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Island Dog

Written by on June 9, 2017 in One in The Thousand

There are many stories about so-called River Rats in the 1000 Islands. This is a story about one of them, or rather a River Dog that became an accidental Island Dog, one island at a time.

Brock Isles: A natural born paddler, Stella joins me for a kayak off the shores of Brockville. Photo by Kim Lunman. Island Life Magazine.

My dog Stella was bred and born on a farm east of Ottawa, one of 10 Golden Retriever puppies, the last pick of the litter. I first encountered her on a spring day 11 years ago this May. Her mother Bella was reddish-haired, sweet and small. Stella was no runt. She was solid, bordering on pudgy. While talking to the breeder, I felt chunks of dirt flying up against my legs. Stella had dug a large hole next to an apple tree and was lying on her belly on the ground. “She’s smart,” he said, almost proudly. “She’s lying in the dirt to cool down.” “Yes, I see that,” I said apprehensively, wiping off my beige pants before putting her in the car to head home to Brockville. A hot furry mess. With heart-melting brown eyes. What could I say? She had me at ‘Bark.’ On one of our first walks at St. Lawrence Park, Stella instinctively jumped in the water and a River Rat was born. I haven’t been able to get her out of the River since.

River Rat: Stella at Alnwick Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

Island Life

Unlike Stella, I was born to the River, a native of Brockville, the City of the 1000 Islands. I had returned here after nearly two decades in the newspaper business, working as a journalist across Canada, from the Maritimes in New Brunswick, to Calgary Alberta, and to Victoria British Columbia and Ottawa on Parliament Hill. No matter where I lived, along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Canadian Rockies, I missed the River. I started writing about islands and taking photographs of them and founding Island Life Magazine.  While I have met countless River Rats throughout my research in the 1000 Islands, Stella is perhaps one of the the most unbridled River Rats I know. She is always up for a boat ride. When I jump in to my kayak, Stella jumps in to the River, paddling alongside like a duckling for a ‘water walk’ along the shoreline.

‘Launching’ Island Life Magazine in 2010 with Stella in the Brock Isles off the shores of Brockville.

What If Island: Stella contemplates a swim to America from Canada’s tiny What If Island in the International Rift 70 feet across from America’s Wellesley Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

 What If Island

Stella soon happily went along for the ride from River Rat to Island Dog. She accompanied me during a summer of research on What If Island, a small Canadian island in the International Rift. Island life seemed like dog Heaven for several weeks until she decided to swim to America one day. I was on the dock when I heard a splash. I spotted her heading for the shores of Wellesley Island, only about 70 feet across from What If? Island – and Canada. Luckily, I was able to scramble into my kayak and paddle madly while shouting STELLAAAAAA! like Marlon Brando in the movie A Street Car Named Desire to persuade her back to Canadian waters.

Alnwick Island

While I love the Rift, I found another cottage on a different island further away from the United States border for a subsequent summer of research, keeping ‘The Stella factor’ in mind. Stella joined me for another island adventure on Alnwick Island near Rockport. While Alnwick Island is close to the Thousand Islands International Bridge, it was a much safer distance from our American neighbours than What If Island.

Alnwick Island: Time to go. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

Stella fetched off the dock and swam for hours on end, even learning how to climb the ladder to the deck. However, once again, after several weeks, Stella decided to do some offshore exploring on a nearby Canadian island, managing to crash a dinner – in the rain. The neighbour quickly escorted her back to Alnwick Island in his boat, her wet tail excitedly wagging. She looked like she was having the time of her life. He didn’t. Word of her exploits soon spread. The next morning a grim-faced caretaker at a cottage next door rode by in his aluminum boat, slowing down as he approached the deck. “Hear ya got a swimmer,” he said, shaking his head. “Too bad.” 

Island Dog: Boating by Grenadier Island’s historic private golf course, the Grenadier Island Country Club (GICC).

Red Roof Island: Stella watches over the River smoke rising at dawn. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

 Red Roof Island 

Stella and Me: My BFFF (Best Furry Friend Forever), fellow River Rat, Island Life research assistant and co-conspirator joins me on the dock at Red Roof Island. Photo by Hugh Grout.

 As summers passed and Stella got older, I thought she would calm down, maybe even mellow. Not so. Even now she can happily hike the entire length of the trail on Grenadier Island. But she has found a welcoming island off the southeastern shores of Grenadier Island to stay at called Red Roof Island. She has spent the last few summers here doing what Island Dogs do best: Chewing sticks, barking at snakes, rolling in the grass, swimming, kayaking, fetching sticks, and dutifully keeping a watch over the River. And only occasionally taking off. She disappeared as fast as a lightning bolt after a thunderstorm one morning. The search was underway when we saw her approaching from the bay in a neighbour’s boat, tail wagging.


Other than her whitened muzzle, this Island Dog shows few signs of slowing down. She is fiercely loyal and loving, a woman’s best friend even if she is the River’s worst nightmare. She has been banned from more than a few of the 1000 Islands. It’s a good thing there’s 1,864 of them. She’s a swimmer.  

Hiking on Grenadier Island near Rockport, Ontario. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.