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We have, for the past couple of years, instituted the ‘family email chain’ — especially when we’re away from home, traveling for work or for pleasure. Besides being a great way to keep up with each other, it’s also a bit of a game of one-upmanship. Where most families would measure the ‘oohs and aahs’ of magnificent scenery or beautiful art or architecture, we measure in dogs– the number of dogs we’ve seen or met, how weird or unusual they are, or the funniest names or situations surrounding our encounters.

My idea for this blog was triggered by Crazy D’s girlfriend’s email from out west in which she waxed poetic that she had met a really sweet labradoodle. She and Crazy D are almost as fanatical about pooches as L’il Sis is…and, okay, I admit it, as I am. Gill loves dogs but she doesn’t quite stalk them the same way the rest of us do. She prefers to stalk turkeys sitting in coach on airplanes…thank you, FB!

In this same email, The Girlfriend mentioned that, while driving across Canada (for her job), she also encountered four moose in northern Ontario. I wasn’t going to be the one to say that she probably deserves the ‘prize’ for most impressive Canadian animal sighting but I mean, four moose? (I still, although I know it’s incorrect, want to say ‘meese’ as in the plural of goose. But nobody ever said the English language makes sense.)

Fortunately she simply saw them from a distance and didn’t have a messy encounter on the highway. (I’m surprised she actually told Crazy D about them since he still has flashbacks to the time years ago when he and a deer collided on a local country road. The deer died; the car should have. Crazy D was horrified that he had hit the poor creature.  But what was even more upsetting was the truckload of rednecks appearing out of nowhere in the dark to offer to ‘take the deer off his hands’, returning the cured hide for him to use for drum skins, keeping the meat for themselves. I think he was concerned that he’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in the Ozarks.)

But back at the dog count, since the losses of Poochie and The Pig, samoyeds and beagles have become our go-to stalking victims. Basset hounds run a close third. When I was walking in the neighborhood last week, I came across a lovely woman with a small butterscotch beagle (color-wise, not flavor). I, of course, went weak in the knees with excitement so asked to pet her (the Beagle, not the woman). She was delightful. By the end of the 20-minute conversation I’d had with the woman, she had issued me an invitation to come to her home for tea anytime I was walking by! I suspect she figured that she wouldn’t have to provide anything in the way of actual tea or refreshments — just some quality cuddle time with the dog. She was correct.

Another day, I came across not one but TWO local basset hounds. One is elderly and requires his people to pull a wagon around for when he gets too tired to walk. Judging by the slowness of his gait, that was about ten seconds away. When I met the other Basset, a spry young thing, I couldn’t wait to get home to gloat to L’il Sis about my double-dipping in the basset pool!

To say she was jealous would be the understatement of the day. I puffed my chest out with pride since she is always telling me about a certain humungous basset that traditionally hangs out on Bloor St. in Downtown Toronto. He is an institution and a regular on HER stalking route. And, since L’il Sis lives in Toronto, ‘Woofstock’ is an important event on her calendar. She regales me with tales of all the dogs she sees there. And now that she can proudly trot Groucho, (her bent and busted Dominican rescue) around, she once more feels she can hold her head high amongst dog aficionados.

And so, as we engage in trying to outdo one another in our ‘dogspotting’ adventures, our conversations go something like this:

L’il Sis:”You won’t believe the brother and sister beagles we had outside my work today (an Optometrist’s office). I had just finished fitting frames on a client, so I rushed outside to meet the dogs.”

Me:”But how does your boss take to your disappearing act — to pet dogs?”

“Oh, she was right behind me. She brings her miniature dachshund to work with her and is just as dog-crazy as I am!”

Me:”Well, I take your two beagles and dachshund and raise you a beagle-pug mix and a weimaraner.” You can see how quickly this has devolved into a bad poker game– 3 of a kind, royal flush, 4 aces beat everything…

I believe I still hold the ‘royal flush’ as it were, in the unusual animal category. Having cuddled a koala, fed kangaroos, delighted in masses of penguins coming ashore to their burrows, arranged an ‘all you can eat buffet’ for cockatoos and kookaburras on the deck of a condo in  Australia, and seeing a 15-foot alligator in Mexico, I believe my position in the family as “Critter Spotter-in-Chief’ is secure.

But just as soon as I mentioned this, Crazy D upped the ante: “Ahem. You seem to have conveniently forgotten my touching polar bears, seeing them dangle, tranquilized, from safety nets while being transported by helicopter in Churchill. And I won’t even mention the snow monkeys of Japan or the silver-backed gorillas of Africa. You just go right ahead and brag about your little beagles and bassets…”