Memories Of Willy

Memories of Willy (August 19, 1995 to July 29, 2005)

I am sad to report that Willy died on July 29, 2005 after a neurological disease caused four multifocal lesions in his brain and an encephalomyelitis which proved incurable. Willy died in the most peaceful of circumstances at home, in my arms as well as his Grandma’s and in the company of my dear friend Nathalie. His body was buried in Marionville where he lived happily with me for part of his life.

I like to think that Willy’s life was as good as a dog’s life ever gets. He was born on a farm in Martintown on August 19, 1995, and my lucky star made him land in our home eight weeks later. He grew up attending obedience school and day care, making friends in his neighborhood and enjoying daily the freedom to run around in forests, open fields, and along the beautiful Ottawa River. Willy learned obedience, agility and tracking, though most of our energy was spent learning to search for lost people in the wilderness. After several years I realized that Willy was not the most vigorous of working dogs, and so I let him retire to enjoy what he was best at: amusing clients at the veterinary hospital where I worked. His tricks included shaking paws, bowing, howling, pretending to sneeze, playing dead, and rolling over. He loved it when little children patted him and hugged him to their heart’s content.

The worst thing that ever happened to Willy was to walk in a burr tree and to be covered with burrs during a search mission - a misadventure that required me to shave his beautiful fur in the field, making him look like a giant puppy. He never suffered any pain aside from the post-operative discomfort of his neutering operation, and a bit of arthritis in his later life. Even his last illness ’ though visibly stressful to him - was probably painless, according to the neurologist.

Some of my best memories of Willy were when I commuted to the Rockland Veterinary Services, where I worked with him. He would sit in the passenger’s seat and stare seriously at the horizon. Time after time, he would place his left foot on my right hand, as my right hand rested on the shift stick. He would sometimes stay still with his paw over my hand for the duration of the trip. We belonged to each other.

One of the funniest moments I had with him was with my search and rescue team. One day I tried to teach Willy to detect people submerged under water. He sighed in resignation as a diver disappeared below the surface with a rubber chew toy. ‘Yet another Paparazzi’, he probably thought. Again, he put on his most solemn look as he sat in the boat and stared meditatively at the horizon. He thought he was Royalty, a prince enjoying a cruise. I didn’t pursue his water-search career.

His cutest habit was to greet me by sitting, tapping his front feet in the loveliest little dance, and howling to the sky out of excitement. That is exactly what he did when we met for the first time. He would also put his head into my tummy and push forward as hard as he could until I would topple over. And, when he slept, Wil would lay on his back showing the pinkest of tummies, with his front legs straight up in the air and his head upside down, eyes closed. With his black back and with his white neck and paws, he looked like an inspired orchestra conductor in a tuxedo holding a prolonged silence before a grand opening piece!

Willy could be best described as a sweet and even-tempered peace-keeper, a loving soul who would make friends easily. His best friend was his sister Pastelle, one of his litter mates. Throughout his life he enjoyed walking with her to her side, touching ribs. She loved to fetch frisbees in the water, while Willy preferred to stay ashore and only wet the tips of his toes. But it happened a few times that Pastelle lost sight of the frisbee she was to retrieve, while he had seen where it had landed. As he noticed that Pastelle was swimming in circles in despair, he would sigh and sacrifice himself, getting in the water to retrieve his sister’s beloved frisbee.

Willy and I developed the most special bond over the years. Often I would show him how special he was by granting him some exclusive favor. One of my best strategies was to blink at him, sometimes repeatedly. He would immediately know something good was going to happen to him ’ and only him. I would call Pastelle and my parents’ dog Layla and tell them to go ‘outside’ with an excited voice, and they would run out with enthusiasm. But Willy knew to stay behind - though at any other time he would have wanted to be the first out the door. My blinking eye meant that whatever order I had given did not apply to him. As soon as I had shut the door behind the girls, he would start jumping and bowing, pointing at the cupboard where I kept his leash or pointing at the refrigerator for whatever goody I was about to give him. I would whisper and tell him to be very quiet, and he would duly comply.

In his youth, Willy did cause me some major embarrassment. I remember walking on a beach one day, where a number of small boats had docked side by side. A party was taking place in the boats, with many people enjoying pizzas aboard. As I was walking Willy off leash, several people noticed him and started to make noises to attract him: ‘Oh look at the cute dog! Oh what cute lips he has!’ In no time, Willy had jumped aboard one of the boats and was joining the party, eating pizza ON the tables, jumping from one boat to the next as I was running apologetically to catch him.

‘You will have an authority problem with this dog if you are not assiduous with his training’ the vet had warned me as he was trying to examine my eight weeks old Willy - who was biting his fingers in playful opposition. The vet thought there may be some husky in Wil’s family tree ’ a hypothesis which was later proved to be false. I assured the doctor that I would take every step to socialize Willy. Aside from the boat incident, Wil was a canine angel ’ though admittedly, not the most diligent one. His favorite activities were to eat, snooze, and cuddle. Amazingly, he taught me so much about life doing just that.

Willy’s real name was ‘Wilco’, which is a short form for ‘Will Comply’ ’ perfect for the working dog that I had sought in him originally. But because he had other plans, Wil was later renamed ‘Willy’. His nicknames included Willow, Wilou, Wee-Loo-Bee, Little Bee, Willoughby, Sweetie Pie, Wil-Cowboy and Sweet Pea.

I count my blessings for having had a chance to come to Ottawa to be with Wil for his last stretch of life. I lived our separation with much difficulty and missing his end-of-life would have been a tragedy for me. But I go back to Australia with the soothing thought that I did everything possible to save him ’ and with the hope that my presence appeased his last anxious hours.

I thank Alan, my husband, as well as Dr. Joanne Parent, and my friend Nathalie, who were all essential players in my attempts to save Willy. Thank you also to my brother Chris and to my friend Kim whose help was also very precious in their respective ways. Thanks to all of my friends and family who shared their sympathy in the last two weeks of Wil’s life. And finally, special thanks to my family for taking wonderful care of Willy as I traveled the world.

May he rest in peace, in Heaven or at least in our hearts.

July 30, 2005