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My dog Bess was a real mix. Her good bits were black Lab, sheepdog and spaniel, and her not-so-good bits were yappy terrier. The mix produced a dog with a medium-sized long wide body and a pronounced trait on each end — a tiny, smooth head with delicate nose at one end and an enormous furry tail at the other.
As her 10-year-old proud owner, I would have none of the astonished, stifled remarks of newcomers to our house and would point out how endearingly feminine Bess was when she greeted them. Bess’s strongest point was her tail. As she rushed to greet someone, this tail would sway to east and to west with such vigour that her whole rear-end would follow suit: she wriggled higher and faster than a grass-skirted Hawaiian hula dancer.
This was in my childhood in a seaside-slash-countryside town in northern England, way before I moved to Canada. You can imagine my excitement when our town was to host the region’s first dog show. I took it for granted that my lovely pooch would win all the first prizes.
“Sheila,” Grandad said, “You know, Bess isn’t exactly a highly bred dog.”
“What does that mean, Grandad?”
“Well, it means when the mummy dog and the daddy dog — er — when they…umm.”
My Aunt Pat tried a different tack. “You know Sheila, Bess is a really unique dog. She’s so unique that—”
I put up my hand to stop her. “Aunt Patty, don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t enter her in all the categories. I know the neighbours will be jealous if she wins every prize. I’ll just enter her in one, okay?”
Pat looked worried. She pulled out the sheet of categories. “There aren’t any categories here for Bess, my lovey. Look, here’s ‘Poodles’, for example. Bess is not a poodle.”
“But look,” I said. “They have ‘Labradors’. You said that Bess is part Labrador. Or here’s ‘Sheepdogs.’”
My darling Bess was going to be in the show if I had to take her all by myself.