When CJ (our last dog, a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier) decided we needed looking after and adopted us, we weren’t expecting a musical prodigy. There again she probably wasn’t expecting me to wear a dog-collar. So we are even on that score (pun intended).
But I need to give you some background before we enter into CJ’s musical phase.
This is CJ or Calamity Jane. Why Calamity Jane? When she was a puppy if there was trouble, CJ was always near-by. I won’t bore you with my resistance to getting a dog. I love dogs, but know how much care they take, and the cost of vets, and how they can tie you down if you want to travel. But the three women in the house wore me down and basically I was overruled. “Oh yes Dad, I’ll clean up after our dog; Oh yes Dad I’ll take our dog for walks; Oh yes Dad I’ll groom our dog…” R-i-g-h-t!
As one of us had asthma at the time we had definitely decided to get a Miniature Schnauzer. It would be the perfect size for us, a bit yappy perhaps, but they are fun dogs. We decided to attend the large dog show held annually in Winnipeg (Mid-Canada Dog Show) looking for reputable Miniature Schnauzer breeders.
As we were going towards the terrier area, we bumped into a colleague who it turns out was a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier enthusiast. It turns out that Wheatons are also people enthusiasts and we soon found ourselves the recipients of the Wheaton Hug. These dogs love to jump – and they love to stand and put their front legs around your neck – and give you a big sloppy wet one. Strangely enough, we actually found this endearing. It was love at first sight for the four of us.
I understand Wheaton’s were originally an Irish farm dog, bred to keep vermin down – mice etc. CJ certainly enjoyed herding, and if you threw her a ball she wouldn’t try to catch it with her mouth, she would pounce on it or swat it with her paw. (Never to be mentioned in her hearing, but her behaviour in this regard was rather cat-like).
Moving along a bit – the waiting list for well-bred Wheatons was over a year. We were on a list for a planned litter. But, CJ, at 4 months old became available. She had been selected as a show-dog and for breeding but was discovered to have an inguinal hernia. So her show and breeding career was over before it got started. But this was our great fortune. We could have her as long as we signed, in blood, to have her neutered, not use choke collars, not tether her…the rules were long. Her breeders really cared about their dogs.
The man who had bought her with the plan of raising her for show and breeding had spent a number of months training her – especially doing ‘mouth work’. CJ would not let one of her teeth come into contact with any part of a human. She thought we were real wimps and couldn’t take the slightest pain from an errant dog tooth. She was amazingly careful when taking a treat. She would actually form a bit of a pout and take the offering in her lips.
She also came with her own set of rules. One was, she would not enter the kitchen while her meal was being prepared. She waited just outside the kitchen door. And, she would not eat with a human in the kitchen! So we had to place her dinner bowl on her mat, then back away, bowing low, and once we had left the room, she would proceed to delicately eat her meal. Her meal preferences are a whole other story (did I mention picky?) – for another time perhaps.
CJ didn’t always have her ‘show-face’ on, as can be seen from this picture of her when she was little older. But her two great loves were car rides and going to our cabin at the lake. She preferred to sit in the driver’s seat – but she wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the peddles, so we convinced her to move over so Dad or Mum could drive.
It’s time to talk about CJ’s music career. A talent we hadn’t expected and which came as a complete surprise when she was about six years old.
We had a lovely old upright piano used by the girls when they pretended to practice. However, it did keep the piano tuner in business every six months or so.
One day, we were sitting around the dinner table, in the dining-room (where else, you say) which was adjacent to the living room (or lounge) where the piano was living its upright life. The piano couldn’t be seen from the dining table – it was around a corner. Suddenly we heard the piano – someone was playing it. Now it didn’t sound musical to me, but I have found that about ‘music’ at the New Music Festival and much popular music too – so who was I to be the critic. The pounding of the piano keys continued. We stopped talking, stopped eating and just looked at each other. Someone would have to investigate. As the man of the house, apparently, I was the most expendable. So I quietly peered around the corner. Well, knock me over and call me Gershwin, there was CJ, standing at the piano, pawing at the keys with both paws.
I suggested she stop. Which she did, but stared at the piano as though it was something needing to be watched. The rest of the evening was uneventful. At least, as far as we knew.
I can’t remember the exact sequence and timing of events, but CJ’s piano practices continued. We would hear the piano being let’s say ‘used’, I think ‘played’ may be overstating it. We would shoo her away. It wouldn’t be long before she would be back practicing. I must say, her practicing didn’t sound as though it made much difference. I seem to recall us going through some times like that with the human musicians too.
Eventually I decided I needed to explore her playing. Instead of stopping her, I went over to watch closely and to listen. I discovered that she had the ability to make the piano squeak in addition to the regular piano sound. When she hit the notes, there would be the bing or dong of the notes and then a squeak, squeak.
Strange, the piano hadn’t sounded like that before. Was it time for the tuner again? Then the piano squeaked when CJ was just sitting on the floor away from the piano – she immediately leapt up and started playing. Aha, I thought, there is more to this than meets the eye (or ear) – I’m quick like that.
I undid the front panel of the piano and discovered a little nest of mice right by the sounding board, actually between the sounding board and piano wires whose vibrations caused the notes. CJ had heard the mice, probably smelt them too, under the piano, and in trying to reach them had been hitting the keys. Every time she hit the keys, the mice would be half deafened by the piano strings vibrating next to their little pointed ears and squeak in annoyance or shock.
I won’t take my readers down the dark path of destruction that followed and the demise of the ‘vermin’. Suffice it to say, the fate of the three blind mice at the hands of the farmer’s wife, was less conclusive.
Post-script. Some time later, one of our daughters had a group of friends stay at the cabin with us for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. CJ loved the girls and spent a lot of time growling and barking at them and herding them into corners, much to their delight and squeals of laughter. She wouldn’t hurt a fly – or a girl come to that – and as it turns out she wouldn’t hurt a mouse either. We discovered a field mouse had gotten into the cottage. You can imagine the different squealing now as the girls ran and climbed on the back of the couch (settee), as Dad tried to catch the mouse – hoping to trap it in a corner so it could be captured and taken outside and released far, far away. Every time the mouse ran through the living room the girls all jumped up on the couch and screamed. The girls were not alone! CJ, while not screaming – also ran away from the mouse and jumped up on the back of the couch with the girls. I don’t think she had jumped up there to offer them protection! Now if it had been a bear I am sure she would have defended us to the death if necessary – but hey, mice, no thank you – in this modern world we have people for that.