Allan Rankin

Ron Hynes wrote some remarkable songs over his long and brilliant career. There are the classics of course, like Sonny’s Dream, Atlantic Blue, and the St. John’s Waltz. But there is one of Ron’s songs that just grabs me every time I hear it.

A Good Dog Is Lost is an ode to a dog gone missing, a lost and desperate dog “running breathless with a wild beating heart.” It’s a sad song, an allegory of sorts about how all of us can be lost at some juncture in our lives.

But if you love dogs as I do, then A Good Dog Is Lost more than anything else is a reverential song for those wonderful four-legged, domesticated descendants of wolves we call friends.

When he was 12 our oldest son Thomas, unknown to his parents, scoured the newspaper for days until he found a kennel near Grand River with a litter of beagle pups for sale. The arm twisting began, and soon we ventured west and brought home to Hunter River the runt of the litter. We named him Cobi after an American soccer player the boys watched on television. Cobi the beagle could run like his namesake but much preferred to chew books and scout the house for food. Beagles are hounds and all nose. At the kitchen table on Sunday mornings, the kids would yell out, “Cobi go long,” and then pitch a pancake across the room like a frisbee. Cobi never dropped a pass.

Beagles are great problem solvers, and this dog seemed always to be conspiring to steal food. He cleaned out the fridge on two occasions, opening the door with his paw during the night while everyone slept. I remember the astonished look on the appliance salesman’s face when I explained how I urgently needed a fridge with the freezer drawer on the bottom because my dog kept opening the door.

This beautiful and mischievous little dog became a cherished friend and companion, and when he left this world on a cold spring day in our backyard, as I cradled him in my arms, a black curtain fell over the family.

A good dog was lost to us.

About a year ago, another good dog entered the Rankin family picture.

My son Peter and his wife Tessa became parents to a red Australian shepherd pup. We got to know each other when I drove Tessa and Joe the shepherd dog home to the Island from Toronto last summer, pulling a U-Haul stuffed with their belongings behind us.

It was a lovely road trip, with Joe the shepherd curled up in Tessa’s lap the entire time, his head resting on the centre console of the SUV.

Joe is a much bigger dog than Cobi, and his herding instincts set him apart from other members of the canine genus. That trait manifested itself one evening at the Barnone Brewery in Rose Valley. A herd of cattle was grazing quietly in a field below the brewery. When Tessa took Joe the shepherd over to the fence to investigate, as if obeying a silent command, the cattle came running towards us. Joe seemed very satisfied that his inherent authority had been properly recognized.

Joe the shepherd will try to herd anything at all. People. Other animals. Children. He always sits by the door to ensure the herd stays put and doesn’t leave.

Last weekend my two granddaughters came to visit from Dartmouth with their father. These energetic girls love Joe the shepherd, and perhaps because they share the same hair colour there is a special bond between them. The girls chased Joe. Then Joe chased the girls. Then the girls chased Joe. The poor shepherd ended up hiding under the branches of a big spruce tree for a much-needed break.

As he leaned into my son for protection from the little girls and their enthusiasm, I sympathetically asked, “what’s wrong Joe?” Four-year-old Emmy looked at the dog and replied, “I guess he just ran out of ideas.”

Emmy and her sister Isla are back home with their own sweet Yorkshire terrier Oscar, another important dog member of our family, who once could run like the wind and dip under rail fences, but who is now older and going blind.

Not long ago a young woman in Wolfville, Nova Scotia asked me, “What did we ever do to deserve dogs in our life?”

It’s a fair enough question.

Dogs show us what unconditional love and loyalty truly are.

In Ron’s song, he ponders the almost mystical connection that has existed between humans and dogs for millennia, and the great affection we have for them.

“I can hardly believe a picture of a puppy drawn with a crayon would get to a guy like me,” he says.

In praise of Cobi, and Oscar, and Joe, and all the other good dogs lost and found.

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