A Brief History of Dogs at Keewaydin

Camp Dogs I Have Known

By: Pete Hare ‘59

Keewaydin’s history abounds with stories of trip adventures, heroic staffmen, Frolics skits, Old Timers’ Day Hi-Jinx, Tallman Competitions, Carnival concessions, and epic “Auks,” but one chapter of Keewaydin history that has not, perhaps, received the attention it deserves is that of the dogs of Keewaydin.  So numerous on campus  during the 1970s to be known as “the bow-wow wigwam,” our canine friends have been an important presence at camp for decades.  We’ve had German Shepherds, Labradors, Poodles, Labradoodles, Huskies, Malamutes, Shetlands, good old mutts and, of course, “Cree Beaver” dogs.  We have had dogs who became members of the All-Trails Club, birthed puppies at camp, wrestled with porcupines, rode in canoes down wilderness rapids and, on numerous occasions, cured a camper of homesickness. Inspired by the life of my wonderful and crazy dog, Tibi, I decided to write a brief history of dogs at Keewaydin.

Kee is the first dog I remember. Jim Fullerton, the Director of Moosalamoo, gave Kee to my parents as a wedding gift in 1954.  (One wonders whether a pooch was on Waboos and Katy’s wedding list.)  Kee was sired by Jim’s dog, Jaunty, who also spent his summers at camp.  Both dogs were enormous German Shepherds and, despite (or because of?) their familial tie, were notorious for getting into battles, causing campers and staff to scatter as they rolled around the Waramaug ballfield, fur flying and teeth bared.  Sometimes the two would be locked in such a ferocious fracas that the only way Waboos could break them up was to get out the starter’s pistol (generally reserved for mid-season canoe and swim races) and shoot it at close range!  Aside from his occasional melees with his father, Kee was a gentle, loveable dog, who patiently allowed campers to ride him as if he were a horse.  Kee made his mark at camp in many ways, one of which is permanent: a paw print in the concrete stairs of Waramaug Cabin 2 (now Gibson Wilderness House).

One type of dog that has a special chapter in Keewaydin history is the “Cree beaver” dog, so called because the olfactory prowess of these dogs was such that could detect whether a beaver lodge was occupied or not during the winter, thus helping the Cree know where to set their traps.  Between 1965 and the late 1980s, campers and staff on Wilderness Trips, from time to time, acquired these dogs in Cree villages, such as Mistassini Post. The pups would accompany the crews as they traveled through the northern wilds.  Generally small but extremely smart, they had the look of a miniature sled dog and were purported to have a bit of wolf blood in them.

The most famous of all the “Cree” dogs was Abby Fenn’s, Squish.  Abby brought Squish back to the great Keewaydin campus after a trip to Chibougamau and Riviere du Chef in 1965.  There is little doubt that Squish (which means “girl” in Cree) has the dubious distinction of being the least petted pet in the history of Keewaydin: those who tried, either quickly backed away when she bared her teeth and uttered her menacing growl or, worse, got a bloody hand!  Fortunately, for the 200 campers at camp, Squish spent most summers hundreds of miles away on wilderness trips with Abby, where she grew accustomed enough to the trippers to leave them in peace.  She was happiest in the Canadian wilderness.  An excellent canoe dog, she stood on the bow deck on flat water and in rapids (and only rarely fell out).   From time to time when she spotted a beaver or a goose swimming close by, she would leap from the boat in pursuit.  She generally gave up the hunt and returned to the canoe when it became apparent the she was a less proficient swimmer than her intended quarry.  A self-sufficient trip dog, she fended for herself for food, hunting mice and moles and plenty of scraps around the campsite.  Though her temperament was prickly, she was a very intelligent dog.  Abby could put a biscuit on her nose and say “on trust” and Squish would sit perfectly still until her master said “all paid for” and then she’d drop the biscuit and catch it before it hit the ground.  Abby married Gale Hurd in 1971 and their son, Ethan, was born in 1972.  When it became clear that Squish wasn’t as happy to welcome baby Ethan into the home as Abby and Gale were, Abby had to find another home for Squish.  Fortunately, Larry Jones had earned Squish’s respect while on wilderness trips with Abby, and he was happy to have her as a roommate.

In late July of 1968, a bag of bones of a dog wandered onto the Keewaydin campus.  A mutt by anyone’s standards, with short golden hair, droopy jowls and long flappy ears, she looked part lab, part hound and parts unknown—much like where she came from.  Days passed and nobody came round to claim her and she was in no hurry to leave camp, where there were 200 boys to scratch her behind the ears and staffmen who were willing to bring her kitchen scraps each day.  She had a sweet and calm disposition, and loved nothing more than sunbathing in the middle of the Waramaug ballfield, unfazed even while baseball games were being played!  Somewhere along the line, someone named her Cleo, and the name stuck.  A couple of staffmen said they might be willing to take Cleo home with them after camp, but when camp emptied out at the end of August, Cleo was still lying on the ballfield.  In the end, my siblings, Laurie and Steve, and I persuaded my parents to bring Cleo home with us—where else was she going to go?—and into the back of the station wagon she went, headed for Philadelphia.

Shortly after arriving at 113 Anton Road in Wynnewood, PA, it became clear that the weight Cleo had gained at camp was not just from her Keewaydin diet: Cleo would be having puppies sometime soon!  A few weeks later, she gave birth to seven cute little puppies in the Hare family garage.  We gave away all of the puppies, but Cleo was our pet for the next ten years, returning to camp every summer where she patiently allowed campers to pull, tug and wrestle with her—when she wasn’t snoozing on the ballfield!

The most striking dog at camp had to have been Kenai, Dan and Mary Patch’s Husky, who first came to camp in 1974.  She had dazzling blue eyes and a beautiful black and white coat.  Kenai “one upped” Cleo in the puppy department: in 1977 she gave birth AT camp, right under Mary Patch’s bed in Cabin 1 West in Annwi!  After the pups were born, Dan and Mary let the Annwi campers file through their cabin to witness “Mama” Kenai with her litter.  Later, the Patches set up a pen in the wigwam, where the puppies frolicked alongside the delighted Annwi campers for the rest of the summer.  The second born of the litter was the only one that looked like a Husky (the others looked more like the Black Lab father) was claimed by “Red” Dows, at the time a Wiantinaug staffman.  Red gave this majestic black and white dog the name “Czar” and he was a camp dog for the many summers that Red worked at camp though 1989.

Also arriving in 1974 was Abby’s second dog, Nmish (“fish” in Cree), brought back to camp from Mistassini Post by Seth Gibson.  Nmish was famous for his hiking prowess.  Whenever a group headed over the bridge for an adventure on Moosalamoo, he would join.  Nmish covered so much of the mountain that he became the first canine to enter the All-Trails Club.  Czar would frequently join these hikes, and on a few occasions the two would wander off from the group, sometimes not returning to camp for a couple of days!  On more than one occasion, Nmish or Czar would return to camp with a face full of porcupine quills!

Nmish’s sense of direction was uncanny.  Sally Margolin, the camp bookkeeper, learned this in dramatic fashion.  One day, Abby asked her to run an errand in Middlebury.  No camp vehicles being available, Abby gave Sally the keys to his personal car.  It wasn’t until she arrived in town that she noticed that Nmish was in the back seat!  Surprise was replaced by shock when she returned to the car after completing her errand and discovered that Nmish was gone, escaped out the window!  Panicked, she called camp.  Gale, wise to Nmish’s wanderings, knew not to worry, suspecting that Nmish likely tracked his way back to Gale and Abby’s “off-season” home in Weybridge, one or two miles away.  Sure enough, that is where Abby later found him!

Most dogs at camp these days reside with their owners in Brown’s Bay.  The Gutfreunds have had several, Lily in the 1990s; Pal, Posie and Strider in the 2000s; and, arriving as a puppy in 2015, Stark.  The Hildreths have brought Otis and Georgia.  The Warings had Morgan and Dunmore.  The Annwi campers have enjoyed a “wigwam” dog for many summers.  Sadie, Amy and Tom Vorenberg’s Black Lab, retrieved sticks and balls for campers (usually from the lake) for most of the 2000s.  Jersey, Anne and Drew Mackay’s Chocolate Lab, brought similar lab energy and love in the 2010s.  One of the most amazing  dogs in recent years was Matt King’s mixed Shepherd, Tucker, who, whenever Matt had to leave campus, would wait patiently at the foot of the bridge for his owner’s return.

Diane and I brought our yellow lab, Tibi, to camp in 2005, where she spent every summer through 2015.  Though gentle, loveable and loyal, her high energy and head-strong disposition led to many a misadventure, especially around food.  If food was in striking distance, she would go after it.  Needless to say, the “on leash” rule that applied to all dogs while on campus, was especially important for Tibi.  Woe to the wigwam having a cookout if Tibi got loose from her leash!  The truth is that she escaped from her leash or from Fennway more than Diane and I would like to admit.  And when she did, she made an event out of it.  Campers and staff would chase her all around the campus—“I saw her heading towards the lagoon!”  “There she is by the garboon!”  “I had her, but she got away!“  “Look! She jumped in the lake and is heading out to sea!”  Eventually, someone would catch her and bring her back to Diane or me.  Like many dogs before her, she also loved Mt. Moosalamoo.  Every morning she climbed with me to the Moosalamoo wigwam, a signal to the boys that the gong was about to ring, and she accompanied many groups of campers on hikes all over the mountain.  A water dog, she shamelessly plopped herself down right in the middle of streams (or mud) to cool off during a strenuous hike.  Living in Vermont year-round, Tibi was familiar with the trails of Moosalamoo in winter, making many a trip to Rattlesnake Point on snow covered trails.  Needless to say, she knew the trails like the back of her paw.

If asked what they value most about Keewaydin, I think that most campers, staff and alumni would say their camp friendships.  When they reflect on their tent mates, their trip mates and their favorite staff, many will surely remember some of their four-legged camp friends as well.  It is safe to say of our Keewaydin canine pets that they are among our camp “best friends.”