When people start telling dog stories, it’s hard to keep the line between fact and legend clear. I was thinking about that the other night while having supper in one of our fine steakhouses of the plains. These old guys at the next table were talking dogs, including an enormous Labrador retriever that one of them said he was going to harness up and plow the garden with.
And then there is the legendary Mutt, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, hero of Farley Mowat’s book, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. I remember reading the book when I was ten or eleven years old, and I reread it some forty years later, probably because I have spent quite a bit of time in Saskatoon over the years.
Farley Mowat, born in Ontario, grew up in Saskatoon, where he acquired Mutt as a family pet. Farley’s father was Angus Mowat, librarian of Saskatoon Public Library and an enthusiastic hunter who referred to Mutt, a mutt, as a “Prince Albert retriever.” Angus Mowat went on to become director of the National Library of Canada, in Ottawa; I frequently run across his name on documents there.
Farley Mowat went on to become, for a time, Canada’s best-loved author, particularly well-known for his books on the wildlife and native peoples of the Arctic. I remember, though, my boyhood fascination with the northern plains of the Saskatoon region as he described them. His hunting adventures—or I should say mis-adventures, since he was hunting with Mutt—took place in what seemed to me a vast and inviting landscape.
Mutt’s exploits in town, too, were entertaining. Mutt was the nemesis of town cats. He learned to climb a board fence and walk it from yard to yard in pursuit of them. He also could climb ladders.
One mischievous night Farley and his chums sneaked up on the residence of the Cat Lady, who kept scores of cats in an old, stench-filled house. Mutt raced up the ladder the boys placed against an open second-story window, and for the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the “Cats and Ladders” chapter for yourself. It is enough to know now that shortly afterward, a sympathetic male neighbor, for unspoken reasons, presented Farley with a new .22 rifle.
I had heard that back in the 1930s, Mutt was in the habit of visiting and hanging out at Angus Mowat’s office in the public library. So once when I was in Saskatoon, I snooped around the library (a new building, of course) for what I could learn about Mutt. A clipping in a file eventually put me in touch by mail with the former children’s librarian, Muriel J. Clancy, still living in Saskatoon.
“You ask about Mowats’ Mutt, the dog who wouldn’t be,” she writes. “He was a one family dog. He ignored the rest of humanity—in fact stuck his nose up in the air. He was quite a dog.
“He went with the family to Ontario,” she continued, in reply to my question what had become of Mutt, “and in his old age, when out for a morning stroll in the country was hit by a car and killed.” Which is too bad, because I like old dogs.