To add a little perspective and reality to those syrupy and sumptuous tourism ads that make all half a million of us, without exception, out to be the nicest souls on the planet, perhaps the talented types who produce those videos should add a few shots of beagles half froze to death while stuck in poorly constructed kennels or left outside altogether during those bitterly cold nights we had last week.
Now don’t get me wrong or accuse me of being a traitor to the Newfoundland cause. (God forbid I should be placed in the same Benedict Arnold category as those shockingly misguided bottom-feeders who dared years ago to question Danny Williams, Kathy Dunderdale, Ed Martin and company about that dynamic project up north, a gift for generations to come).
First off, the ads, especially those that capture the physical beauty of Newfoundland, can still give me goose bumps; and prospective tourists, I am sure, find them enticing, which is, after all, the videos’ raison d’etre.
But I hasten to add there is the scattered bit of content in those ads that give unwanted encouragement to a stereotypical image of Newfoundlanders as kindhearted simpletons who sit around the wharf 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and do nothing else but perform jigs and tell stories, especially when a crowd from Ontario or North Carolina shows up in the “village,” armed with cameras and an expectation the locals will do the “Newfoundland thing” on cue.
For sure, there’s an abundance of natural storytellers in Newfoundland, but it doesn’t mean every single person here will be absolutely delighted to spin a yarn on request, or that there’s a cup of tea awaiting tourists in the thousands of homes throughout the province. (I hope the Tourism Department never resurrects that cornball song, “There’s no price tags on the doors of Newfoundland”.)
And, yes, there’s a generosity of spirit that permeates much of Newfoundland society.
But it’s unrealistic to think we’re all so damn perfect here (just check the court news, for example, to see some of the beauts walking our streets, or take in a few days of the Muskrat Falls inquiry to witness how politicians and Nalcor executives managed to lay a multi-billion-dollar stink bomb on the poor, gullible sops paying their salaries; Paul Davis was the latest witness to exemplify the “who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know’s on third” Muskrat playbook.)
Nope. Those ads, as esthetically pleasing as they might be, don’t tell the full story of how some Newfoundlanders conduct themselves.
Which brings me back to beagles.
Obviously, I’m being facetious and sarcastic when I suggest shots of shivering, miserable-looking beagles should make their way into the tourism ads, but the abhorrent treatment of that breed of dog, in particular, is reflective of another type of Newfoundlander of which nobody can be proud.
About 25 years ago, my friend and then colleague Pauline Thornhill produced a “Land and Sea” documentary called “Seven Days,” a groundbreaking piece of journalism that revealed, in unsanitized fashion, how beagles were being neglected and abused by way too many Newfoundlanders who use them to hunt rabbits.
The “seven days” referred to the amount of time, back then, that shelters would keep beagles before they were euthanized.
The documentary seemed to resonate with many viewers, and it had a direct impact, I had thought, on the age-old thinking that beagles who are coddled, treated to a warm and protective kennel or living inside the owner’s home, sleeping in front of a wood stove, would never make good hunters, that viewing them as pets, deserving of the best of living conditions, ran afoul of the macho philosophy of those who carry guns.
Then there was the wake-up call last week in the reports that organizations like the SPCA received dozens of calls from people who were seeing beagles left outdoors in those absolutely frigid conditions we’ve been experiencing lately.
They’re obviously still out there, Neanderthals with birch junk IQs and hearts of stone.
They’re embarrassing to all of us, especially people like me who have hunted with beagles for years.
…organizations like the SPCA received dozens of calls from people who were seeing beagles left outdoors in those absolutely frigid conditions we’ve been experiencing lately.
My beagle Tandy, who died two years ago this April, lived indoors, actually slept at the bottom of our bed, and was the grandest of hunters, his prowess as a pursuer of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail never compromised by the fact that he was treated in the most decent of ways.
The two beagles I hunt with now, Molly and Tibs, are owned by a buddy who has constructed the kind of heated kennel any dog would be absolutely delighted to inhabit. (It’s so cosy looking I was almost tempted to sack out there myself). And they are perfect hunters.
So not all beagle owners are jerks who treat their dogs as mere appendages to their hunting exploits and ignore their responsibilities as dog owners.
But the arseholes are still out there.
And that’s shameful.
Tourism ads don’t always tell the whole truth.
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Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.