In 2007, with their two year- old son Zev and pup Willow in tow, the couple undertook a third excursion, this time to see the venerable writer and environmentalist, Farley Mowat. Heuer has said that it was through Mowat’s books—Owls in the Family, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing among them—that he learned about Canadian wildlife and threats to it, as well as gained a better understanding of his country.
When Mowat extended an invitation to visit him and his wife Claire at their Cape Breton farm, the couple—along with Zev and Willow—literally launched themselves on what turned out to be a five-month trans-Canadian odyssey, setting off by canoe from their home in Canmore, Alberta, and following a route that took them through the settings of some of Mowat’s iconic stories. From this, Allison created a feature-length documentary, Finding Farley, and Heuer is working on a book of the same name.
In 2005, we talked with Heuer about his Yellowstoneto- Yukon (Y2Y) trek, and when we learned that he had made yet another incredible dogenhanced journey—with a two-year-old child, no less— we made it a point to find out more.
Bark: On your 1998 Y2Y expedition, you were accompanied by Webster, a Border Collie mix. Is Willow his successor?
Karsten Heuer: There was a bit of an overlap. When Webster was about 13, he started to deteriorate cognitively; the vet described it as canine dementia. We knew his time was limited, but we really weren’t thinking about getting another dog while he was alive. Willow kind of came into our lives rather than us searching her out. At the time, we were living in a fairly remote part of British Columbia, surrounded by mountains; Willow was part of a litter born on a nearby farm. One day, a friend dropped by with her dog and this sixweek- old puppy. We went walking with Webster and her dog, and we’re holding the puppy, who’s nuzzling inside our jackets. Before we knew it, she was ours. She chose us rather than us choosing her, but it worked out well. Poor Webster was kind of overwhelmed by this puppy, who was constantly grabbing onto his tail and whatnot. But he was very tolerant.
B: How does Willow compare to Webster as a trail partner?
KH: They’re quite different characters. Webster was very mellow for a Border Collie—unbelievably quiet and very patient. Though he was active, he could also just lie down for hours. Whereas Willow, partly because she’s younger but also because she’s just wired differently, is high strung, with more typical Border Collie traits.
B: What kind of relationship does your son Zev have with Willow?
KH: The two of them are about the same age. We acquired Willow about the time Zev was born, and they’re very familiar with each other. I think it’s great for a baby or young child to grow up with an animal. Like most small children, Zev needed to learn how to interact with Willow, and she taught him a few lessons in respectful behavior.
B: In retrospect, what would you say was the primary benefit of traveling as you did?
KH: Leanne, Zev, Willow and I were together 24 hours a day within the very close confines of a canoe and a tent, in every kind of mood and weather. Zev was so intuitive and instinctual, in tune with his true animal nature. At the time, it was hard to see what he was getting out of it, but now, we notice that he has a sense for movement on water and a tolerance for the elements that he wouldn’t otherwise have; he understands that being wet or cold is temporary. Ultimately, the trip built an incredible foundation of shared experience that we constantly draw upon, whether through memories or what we learned or the people we met.