Billy literally walked into my life almost 4 years ago. A neighbour saw a man in the park kick a dog out of his van, saying he was a terrible dog and no one would want him. So she took him to her home. She phoned and asked me if I would like a dog and I said no. She said it was a poodle and I still said no. She asked if she could bring him up to see me and I said yes and that is when he walked into my apt and sat on an armchair and stepped right into my heart.
He had obviously been badly treated. He hated folded newspapers and was terrified of men in boots. It took a long time and three dog training programs to earn his trust but gradually he learnt that I would not hurt him and that I could be trusted to treat him fairly.
As I travel a lot I came to depend on one friend in particular who lived in the country and would love him as I did when I was away. I told him he was going to the spa. He enjoyed long walks by the Murray Canal and romps in the fields accompanied by her little dog. When I took them both for a walk I had one dog on each end of a long training leash. Sometimes one would go ahead, then stop to sniff out an animal track and the other one would go ahead. It was like some lovely dance.
Billy was always up for an adventure and would take off on his own if allowed. One day unbeknown to me he romped over to some bee hives. I saw him limping back, shaking one front paw, sitting down to lick it, then hobbling back to me. He shook the paw so much it looked as though it was just on a bit of string. I never knew a dogs' paw was so flexible. How we laughed at his antics.
Billy loved going in the car. When he saw me pick up the car keys he was right there. If I also picked up his leash he danced with joy. If I only picked up my purse the ears would go down, the tail would go between his legs and he would look mournfully at me.
However he was not above trying to get out of the door, particularly if I was struggling with keys, purse and other bags. If he succeeded he would prance and dance in circles as if saying "I outsmarted you that time." The only way I could ever get him back into the apt was to get into the elevator where he was sure to follow me. Often it was just too much trouble to go all the way down the hall to put him back into the apt. so he "won" and got to go in the car.
Once in the car he would look out and seemed to know if it was going to be a long trip or a short one. If he thought it was going to be a while he would just curl up in a ball on the front seat and go to sleep. If it was a really long trip he would wake up and put his front paws on the armrest. This was my clue to open the window half way and let him stick his head out for a bit. I know this is not a good thing to do but he looked so endearing with his head pointed out and his ears flying in the breeze. Sometimes he would lean over and rest his head on my shoulder. With a quick tickle behind the ears I would tell him to go back and sit. He always did.
He always seemed to know when we were close to Stadium Road and home. He would look out of the window and he would become really alert. Often when we came home we went first to the end of Stadium Road and had a walk along the Western Gap. Before the road was closed he could be off leash by the side of the yacht club and oh how he ran, leaping with joy over cracks and puddles, racing to the end then back to me, panting, tongue lolling out, sheer joy in his expression.
If our walk out did not permit an off-leash run and there was no-one about, I would take his leash off when we got to the 7th floor and he would run pell-mell up and down a couple of times, executing a great racing swimmers turn at each end. Then he would stand outside my door panting waiting for me to catch up.
Walkies was his favorite time of the day. Billy would rather go walkies than eat. He was a great sniffer and marker of trees. At the end of a walk I would tell him "Billy you are running on empty" but he always seemed to manage to squeeze out a couple of drops. He had his favorite people, one of the loaders on the ferry, some fellow Arcadians and his favorite doggie pals, mostly the smaller dogs. He hated Pugs. I have no idea why, it was totally irrational but if he passed a pug he would lunge and growl. It was very embarrassing for me as there are several pugs in the neighbourhood which I mostly tried to avoid walking near.
Early morning walks were the best, perhaps because I am a morning person. We would walk round the park, down to the yacht club, along the edge of the
harbour. Sometimes we would go down to Harbourfront where he loved to sit outside of Tim
Hortons. I could watch him through the window and he got lots of petting from passers by. He also got very good at sitting outside of the patios where I had lunch, he would people watch for ages but never keeping his eyes off me for very long.
He seemed to know when it was around 5.30, time for me to stop working and take him into the park. Sometimes he would run and play with the smaller dogs but often he was just happy sniffing his way around the perimeter of the park. Mostly he was kept on his long training leash, occasionally I would let him off to run, knowing that the running would soon change to stopping and sniffing every tree and bush. He was trained on the clicker and would sit and stay while I walked away, running to me at a click, going through my legs and into a neat quick sit by my side then down on command. It was a cute little trick.
Billy had a basket of toys and it was cute to see him go and select something, then put it back and get something else. I would throw the toy down the hallway and he would skittle and slide on the hardwood floor to get it and bring it back. Often he would tease me by not bringing it right back but putting it just out of my reach. Then we had a game of you fetch, I fetch. He also loved balls of all shapes and sizes..
Being smart dogs poodles need a bit of a challenge sometimes and his favorite challenge was his Kong ball. I would stuff it with a bit of cooked liver topped with a bone so that it was not too easy to get out. He would lick and chew to get at the liver. He got into the habit of holding the ball against the furniture with his paws so that he has more traction on it. He would work on the ball for ages and never give up until he got the liver out. The bones he was not so interested in He also taught himself the throw the ball onto the ground to make it bounce and occasionally was rewarded for doing this when a bit of liver fell out.
He was also very good at walking on his hind legs without support. He would walk around the kitchen counters, front paws at the ready in case he saw something that, with a bit of persuasion would fall his way. I was careful to not leave things on the edge of the counter but sometimes a paper wrapper would be within his reach and down it would come. He got very creative trying to reach things either with his paws or his mouth. It was amusing to watch him try for ages to gain access to a tasty bit of food. Occasionally he would take a fancy to something of mine and not be inclined to give it back. However if I ignored him he would usually abandon the item and if not a bit of liver would tempt him away from it.
I think that the thing I loved most about him was the absolute joy that he showed in his every day living. He walk was jaunty, he ran with sheer abandonment. Everything was an adventure to him. A walk to the corner store, a ride in the car, even sitting on the balcony looking down at the street activity, he did with obvious pleasure.
Billy always had lots of kisses to share and was very good at receiving hugs. He was not allowed to sleep on my bed but as soon as he heard me moving in the morning he would be up at the bedside, wagging his tail and if invited would come up for a cuddle. He also liked to curl up by my feet when I sat in my recliner and would even lay over them on cold evenings. If he saw me crying, over a sad book or movie even, he would come up and lick my tears away. There is no one to lick my many tears now.