I was working for the Government of Ontario when we reached 3.5% growth for several consecutive quarters, eliminated the deficit, balanced the budget and created 1,000,000 million new jobs. I remember getting the newspapers from the front door to see the headline that Ontario had created 45,000 jobs the previous month.
I ran upstairs, pounding on Dave and Tom’s bedroom doors and shouting them out of bed:
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER* – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
I will never forget the feeling of joy and elation, optimism and energy I felt pounding through my veins. I had worked like a dog for my entire life to keep Casa Des Smiths up and running, lights on, food in the fridge, bills paid, in our Greektown house close enough for the boys to take the subway to University of Toronto. When Mike Harris pulled off everything he promised he would – including enough university spaces for the Double Cohort, which included Tom and Dave – and I could see they could have any future they wanted if they were willing to work for it, I honestly felt like all of my dreams had come true.
All three of my kids worked an incredible daily grind for years, going to school full time AND working full time (how did they do that??) and have landed on their feet in good jobs, with wonderful partners and happy lives. The world is indeed their oyster!
““WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
*One of my favourite memories from this period was the time I celebrated receiving a large cheque by taking them to Barberian’s Steak House for dinner, where they were allowed to order anything they wanted (“Can we have, like appetizers and dessert too, or just dinner?” they asked me. They were conscious of budget from an early age…)
Looking at the menu, David noted “The ancient Romans used to pay for oysters their weight in gold, because they believed they had an aphrodisiac effect and improved their performance with women.”
“Good God!” Tom exclaimed. “What did they pay for the WOMEN?”
Friday the 13th turned out to be quite a special “Dog Day” here at Rita’s Rest Home for Wayward Dogs.
Forest, Leia, Rosie and I paid our first visit to the Bowmanville Leash-Free dog park, where we met up with Dalmations, Labs, a Bassett Hound and a Mastiff presciently named “Ruckus.” Tiny Maltese Rosie held her own with all of them.
The highlight of the adventure, however, was definitely meeting Nikita, a born-and-bred Alaskan sled dog who is actually one-quarter wolf.
I need to preface the Nikita story – very sad beginning, very happy ending – by offering a belief that I have long shared with my brother Pete about dog souls.
Human beings only think they are the ones in charge when it comes time to find a dog; in fact, somewhere out in the Universe a dog’s soul is looking for YOU. When that soul and the dog in which it resides (albeit, temporarily) locates you, you may persuade yourself that you’ve reached a logical, rational executive decision to acquire a dog.
Meanwhile, that dog soul has been looking for you, has located you, and has no plans to let you get away.
Upon arrival at the dog park, I scanned the perimeters of the field for other dogs; Rosie is very small and sometimes a bit nervous, although that passes quickly. When I spotted Nikita laying in the shade with her owner all the way across the field, I was automatically a bit worried about whether or not she was friendly to other dogs, as not all Husky/Malamutes are.
Wandering along the fence, pre-occupied with picking up dog poos, I did not even notice quiet, stealthy Nikita cross the field; when I looked up, she was sitting in front of Rosie and wagging her bushy tail furiously. With one bright blue eye and one brown, she has an exotic, mysterious look. She seemed to know better than to run or jump around Rosie the way a more obliviously enthusiastic dog would.
Before I had time to get anxious, her owner walked up.
“What a beautiful dog!” I exclaimed sincerely. “She looks like she is part wolf!”
“She is 25 per cent wolf,” he nodded. “I had her DNA tested when we got home. Nikita is from Alaska.”
“How did she get here?” I gasped.
“I stole her,” RJ shrugged philosophically.
Fascinated already by the idea of a wolf/dog from Alaska finding her way to Bowmanville, Ontario, I asked RJ how he came to “steal” her and this is the story he told me:
“I was in Alaska, fishing with a buddy who has a boat there. One day we were sitting high up on a hill, and I could see a fenced-in property below us.
‘What is that?’ I asked.
‘That’s a breeding and training business which raises sled-racing dogs,’ he told me. ‘It’s not a nice place.’”
RJ went on to explain that dogsled racing is a huge business and important part of the economy in Alaska; Nikita had been bred and was being raised to race in the Iditarod, the world-famous race which takes place between Anchorage and Nome every year.
“Humans seem to love it, but it is a cruel and awful life for the dogs,” he said. I could feel the anger starting to rise in his voice.
“They spend the first four months of their lives chained to a post on a chain about 3 feet long…they are not pets. Every so often, the owner walks through the yard with a taser and shocks them, to keep them mean. Dogs die running the Iditarod. Nobody cares.
“Coke and Exxon and other corporate sponsors….they pay money to be part of it. Nobody cares about the dogs.”
I nodded sadly: “I caught about an hour of the finals on TV last year,” I agreed. “It looks just brutal for the dogs. Walt Disney even made a movie about it, ‘Snow Dogs,’ it was so happy and looked like so much fun.” In the real Iditarod in 2017, four dogs died of exhaustion. In 2016, one was run over by a snowmobile.
“The breeder didn’t like Nikita – she is small and too submissive, not mean enough,” RJ continued, obviously upset now. “One day I saw him kick her through the air, right across the yard. That night, I hopped the fence and stole her.
“I’ve never had a dog before,” he noted. “She is the first dog I’ve ever owned. She is the sweetest, quietest, most obedient dog I could ever have wanted. Now, I can’t imagine life without her.”
I shared with RJ the “Pete & Rita Theory of Dog Souls in the Universe.”
“You think you rescued Nikita,” I pointed out. “Actually, she rescued you!”
“That’s very true!” he laughed, ruffling her head and ears as she gazed up at him adoringly.
I read once about the fact that there must have been something very special about wolves, because aeons ago human beings were inspired to share their food and the warmth of their campfires with them as the very first domesticated animals. Not cats, not bears, not birds, not deer. Wolves.
Humans have been providing food and shelter, and the descendants of wolves have been sharing love, loyalty, companionship and protection ever since. Our souls have been entwined for a very long time.
Stop to imagine: every single dog in that dog park, whether sleek Dalmation, jolly Labrador Retriever, massive Mastiff, baying Bassett Hound, or lap-dog Maltese – traces its ancestry back to the wolf. Vastly different in size, in intelligence, in personality and in demeanor, all those dogs came from the same original dog, the wolf.
It was very special, to have Nikita there to remind us of this miraculous fact. In a symbolic way, she represents the Mother of all Dogs.
It was a nice Friday the 13th.
 As far as I know, it is not legal to own a wolf hybrid in Ontario, although they are very common in the north where unsprayed female dogs breed with wolves on a regular basis. They are less common in other areas. In Alberta, owners with a special license are allowed to own wolf hybrids.
Congratulations to the United States for preparing to move to a merit-based immigration system, which Canada and Australia have used for decades.
As an immigrant to Canada myself, I have first-hand experience of the thoroughness of the process. It was stressful and nerve-wracking; but it also makes me appreciate the work that goes into vetting legal immigrants to Canada.
This is not an unkind process: organizing a productive and prosperous society allows Canada to take good care of its citizens. We contribute considerable sums of money to international programs; we take in a lot of refugees.
I’m dismayed to hear media pundits in the US claiming that a merit-based system is racist: it is exactly the opposite of racist. An engineer from India or Africa who speaks English or French and has a relative living here will quickly move to the front of the line ahead of an applicant from England or Ireland with less education and no relative living here.
An applicant from China who plans to start a business and create jobs will be considered before an American simply looking for a job.
Canada’s immigration program is not perfect, but it’s one of the most successful on the globe.
My family moved to Ontario from Michigan when I was 13 years old; I arrived as a Landed Immigrant.
I got married and had three kids, started a business and was hard at work and paying taxes. Imagine my shock when, returning from a trade show in San Francisco, I got pulled out of line at airport Customs and moved to a small room where I was grilled for what seemed an eternity.
Officers wanted to know where I lived, what I did, and most importantly, why I had never applied for Canadian citizenship.
Eventually I was told: “OK. We believe you live in Toronto. But, you should get your citizenship. You have been here for 20 years. Canada expects you to make a commitment.”
I applied, and thus began the most nerve-wracking six months of my life. I almost never slept, wondering what would happen if I failed the test: would Canada make me leave?
The test was 50 questions long, but there were five different tests you could get, so I tried to memorize all 250 possible answers. I kept a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the bathroom so I could review it on every visit.
I had to do two interviews, one with a bureaucrat and one with a judge. I was so nervous at the first interview that I actually lost my vision, walked off of the curb on St. Clair and stepped directly in front of a car – which fortunately stopped before it hit me.
When I passed and was sworn in as a citizen, we had a giant family celebration.
After the 2008 recession, my American nephew asked me about immigrating to Canada. I went onto the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to check it out, and was thoroughly impressed: there is actually a pre-questionnaire to fill in, to determine if you should bother applying for the full process.
Why do you want to come to Canada? Which French or English test have you passed? Do you have a relative in Canada? Do you plan to work or start a business?
Canada’s merit-based system has served it well. It is hard but fair, and it works.