Calgary News


Vol. 12 #29: Thursday, June 28, 2007


by Wendy Dudley



Marsha Boulton

McArthur & Company, 241 pp.

Don’t pick up a copy of Wally’s World if you’re looking for a sequel to the adventures of Lassie or Old Yeller. There are no dynamic spine-tingling rescues from cliffs or raging rivers or wild animal attacks. But there is a rescue from a life gone awry.

The owners of Wally, a loveable bull terrier described as a "bicycle seat with eyes," are award-winning humour writer Marsha Boulton and her partner Stephen Williams, author of Karla: A Pact with the Devil and Invisible Darkness: the Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

For a year, Williams’s investigative work subjected the couple to judicial attacks far worse than a terrier’s bite. Their home was raided, with police confiscating a historical novel Boulton was working on, their firearms were taken and Williams was hand-cuffed, arrested and jailed. Eventually, he was acquitted, but the upheaval in their lives, and their financial costs, was huge.

"As writers, our tools were taken. As farmers, we could no longer protect our livestock. As people, we were inextricably changed," Boulton writes.

They fled their Ontario sheep farm, finding a temporary retreat from insanity at a friend’s apartment in New York City. Most of their belongings were left behind, but not their spunky and comical pooch. Meet Wally the Wonder Dog, named after poet Wallace Stevens. In a world gone upside-down, Wally becomes the couple’s rock, their anchor in an unsettling storm. Pets are wonderful that way – no matter what goes wrong, they need to be walked, fed and scratched behind the ears.

Not that ball-crazy Wally doesn’t come with his own problems – he has a heart murmur, sticks his face in the path of a porcupine, savours racoon droppings and now, at age 10, suffers severe arthritis from Lyme disease. But in tending to his ailments, Boulton and Williams can at least pause and forget their own problems. To save Wally from himself is to save their own lives.

Boulton has said she is a different person now, less likely to trust and somewhat hardened by the injustices she and Williams endured. Her humour still shines, however, its warmth providing comic relief in describing Wally’s antics during their dog show debuts, and how his gourmet appetite during a book publicity tour added $60 to costs covered by Boulton’s publisher.

Unfortunately, I doubt we will ever be treated to another volume of Boulton’s Letters from the Country books (the first book won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour). Those light-hearted stories’ innocence has now been lost, and the farm itself has an empty barn. The sheep were sold to pay legal bills and to save the farm.

Wally’s World is a story of survival, with Wally tossing a buoy to his flailing owners. He is the child they do not have. He is the echo of all the other dogs Boulton has owned since her childhood adoption. He is the kind bundle of muscle that comforts Williams who suffers from claustrophobia, the result of being tied to his bed each night to keep him from wandering into his parents’ bedroom. He is the solid shoulder to lean on when Boulton is diagnosed with cancer. He has become a bookmark in their lives, ever-present in the dark times, greeting them each morning with a happy face.

For Boulton, writing about Wally brought back memories of all the other dogs she has owned, each helping her deal with a life that has thrown its share of hardballs. She’s kept sheep, chickens, goats and horses, but it’s the dogs that have warmed that spot on the bed she reaches for in times of stress. Wally’s World is Boulton’s life story, told through her love for this loopy-nosed terrier.

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to share our lives with loyal canine companions, we know there is always that one dog, that special sidekick that takes hold of our heart and never lets go.

For Boulton and Williams, that dog is Wally. "Whatever happens – and I know it will – I am forever grateful to have shared Wally’s world," writes Boulton in the book’s final paragraph. We can only thank her for sharing his world with us.