When renting a movie with my sister, Kiley, many factors have to be considered. She doesn’t like violence, subtitles, graphic sex or storylines that will leave her too emotional. Dax, my brother, a lover of sci-fi, muscle-bound boys and/or glossy special effects had his picky say in the choosing too when we were all together in March this year. I’m drawn to the dramas, clever dialogue, anything with Meryl Streep and socially conscious documentaries. When Kiley suggested Seven Pounds, Dax and I were leery. I was worried it would be too Disney, an over-the-top saccharine tale like Will Smith’s Pursuit of Happyness.
But Kiley really wanted to see it and besides, we were all sick of the free salty popcorn that we had been mindlessly eating for an hour while trying to find a movie we agreed upon.
Seven Pounds left us all feeling like we had been kicked in the throat. Kiley had to leave the house to calm herself down, walking around the block a few times to suck in the frozen Banff night air in big gulps. Years ago she left the screening of Meet Joe Black wailing. Again, she walked around the block with several bystanders concerned that someone she knew had just died.Maybe there had been a tragic accident? Nope, just a really, really sad movie for Kiley.
When Kiley returned from her block walk, her boyfriend Mark commented: “Seven pounds of sadness, eh Kiley?” No kidding. That movie left us with elephants sitting on our chests until the next morning.
But for the seven pounds of sadness that can rob us of sleep and make our hearts feel too big for our chest cavities, there has to be even more pounds of happiness. Like 63 pounds to be exact, and that’s where Mila comes in.
Walking to work this week I’ve had many miles to think about Mila and her antics. She is best known as a serial picnic raider. If I turn my back for a moment, she is like a picnic-seeking missile and goes in for the kill despite any verbal protests. Often she gets hand-outs for being so cute, but other times, the victims are less than charmed.
“That dog is eating our chips!” The woman yelled from her inner tube as she bobbed in the waters of Hayward Lake. Kiley and Mark had swum out to the floating logs and I had been preoccupied with Bently and his need to constantly fetch his Kong. I turned and Mila had her head buried deep in an unattended chip bag, with a trail of sandy paw prints all over the cranky inner tube woman’s picnic blanket. That didn’t go over so well.
Two winters ago we were walking along a logging trail and Mila disappeared behind us into the snowy woods. Wanda called her name until she was hoarse, and marched into the woods behind her. “She’s probably found shit.” As much as Mila loves potato chips, she is a bigger fan of shit—human, goose, cat, it’s all decadent to her.
Wanda emerged from the woods shaking her head. She was holding a rack of ribs in her hand. A hunter had obviously gutted a deer and left behind the bones—and the ribs for Mila. She was in a trance and we had to keep Mila on the leash for the rest of the walk, otherwise she would have been back to the bone pile. How she could smell frozen ribs deep in the woods is remarkable to me. But, she is a Labrador retriever, and they retrieve things like that by nature.
Mila is a fuss-pot though. Give her a piece of banana and she thinks it’s poison. She will take it tentatively with a curled lip, then let it drop to the floor (where Bently gives it the two second rule). Peppers, pineapple, avocado and celery are all treated in the same manner. However, she will never say no to almonds, Smarties, Swiss cheese or licking the remnants from a mixing bowl of ginger molasses cookie dough.
With a tongue like Gene Simmons, Mila is known for licking bare legs from ankles to mid-thigh. It’s a bit embarrassing when she insists on licking right up your thigh in public, but she does make me feel like her favourite popsicle after I come back from a run.
Walking Mila without treats to lure her along is nearly impossible. She needs goals, preferably edible ones. Wanda and I have often talked about how much easier it would be to walk her if we could put wheels on her feet. I will have Bently stretched out to the end of his retractable leash 15 feet ahead, and Mila the opposite way, 15 feet behind. At age 10, she still has the ability to pull my arm out of socket with one of her unexpected sniffs. Upon discovering a clump of mysterious dog crap or an abandoned Wendy’s Frosty cup, Mila throws on the brakes and then heaves all her body weight towards the desired object. I weigh more than twice what she does, but when Mila needs an up close and personal sniff, that’s where we go. Sometimes we will try scare tactics like telling Mila that the pound is coming—“look, there’s the truck! Hurry Mila, it’s the dog-catcher!” She doesn’t even look up. I’m sure she’d be happy for the free ride.
Last spring when we were hiking the Reservoir trail at Hayward Lake in Mission, Mila caught a whiff of the wild and went stir-crazy. A coyote appeared at the edge of the woods and scampered off. Bently cowered with his ears pinned back and retreated to the safe spot between Wanda’s legs. Mila, our fearless protector, wouldn’t stop barking until we got back to the vehicle. In the face of danger, Mila would be our hero. That is, if she wasn’t busy digging.
At Teapot Hill we almost lost Mila in a bear den. We had just reached the snowline and Mila tiptoed off the trail and stuck her snout under a fallen log. The snow collapsed and revealed a larger hole. I laughed as she squeezed her head in, dirt and snow flying out behind her paws. She pushed in further, and I stopped laughing when all I could see was her tail. Wanda managed to grab the tip of her tail and pulled her out against her will. Ahh, our adventurer, Mila. She’s given me a few grand-scale panic attacks.
I thought I lost Mila for good the year I was looking for a truck. I had taken the dogs to Clearbrook park and stopped at a used car lot when I saw a Jeep for five grand. I pulled over on the side street to check out the vehicle and the Jetta parked on the other side of the building. The Jeep had over 250,000 km and the Jetta was red, so I didn’t look very long. I got back in the Santa Fe and looked in the rear view mirror. The dogs were gone. They weren’t in the back of the SUV. My skin felt like it was going to catch fire. I wanted to throw up. Someone had stolen the dogs right out of the vehicle!
“GUYS!” I yelled (the loudest I’ve ever yelled in my life). Tears fell automatically out of my eyes.
Their furry heads popped up at the same time, alarmed. I think I said Jesus Christ over 10 times, followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and crawled in the back of the SUV to hug them. I had locked the truck, so I don’t know how or why I thought they had been stolen. But, my heartbeat didn’t slow for days after that scare.
The trouble with Mila is that she is free to a good home. Or, that’s how she presents herself. I’ll be walking down the street with her and someone will open the front door of their house and Mila will turn on the spot to head towards them. If a car door opens on the street she is ready to climb in the back seat. On Hallowe’en night, she disappears with every goblin and witch that comes to the door, sauntering off nonchalantly. When we pass other dog walkers on the path, Mila turns and starts following them. It sometimes gives me a complex…
I suppose Mila has a wandering spirit. Born in Los Angeles, she has traveled more than most humans—frequenting the Gatwick airport on her flights to Spain. She came to Abbotsford to retire from her jet-setter lifestyle, and has enriched all our lives in countless ways. Dinner doesn’t seem right unless I have the weight of her head on my leg as she sits under the table. On the rare night that she is being slightly obedient, she will lay beside the table—but if I take too long to eat, she will slap her paw on the hardwood as a friendly reminder that she is patiently waiting for plate licks.
She sheds a ridiculous amount, giving the Dyson vaccuum the ultimate challenge. I could sell Mila fur coats in the winter with the quantity of fur I suck up. Wanda will often tell me not to pet her inside the house because she is shedding so much. When she shakes, it’s like an overturned snow globe. When I brush her and run my hands vigorously over her body afterwards, I always say, “look Mila, it’s snowing!” I’ve slowly eliminated black items from my wardrobe, as well as corduroy and fleece zip-ups. All of these act like Velcro for Mila’s fur.
But it’s more than her fur that I’m attached too. Mila is deep under my skin. Those dreamboat eyes of hers get me every time. She is lying at my feet right now, deep in sleep. I know that as soon as I ask her if she wants to go for a walk that she will catapult up and be tripping over me as she walks on the back of my flip-flops down the stairs.
I hope she proves the experts wrong. This sassy American gal has more than three months in her. And I hope she raids every picnic we come across this summer.