Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gordon Aalborg & Magic

Who is in the photo at right?

That is me, Gordon Aalborg, and my chocolate Labrador, Magic. I am a novelist, editor, and occasional carver and Magic is the faerie who was put upon this earth to keep me grounded and allegedly sane.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The occasion is to celebrate Magic getting her Junior Hunter title at a recent Hunt Test, which is a simulated duck-shooting expedition in which gundogs must show that they can do what they've been bred to do. And do it well, needless to say. When I got Magic, she was four years old and - if you can believe such a thing, had never seen a duck, heard a gun or learned to swim! The swimming is the part that worries me most now, because she is still a bit wary of it, and, being female, a trifle fickle in her reactions to being asked to swim.

What's the beverage du jour?

Instant. And cheap instant, at that. But if we were out it might be a cappuccino. We're not “out” because I'm too tired to go out. It's been a trying weekend in more ways than one.

Any treats for you or your dog on this occasion?

She gets treats when we train, but I'm too tired to train today, and she might be too, if I dared ask her. Which I dare not, because she would point to the sign right above her eyebrows that says: Labrador ... will work for FOOD.

How did your dog come to be united with you?

Short version. She was a kennel dog, kept for possible breeding. Maybe. Eventually. Possibly. She had basic obedience, had learned to chase balls, but was--in my opinion--bored right out of her brain. We came across her when we were looking for a dog (maybe) to replace our old Pandora, who had taken the rainbow bridge at 14.

I'm a gundog enthusiast, was founder and first president of the Tasmanian Gundog Trial Association, and thought I might get back into the sport here in Canada, where I now live.

This lady had a litter of Chocolate Lab pups, but the bitches were all sold and I will not own a male dog (it's like having a teenage boy in the house ... challenge, challenge, challenge) so I asked if she might, by chance, have a three or four year-old dog that might need a decent home.

We looked at Magic, who was spinny as a wheel in her ecstasy at being let out for a romp, there were discussions, negotiations a few days later when she brought Magic to my place so we could see her away from all the distractions of puppies and other dogs, there were more negotiations and Magic did not leave with her former owner. Didn't even say good-bye, actually.

How did Magic get her name?

It was part of her kennel name, although her former owner had given her a different one. To us she was Magic in all possible ways, and a reminder to me of my first Magic [photo right], a chocolate bitch I bred in Tasmania. She went on to become a guide dog for a blind friend of the family and he used to run her in retrieving trials as her R&R. She featured in my suspense thriller Dining With Devils which is set in Tasmania and start off with a retrieving trial in which the judge is fatally shot.

Foothills Mocha Magic

At first, everyone thought the retrieving trial judge had been killed by a blind man shooting blanks at a dead pigeon. With typical Tasmanian logic and the blinkered focus of hardened gundog trial fanatics, they ignored the fact that the judge had been standing behind the blind man when the gun went off and the blanks in the blind man's shotgun were loaded only with primers, and therefore harmless.

Instead, they focused on the obvious, which was that blind John had the shotgun in his hands and all the motive in the world for shooting the judge, who, the evening before, had callously told John, in front of everyone, that he should give up entering his guide dog Magic in retrieving trials because, “You can't possibly win.” Insensitive and unkind words to a highly competitive individual like John, so in the eyes of most observers, the judge deserved shooting!

And then the judge had compounded the offense by growling back when John's guide dog/retrieving trial entrant sensed John's anger and curled her upper lip in the beginnings of a snarl. Foothills Mocha Magic was not known to snarl without good and sufficient reason. The chocolate Labrador bitch took her work as a guide dog seriously, and reading John's moods, not to mention protecting him, was part of her chosen role in life. A short-lived incident, but a memorable one that gained the judge no credit even in death.

When he died, nobody was actually watching the judge anyway. All attentions were focused across an arm of the South Esk River, on the place where the mechanical catapult was set up to fling dead pigeons for the trial dogs to retrieve. The trial site was on Ormley, a grazing property nestled in the Fingal Valley east of Avoca between the looming bulk of Ben Lomond and the lower Fingal Tier to the south.

It was a typical late autumn morning in which everyone had awakened to a river valley swirling in a fog that roosted in the tall blue gums and stringy-barks along the river and shrouded the gorse bushes and lower scrub. It took quite some time to burn off, but by mid-morning the day was as splendid as anyone could ask for. Except maybe the judge.

Thus, this astonishing chain of events:

* The judge raised his clipboard in a signal.
* The bird thrower was released, flinging the pigeon into the air for Magic to see and John to shoot at even though he couldn't see.
* John, who'd been a shooter before losing his sight in an accident, heard the thrower and fired at the appropriate moment the bird should have been at the zenith of its flight.
* And both the hapless pigeon and the trial judge ended up face-down and dead on the boggy ground, a hundred yards and a river between them, but equal in death.

Foothills Mocha Magic, splendid dog that she was, kept her attention focused on the pigeon--if the idiot judge wished to do his job lying face down in the dirt, that was none of her concern. John, of course, didn't see the judge fall, so he waited the requisite mental ten-count, then ordered his dog to fetch, whereupon she took off like a rocket, launched herself into the river, swam across, ran straight to the bird, picked it up, and was swimming the river on her way back almost before the judge stopped twitching. She threw him a scurrilous glance, then presented John with her trophy in a perfect, ten-point delivery, and walked back to heel, neither knowing nor caring that her best run ever wasn't going to count.

Hardly anyone even saw the delivery; most of the gallery had, by this time, realized that their trial judge had just fallen down dead.

Foothills Mocha Magic has gone to be united with her beloved John Whitton, and my Magic has yet to find a place in one of my books, but she'll manage it one day, I'm sure.

Various dogs from my life have made it into my books. The Original Magic's relatives are all in Love Thy Neighbour, my working-bred English Springer Spaniel Wrangham Ladbybird (Lady) was a wonderful character in Finding Bess. And many others for whom I don't even have pictures, sadly. More on this in

What's an ordinary day like for you and your dog?

On a good day, it's both of us up at sparrow-fart, coffee for me, then we're off to the local park to train for an hour or so. Sometimes to the nearby beach to swim in the salt-chuck. Then I work, she sleeps, wanders around the house, keeps tabs on my wife, author Denise Dietz with whom she goes back to the park in the afternoon so she can teach Deni to play tennis. Evenings she brings us her various toys for examination, just to be sure she hasn't misplaced any of them.

Does Magic have a favorite place to walk?

She likes the park, the beach, the retriever club's training grounds ... anywhere she can use her wonderful nose and instincts to their fullest. Unless it involves swimming, which she will do, but is still shy of. She'll be six this summer, but for purposes of being a Hunt Test dog, or - in my terms - a real dog, she is really less than two years old, and has much yet to learn ... and to teach me.

What's your dog's best quality?

She has the finest temperament possible in a Labrador. If only she'd get enthusiastic about swimming, (which she will, someday) she'd be perfect - which makes her a lot closer to perfection than I am or will ever be. Plus she is a World Class Chick Magnet! Never a bad thing for a man my age.

What's your dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Her proudest might be getting her Junior Hunter title. Her most embarrassing might be having refused only the day before that to go into the water at all. I am beyond being concerned about such things, since I believe a grown man shouldn't need a dog to help him make a damned fool of himself, and I've proven that plenty of times.

Like all dogs, Magic is a realist. She helps my Muse and alter-ego Victoria Gordon to write romances, but Magic holds no illusions on the subject.

Learn more about his dogs and his books at Gordon Aalborg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue