A Royal Dog Tale
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. It is a mouthful, and the longest name given to a breed of dog by the American Kennel Club. Yet, they are the smallest retriever known. I’d never heard of them, until I found out through a series of unexplainable events that I was living with one.
Suzie Q was her name, and her eyes were sad and confused. That’s what I remember about the first time I saw her picture. She was listed on the website for the Golden Retriever rescue group known as GRRAND. The moment I saw her I was drawn to her, and I can’t explain why.
I’d been approved to be a foster mom from GRRAND, and I called them to ask if I could foster Suzie. I was told that someone else had spoken up first and she was headed to their home. So, I thought it was probably for the best, but I was a little sad. At nine o’clock that night I got a call that Suzie would not be going to that foster home. She rejected them, for some reason, and she was available for me to pick her up the next day.
I bought an array of toys for her, not sure what she liked. But she didn’t like any of them, especially squeaky toys. If I squeezed a squeaky toy at Suzie, she went running from the room. She was also afraid of taking walks, tennis balls, the toaster, towels, ceiling fans, metal bowls, T.V.’s, my ringtone, and being alone in the yard. You get it. She had a lot of fears. The first twenty-four hours were worrisome for me, and Suzie became my shadow. Again, those sad confused eyes were hard to read. Yet, for her, the transition was seamless. Her fear of strangers melted away from the moment we met. She let me hug her and rub her perky ears. Her long beautiful tail wagged continuously. She fit right in with my life.
The first time I got a call from someone at GRRAND telling me that there was a young couple wanting to adopt her, my heart sank. I didn’t expect that feeling and I tried to brush it off, thinking she would be better off in another home. But the couple changed their mind about Suzie and adopted another dog. There would be others.
Every time someone came to my house to visit Suzie for possible adoption, she would turn her back on them and stare up at me. Those sad and confused eyes were locked and loaded on me the whole time, piercing my soul. Every candidate was left shaking their heads, convinced she was not the right dog for them. I was convinced Suzie purposely sabotaged every meeting.
“She just makes a bad first impression,” I tried to explain, not understanding myself why her fear of strangers came back, or why her tail never wagged at her prospective new parents. Those folks couldn’t get away from my house fast enough, ready to move on to another dog who didn’t have sad and confused eyes.
“Suzie always looks that way,” I said, “even in pictures. I take a bad picture too!” Both statements are true.
I told one couple who visited Suzie, “I think your family would be great for her.” They certainly fit my definition of the perfect home for Suzie. But that is not what this dog wanted. She was little Cindy Lou Who, and I was the Grinch.
The last couple who expressed interest were wonderful people, and they were ready to adopt. I couldn’t find any reason for them not to take her. But when they left my home that afternoon, I watched Suzie run from one end of the house to the other in jubilation that the meeting was finally over.
Was it a lightning bolt that struck me? I never saw one. Did my heart grow three sizes that day? I really hope not. Heart disease is nothing to joke about. I suppose Suzie ran around the house celebrating the fact that I had finally come to my senses. It usually takes us humans a little – a lot – longer to figure things out, and Suzie knew before I did that she wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t let her go that day, or any other day. I gave up, and gave in. Suzie Q was officially home.
Her name became Elizabeth for a few reasons. I have a favorite movie from the late 80’s (aging myself here) starring Diane Keaton about a woman who inherits a baby from distant relatives in England. That child’s name is Elizabeth. In the beginning, Diane Keaton’s character fights the desire to adopt Elizabeth and can’t quite understand their connection. I related to that make-believe scenario because I did the same thing with Suzie.
“I am not keeping her,” I told my friends, acquittances, total strangers, the mailman, and anyone within earshot. My fear of the responsibility that comes along with caring for her was ridiculous, and it was the lamest excuse for me not to adopt.
Another reason for the name, I wanted Suzie Q to shed her previous life and start anew. There were several other names I tried out on her, mostly ones that start with an M because that’s been my trademark with pets. But no M name stuck. She never turned her head at any of them. Then one day, I called her Elizabeth. She cocked her furry little face and the tips of her ears perked up. Elizabeth had chosen her name.
Now, for all those fans of The Crown you will understand why I call her Elizabeth Margaret. Most days she acts like Elizabeth, calm and regal. Other days, she is Margaret, spoiled and sassy, bossing around her staff – me. The sad and confused eyes make a quick comeback when she realizes she only has a staff of one – me. I can feel the disappointment when she looks around at her humble kingdom. “Where is my palace?”, she must be asking herself.
“A thousand pardons your majesty . . . but this is it.” I can be sassy too.
Not amused, Elizabeth curls up on her throne and resumes her napping schedule while cuddling with her pink blankie. It’s tough being royal.
Admittedly, without anybody looking, I have tried the royal curtsy in front of her. The odd look she gives me indicates that this commoner is not doing it right. Hats off to Meghan Markle for conquering that feat.
Life with Elizabeth has been easy. She has overcome many of her phobias, and we are now able to walk Frankfort Avenue in front of our favorite stores. Mine is Carmichael’s Bookstore. Hers is Blue Dog Bakery. A royal dog always knows how to sniff out the best eateries. It became obvious early on that she is the smart one in this relationship, highly intelligent with a calm demeanor. She’s surprisingly affectionate, and I find myself hugging her all the time (breaking royal protocol). I can feel my blood pressure drop as soon as I touch her lush red coat. She does funny things that make me laugh, too. Rolling on her back with her front paws tucked down and back legs stretched out makes her happy. And when I get home, she lets out a high-pitched squeal that continues into a song and eventually an entire concert. I’ve been around a lot of dogs in my life, but most of her interesting, funny, and quirky traits are foreign to me. Turns out, they’re not to her.
One day, I came across a picture that made me take a second look. It was Elizabeth, but it wasn’t. It was a dog who looked just like her, and the caption read, “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.” Huh?
“Google! What is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever?” My mind was racing while reading article after article about this popular breed which is mostly found in colder regions. They’re called “Tollers” by their fans who consider them royalty in the dog world, and I’ve connected with many of them from around the world. There are Toller t-shirts, Toller mugs, and Toller calendars. Toller beer is brewed in Nova Scotia. A high honor.
Once known as the Little River Duck Dog in the rugged community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Tollers were developed by early Scottish immigrants as a “hunter’s dog.” The breed was taught to mimic how the fox lures waterfowl out of the water and within gunshot range by playing along the shoreline, called “tolling.” After the duck is shot, the dog retrieves it. As far as I know, Elizabeth hasn’t seen any ducks in my neighborhood, just your average squirrel and rabbit.
All this time, I happily thought she was a mix of several breeds. She was rescued by GRRAND from a rural shelter in eastern Kentucky after someone dropped her off there. It’s obvious that she’s had a litter of pups and her socialization skills are poor. Was she just used for breeding and kept away from people? Did someone attempt to train her for hunting and she failed miserably? That could explain her fear of squeaky toys.
What I do know is that all her physical and personality traits were suddenly explained once I found out more about her. It didn’t matter to me what she was, but I’m glad to know that the sad and confused look in her eyes is a normal look for Tollers, which explains her bad pictures – not mine. Rolling on her back is called the Toller move. And when Elizabeth sings, she is like every other Toller in the world, doing the Toller scream.
Her physical traits are also unique. Along with her stunning crimson fur, Elizabeth has white markings. Her chest is white, and she has a white line between her eyes which comes down and circles her nose. All four of her feet are white with a few red freckles scattered across them. But the white tip on the end of her long, feathered tail has always intrigued me.
Elizabeth likes to strike a pose. This shy, reserved dog loves to stand up straight and stretch her lean body forward. She then curls her beautiful tail all the way over her back and points the white tip straight down. It’s a pose worthy of Dog Vogue . . . if there was such a thing. I don’t think it exists.
The unexplainable events have added up since Elizabeth came into my life on August 10, 2018. I lost my mother, Esther, five years ago on Christmas Eve, and perhaps that is the reason my new dog ended up with an E name. Mom adored dogs and she would have loved Elizabeth for her laidback personality and sweet nature. They would have been fast friends, and the three of us would have walked the beautiful tree-lined streets of Crescent Hill on warm summer evenings. I know that Mom somehow guided Elizabeth and I towards each other; just another one of those details I cannot explain.
Recently, while attending mass at St. Francis of Rome, I was reminded about the biblical story of Mary and Elizabeth. They were cousins and friends. According to scripture, Mary visited Elizabeth before she gave birth. During the time they spent together, they each made the other feel special in unexplainable ways.
I’ll never know if Suzie Q was special to anyone. In a way, I think the sad and confused eyes say it all. But now, Elizabeth Margaret of Crescent Hill, does have someone in her life who thinks she’s very special. Her commoner. Her staff of one – me.