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Two old dogs, long gone but not forgotten.  Kizzy, the golden boxer, sits on Strawberry, her mother. It was their custom.

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This is Lassie, one of the last two “pure” St. John’s water dogs.  Despite the name, he was male, and he was featured in Richard Wolters’s history of the Labrador retriever.

 

Although he had a thicker coat and more high-set ears, it always amazes me how much he looked like Kizzy, the late “golden boxer” (golden retriever mother, brindle boxer father).

Her mother must have been a golden retriever that was masking dominant black with e/e preventing any black pigment from appearing on the fur.

Those St. John’s water dog genes are quite prepotent.

Many golden retriever crosses are mistaken for Labradors or Labrador crosses because they are black and smooth-coated.

But the golden retriever traits of a feathered coat and red-to-yellow coloration are recessive, and they are easily lost when crossed to other breeds.

This image used to get me a lot of hits via Google Images, but I guess she didn’t look enough like what people expect to see from a golden retriever/boxer cross.  I no longer get many hits from people looking for images of “golden boxers.”

But I can tell you that both her parents were known. The mother was so definitely a golden retriever that no one would mistake her for anything– and she had papers.

People have a very poor understanding of the inheritance of coat and color in domestic dogs.

I bet she would have been listed as a Labrador mix at any shelter, even though she had no Labrador ancestry.

 

 

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Kizzy, the golden boxer, looking fine.

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Today was her birthday.

She would have been 15.

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This is Kizzy, the old “golden boxer.”  And sometimes the butterflies like to land on her.

She had this rusty tinge to her coat, which might indicate her color was “seal.’

But this tinge existed only during the summer months. In winter, she was as black as any Labrador.

Her father was a very dark brindle boxer from German lines and her mother a light gold golden retriever with black skin pigment. (Her mother was one of the ugliest goldens I’ve ever seen. She had a topknot!)

 

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After watching that short Farley Mowat documentary yesterday, I was reminded of a dog.

She was born to my useless golden retriever bitch and itinerant neighborhood boxer, who reveled in passing on his puggy visage to as many offspring as possible.

When the golden whelped the litter, my heart raced at the black coloration.

The were part Labrador!

Goldadors were great dogs. I had known this from reading about the various golden/Lab crosses that were being used in assistance dog programs.

Then I noticed their muzzles were really short.

And they had white markings on their chest and toes– more so than one would expect on Labrador or golden.

At the time, designer dogs weren’t such a big deal.  So my dad has the litter euthanized.

Except one bitch pup.

We kept her.

The Roots miniseries was being run when this pup was born, and one of the characters in that series– which is based upon Alex Haley’s historical novel about his own African genealogy–was named Kizzy (supposedly Mandingo for “stay put.”)

And the dog wound up with that name.

Somehow.

I don’t remember who named  her.

She grew from a black lump of writhing fur that we call a newborn puppy into the fellest beast that ever graced that part of West Virginia since the dire wolf went extinct.

In her prime, she exceeded 80 pounds. A really big dog with powerful jaws.

But a generally docile nature.

She possessed a melange of water dog and alaunt features. She had the thick retriever’s coat, which was slightly wavy but quite thick.  Her coat was black in the winter, but a bronze tinge came through during the high summer days, when the sun bleached some of the blackness away.

She had the well-sprung ribs of the retriever and very broad chest of the boxer. Her shoulders were as muscled as any bulldog or molosser’s.  Her body was rock hard when she was younger, but it grew little plump as she aged.

When she walked, she moved with the fluidity of a panther.

Indeed, I imagined her as something like a Beast of Bodmin Moor when I would watch her crossing the pasture. Those rippling shoulders pumping along in much the same way I had seen a black jaguar pace near the glass at the Cincinnati Zoo’s cat house.  The illusion was further promoted with her long tail, which trailed off her body like a black rate snake. Hers was the tail of the bulldog and bullenbeisser of yore, which has long since been bastardized into the little nub that we see on modern English bulldogs.

However, the irony was that for as much as she looked like a big cat, she had a penchant for killing the smaller domestic ones.

Now, in this part of the world, the cat is valued by rural principles.  It has low economic utility. And it’s not unusual for farm people to buy cat to kill the mice and then leave it to its own devices. It then wanders the countryside, killing things and generally making a nuisance of itself to those who appreciate birds and small mammals.

Why we are not overrun with feral cats is more a testimony to the wonders of coyote predation than to the responsibility of cat owners. Coyotes are wonderful animals for what they do to feral cats. I am sure the songbirds would sing them praises if they knew how many cats they dispatch every year.

But for 7 or 8 years, the coyotes had company.

Kizzy was a cat killing aficionado.

When Kizzy was 3 or 4 years old when she got her first cat.

It had been raining most of that day in mid-May, so when the sun finally broke through, I decided to take the two dogs for  walk. Goldie, the real golden retriever with the really creative name (who was not Kizzy’s mother), and Kizzy were my boon companions in those years. Long walks in the woods with those two dogs were among the happiest times in my life. They were my connection to the world my species once knew as it wandered the wild parts of the world, dogs smelling and man seeing.

The raindrops fell from the trees as both dogs motored ahead. Goldie smelled the air for traces of birds, while Kizzy sniffed the ground for traces of small mammals.

As we rounded a bend in the road, Kizzy stopped short at a fallen young white pine. Her hackles rose. She let loose a bestial growl.

Something hissed.

And growled back.

Within a few seconds it was all over.

The great black dog charged into the pine branches and jerked out a small gray animal from its hiding place.

At first I thought she was fighting the neighbors’ recalcitrant miniature schnauzer, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to fight a dog of that size.

And this gray animal was much smaller.

Kizzy grabbed the animal by the head and crushed it  in her jaws.

The animal squalled and squalled, but as the dog’s jaws grew tighter, the sound grew quieter and quieter.

Until there was silence.

By the my rapid advance slowed. My eyes finally registered the identity of the gray animal.

I could make out the clear stripes on its body and its long tail

It was a gray tabby cat.

My dog was a killer.

That whole realization stopped me short.

Here was a dog that was so gentle with people, so sweet with little children that we thought of her as better “kid dog” than any golden.

But I had allowed myself to be deluded. It is a delusion that virtually all dog owners buy into.

Our dogs love us. They become part of us. We love them. We let them become part of our families, and they often become closer to us than any human friends.

But within the dog there is a lupine capacity, which they normally keep in check in order to live with us.

The lupine capacity is the ability to revert back to the predator– like when a beloved sheepdog surplus kills a whole flock or when a springer spaniel becomes infamous at chasing chickens.

When Kizzy encountered that cat, her wolfishness sprang through. With a wolf’s jaws, she crushed the life out of that tabby. It was a now wolf’s eyes that stared into mine when I approached.

In that momemt, she was no longer that sweet dog.

She was a predator.

She was savage.

The cat was a feral. No one one it.

And no one cared.

But it bothered me that a dog had this capacity.

However, after some time passed, I grew to accept that predator that lay beneath my friendly dog.

You see, Kizzy also  learned something in that moment: She found her métier.

For the rest of her life, she was a cat killer.

Because she lived in rural West Virginia, where dogs are valued far more than cats, she was allowed this vice.

Some saw it a virtue.  An old country saying is that one knows he has a good dog if it hates cats.  And when one bobcat hunter heard of her exploits, he suggested that she run with his redbones, who often shirked at hunting the larger bobcats, simply out of self-preservation.

Kizzy never ran afoul of a bobcat.

She went after any felines but the domestic variety.

She never really hunted other furred creatures, except that she did start to target skunks. after the feral cat population dissipated.

One would think that a dog who would attack skunks would learn its lesson once, but Kizzy hunted skunks with almost as much gusto as she hunted cats.

In the middle of summer, I particularly going for long walks at dusk, and my two canine companions would always tag along.

One evening, charged off the trail and growled. She had been running just ahead of me, but she had veered off into a tall copse of grass. Something had her attention.

My guess was that it was a snake, because Kizzy was very good “snake dog.”  A snake dog is one of those dogs that gladly kills every snake it sees. And because she had been bitten by a copperhead when she was about two, Kizzy had an antipathy toward all thing serpentine. I. She would kill a snake through shaking it, which would usually do it in very quickly However, the muscles on a snake will twitch for a long time after it’s dead, and Kizzy would continue to attack it, rending it into as many small pieces as possible. She  once shook snake guts all over a door, when she killed one near the house.

More rural people value a “good snake dog” more than just about anything.

But they really don’t much value skunk dogs.

So I kept on walking, thinking that Kizzy had just bayed up a black snake.

As I passed by where Kizzy was standing, I was only about 6 feet from her.

It was at that moment that she grabbed something furry in her jaws and began to shake.

A haze filled the air. My eyes watered. My mucous membranes were irritated.

Kizzy had killed a skunk and had received the requisite spray.

And I was collateral damage in the skunk’s chemical warfare.

It took me about a dozen baths to get rid of the smell, and because it was summer, Kizzy slept outside for a while!

So my late teens were spent with two dogs that would be a pain in the butt for just about any other environment. I had a hard-driving working-strain golden that was too clever and too driven for the average home.

And I was living with either the real Barghest or Black Shuck. This horrific image was amplified with her demonic green eye shine.

If she had been around in recent years, I believe she would have been easily marketed as that sort of dog. Or maybe call her the West Virginia alaunt or the Mountain bullenbeisser.

With people, she was very friendly– although delivery men and meter readers were very frightened of her.

She was okay with other dogs– unless they tried to hump or attack her.

A full-of-beans English shepherd attacked her once, and she tossed him into the air.

A beagle that an acquaintance brought over for the purposes of rabbit hunting tried to have his way with her.

She didn’t receive his advances quite as well as he’d hoped.

She was spayed anyway, and she had no time for that nonsense.

The only animals that ever really had her number were Guinea fowl. The neighbors had about a dozen of the chattering, screeching things, and they responded to the big black canine leopard in the same way their ancestors would respond to the real thing. They would advance in a screaming phalanx, heads and chests pointed forward as if daring the dog to make a move. No dog, no matter what a killer it thinks it is, can stand this display, and Kizzy backed off.

Kizzy didn’t have bird dog instincts– or so we thought.

But in her last October,  the family decided to stalk bobwhite quail on the property.

The scent of the quail turned her into an instant quartering flushing dog.

She would hunt just as any good spaniel would, scenting the edges of a pasture in search of birds.

She’d flush them, but because they were stocked quail, they really didn’t fly much.

The foxes and hawks had a quail smörgåsbord that fall.

Kizzy had fun those last few months.

She was 11, arthritic, and grizzled around the muzzle.

Gray hairs dispersed throughout her black coat, giving her a particularly frosty look.

It was the day after Christmas when she started limping.

The vet put her on painkillers.

She was fine for a week.

Then she started limping again.

Another vet diagnosed even worse arthritis and put her on a diet that was rich with Omega 3’s and chondroitin. She actually liked the diet, because it was so fishy.

But it didn’t work.

Her limping got worse. her shoulder started to swell

Another trip to the vet.

The diagnosis was crushing:

Osteosarcoma.

And it had already spread to her lungs. No amputation could save her.

Just make her comfortable and prepare for the end.  She was given Rimadyl to ease the excruciating pain that she was about experience.

That was all that could be done.

I remember one day shortly after finding out her diagnosis.

Everyone was gone.

And she looked up to me with those bulldog-retriever eyes.

There was so much love in them. This ferocious beast had always loved me. She had always looked to me with such deep adoration.  She was my friend. She was my dog.

But I could also see the pain in those eyes. She looked worn and ancient– a look that I had never seen in her before.

At that moment, I dropped to the floor and held dear Kizzy in my arms. Tears gushed down my face.

No one could see me crying. In fact, I have never talked about this to anyone until now.

As I held her, she felt at peace.  She let loose some gentle but heavy sighs. She farted.

She relaxed as I stroked the thin leather of her boxer ears.

This tough dog who had spent her life scrapping with cats, throttling skunks, and chasing coyotes was dying.

She never once whined in pain, although the cancer destroyed bones from the inside out.

When she was eventually euthanized, she was in such terrible pain that she couldn’t stand up at all. The Rimadyl no longer helped. It was time for her to go. Time for her to be at peace.

Every time I see cat cross the pasture, I think of her. I know that if she were around, that cat wouldn’t be cockily prowling around.

I know that she taught me many things about dogs. She reminded me that dogs still have a predator nature, and though they can be friendly and gentle with us– and truly love us– they can be as fierce as any wild carnivore when they slip back into their lupine mode.

As much as the cat killings put me off, I came to appreciate her as a predator, as a being whose nature can be controlled through training and selective breeding– but is still there. Just below the surface of the dog is a wolf. Different dogs express their wolfishness in different ways.

Kizzy expressed it by killing cats and skunks.

In our modern world, there is little place for a dog like that. If a dog kills an owned cat, one can easily lose a homeowner’s policy, get ticketed, or have the animal labeled as vicious

But Kizzy not vicious toward people. She was very safe around children.

She was just a predator whose nature was to attack its prey.

Just as the great white attacks the sea lion and the lion attacks the Cape Buffalo, my dog killed cats.

I loved a predator.

And she loved me.

I appreciated her in all her sweetness and all her terror.

This is an experience that very few dog owner will know.  In most situations, a dog like this would be trained out of the behavior, and if it couldn’t adapt, it would be euthanized.

Most of us know only dogs who can be fully domesticated.

I knew a dog who couldn’t be.

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This post was not politically correct, and I’m sure some were offended by it.

That’s okay.

I had to tell this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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st-johns-water-dog-lassie

These are the last two of the St. John’s water dogs. They were found in Newfoundland in the late 70’s and were featured in Richard Wolters’s The Labrador Retriever…The People…The History…Revisited. The dogs were two ancient males– 13 and 15 years old. One of them was named “Lassie.” Because they were both dogs, there were no bitches to breed them to, and for some reason, nobody thought of breeding them to Labs and other retrievers to save the strain. Remember, all modern retrievers and the Tweed water dog descend from these dogs.

A breed that had once hauled nets and longlines for the Newfoundland fisherman and retrieved shot ptarmigan and seals became extinct when those two dogs died. Newfoundland’s fisheries were never what they were in the halcyon days of the “water dogs.”

The Newfoundland government passed a law that created high taxes on any dogs that were not used in the production of sheep, and many Newfoundlanders got rid of their water dogs, often selling them to British dog dealers who sold them to people wanting to improve their retriever lines.

The  6th Duke of Buccleuch imported some of these dogs in the 1930’s to further add to the Buccleuch strain. This strain had been created through crossing dogs belonging to the Earls of Malmesbury with earlier imports from Newfoundland. These dogs were not well-known in Britain at the time, but they were the ancestral strain of retriever that became known as the Labrador as we know it today.

The last two St. John’s water dogs look a lot like Lab crosses. These dogs could be another source for the white we see in so many breeds of modern retriever.

I can see traces of these dogs in my late “golden boxer.” Those old water dog probably genes run dormant in all of our retrievers. It just takes an unsual cross-breeding to make them appear.

golden-boxer-standing

Unlike those dogs, though, she was a terrible swimmer, especially when compared to the golden retrievers with which she shared her life. She had no retrieving instinct, and her favorite quarry were skunks.

She died of osteosarcoma at the age of 11.  She was a good dog. Extremely gentle with kids, though a bit dominant towards other dogs.

I got her for free from an accidental mating. Today, these dogs are being intentionally bred and sold for high prices.

I think I could have passed her off as the  last surviving member  of long-lost St. John’s water dog breed. And I’m sure some gullible fool would’ve believed it.

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