Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

George is living proof -- basset hounds are smart

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I probably shouldn't share this with you, but I have been arguing with my wife.

She has taken the unreasonable stand that Cooper, our main dog, is the last red-eyed, floppy-eared, sandbag-shaped basset hound I will ever be allowed to own.

I've tried explaining to her the level of cunning it takes for a 13-year-old basset to knock a garbage container off a kitchen table, where it has been placed for security reasons, gobble up whatever he wants, then roll around in the rest to ensure he emits the kind of toxic aroma that, if you lived beside a slaughterhouse, would cause them to knock on your door to complain about the smell.

I have also pointed out it takes a great deal of determination and resourcefulness for a dog with a brain the size of a cashew to open a refrigerator, remove a beloved newspaper columnist's birthday cake, then swallow it whole like a python ingesting an innocent jungle creature.

But my defence of Cooper, our fourth basset hound, has fallen on deaf ears, apparently because my wife is furious that lately he's taken to waking up at 3 a.m. and marching around the hardwood floors in our bedroom -- "Click! Clack! Click! Clack!" -- until one of us gets up, puts him out and feeds him breakfast so he can resume click-clacking non-stop until it's time for us to get up for work, at which point he plops down and goes back to sleep.

The point is, I was losing hope of persuading my wife of the joys of basset hound ownership when, suddenly, I was given new hope -- our daughter and a Free Press reader named Roy emailed me the remarkable story of George, a two-year-old basset who lives in Britain with driving instructor Steve Brown and his daughter, Lydia.

The story began making headlines a few weeks back when an emergency operator in the U.K. received a frantic call and, hearing only heavy breathing and gasping on the other end of the line, dispatched officers to the scene.

According to British news reports, when police arrived at the home, they were prepared to smash down the front door, but alert neighbour Paul Walker, a friend of the Brown family, ran out with a key to let them in.

While the officers searched the home for someone in distress, Walker strode into the living room, where he discovered George had knocked over a heavy-duty, old-fashioned telephone and was being slowly strangled by the cord, which had become wrapped around his neck.

Miraculously, the choking basset, while desperately pawing at the phone trying to free himself, managed to dial 999, the British equivalent of 911. Walker ripped the phone apart to wrench the cord from around the throat of the panicked pup. He later told reporters: "Incredibly, you could see where his paw print was on the phone to ring 999 -- he literally saved his own life."

When Lydia Brown returned from work later that night, the news item says she was more than a little impressed her bleary-eyed basset had somehow phoned rescuers to alert them to his perilous plight.

"We still don't know how he managed it. He's not usually very smart," Lydia, 18, is quoted as saying. "He's really dopey and just likes to chew socks."

As you can imagine, I immediately trotted over to my wife and barked at her to read about George's heroic exploits.

"You see," I explained with delight, "if you ever needed help, Cooper would just dial 911."

My wife gave it some thought. "No," she finally sniffed, "Cooper would just order pizza instead."

I hate to admit it, but she probably has a point.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2012 A2

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