid the passive voice. At the university, they tell me they learn that the thesis statement must be at the end of the first paragraph, and it must say “The [choose adjective][choose noun] of [topic of the paper] is [fill in the blank], particularly [supply three aspects].” Just like this: The significant quality of the Toller is its versatility, demonstrated by its achievement in conformation, in obedience, and in the field.
No wonder so many of our students in class or at the writing centre appear as timid as dogs who have been beaten for infractions they didn’t understand or couldn’t help.
In addition to more usual pursuits, Tollers’ versatility has been demonstrated in tracking, avalanche rescue and drug-sniffing. Each situation needs to be assessed and calls out the Toller’s gifts in a slightly different way. At doggy day care, Trouble’s job is to discipline the puppies, which she does with growls and snaps, behaviour she knows would not be appropriate at the retirement home.
There’s no one way to write well, either.