“Fiona! Fiona! Vulcan had a nice big poop!”
Nothing pleased me more than being awakened in the morning by my neighbours, Greg and Fiona, letting the whole neighbourhood know that their dog, Vulcan, a Bernese mountain dog of 100 lbs, could relieve himself.
Life had been good for Fiona and Greg. Both held good jobs: she was a legal secretary and he taught welding at a trade school.
The couple owned a quaint little house in the quiet neighbourhood where I lived. To compensate for the small size of the house, Greg, who was a handyman, built in the back a huge wooden deck surrounded by lattice.
Greg and Fiona were in their forties when their only daughter, Danielle, left to live with her boyfriend.
After her departure, Fiona and Greg were enjoying a warm Saturday evening on the deck when they realized that their home felt empty without their daughter.
“We could get a dog,” said Fiona.
In her mind, she imagined a shih-tzu, a French bulldog or a bichon frisé quietly resting in a wicker basket in the living room or sleeping at the foot of the bed. You can imagine her surprise when, a few days later, Greg showed up after work with a two-month-old Bernese mountain dog. The dog was shy, awkward and needed to be house-broken.
The Bernese mountain dog is a member of the Swiss mountain dog family. Despite his clumsiness, he is loyal and affectionate. Some say that around the mid 20th century, the Bernese mountain dog was mixed with the Newfoundland terrier to make him friendlier. Many thanks to Zebra Jay for the photo.
However, she quickly grew fond of the cute black, brown and white puppy with his long curly hair. Greg took it upon himself to train the animal. Every day he would take him for a long walk and after a few weeks he had managed to teach him to relieve himself elsewhere than on the living room carpet.
They decided to call him Vulcan, the name of the Roman god of fire, volcanoes and metals and patron of blacksmiths, because of his dark black hair. Greg knew firsthand that working with metals will turn you dark as a devil.
Months passed by and Vulcan was becoming an impressive dog who could bark very convincingly (much to the neighbours dismay). He would bark when cats, raccoons and skunks visited the backyard. He would bark at strangers although fortunately he became friendly once he knew them.
During summers there were lots of strangers because Fiona and Greg loved to entertain on their large deck and serve large quantities of barbecued beef and pork ribs with lots of wine and beer.
One weekend in June, Greg invited one of his foreign students and a few other friends for dinner.
Manuel was from Guatemala and was a mechanical engineer whose degree and experience were not recognized in Canada. Since he did not have the money to go back to university and repeat the courses he had taken in Central America, he registered for Greg’s welding classes.
Manuel was thin and in his thirties. He had dark, intense eyes and the proud posture of his Catalan ancestors.
The guests arrived and Vulcan started to bark ferociously only to stop once he realized that neither his territory nor his masters were being threatened.
Fiona brought out beer while Greg grilled the mouth-watering pieces of meat. When the guests sat down to eat their salad – served with lots of ranch dressing – a busy, friendly chatter was going on, jokes were flying between hosts and guests. It was turning out to be an enjoyable evening.
After the meal, Greg picked up his guitar and started to play and sing to liven up the party. Everybody loved his rendering of John Denver’s Leaving on a jet plane. After a few songs, Greg put down his instrument to get another bottle of fine Chilean wine from the cellar.
When he came back, the mood of the party had completely changed.
Manuel had picked up the guitar and was playing a Spanish song, compelling and suggestive. The spellbound audience was listening religiously. Greg sat down, stunned by the mastery of his student. Fiona was sitting by his side, mesmerized.
After Manuel finished playing to loud applause, he excused himself and said he had to go and could not play anymore. He thanked the hosts, said goodbye to the other guests and left, going quietly into the night.
A few days later, Greg was coming back from a long walk with Vulcan. As soon as they were in the house, Vulcan started barking and bolted, knocking over the little mahogany table where Fiona kept her African violets. He ran upstairs and kept barking ferociously in front of the closed bedroom door.
Greg swore at the animal as he removed his shoes. The mahogany table laid in pieces on the living room carpet and the flower pots had shattered in the hallway near the stairs. The huge dog would not stop barking even though Fiona was trying to calm him down.
When Greg arrived at the top of the stairs, he had quite a surprise: in front of the bedroom, he saw Fiona standing helplessly wearing only a camisole, Manuel busy buttoning up his shirt and Vulcan growling menacingly.
Since then, the house was sold but from time to time I see Greg walking Vulcan, alone in the park.
In the ruins of the ancient city of Pompei were found mosaics such as this reproduction bearing the inscription Cave canem, meaning “Beware of the dog.” Pompei was buried under ashes and pumice from the Vesuvius, a nearby volcano, in August 79 AD, after 10 days of celebrations honouring Vulcan. According to the legend, Vulcan caught his wife, Venus, cheating on him with Mars. All the cuckolds of the Roman empire diligently venerated Vulcan whose temples were guarded by dogs. Mosaic and photograph © 2012 Martin Clowes (many thanks!)