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The Nordic Nerd in Southern California

October 20, 1985|VICKI HEARNE

George is a magnificent Samoyed. His owner, Colleen, has ambitions for him in competition, and she loves him as only someone who trains a dog can. But George has also taught her more than a young girl should know about why the language has swear words. One night in August, in a training class in Riverside, she was still unsuccessful--20 minutes after giving the command "George, down!"--in eliciting anything remotely resembling obedience. Then Dick Koehler, the trainer in whose class she and George were working, came by and said: "How's the Nordic nerd doing?" Colleen recognized the aptness of the description instantly.

George was originally a stray, and would still be one if he had his way about it. Colleen told me that one day, when she was out for a walk with George--on leash, of course--she came across a Samoyed breeder, who was quite impressed with the dog and was astonished that such a good representative of the breed should have been a stray. But then he said: "Of course, a good Samoyed like that, why should he hang around?" In Samoyed metaphysics, hanging around--anywhere--is just not living up to your heritage. When a Samoyed goes roaming, looking no doubt for desolate regions of ice and snow, it is nothing personal against whoever happens to think they own the dog. It is just destiny.

There is some evidence that Nordic breeds aren't really emotionally fulfilled in Southern California. Circumstances separated Colleen and George for a year, and he spent a winter in the frozen Northeast. Temperatures dipped below zero, icy winds blew, and when you did see a dog out of doors, you saw heroic canine attempts to walk without touching the frigid ground. Except for George. The colder and icier it got, the happier he was, eschewing the protection of his doghouse for snow drifts. He would sit for hours and gaze with his dark eyes, listening to whatever tales of his forebears the wind brought to him.

Colleen wrote to me about walking on the streets of Omer, a desert town in Israel, and seeing posters advertising a lost female Samoyed. A week or so later she ran across a loose Samoyed and, remembering the posters, took the dog to the address on them. The owners greeted the dog with joy, and Colleen, who is nothing if not gallant, offered to take the posters down. The owners said: "Oh, no, leave them up. In fact, we had several thousand printed, and every so often we put up a few more, because we know that even if she isn't missing at the moment, she will be in a few days."

Colleen finished this story by saying: "Oh, it made me so lonesome for my Nordic nerd!" One may wonder if this sentiment on the part of a loyal native Californian for a dog whose heart seems to be elsewhere, in some alien snow-swept plain, isn't wasted. Perhaps it is.

But there is something else to know about Samoyeds. Quite a few of them have remarkably expressive voices, and sometimes imitate the intonations of human speech. The friend who was caring for George during Colleen's absence tells me that one day George was appealing to him for attention, and he turned the dog down.

George lifted his head in that way that sometimes reminds Samoyed owners of the awesome history of the breed, but instead of a chilling arctic howl, he pronounced a clear and heartfelt "Cooollleeeeeen!"

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