To The Dogs

By Peter Henderson

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Mike Harvey had a turbulent career before finding contentment in the society of "man's best friend."

He came from a wealthy upper crust Anglo-Irish family, with grandparents who sailed back and forth between New York and Ireland in their own yacht. Eventually, his father wound up in Winnipeg, where he married Mike's mother - an ill-suited match. The result was Mike, and a notable lack of parental affection throughout his childhood. When he was a small boy, his parents separated.

Raised in the foothills of Alberta, Mike was sent to boarding school in Calgary, where life was rigorous, with plenty of corporal punishment.

During the Second World War, he wanted to be a paratrooper, because they wore cherry coloured berets, and were popular with the girls. At 16, he managed to enlist; with the help of his father saying he was "in his 17th year." Mike's official rank was "Boy Soldier."

True to the family custom of tough love, Mike recalls that the only time his mother kissed him was when he was lined up in Calgary on overseas draft. He received a peck on the cheek and the encouraging words: "Be a brave soldier, dear, don't let me down."

Following the parental injunction, at his medical exam, he memorized the lower letters on the eyesight chart to compensate for some visual defects, and duly became a paratrooper. After jumping into combat over the Rhine in February 1945, he was just in time to see combat for five days before being wounded. In hospital, he enjoyed the company of the nurses. A couple of months later, the war ended.

Still very young, Mike went back to school and got his senior matriculation in Calgary. He found, however, that many of his friends were re-enlisted, so he followed them and found himself in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

"At one point, as a regimental policeman, I was caught drinking beer with a prisoner I was escorting, and so got 28 days detention," says Mike. "The colonel had me up, with the words, 'You'll never be a decent soldier,' so with true military logic they sent me for officer training, with the Van Doos at Valcartier, Quebec because I'd taken French in school. With the Van Doos, I was sent to Laval University extension department to improve my French, the only course I ever failed, with 49 per cent. I got on well with the men despite my being an English speaker, but I didn't really want to be in the regiment."

Somewhat late in his military career, a civilian optometrist found Mike's eyesight was below standard.

"As a result, I was sent to Ottawa and made a public relations officer, being then sent down to Fort Slocombe, New York, with the American army to learn the job. I came in second out of a class of 45."

His somewhat uneven military career eventually ended, and with a gift for writing, he was offered a job selling advertising space for the *Star* newspaper in Sudbury, Ontario.

It was here, in 1957, that he met and married his wife and where Mike first entered the world of dogs - a world he later became passionate about.

"We were in a basement suite with the landlady's dog in a little unheated kennel at the back of the house at 40 below, sick and eating chicken bones."

Around that time, Mike's stepfather died, and despite the lack of family affection, he felt it his duty to move to Calgary to be with his mother. When he and his wife decided to go West, he bargained with their Ukrainian landlady for the old dog. His wife lost a sewing machine and they loaded "Laddie" into the backseat.

Laddie endeared himself to Mike, in their early days in Calgary, with his consideration for other dogs, notably a female Labrador named Toby. One snowy night, Toby's owners were concerned over her apparent disappearance, being about to give birth to a new litter.

At the same time, Mike was puzzled by Laddie's refusal to enter his kennel. "Come on, stupid," he urged, lifting the flap for Laddie to enter, "You'll catch your death of cold, you old fool." Nothing would induce him to enter, even when Mike dragged him by the collar. So, there he remained, while Mike and his wife left for the evening.

When they returned home later, Laddie was still huddled in the lee of his kennel, shielding himself from the stinging snow hurled by a cold east wind. "He's getting soft in the head, in his old age," thought Mike. The following afternoon, inspection of the doghouse revealed Toby, nursing seven tiny black puppies.

In Calgary, for about 12 years, Mike sold advertising space for Joe Clark's father, the publisher of the *High River Times*. Sadly, he and his wife drifted apart and divorced.

Keeping in shape by playing tennis and badminton led to another unexpected turn in his life.

"This young girl, with whom I played badminton and tennis, arrived at my door with a suitcase, and said 'We're going to get married.'" Flattered, Mike acquiesced and 41 years and three children later, Shirley and him are still together.

When he arrived in B.C., he worked with the Journal of Commerce and became involved in soccer. "I used to coach my daughter's soccer team that became close to being the B.C. champs, being beaten out by only one goal."

At 82, he still plays tennis, but dogs remain his passion.

"I kept coming across dogs, because I'd walk for miles and kept finding strays that had been abandoned. I just loved every one of them. At one time, we had 11 dogs, all strays, Labradors, German Shepherds, Pit bulls, Irish setters, you name it, we had it."

As time went by, however, they had to have them put down and were reluctant to replace them because Mike's wife was concerned about their care after his own possible demise.

Accordingly, he went to work for and supports the Langley Animal Protection Society. At the Animal Shelter, he walks dogs, and acts as their Public Relations officer.

A local couple that was getting married had already been together for some years, and therefore needed few gifts, so at Mike's suggestion they decided they would ask for donations towards the Animal Shelter. Mike was the master of ceremonies at the reception, and donations totalled over $1,000. Mike loves being with people as well as dogs.

"I also put in time in a vegetable garden and I play table tennis four times a week. I walk every day and I ride my exercise bike. I write for a magazine called *Dialogue* published in Nanaimo. In the *Langley Times*, I write a column they call the Occasional Correspondent."

But dogs remain his main interest, and there is no shortage of them at the shelter for Mike to care for and walk.

Photo: "Lulu" mastiff.

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