Features & Stories
Rover The Christmas Dog


ROVER THE CHRISTMAS DOG

Story and photos by Trudy Frisk

Trudy and Ralph Frisk with Rover
He was probably the best loved Christmas present we children ever had.  One year, when all the presents had been opened, our parents announced that there was one more and brought in a cardboard box. Inside it a small, brown, floppy-eared puppy looked up at us eagerly. Our first dog! We couldn't believe it.  We had him out of that box immediately.

After much patting and playing the puppy, tired from all the enthusiasm, fell asleep with his head on my brother's knee.  Roger turned to me and whispered "I'm not going to move until he wakes up!"  He didn't.  He sat very still, solemn and happy.

How old were we that Christmas?  Four, six and eight seems about right.  Young enough not to question where the puppy had been hidden.  (It's not easy, believe me, to hide a dog, however small, in a three room log cabin.)  Was he out in the chicken house? Down in the barn?  And, how, in a settlement without phones, had Father known when to take the horse and sleigh and pick him up from the train?  We never asked.  It was all just part of the Christmas magic.

I forget who named him Rover. It seemed like the right name for him, although he was never a wanderer.  His first and almost only trip was a long one, from friends Red and Mary McCullough in Albreda, on the way-freight to the CNR station in Valemount, then by sleigh to our house.  That traveling seemed to satisfy him.

Rover never wore a collar. He wasn't tied or restricted in any way.  We didn't even formally try to train him. Rover wasn't a 'pet', though he was certainly patted; nor a 'companion animal' though he was always an eager participant in our adventures.  He was a member of the family with chores and responsibilities.

One of the daily chores was filling the wood-box.  As we kids carried armloads of wood from the wood-shed to the wood-box on the porch, Rover was right with us, carrying a stick every time.  Trouble was, once we got to the porch, Rover decided that particular piece of wood was his.  He saw no reason to put it in the wood-box.  Persuasion accompanied by gentle tugging on the stick eventually convinced him.  Back we went to the wood-shed and the drama was played out again till the wood-box was full.  Maybe it was his way of getting us to recognize his contributions.

Rover on Patrol
Rover saw himself as the guardian of home and family against any threats, either animal or human. Although he had  l/4 of a section to roam in, he set certain well-defined boundaries which he patrolled, never far from the house in case he was needed.  He was always within our Mother's call, unless he joined us on our exploring expeditions which took us across river channels into deep woods where we constructed houses and rafts of any handy material, coming home in just before supper, weary and content.  Rover joined in these ventures gleefully, but sometimes he'd worry he'd been gone too long, and quietly head back to the house.  It was different if we were working in the garden.  Whether it was the long field just below the house or the big garden across the river, Rover realized he was at work, just as we were.  He never left us then.

We had no near neighbours so Rover didn't know any other dogs.  We had different animals with which he was on good terms.  He and Toots, the horse, got along well. He was interested in the cow and her calves. Chickens, unless a rooster was out and making trouble, he resolutely ignored. He and Peter, the haughty Persian cat, were reserved but respectful friends.  Rover himself was of no discernible lineage.  Large, brown, quiet, trusty dog, we'd have said if asked.  It didn't occur to us to wonder about breed.  He was our ally, our helper, our buddy on adventures and our loved friend.

There's no doubt in my mind that animals can tell time if they want to.  Every school day Rover ambled to the end of the trail from our house to the road to wait for us to walk home from school.  No one ever told him to do it.  He certainly didn't ask "Is it time now?"  But, every day, at just the right time, he was there waiting faithfully. Whatever might have happened in school or on the mile plus walk home, the sight of him watching for us cheered us.  He shared all our triumphs and we could tell him any trouble, certain that he understood.  He seemed to.  He'd sit, leaning against our knees, listening in silent sympathy.   

Rover never went further towards town than the end of the trail.  That was his boundary.  He knew we went away somewhere each morning, but he was confident we'd be back.

He did travel with us a few summers, to our small cabin at the foot of the mountains past Albreda where we went to make poles.  His duties were much the same, with one added task, bringing home the mail. There was no rural delivery, there still isn't in that area. There wasn't even a real road.  Mail went by train. The Valemount post-master would bundle up all our mail and hand it to the way-freight crew, who tossed it out when the train went past our nearest railroad crossing. 

Fetching the mail was a job for the kids and the dog. We listened for the toot from the engine before running the quarter of a mile uphill to the tracks.  Rover carefully picked up the mail in his mouth and carried it home.  Fortunately the Free Press Prairie Farmer or some equally bulky paper was usually wrapped around the outside.

Fishing was a big part of living at Albreda.  Rover wasn't a hunting dog; when we went  hunting, he stayed home. He was an enthusiastic fishing dog, though. He sat attentively on the bank, alert for movement in the water.  In the shallow northern rivers fish were easy to spot.  Rover gave encouragement as we hooked them and pulled them out.

As we grew up and went away to school Rover went less often to the end of the trail to wait for us to walk or bicycle home. The kids left at home, rode in cars, now, anyway.    I think he missed his daily welcome.  We did.  There were no more afternoons exploring and we missed that, too.  He was still our friend, when we came home on holidays, though.  We introduced him to new people we brought with us, people who might become part of the family.  They didn't know we were rating them on how they treated this dignified dog.  He seemed able to pick out the good ones.

As Rover got older, our parents decided they needed a younger dog to help him.  Rover was heart broken. After his faithful years of guarding and caring, to be replaced; that's how he saw it; by an up-start, multi-coloured puppy with perky ears?  It wasn't to be tolerated.   Scamp tried to make friends but Rover would have none of it, growling at him and refusing to share the dog house. He was hurt, and he felt he had reason to be.

There must have been some bond between them, though.  When Rover was in his last days, the coyotes, sensing that he was dying, came round to attack.  Scamp feared coyotes. Nevertheless, he bravely stood his ground, fiercely defending the old dog, till someone came out of the house to help. When Mother wrote us about it, we were proud of both dogs.

Dogs, faithful and much loved, have been important in our lives and the lives of our children.  We think it all began one Christmas day, in a log cabin with a small, brown, eager, puppy named Rover. 


Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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