As a child whose parents immigrated from Europe in the 1950s I wasn’t allowed to have a dog. I was a loner who related best to books and our neighbours’ dogs. I kept a dog scrap book and became quite an expert in breed identification. The highlight of my year was when our local arena hosted the All Breed Dog Show.

In the 1960s there were no dog spas or dog walkers and many families didn’t even tolerate dogs inside their homes. “Dogs belongs outside.”  One of my favourite neighbours’ dogs was a German Shepherd named King who was tied to a chain in the backyard and fed once a day. I would crawl under the fence to keep him company and he became devoted to me. One day I set him free and he accompagnied me to Grade School. I was in Grade 7. The school principal had to haul me out of choir practice to lead away the big dog who everybody was afraid of and who was blocking the school entrance and not allowing anyone in or out of the building while I was inside. I returned him to his yard and clipped him back onto his chain unbeknownst to his owners and to King’s great disappointment.

I was also the only kid who could be trusted to walk the oversized Great Dane named Herman who kept our suburban neighbours up with his incessant barking. He too was kept outside 24/7. I could never understand why people bothered keeping dogs if they couldn’t come inside. Even if a dog was supposed to stand sentry, often the reason people said they kept a dog, they weren’t trained to distinguish between an offending squirrel and a robber. Beside, what can you do if you’re tied up to a tree?

The minute I left home and had finished college I went to the local shelter and picked up my very own dog. I went in looking for a tall, lanky blonde girl dog and exited with a short legged white and black hairy boy, a Poodle/Terrier cross.


I named him Spencer after a painter I knew and he was fantastic. Toronto had less traffic in those days and Spencer never knew a leash. Fewer people had dogs, so he was a novelty and he went everywhere with me, usually trotting two metres ahead, his white feathered tail held high. Observed by an acquaintance who knew him, Spencer once boarded the Broadview street car by himself and got out at Fulton Avenue where I was sharing a house with friends. Spencer was quite the character.

He never left my side except for twice a year when he’d suddenly refuse to follow me home. He’d give me a certain look, cock his head, and disappear. I got used to it after few years, but it was unnerving. Sometimes I’d get phone calls. “Your dog has been sitting on my front porch for the last day and a half. He’s very polite and he won’t eat, but he’s not leaving.” Inevitably there’d be a little girl dog inside, in heat. (I totally agree with today’s spay/neutering program—there are so many dogs around now, many desparate for homes, but that was then and this is now). I have a feeling that a number of litters of puppies sprang from his loins and one I know of for sure. His daughter, Samantha, became a beloved fixure in the household of a good friend.

When I moved to Ottawa for a few years, I changed my profession from freelance writer to federal government policy writer. It was my first 9-5 occupation ever and the hours were quite an adjustment for myself as well as for Spencer. The singer Rita McNeil, whom I’d known in Toronto, had also moved to Ottawa for a short time before she moved back to Cape Breton and became famous. Her kids were still young and she was a stay-at-home mom. On my way to work in Hull I would drop Spencer off at her place in the mornings and pick him up at the end of my work day. But while he was in good hands with Rita, he found the adjustment hard after years of roaming free with me. One day I was a little late and he took off for home across town by himself and was hit by a car. It was a big loss; he was missed by many. To this day people I meet from those days still remember him.

Spencer was a hard act to follow, but a dog lover is a dog lover and during the ensuing years I’ve have had an Airedale, a rescued Shepherd mix, a miniature Poodle rescue, and a big boned Irish Setter.  

Currently the winner in our household is a Jack Russell/Poodle mix, a real heart warmer.
Alexa DeWiel

Sutton Partners Realty Inc., Brokerage, Toronto  416-461-0907

Thank you to Mike: 
for helping me get this blog from conception to reality