Last Wednesday, we brought home a new addition to the family. We’ve had a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Chance, for eight years, and we love him dearly, so dearly that DH and I don’t ever want to be without a dog. So, we called Chance’s breeder a while ago and ended up with a beautiful little female, Echo, to keep our boy company.
For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Tollers – also known here as Little River Duck Dogs - are a native Nova Scotian breed, developed by Acadian settlers over 200 years ago. “Tolling” is a behaviour shown naturally by red foxes. At the edge of a marsh or lake, a fox will hide in tall grass while its mate plays on the shore, running back and forth and waving its white-tipped tail. For some bird-brained reason, this fascinates waterfowl. They swim in to shore to get a closer look, and if they get close enough, the hidden fox springs out and an unlucky duck becomes dinner for two. The Acadians bred dogs to imitate this behaviour, and to look foxlike – red coats, white markings and sharp faces. The smallest of the retriever breeds, Tollers are compact dynamos with endless energy and a lot of smarts. For hunting, they’re trained to lure the birds in for a shot and then retrieve the kill. We’ve never hunted, but we love the breed’s energy and personality.
This is Chance and here’s Echo. She’s two years old and full grown, but rather small for her breed standard, which is why the breeder decided to let her go.
I like this silhouette of the two of them. Just try to get two Tollers to stand still at the same time for anyting, let alone a picture! Wouldn’t those names be good for a couple in a romance novel? Hmmm, the wheels are turning.
Echo fit into our household right away, and Saturday morning we headed for our family cottage. These dogs are bred for the water and Echo has had field training, so though we were concerned about letting her off-lead so soon, we couldn’t bear to keep her out of the lake. She had a wonderful time and made no attempt to run off, so Sunday morning I took her and Chance down to the water for another swim. Echo had been so good that I didn’t put her on lead for the short walk back to the cottage. We were almost there when she caught the scent of a deer and disappeared down a side path.
For three hours.
DH and I were devastated. We searched and called, but in spite of her field training, we couldn’t be sure she’d come to us even if she heard us. We’d only had her for 4 days. Our cottage is 10 km back in the woods, with no one around for miles. My imagination went into overdrive, picturing Echo alone and frightened, lost in the woods with coyotes on the prowl. While hubby searched on foot I jumped in the car and drove the roads, with no sign of her. Would she find her way out and try to make the dangerous 30-km trip along a busy highway back to the breeder’s? I knew I’d never forgive myself if we didn’t find her.
After several futile circles, I started back to the cottage, praying aloud. Before I reached our road I met hubby walking, with a broad grin on his face. Just after I left for my last circle, Echo had come trotting up to the cottage, very pleased with herself and ready for a rest and dinner. I simply went to pieces.
I suppose I overreacted a tad. She might look like a strong wind could blow her away, but this little girl is wiry and tough and bred for the woods. When she’d had her fill of exploring, she knew enough to follow her own scent back to where comfort and a meal would be waiting. But last night, when it started to thunder and rain and I lay in bed, knowing Echo was safe in her crate and not out in the woods in the dark, I said the most grateful prayer I’ve ever said in my life. It will be a while before that little minx gets off lead again.
I'm a teacher, an amateur musician and, for over thirty years, a writer. I fell in love with words at a very early age, and the affair has been life-long.
Glimpses of the past spark my imagination. There's an archaeologist buried in me somewhere. I'm currently working on a series following the McShannon family as they put down roots and find love in the old world and the new, against the background of the American Civil War. Along with this series, I'm writing a story set at the time of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. I'm really enjoying delving into the history in my own backyard.
I write for children as well as adults. When I'm not writing I garden, play guitar and spend time with my DH, our cat Emily, and our dogs Chance and Echo, the most spoiled Duck Tolling Retrievers on the planet. I live in Nova Scotia, in my opinion the most beautiful place in the world.