Shamus the Urban Rez Dog, P.I.
Shamus the Urban Rez Dog, P.I.
The name’s Shamus. I’m a special kind of dog. I’m what’s known as a rez dog. That means I’m a mix of different dog breeds and I come from a Native reserve. As far as I know, I am a mix of German shepherd, husky, and border collie. I was a surprise from the kids’ Uncle Doug.
He’s a great guy. He’s a teacher, and a real dog lover. He’s really great at dog training too.
Anyway, Uncle Doug shows up every few weeks to visit the family and brings cool stuff for the kids. Including me. When he arrived with me a few years ago, at first Mom kept saying that I couldn’t stay. In the end, she weakened, and I moved in. (p. 2)
Shamus loves his family and his home. He enjoys chasing the cat, Tibbles, and roaming around the neighbourhood. When Old Man Melnyk’s rosebush is destroyed, Shamus is blamed – even though he did not do it! Shamus could be forced to leave his family if he is labelled a dangerous dog! He came to the family from Maudie, an older woman who lived on the reserve. She had to let him go because she was too sick to care for him. She believed he would be better cared for in a family with a mother and two 12-year old twins, Rainey and Cole. “Now the kids and I are a team… Cole lives reading all about something called astronomy, which is pretty boring for a dog, but he’s always ready to throw a ball or Frisbee for me. Rainey is just as fun – she does lots of reading too, something she calls mystery stories. But she’s always ready to take me for a walk.” (p. 5)
Shamus is enjoying life, but, when new neighbours move into the Urban Indigenous Housing Project townhouses, things take a turn for the worse. “There are two lines of townhouses that face each other across the laneway, with us Indigenous families living on one side, and all the people living on the other side facing us. Mom calls them ‘settlers.’ And some of them don’t seem to like us Native families. The only reason that I can figure is just because we look different. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but hey, what would I know? I’m just a dog.” (p. 9)
Mom comes home very upset one evening because the jewelry store where she works has been robbed. Her employer, Mr. Rigby, suspects that she might be the one stealing the merchandise, even though she has been an exemplary employee. The jewelry story is beside a new store being run by Mitch and Aura Masters, the neighbours who have just moved in to the housing project. They also have an annoying dog named Hepzibah. As the jewelry thefts continue and their Mom becomes more and more anxious, Shamus and the kids start looking for clues to solve the mystery. Their search leads them to false closet walls, lucky bowling balls, a traitorous relative, and a vicious poodle who loves to dig up roses!
The narrative is told from the unique perspective of Shamus, the Rez Dog. His investigative skills give him the honorary title of Private Investigator (P. I.). He also is an astute observer of the humans around him. At times his observations are startlingly honest. He cannot understand why some people are prejudiced against Indigenous people like his own family. “Personally, I can’t see what the big deal is. I judge someone on whether they’re a dog person or not, not the color of their skin. Judging them for how they look seems pretty stupid to me.” (p. 9) He may be a dog, but he is wise and perceptive about his community and the people around him.
Leslie Gentile has written a touching novel with a unique narrator. However, the other characters in the novel are also well-developed and interesting. The Indigenous family is made up of a single mother and her twins. She struggles to provide for her family, and, when her livelihood is threatened because of an unjustified accusation of theft, she is devastated. She trusted her employer, Mr. Rigby, and worked hard for him. She even introduced him to Indigenous artisans who made beautiful jewelry for the store. It was a strong partnership that was now being threatened by an unknown thief. Shamus the Urban Rez Dog, P.I. deals with many topics, including pets, discrimination, stereotyping, Indigenous artistry, family relationships, and mystery. Readers will look forward to more adventures of Shamus the detective!
Based in Toronto, Ontario, Myra Junyk is a literacy advocate and author.