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Wally's World: Life with Wally the Wonder Dog

Wally's World: Life with Wally the Wonder Dog

by Marsha Boulton

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It takes about sixty-three days to make a litter of puppies, but sixty-three years later the people who loved those puppies remember the dogs they became.

When a puppy that fit into a baseball cap entered bestselling author and shepherd Marsha Boulton’s life, she had no idea he was really a rambunctious kid in a dog suit. Wally (named after


It takes about sixty-three days to make a litter of puppies, but sixty-three years later the people who loved those puppies remember the dogs they became.

When a puppy that fit into a baseball cap entered bestselling author and shepherd Marsha Boulton’s life, she had no idea he was really a rambunctious kid in a dog suit. Wally (named after the poet Wallace Stevens) became more of an experience than a dog from the moment he arrived at Lambs’ Quarters Farm. The spoiled, personality-loaded, soccer-playing pup quickly developed a penchant for high-thread-count linens, organic beef, and gourmet cooking. Life was good.

Then all hell broke loose. An intense legal battle engulfed Marsha’s partner, Stephen, and plunged the couple into a decade-long struggle. During that time, Marsha was also diagnosed with cancer. With his indomitable spirit and wild enthusiasm, Wally’s unrelenting appetite for life renewed the couple’s strength and gave them the perspective they needed to persevere. Whether playing class clown at puppy school or looking up the skirts of judges at dog shows, Wally the Wonder Dog ensured that serious laughter was a daily routine. Wally’s World is a raucous memoir, a roller-coaster ride with an irrepressible partner in paws who is impossible to forget.

Praise for Wally’s World

“This is an early memoir for someone of Boulton’s age, but her experiences and the insight she seems to have been born with make it a valuable and entertaining read, whether you are a big fan of dogs or not.” —The Chronicle Journal (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada)

Wally’s World is a gripping memoir that moves gracefully between humorous stories about Wally, the beloved dog-cum-child, and Boulton’s narrative of her partner’s tribulations. . . . Immensely readable . . . told in an engaging, original manner.” —The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“A must for dog lovers. . . . Wally is a delight. . . . Funny, warm, and moving.” —Toronto Sun

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Author Boulton (Letters from the Country, Just a Minute More) and her longtime partner, author Stephen Williams, have shared their Canadian farmstead with a number of dogs, but Wally the Bull Terrier is the one who "shaped our life and saved it too." Boulton's wide-ranging memoir starts strong, a lyrical ode to the ups and downs of life among the canines, gleefully recounting obedience training and Wally's puppy days, run-ins with skunks, the sudden death of loveable bull mastiff Hank, etc. Unfortunately, Boulton loses the narrative to some weighty personal issues; a lengthy police investigation against Williams, regarding a notorious serial killer case and the two books Williams wrote about it, eventually overwhelms (though Boulton's serious run-in with skin cancer receives surprisingly little attention). Anecdotes about Wally are interspersed throughout, but charming tales of dog shows and tussles with local wildlife take a back seat to the grim legal proceedings. Though Boulton's intended message is clear-a dog can make the bad times bearable and the good times better-her anger and frustration with the justice system speaks far louder, making this a disjointed and unsatisfying entry into the me-and-my-dog memoir camp.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There Were Always Dogs

It takes about sixty-three days to make a litter of puppies, but sixty-three years later the people who loved those puppies remember the dogs they became.

I know I remember Lady, the fawn-colored boxer who came to live at the Boulton bungalow on Sprucedale Circle when I was just three years old. People say, "How can you possibly remember something that far back?" But I can, and it is not something that comes from looking at old pictures. I remember my pink crib and my spring-loaded rocking horse and the texture of the gray rug on which I took my first step. So I could never forget a free spirit like Lady. Those were the days before I learned to think and plot, so there was nothing to interfere with me talking to Lady, which I did on a regular basis.

The gray brick house on Sprucedale backed onto a ravine that fell sharply at the edge of the backyard picket fence into a ravine woodlot. Lady was forever running off into the mystical forest and returning to tell me of her adventures. She met other dogs, and she chased rabbits and smelled all sorts of stinky stuff.

Her muzzle was soft as velvet, and her button eyes sparkled. A hel-lion on paws, Lady loved nothing more than crashing through the screen door and escaping to the hills and gullies of the ravine while my beleaguered mother stood screaming in her apron.

My mother had served as an air force secretary to a brigadier general during World War II, but she was taxed to tend me, let alone a renegade boxer. I was adopted when I was two weeks old, after as much planning as the invasion of Normandy—none of it terribly practical. No one remembered to get a baby carriage.

It was the 1950s, and a physicist named Murray Gell-Mann demonstrated that certain subatomic particles have a property he called "strangeness." Strangeness, a fundamental component of human life— I think I knew that instinctively while watching my mother standing on the back stoop hollering after Lady.

In those days it seemed anything could happen. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, about the witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, played off U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s probing for Communists embedded in Hollywood and the government. Nineteen assorted townsfolk and two dogs were executed on Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village. Thousands of lives were ruined before investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow publicly eviscerated the drunk and sweaty McCarthy.

Strangeness led to big things, like James Watson and Francis Crick showing that the DNA molecule was a double helix, a ge ne tic "code" unique to each person—and each dog. Things like the DNA double helix made big brains tremble with excitement, while others proclaimed the beginning of the end for baseball when an umpire, Bill Klein, was voted into the Hall of Fame. J. D. Salinger captured adolescent angst in The Catcher in the Rye, while a "noise" called rock and roll first made the pop charts with "Crazy Man, Crazy" by Bill Haley and the Comets. Malcolm Little became Malcolm "X." The war that followed the war to-end-all-wars was over, and possibilities were endless.

In the 1950s, adoptive parents could choose the baby they were going to get—color of hair and eyes, that sort of thing. There was no question that white people would get a white baby. That was just the way things were. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I knew I was a "chosen one." My father, a dentist, told me that one day he and his wife went to the Baby Store. They rolled a shopping cart up and down the aisles full of babies. He saw a handsome boy and was getting ready to put him in the cart, but his wife insisted on looking at the girls. Harrumph. He went along with her. They found a lovely baby girl with red hair and cheeks as pink as peaches. Then they found a sweetheart with long black hair and red lips. They could not make up their minds which to choose and were about to play eenie, meenie, minie, moe when they heard a dreadful shriek from the end of the aisle. They went to see what it was and found the homeliest baby girl anyone had ever seen. She had no hair, beady blue eyes, and when she opened her mouth she sounded like a sick parrot.

"Your mother said, ‘If we don’t take her, nobody will,’" my father trumpeted with a flourish.

My mother, the only one I have ever known, was the youn gest of six, rock-scrabble, Irish-French children. As "the baby" she had scant experience with babies herself, but women of that era were expected to know how to raise a family intuitively, just as they were expected to know that their hat should be as wide as the widest part of their face. Family and friends gave advice, but the truth of my mother’s terror rests in the diaries she kept during my first six months as a Boulton, which often featured entries such as "Fed her."

I knew that I really came from Aunt Jean Gray’s home for unwed mothers. We visited Aunt Jean Gray a couple of times when I was little. She was a big-bosomed woman who kept her long gray hair carefully scrolled on top of her head. We had tea and cucumber sandwiches in her lavender-scented living room. Then a "nurse" wheeled in a baby carriage and we took home a new sister or brother for me.

I never knew where Lady came from. She just bounded through the door with my father one day, and we had a dog. Dogs could talk in my storybooks. It did not surprise me that Lady had stories to tell, just like her namesake, the honey-colored spaniel in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp. My Lady did not have dulcet tones; she was more a street-wise jokester. Through her eyes, smell, and touch, I charged along the edge of muddy riverbanks, feeling the dappled sun filtering through the trees while crisp autumn leaves crackled in the breeze. When we played fetch-a-stick in the backyard, it did not matter that my casts were only a few feet. To Lady and to me, they were massive tosses, flung from mountaintops and retrieved by a winged canine that galloped across a kingdom to return it to her mighty mistress.

I do not know if Lady understood the stories I made up as adventures for us, but I know that she was my friend, and I thought we talked all the time.

"Will you please stop that barking," my mother used to say—to both of us.

One day Lady reached the end of the ravine and discovered traffic. I never saw her again, but to this day I remember that rambunctious, frisky dog with the waggly stump of a tail. She has a place in my heart forever.

Other dogs followed Lady. The family grew. We moved to a bigger suburban house, which mirrored the house across the street, up the street, and down the street. There was no ravine behind the house on Penworth Avenue. Instead, the yard opened onto a parklike, green space with one majestic elm tree in the middle. Just beyond was the school where I would be variously delighted, bored, humiliated, and entertained for the next eight years.

My first puppy came to live with us on Penworth. He was a squirmy little mutt that I picked out of a box full of brown puppies at a local gas station. By this time I had learned how to think and plot, and spent a considerable amount of time manipulating my parents and ensuring that my siblings knew I was the first of the chosen. When I was registering for kindergarten, my father took me to the school. I was definitely "daddy’s girl" and preyed mercilessly on his emotions to get what ever I wanted.

"Is this your father?" the school registrar asked, tongue in cheek.

"This is Dr. Boulton," I informed her.

"So you must be Marsha," she said.

"Well, my name is Marsha Boulton but my daddy calls me Frou Frou Pants," I replied, referring to the nickname I had earned by wearing a particularly grotesque pair of shorts covered with frills.

After registration, Father and I went for ice cream, something that was forbidden in our tooth-conscious house. It was just one of the secrets we kept between us.

I was one of "those" kids—the precocious kind who liked to sing and dance on tables. My mother’s diaries are filled with entries like: "In the bank with Dad—so quiet—so M. starts to sing at top of voice and everyone turns." Such behavior delighted my shy, conservative father, and I pandered to him, sparking entries such as: "Carries all sorts of things. Carries Daddy’s beer to him one-handed now." And I was game for a joke: "While Mom went out for butter at lunch, Daddy taught Marsha: ‘What’s Mommy? Nuts?" My best trick was memorizing books and pretending to "read" them for guests: "When I say, ‘Marsha your book is upside down’ she turns it around right away.’"

I called my puppy Bingo, and he came with his own incessant clapping song, a little ditty that came from who knows where, much like the dog.

There was a farmer had a dog,

And Bingo was his name—Oh.




And Bingo was his name—Oh!

These lyrics are repeated and repeated with one letter of the name replaced by a clap with each chanting. Little kids love it. Parents soon learn to hate it. At least, my parents did.

What started out as a shoe box–size puppy soon grew into an ungainly creature with the legs of a greyhound, the body of a Labrador, and the head of a German shepherd. I fancied him as a sort of pony, since I was also thoroughly enamored of horses.

Bingo was a crackerjack of a dog—big and kind of dopey. He never seemed to figure out that he had grown larger than a shoe box and was constantly knocking things over.

As usual, the burden of care fell to my mother, whose priorities gravitated to babes in arms. Bingo did not care. There were plenty of other houses, garages, and backyards for him to investigate. It was when I started following him that Bingo’s travels became a concern.

In those days, there was a government agency that followed up rigorously on the placement and care of adopted children. Since we gradually grew into a three-child family, a child ser vices social worker visited a couple of times a year, especially when children younger than two were in the house.

These visits caused terror in my mother’s heart. An exact date and time were not usually stipulated, just that "Mrs. White" or "Mrs. Smith" would be in our area such and such a week and would be dropping by. At the beginning of that week, my mother had the Dutch cleaning lady come in and do a scrub-down of the house, so that it smelled of Bon Ami and Johnson’s Wax. The dolls I never played with were cushioned against the plethora of pillows in my bedroom, where the pink wallpaper featured black line drawings of ballerinas frolicking in tutus.

Everything had to be spruced up. I went to the hairdresser to have my bangs trimmed to midforehead and the rest of my skimpy, blond locks clipped evenly to ear length. The salon smelled strange and was filled with plastic aprons and baskets of hair rollers. My mother got a "cut and perm," emerging from a row of hair dryers as sheared and curled as a standard poodle. I was horrified. The mother I knew had thick, jet-black hair that swayed around her shoulders in luscious waves. She looked like a beguiling Snow White, and I thought of her that way—brightly innocent, even when dealing with peckish or scandalous dwarfs like me. Now she had become as tightly kinked and bobbed as all of the other women on our street.

A baby brother with brown hair and amazingly long eyelashes occupied my freshly modernized mother, so I retreated into play with Bingo-dog. Having taught him to roll over, shake a paw, and bark when I raised one finger, I decided we should take our show on the road, literally. Next thing you knew, I was knocking on the neighbors’ doors, asking if they would pay a nickel to see a dog show. This came to an abrupt conclusion when Jimmy Soliskie’s mother called my mother and asked her to retrieve her barking daughter.

Mother was beside herself. If word got out to Children’s Ser vices that I was rolling around with the dog on the doorsteps of strangers there could be serious consequences. It was left to my father to convey the importance of being a "good girl" when our case-file worker came calling. Manners were important in our house. Things like excusing oneself from the table or saying "pardon me" when something was missed in conversation came naturally with enough repetition. Now I was to understand that barking was unacceptable behavior.

Bingo was banished to the basement when the lady in the blue suit showed up to inspect my baby brother and "assess" my progress. After much cooing over the carefully swaddled and impeccably clean infant, we sat down for tea at the dining room table. All week long my father had been on alert to leave his dental office and come home as soon as the inquisitor appeared. I imagined him hunched over a patient in the middle of a filling, receiving the call, pounding filling compound into a hapless tooth, and bolting the office, leaving a rather surprised patient. Sure enough, my father’s Pontiac was soon in the driveway.

The assessment went well, although I know my parents considered it invasive. They liked nothing better than to go out with their children and have people comment on how much we looked like them. I found that amusing, but it pleased them endlessly. After an hour or so of polite conversation, I was allowed to sing and clap the Bingo song, and the poor dog was heard barking from the basement. This sparked the interest of our visitor, who wondered how such a large-sounding dog fit into a house hold with such young children. My mother’s lips began to quiver.

"He does tricks," I said. My father gave me a look that growled.

Released from the basement, Bingo came bounding up the steps as though chased by the monster I knew lived under the basement steps. He wanted to sniff and lick this new person. In his enthusiasm, he managed to shift the tablecloth, sending my mother sprawling to catch a glass of water before it tipped into our guest’s lap. Father stood back primly, avoiding dog slobber, while Bingo made his best effort to become a lapdog.

I ended up showing off Bingo’s tricks, without a single bark out of me. As I always suspected, the Children’s Ser vices lady was quite pleased to see children placed in the home of a "professional," who had an enthusiastic wife and middle-class everything. We waved her off for another six months.

Then disaster struck. It happened because of a newfangled thing called tele vi sion, which had dominated the family living room for a couple of years. I liked tele vi sion well enough. Watching Roy Rogers gallop around beating the bad guys on his golden horse, Trigger, was a favorite pastime. I even had a special cowgirl outfit to wear while I watched the show. This was not unusual in the early days of tele vi sion. We had a neighbor who said "excuse me" to quiz-show host Groucho Marx every time she left the tele vi sion room—something that a Marx brother would have appreciated. I made Bingo watch Rin Tin Tin and Lassie on TV, but none of their smarts rubbed off on him, and he usually ended up sleeping with some part of his warm brown body draped over me.

The problem was that I had become obsessed with the story of Peter Pan. I had a picture book of J. M. Barrie’s famous children’s story that had been pored over so frequently it was in tatters. I loved Never-Never Land—that place where dreams that do come true are born and all you need to fly is "trust and a little pixie dust." When a live version of the stage play aired on tele vi sion, nothing could have kept me away from the set. It was magic to see Peter flying with the Darling children. I longed to be just like him—riding the wind’s back and following the second star on the right "straight on til morning."

One fine summer day, I decided to practice flying while my friend Gregory looked on and Bingo bounced around the backyard. We had a metal swing set, and I climbed up on the horizontal bar that served as a brace, one I used to hang upside down from while making monkey sounds. This time I stood on the bar, facing the elm in the open field. It was a hot day, and I imagined that flying into the shady boughs of the great tree would be a satisfactory first flight. I balanced carefully, all the while chanting, "I believe in fairies, I believe in fairies." Then I reached into the pocket of my shorts and pulled out a pinch of sweet-smelling powder pilfered from my mother’s toiletries. I smeared the makeshift pixie dust on my face.

My arms were raised, and I could feel lightness in my diaphragm. As I launched toward the tree, arms flapping, Gregory and Bingo ran by me and I looked down. Mistake. It seemed to me that I fell a great distance. Landing hard on the baked ground, I heard a horrible crunching sound.

Bingo was on me in an instant, washing my ears while I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Gregory ran from the yard screaming. When my frantic mother arrived, I was standing with my right arm dangling at an impossible angle. It scared me. It did not work.

Thank goodness my father had insisted on making his new Pontiac a station wagon. He whisked me into it and drove full tilt to the hospital, managing to pick up a police escort along the way. It was exciting, but my mother kept crying. I remembered Peter Pan telling Captain Hook, "I am youth. I am joy. I am a little bird that has broken out of the egg." The operative word was broken, and I heard it said a lot that day.

Mother sang to me while I lay on the hospital gurney in the hall. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine." She left me alone only once, when she and my father had to sign papers allowing the doctors to amputate if there was nothing else to be done. I had fallen with my full weight on the arm, bending it backward, causing a messy break and severing many nerves.

Then, in one of those happy coincidences that have permeated my life, a young surgeon suggested trying a daring procedure involving some new materials to reconnect damaged nerves and veins. They operated for hours, and I came out of surgery with a huge cast covering my right arm. It folded across my chest, with my hand resting over my heart.

A lot of fuss was made over me in the days that followed. A steady stream of toys and tears flowed freely, especially when I was able to wiggle my fingers. After a week of close observation and an endless number of doctors dropping by to see my moving digits, I was sent home with severe mobility restrictions. Anything that jarred the cast or caused the arm to shift could negate what was being viewed as either medical genius or a miracle.

Bingo was gone. My parents told me he had gone to live on a farm. The only farms I knew of belonged to my uncles, but Bingo had not gone to their farms. He had gone somewhere strange, and I would never see him again. There was nothing I could do. I felt the helpless pain of a child, and I could not see how sending my best friend away could possibly be "for the best."

The arm healed gradually throughout that dog-less summer of sitting still. My mother, her friends, and our neighbors read to me constantly. I memorized so many books that even I thought I could read.

The cast was itchy and smelly. When removal day came, I was taken into the bowels of the hospital to a room that looked more like my father’s tool table than a place of healing. The gray-white cast covered with the signatures of everyone I had met over the months of wear went under the electric saw while my father held me steady and I turned my head into my mother’s soft stomach.

Liberated, the arm stayed in position, frozen, as it had been in the cast. My gnomish godmother, known as Auntie Doris, gave me a sling with a picture of a basset hound, which became my favorite fashion accessory. Months of rehabilitation followed, using sandbags to gradually straighten the arm. It hurt, and I had a long, angry, red scar at the joint. The only promise at the end of all that dreary exercise was getting another dog.

Fourteen years later, when I was leaving the family home to discover the world, I found Bingo’s puppy collar in one of my ancient trea sure boxes. It still bore the scent of leather and dog. It sometimes seems to me that I grew up from dog to dog rather than year to year. Between kindergarten and the end of high school, three dachshunds and a Labrador retriever framed my life.

Princess, Duchess, and Winston—the dachshunds—were lovable red-brown characters, whose nails clicked sharply on the green linoleum in the old stone country house we moved into. They followed one another in sequence as back problems inevitably ended their time with us. My sister once allowed Princess to jump out of a car window. I am not sure that she was ever forgiven.

Those bright-eyed little dogs would dance on their hind legs to please and dig holes deeper than their body length. They had an acre of land to protect and clear of vermin, and they were dedicated souls. The mere prospect of a mouse hiding under a neatly raked pile of autumn leaves was enough incitement for those pointy-nosed, deep-chested torpedoes on paws to scatter leaves to the wind. As their muzzles grew gray and their focus faded, each one of them showed us the heart of a lion.

Charm, the black Lab, was to the water born from puppyhood. There was a river behind the farm field and woodlot that backed our house. I would ride to the river on Playboy, a bay Morgan horse my parents bought me when I was twelve. Charm followed, and together we swam through a deep, fast-flowing stretch of water with me clinging to the sturdy horse by the mane and Charm happily at our side. Then we fell, exhausted, on the riverbank, Playboy to graze quietly while Charm sought sticks for me to throw until my arm hurt.

The dogs went everywhere with us. Sometimes my father closed his practice for six weeks during the summer. Hitching up a foldout camper to the station wagon, we headed off in what ever direction seemed most agreeable. Charm swam in both oceans, and the dachshunds visited deserts, climbed the footpaths of the Rocky Mountains, and worried armadillos. Their sound and smell and the textures of their coats are favorite memories of a privileged childhood in which function largely won out over dysfunction.

Education, career, and the simple necessity of finding a place in the world where I could responsibly have my own dog distanced me from them for almost a de cade. Then I moved to the farm, and a whole world of animal possibilities was opened. There would be dogs and cats, and sheep and horses, cows and chickens and ducks and unusual goats that faint.

Throughout the adventure, there would also be a man, Stephen Williams. Together, we would find Wally the Wonder Dog, who shaped our life and saved it, too, in the way that only a dog can do.

Excerpted from Wally’s World by Marsha Boulton.

Copyright © 2006, 2008 by Marsha Boulton.

Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Marsha Boulton continues to write and maintain her farm in southwestern Ontario with her partner, Stephen Williams, and their young fur-child, a bull terrier named Monk. She has been a contributor to programs such as Fresh Air on public radio and is the recipient of the Leacock Medal for Humor. Marsha is also the only Shepherd/Author listed in Who’s Who of Canada.

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