Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Boyhood fears


I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason they were all named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom, I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. And my friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as passed fro nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was about ankle deep. But there was a spot several miles out of town that was wider and deeper and was used as a swimming hole. It was just an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I walked closer to the side of the road and he went by without paying any attention to me. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the children.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Cat or dog: which is smarter?


I will confess my prejudice right off the bat – I think cats are smarter. I have met some well-trained dogs that gave every evidence of having a keen intelligence. Most dogs, though, if left to themselves, don’t seem to have a lot of smarts. They chase cars, defecate on the lawn and have really gross personal hygiene.

Nevertheless, I have fond memories of a dog that looked just like the one in the picture. He was just a land race collie of the type that was common on Saskatchewan farms years ago. He was my protector when I was a toddler. I clearly remember my frustration one day when I wanted to go to the barn. He knew I was too young to venture out there where the big animals were, so he simply stood in my way. I tried and tried to go around him, but he always stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me pass.

A cat won’t do that, but cats are more cuddly and they purr. They are fastidious about their personal hygiene. They are capable of a much wider range of vocalizations than a dog. Cats can rustle up their own food if needed. I once knew a 20year old arthritic cat that was still a successful hunter, bringing home mice and moles that he had caught.

Cats have a distinctive call when they have caught something and want to show it to you. Some years ago our cat came up to the house making that call. She had a toad in her mouth. She didn’t intend to eat it, she just wanted to show it to us. The toad wasn’t hurt at all and hopped away as soon as she let go of it.


When we were first married we had a domestic long hair cat, not the same colour as the picture shown here, that we called Moochie. For a few days we also had a dog. At night we closed the door to the stairs, with the dog downstairs and the cat upstairs with us. The cat’s litter box was also downstairs, but we hoped she would be good till morning, or wake us up if she had to go. We slept peacefully through the night. I got up in the morning to get ready to go to work, and there was Moochie peeing down the bathtub drain. Show me a dog that has that kind of smarts!

The intelligence of cats

Last Wednesday we put Angus, our middle cat, into the cat carrier, put the cat carrier in the car and drove off to the vet’s office. We dropped him off there to get his annual shots and left for the human health clinic, where my wife and I had our flu shots.

Now Angus is black, hence the name, but in conformation and temperament he is very Siamese. He does not suffer such indignities in silence, complaining all the way to the clinic and all the time he was at the clinic. This was perhaps the sixth time he has been to the clinic in the four years of his life and he knows the routine. It appears that he may know the roads as well, even though he can’t see them from his place in the carrier.

He was much quieter on the way home, until we decided to pick up our mail before returning home. When we passed the road that led to home, he suddenly became quite vocal and frantically tried to find a way to get out of the cage. He calmed down a bit when we stopped for the mail and then turned around to head for home and became altogether quiet when we turned off the highway onto the gravel road that led home.

I can’t ask him to explain his behaviour, but it certainly seemed that he now knows just where we are supposed to turn off the highway to go home – even without being able to see the road.

More than 40 years ago, in the first year of our married life,  we lived in a two-storey house with a cat, Moochie. Both of us had fond memories of the dogs who were our childhood companions, so we decided to add a dog to the family. The dog and the cat didn’t exactly hit it off. The first night we closed the door at the bottom of the stairs, with the cat up and the dog down, The cat litter box was in the basement, but we thought he could probably make it through the night.

I was the first one up in the morning. When I walked into the bathroom, there was Moochie peeing down the bathtub drain. Not long after that, we decided the dog was not compatible with our lifestyle and had to go.

I will grant that a trained dog shows remarkable signs of intelligence. I suppose the things that make a cat more compatible with our lifestyle is that a cat has much more patience and figures out things like personal hygiene all on its own.

I am not a dog lover

Up until I was nine years old my parents had a black and white collie named Penny.  He was the only dog I ever really loved, a constant companion in my wanderings over the hills and valleys of our southern Saskatchewan farm, and my protector.

Later on we had a fox terrier named Trixie.  She would sometimes accompany me on my wanderings, but it just wasn’t the same.  She was really more my mother’s dog.

My wife had a dog in her teen years that she was quite attached to.  We tried being dog owners after we were married, but it never really worked.  For one thing, we didn’t have a clue how to train a dog and an untrained dog is just a nuisance.  For another, we moved too often.

The best dog we owned during our married life was another long-haired black and white collie.  I had just read Farley Mowat’s book, WestViking, which is a retelling of the Icelandic sagas relating to the discovery of Newfoundland.  One of the old Viking explorers was named Ragnor Shaggypants and I decided Ragnor Shaggydog was a fine name for our dog.   We eventually moved again and gave Ragnor to friends.

I spend several hours every week doing bookkeeping for Delisle Veterinary Service in their office.  Dr. Fraser’s three resident dogs come to greet me enthusiastically when I come in the door.  Two of these are elderly dogs and one is a stray that was found half-starved and scavenging around a northern campground and sent to Dr. Fraser.

Sadie is an elderly black Lab that makes her home under the desk where I work.  Sometimes she will come and lay her head on my knee, then bump my hand every time I try to use the mouse or keyboard.  I am supposed to keep on petting her.

I told Dr. Fraser’s husband the other day that I don’t like dogs.  He gave me a quizzical look and informed me that the dogs believed otherwise.  Hmm. Do they know me better than I know myself?

There is a really scary corollary to that.  I suspect my family and friends also know me better than I know myself.





Still missing Penny

Penny was the only dog I ever really loved.  He was the family dog of my childhood, an old-fashioned  shaggy farm collie, not a narrow-headed, pointy-nosed mutant like today’s purebreds.  He was black in colour, with a white collar and chest, and a white stripe down his face, very mild-mannered in disposition, not at all excitable.  I think my father used him for herding cattle, but I was really too young back then to know much about that.

What I remember is that Penny was my friend, companion and protector.  Not that I always appreciated his protection.  One of my earliest memories is of becoming frustrated to the point of tears one day because Penny would not let me walk out to the barn.  I tried and tried to get around him, but he always blocked my path, understanding that this three-year-old lad did not belong in the corral with the big animals.  He was my constant companion when I was outdoors, helping me explore the yard and laying down beside me when I was tired.  In later years we went for long walks together through the pasture.

I recall a very sad day when my dad came to the house carrying Penny in his arms and laid him on an old blanket in a corner of the kitchen, next to the cream separator.  He had been run over in the field and must have had serious internal injuries.  My parents did their best to take care of him, but I was sure he was going to die.  However, after about a week he began to hobble around and a few weeks later there was no evidence that he had ever been hurt.

I didn’t know it when I was little, but my mother told me years later that she could not administer any discipline to me unless there was a closed door between us and Penny.  It’s probably just as well that I didn’t figure that out at the time, but hearing about it later rekindled loving memories of Penny.

In time Penny grew old and went the way of all dogs.  My parents had a couple of other dogs after that, but none ever filled the place in my heart that Penny had occupied.  After we were married, my wife and I had several dogs, each for a very short time.  Eventually we concluded that we are just not dog people — cats are more compatible with our lifestyle.

About fifty years ago, the old Family Herald magazine published an article about the farm collies that had once been so common on the Canadian prairies.  The writer described black and white collies just like Penny, with a wider forehead and blunter nose than the registered breeds, and expressed the wish that someone would preserve these intelligent, gentle and useful farm dogs and develop them into a recognized breed.  That never happened.  There have been recurring fads for various imported breeds, none of which came close to matching the old farm collies in intelligence, gentleness with children and working ability.

Do any dogs like this still exist on the Canadian prairies?  Is there any hope that the breed could yet be revived?

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