Bringing joy to my family was my raison d'etre.
All of us were born on the same day: four females and two males.It was February 1978. We were all black and white, except Muffy who was liver and white. Our dad’s name was Amigo, mum was Flirty.
Our breeder Mrs. Snelling became famous the following year when her Irish Water Spaniel Oak Trees’ Irishtocrat won Best-in-Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. A big deal for a dog born just outside Ottawa. My registered Springer Spaniel name was Oak Trees’ African Queen.
One morning in May 1978, a lady named Pat came to take me away from my family. I cried a lot at first, but then I got curious about where I was going. As she’d put a collar around my neck attached to a leash, when we left the car in front of her house, I peed on the grass but couldn’t run away afterwards.
Inside the house, she showed me a crate in the family room, with a snuggly blanket to sleep on. I sniffed everything to get my bearings. Minutes later she took me outside again (on my leash) to meet two little boys. They were very excited to see me, and I was even more excited to meet them, licking their hands with joy. They were shorter and easier to reach than Pat.
Four-year-old Jeff wore a navy jacket; seven-year-old Stephen wore red. Pat took a picture of us saying hello for the first time. Stephen only stayed for lunch, and then went back to school. Jeff stayed to play with me all afternoon. Aluminum screens blocked my going into the living room, dining room, and up the carpeted stairs. Not sure why. I soon found that I was supposed to sleep in the crate, with the door locked. When the people were going to bed, Pat put a ticking clock wrapped in a towel into the crate with me. Apparently, the ticking was supposed to remind me of my mummy’s beating heart, but it didn’t. Being scared and lonely away from my littermates, I cried a lot that night. Eventually I fell asleep.
One afternoon, Pat took me in the car to the airport. She told me that Mike was arriving back from Africa, so we were going to meet him. Being pretty small, I crawled all over the car as she drove, even resting on her shoulders. When we got there, she wanted me to pee before going into this big building, so I did. I had learned to pee outside, mostly.
Calling Me Penda
She kept me on her lap until she saw Mike walking towards us.He was very excited to meet me too, picking me up. I’m not sure when they started calling me Penda.
Because Mike did business in Africa, they thought it would be nice to give me a Swahili name. Pat phoned the Tanzanian High Commission and asked them to translate words like dog, friend, and girl. The minute she heard that love translates to penda she decided that was it. Over time, some strangers thought my name was Panda because of my black and white markings. The family corrected them.
It turned out that I hardly ever needed to walk on a leash or be tied up outside. That’s because our house backed onto the National Capital Commission land. There was an opening in our fence, so I could run all over the fields and forests loose! A family member was always with me, however.
Every season was different, but I loved winter best. Whenever anyone went cross-country skiing, I’d run along too. Balls of snow would get caught between my toes, but they’d quickly melt back home.
They’d adopted me in May. The next month they began taking me on long road trips to stay at the family cottage in Vermont. Swimming in the lake came naturally to me and was marvellous. Another woodsy path to run along off the leash! These trips happened on weekends, then one day we headed off on a really long trip to Nova Scotia. My metal crate was folded up and placed in the trunk. Motels let me stay in their room if I had a crate. Whenever they ate in a restaurant, I was left in the car. Too anxious to just fall asleep, I’d keep watching out for them to come back to me.
In 1980 I turned two, and we began moving a lot. The family was going to live in England for a long time, and if they’d taken me, I needed to be quarantined for six months. (There’s no rabies in the British Isles.) Instead, they arranged for me to live in Vermont for two years on a farm with Reverend Bob Castle, his wife Nancy, and a nasty German Shepherd called Bear. That big dog gave me a nip right after the Butlers left, to show me who was boss. Things were okay after that.
When the family came to visit me the next summer, the Castles had my long, shaggy coat groomed to make me look more presentable. I was so excited when they came back in 1982 to take me to live in
Toronto that I jumped right up into the back of their station wagon, lay down, and refused to budge.
Another new house to get used to.This one had a fenced yard, but whenever I went for a walk around the neighbourhood it was leash-time. My poor walker had to pick up my poo every time, which was embarrassing for me.
Then Mike got a new job in England. So, this time they left me with a family across Queen Anne Road with three nice daughters. They gave me plenty of petting and attention, and the three-year-old liked to fall asleep cuddling me on the family room floor. Sometimes the dad would let me off the leash during our early-morning run. When we got back to Queen Anne, I would go sit at the Butlers’ front door and whine to get in. Complete waste of time.
This time my family came back to me after only one year away. They started taking me to a new property on Lake Ontario. Again, lots of swimming. When everyone was in the lake, I always
wanted to swim out the farthest to herd them back to shore. Taking care of all of them was my job.
When I was twelve, I got sick. For my final meal, Mike made me waffles. I was used to just getting the scraps, but this was a special day and I got fresh, whole ones.
That whole family sure loved me a lot. After all, they named me “Love in Swahili,” didn’t they?