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Why I love Woofstock. And why my dog won't let me go.

by Drew Rowsome
Photos by Raul Da Silva

I don't usually write anything that begins with the word "I." Partially because any story or blog post that begins with "I" runs the very real risk of being self-indulgent; mainly because I have a terror of becoming some frightening combination of Christie Blatchford and Davey Wavey, writing about my dog or sex life - or lack thereof - when I run out of inspiration or relevant topics. But Woofstock, which is an amazing and fun event, is coming up Sat, June 8 & Sun, June 9 and, while I would really like to go, my dog won't let me.

Mickey, my dog, came into my formerly cats-preferred life almost five years ago. A tumultuous relationship had resolved itself into a commitment and as part of sealing the deal we applied for a rescue dog. We had only a few specific requirements: short hair, small enough to be carried on the subway and taken to the office, somewhere past the destructive puppy stage, and preferably not a purebred. Off went the request and we, being absorbed in a thousand other negotiations and plans, promptly forgot about it.

Then the hubby-to-be promptly died of a undisclosed-to-me heart defect. His family is part of a heavily religious sect that disapproves of sexuality in general and homosexuality specifically. I got the news in the morning but by the afternoon the family had swooped in, cleared his apartment contents and spirited the body back to the family home on the east coast. I was emphatically not invited to the funeral and my grief and shock was not going to be dealt with in any conventional manner. Family and friends were great but I cycled through the seven stages of mourning at a rapid rate with anger being the dominant stage.

Four days later there was an email: the rescue network had a dog that was a potential match. I had had no intentions of being a single father but my eccentric aunt convinced me to at least meet the dog and we set out to the farm near Caledon where rescued dogs are fostered. Mickey is photogenic but the rescuer was concerned about my ability to handle him: the poor little guy was so traumatized that he had been slated to be put down for being vicious. The details were incomplete other than he had been used as bait in a dog fighting ring that had been busted in Ohio and when the dogs were taken to the pound, arranged in stacks of cages from floor to ceiling, he was surrounded by his former tormenters and his mind snapped and he went on perpetual attack. Of his life before, and actual age, there was only speculation. He appeared to be a purebred Miniature Pinscher but probably the runt of the litter and his nose is pushed slightly to the side (which probably earned him his name: from certain angles he does resemble the more famous mouse) rendering him useless to the breeder. His tail was hacked off - it was not a surgical job - and he was handed off to be used to rile and goad the bigger dogs into doing battle.

The rescuer hemmed and hawed, and did her best to convince me that a placid golden Lab might be a better bet. The Lab was indeed a sweet dog but too big for my apartment and not what I had in mind. Reluctantly she introduced me to Mickey. The little dog who had been billed as "seven pounds of terror" wandered warily into the room, then made a beeline for my lap and settled there. It was either love at first sight or he knew a meal ticket when he saw one.
The deal was that I would try Mickey out for seven days and if it didn't work out he could be returned with no questions asked but an implied probable fate of euthanasia. For the first six days his life definitely hung in the balance. He was great with me, affectionate and cuddly, but anyone else was to be barked or snarled at. Bonding walks were problematic with the worst incident being a kindly elderly lady who cooed about how cute he was just before he launched himself at her throat with intent to kill. Other dogs were, understandably, worse and he would fly into a paroxysmal rage - writhing and barking on the end of his leash - that was uncontrollable.

Even the kindly vet was skeptical of his chances for rehabilitation, "At least he doesn't have many teeth left if he does actually bite someone."  The catalogue of his injuries was extensive: the missing teeth, a series of scars including a nasty one on his misshapen nose, badly healed breaks in his hind legs and eyes that are clouded with wounds. He was definitely damaged goods, but, at the time, so was I. Having a focus, something that needed an opportunity to heal even more than I did, kept me occupied and from indulging in my pain. I may have rescued him, but he wound up rescuing me. The bed was no longer empty and the long walks and unconditional love pulled me through a dark time. And on the seventh day he rolled over on his back and lolled luxuriously while his belly and battered hind legs were rubbed and my fate was sealed.

Eventually he learned that people weren't going to hurt him, but were more likely to give him affection and treats. He remained, remains, wary but he no longer attacks. At least not people. Dogs are an ongoing problem. Off leash in the dog park he is fine as long as he left somewhat alone and if a play fight erupts he starts to shake and feels he has to rush in. The concept of play with other dogs still eludes him.

And that, after a long backstory, brings us to Woofstock. Our first, and alas probably last, Woofstock fell almost a year after the day Mickey moved in. The off-leash experiment was going well and occasionally - actually very rarely but I was overly proud of his progress - Mickey would meet other dogs while on leash and would politely sniff butts instead of trying to rip their throat out. Woofstock was glorious fun. It was a bright sunny day and the St Lawrence Market Neighbourhood was filled with tents offering dog clothes, dog treats, dog food samples, innovative toys, hundreds of proud gay men parading their pooches, and on and on: a fantasy outdoor mall for dog owners. The always hilarious Richard Ryder hosted a fashion show (not that Mickey would consent to wearing a winter coat let alone the Halloween costumes I had struggled to wrangle him into) and stupid dog tricks. And everywhere there were dogs. Dogs in sunglasses, dogs with pedigrees and attitude, dogs that were so cute that even a cat person would be won over.

At first Mickey was fine. We wandered and he sniffed the occasional butt but mainly stuck close to my ankles. Then there was a barking incident and he was placed into my shoulder bag (his favourite form of transport) where he settled in and watched the parade of canines uneasily. Finally it was too much and he began to shake, this wasn't an outing, this was shock therapy and it wasn't working well. A Great Dane's head was at Mickey's eye level and a friendly inquisitive sniff caused Mickey to erupt into a frenzy of fear and anger. He was not going to be calmed down - even the offer of shopping for more and more exotic treats was futile - and it was time to head home, well before we'd explored even a fraction of what was on offer.
So even though Mickey has improved even more since then, and even though he now does have two dads to spoil him and give him more love than any dog could hope for, he won't attend Woofstock this year. However I just might and though he is a stubborn neurotic, he'll probably get treats.

Woofstock is on Sat, June 8 and Sun, June 9 in the St Lawrence Market Neighbourhood (centred around Church & Front). woofstock.ca

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