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A Eulogy for Rocco

It’s taken me a while to be able to write anything about Rocco. On top of a profound sense of loss, something else rendered me inarticulate: some form of what I can only call trauma. Rocco’s last 24 hours were awful. I watched helplessly as seizure after seizure wracked his failing body. He fought so hard to keep living. For a day or two after we put him down, I had flashbacks to the sights, smells and feelings of those 24 hours. As more time passed, those flashbacks and memories began to recede. Suddenly, grief welled up from every corner of my empty home. The realization that hourly, daily, weekly, monthly routines would forever change sunk in, along with the realization that gone from my life, in what felt like an instant, was an immense source of love, friendship, joy and responsibility. As the traumatic memories receded, I stood face to face with grief.

At least now I can confront that grief. Until the trauma of those 24 hours receded, I couldn’t. As part of dealing with that grief, I offer this eulogy to my friend Rocco.

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The first picture I took of Rocco in Oct. 2014, shortly after giving him a bath. 

Rocco came into my life one October night in 2014. I went to the Iqaluit Humane Society society shelter to see what dogs needed homes. I didn’t expect to take a dog home with me that night. When I introduced myself to Rocco, he wagged his tail and sniffed politely, and then gave my hand a little lick. The staff told me he was likely part husky and part lab. His body was a funny shape: his head and butt too small for his barrel chest. And his fur, spotted and coloured almost like a beagle, was dirty and matted. When the staff told me how hard it was to find homes for older dogs, I decided to take Rocco home.

That night I gave him a bath. I remember he sat still, patient in the bathtub while I, a complete stranger, violated his personal space by scrubbing him all over. I remember thinking: what an easy-going dog.

That impression changed over the next few days and weeks of living with Rocco. I soon discovered he wasn’t always easy-going. He had a special sort of anxiety: he’d follow me around everywhere and just stare at me. I couldn’t sit on the toilet, cook dinner or read without Rocco staring at me.

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Rocco would eat anything I’d give him, including celery. 

At first it irked me. I’d even get frustrated and yell at him to stop watching me, tell him to go lie down or do something else dogs are supposed to do.

But somewhere along the way, I just accepted Rocco’s anxiety. It was a form of love, really. He attached himself to me, in part, through his anxiety. It melted my heart when I discovered that Rocco’s anxiety would disappear instantly when I sat down to play piano. He’d curl up beside me on the floor and sleep deeply.

In many other respects Rocco was an easy-going dog. He never ate out of the garbage can, he rarely made a mess in the house or barked. I could leave him at home during work hours and expect to find him sleeping peacefully in one of his favourite spots when I returned. When I was less-than-sober, he gave me weird but non-judgemental looks and rarely denied me affection.

He loved to lick my hands. Man, did he ever love to lick my hands, or my feet, or my pants. I don’t know if it was a neurotic thing, a tasty thing or an affectionate thing. But it was one of his quirks I came to love, even if I pretended that it annoyed or disgusted me at times.

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Rocco would usually only sleep on the couch if someone sat on the couch. Otherwise he preferred the hard floor. 

There were a lot of quirks and moments to love with Rocco. Some may be peculiar to him, others are maybe just what dog-lovers love about dogs. But I was often overcome with a surge of pure and simple happiness just watching Rocco do everyday things.

Like eat snow. He’d wag his tail, sink his teeth into fresh snow and chomp away happily, surveying the horizon.

Or his groaning. Rocco had a whole system of communication around groaning. Especially when circling and settling down into a particularly satisfying puddle to sleep. He rarely barked or whined. Instead, Rocco communicated through groans, and I understood them perfectly.

On walks out on the Apex Trail, Rocco would find all sorts of disgusting things to eat, which sometimes caused him to be violently ill. But it was hard to begrudge him the obvious joy he found in digging up half-rotten animal parts and quickly swallowing them whole before I could wrestle them away from him. Especially when he would then come bounding up to me, tail wagging, looking utterly self-satisfied and contented. His happiness was thoroughly infectious.

 

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Rocco looking back at me on the Apex Trail. 

At home, the mornings and evenings were my favourite times with Rocco. In the mornings, he’d eventually get up from where he was sleeping, pad on over to me, his head lowered, adorably groggy, wagging his tail, and nuzzle his sleep-dried nose into my leg. I’d sit down on the piano bench and he’d let me rub his head and his velvet-soft, stunted ears. I’d sit on the couch then to read, and Rocco would curl up beside me and fall instantly back to sleep.

In the evenings, he was always excited to go to bed with me. He’d jump up on the bed before I had finished making it, or wait with obvious impatience until I finished. Then, with a hrumph and a groan, he’d settle down by my feet and fall asleep.

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Rocco could derp with the best of them. 

It’s the mornings and nights I miss Rocco most now. Of course there are times I still look for him when I return home and open the front door. Sometimes I sit on the couch and wonder where Rocco is until I remember: he’s gone now. But it’s the mornings and evenings that I most miss my friend’s affectionate presence and his gentle, loving and quirky personality.

People have told me it was a good thing I did by taking an old dog into my home. But that’s not how I see it. Rocco gave me so much that I know, at best, I could only try to give back to him as much he gave me. When I first got Rocco, I couldn’t imagine walking him every day, least of all in the winter. I came to love those walks with Rocco – being around such simple happiness did my heart and soul a world of good. I can’t imagine what my transition to life in Iqaluit would have been like without Rocco—he was so instrumental and integral.

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Rocco’s ear-flapping run. 

I’ll love and miss you forever, sweet, gentle Rocco. I hope where you are now you can eat all the half-rotten sealskins you want without barfing.

 

 

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No Inuit, no women, no problem: Harper’s Iqaluit campaign pit-stop

Harper continued the tradition of powerful white men saying and doing stupid things in Nunavut during a quick-minute campaign stopover in Iqaluit Aug. 14.

Among the embarrassing moments he crammed into a 10-minute speech is this gem, when Harper talked up his local candidate, Leona Aglukkaq: “Here is someone who was raised on the land as a young girl, speaking only Inuktituk, who went away to be educated… .”

If you’re going to pander to the vote of a distinct ethnic group, Stevie, make sure you know what language they speak (it’s “Inuktitut.”)

And emphasizing that your local cabinet minister had to go away to be educated might not be the smartest move in a region with the country’s worst education system and lowest high school graduation rates.

It might also have been smart to include a visible Inuk or a woman in the living backdrop of human beings your campaign team set up for you.

No visible Inuit or women appeared behind Harper during his quick-minute stopover in Iqaluit Aug. 14.
The art of emotionless applause: no visible Inuit or women appeared behind Harper during his quick-minute stopover in Iqaluit Aug. 14.

The predominantly white men you assembled looked as bored and stiff as kids in an elementary school class picture.

Your evocation of Canadian history, limited to the “great Conservatives” John A. MacDonald and John Diefenbaker, was painfully selective.

You forgot to mention anything about the decades of neo-colonialism that paved the way for the more modern and heavy-handed paternalism.

“It is no exaggeration to say that in the 21st century, what’s good for the North is going to be good for all of Canada,” you spewed, Mr. Harper, as well as, “never before in the history of this country has any government of Canada made the North such a high priority as it is today.”

Never before in the history of this country has a government of Canada been so preoccupied with militarizing the Arctic or extracting its resources with or without the consent of its citizens.

But if you really want to know how inane Harper’s pit-stop campaign visit was, look no further than this incoherent sentence from his speech:

“On Oct. 19, Northerners will choose between sticking with our Conservative party plan of low taxes, balanced budgets, prudent investments and against dangerous plans like a carbon tax that will kill jobs, make everything cost more and hurt our families, especially our northern families, and I know that’s a big issue here.”

Men assembled for Harper's human backdrop appear dead in the eyes.
Men assembled for Harper’s human backdrop appear dead in the eyes.

What is it that’s a big issue here? Families being hurt? You’re right, I can’t imagine that mattering anywhere else in the world.

And then there was this tribute to his government’s successes in the territory: “The record investments we’ve been making in housing, in healthy food, broadband for the territory and mining, developing mining resources across the territory.”

Have you read the news lately, Mr. Harper? Have you really been talking to those mythical “ordinary folks” politicians love to talk about?

Are you aware of the longstanding housing crisis in Nunavut? How many Nunavummiut would applaud the access to healthy, affordable food in the territory? How many feel connected to the world via affordable, reliable broadband in Nunavut?

But to be fair, you did say, “record investments” and not “record progress.”

Harper’s pit-stop speech in Iqaluit

Stephen Harper’s speech at Arctic Towers Ltd., Iqaluit, Aug. 14, 2015

Full English Transcript

I always enjoy visiting our true north strong and free and there is no truer north than right here in Nunavut. Laureen and Ben and Rachel and I are delighted to be here. Actually, Ben’s first time, but Rachel was here back in 2008, a bit smaller. But look we’re delighted to be here, surrounded by a great crowd of friends.

But if you don’t mind my saying it’s particularly great to be here because I’m here with a parliamentary and cabinet colleague that we all admire a great deal,  and that is your member of parliament Lenoa Aglukkaq. I have a couple of things to say. Leona is quite modest, but I hope you really do appreciate what an outstanding member you have. Here is someone who was raised on the land as  a young girl, speaking only Inuktituk (editing note: misspoke, likely meant Inuktitut) who went away to become educated, succeeded in one opportunity after another, and now has handled at the national level key portfolios like health, and the environment and who , at international forums like the Arctic Council speaks with authority and conviction for all of our country so we should all be proud of the job that (applause)

Her achievements for this beautiful part of our great country are without comparison in Canadian history.  I’ll talk more about those in a moment, but first let me just get your assurance that you’re going to work very hard to make sure the honourable Leona Aglukkaq goes back to the house of commons.

Leona understands, and partly because of Leona our entire Conservative government understands how important the strength and prosperity of the north are for the rest of the country. Because it is no exaggeration to say that in the 21st century what’s good for the North is going to be good for all of Canada. And that’s something I say everywhere.

Sadly, Canadian governments have not always thought this way. Indeed for many of the decades after sir John A. MacDonald secured these lands for confederation, Canada’s presence in this region was negligible. Indeed it wasn’tuntil the 1960s, within the lifetime of some of us here, that another great Conservative, John Diefenbaker, became the first prime minister to actually set foot north of the arctic circle. I think of our Conservative government as making up for lost time. And that’s why, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to say what Leona said: never before in the history of this country has any government of Canada made the North such a high priority as it is today.  (applause)

At this point I’d like to remind you how we’re making the North such a high priority. And that is through our northern strategy. Our northern strategy, as most of you will know here, consists of four pillars: promoting economic and social development; protecting our environmental heritage; improving and evolving governance; and projecting our sovereignty over the arctic. But it’s about more than those four big things. It is a statement about who we are as a country, what we aspire to be, about completing Sir John A.’s vision of a great dominion from coast to coast to coast, a big vision as big as the north and south. But big visions don’t mean much if they’re not reflected in real actions that make a real difference in people’s lives. And those actions don’t happen unless you have people like Leona getting things done. Let’s look at some of the things Leona has done for this territory.

The development of a fishing and fish processing industry through the small craft harbour in Pangnirtung. And as Leona announced this summer another one going in Pond Inlet. And in fact another one here in Iqaluit. There’s the High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, the deep water port for the Canadian navy that’s going in at Nanasivik near Arctic Bay. The army training centre that is already at Resolute Bay. The Franklin Centre at Gjoa Haven. Now on this one, Leona said to me when I was goin over this, ‘oh I haven’t announced that one yet.’ Well, you have now. (laughter, applause)

Qausuituuq, a national park on Bathurst Island, new investments in promoting the Arctic as a premiere destination for tourism. Improving the safety of arctic marine transportation. The record investments we’ve been making in housing, in healthy food, broadband for the territory and mining, developing mining resources across the territory. Airport expansion at Rankin Inlet and of course big upgrades here to the airport, the headquarters of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and the deep water port that we will be financing right here in the capital. (applause)

So Leona has worked hard and in a few short years has already achieved great things toward the goal of making Nunavut reach its full potential. Ensuring that the vision of Sir John A and Diefenbaker and of the thousands of Canadians that call the North home becomes a reality. And that’s why Nunavut needs Leona Aglukkaq in a strong stable national majority Conservative govt. (applause)

Now Before I go I do have a couple of additional announcements to make. One important part of our northern strategy has been our support for the Canadian Rangers. This is a force that not only acts as our eyes and ears on the ground in defence of our northern sovereignty, but also provides good work, solid training and role models throughout our northern communities. As you know, we greatly expanded the Ranger program and we’ve begun replacing their Lee-Enfield rifles. I know the Rangers like the Lee-Enfields. They are practical, reliable, accurate and durable. They have served the Rangers and our country well, but the time for that has come. (French)

I’m very pleased to announce that when these guns are replaced, in gratitude for the important work these men and women have been doing for our country, the Canadian Rangers will be able to keep their Lee-Enfield rifles for their personal use. (applause)

I spoke earlier today in the Northwest Territories about how I get a lot of my best suggestions for what to do here from talking to people here and that came from the Ranger patrols I’ve been out doing on the land the last couple of years. Now as the Rangers are also leaders in their communities, passing on knowledge and skills to the young men and women of the Junior Canadian Rangers is also creating a new generation with the skills and confidence to in turn lead the northern communities of the future. Which brings me to my second announcement. (French)

A reelected Conservative government will expand the ranks of the Junior Canadian Rangers to a full 5,000 members. (applause)

That, friends, is a 15 per cent increase to be finished in time for the programs’ twentieth anniversary in 2018. Now friends it’s good to know that when our sovereignty and security are on the line, we have people like the Rangers standing on guard for the rest of us.

In conclusion let me just say,that together we are building something great here. A strong an prosperous north that plays a vital and priority role in a secure and prosperous and sovereign Canada. And on Oct. 19, northerners will choose, between sticking with our Conservative party plan of low taxes, balanced budgets, prudent investments and against dangerous plans like a carbon tax that will kill jobs, make everything cost more and hurt our families, especially our northern families, and I know that’s a big issue here.

On oct. 19 you’ll be able to choose the one party that has a proven track record of keeping Canadians safe, and Canada’s economy strong, and of making Nunavut, the true north strong and free, the high priority that it should be in our great country. So work hard, re-elect Leona for Nunavut and for Canada. Thank you. (applause, music plays)