Walking the Dog: my travels with SONAR

LINK - April 2017 / May 31, 2017

By SLt Susannah Anderson, HMCS Brunswicker

It's a busy Saturday in downtown Saint John and I am steering a large mascot, SONAR, through a crowd of eager children. They are excited, bombarding us with questions; because SONAR can only bark, I am frantically providing answers to questions about SONAR's personality, eating habits and history. This is just a normal Saturday as the "Flag Lieutenant" for the Royal Canadian Navy's mascot.

SONAR was recruited into the Royal Canadian Navy in 2010 and is based on a large black Newfoundland dog, known for the traits of vigilance and loyalty, qualities embodied by the Royal Canadian Navy. SONAR's name refers to the Royal Canadian Navy's proud history of anti-submarine warfare. He is brought to life by a sailor wearing a furry black dog suit complete with a bright yellow jersey with the Navy's signature anchor. Convincing sailors to don the suit was a test of my persuasiveness; even the head was intimidating, as it sat taking up most of the table in the office. Naval Reservists train in a variety of trades but being a mascot was new to the sailors of Her Majesty Canadian Ship (HMCS) Brunswicker. "The suit is strange at first but you quickly get used to it," said Master Seaman Arongaus, HMCS Brunswicker's first SONAR. "But it is all worth it, seeing children's eyes light up when they see you!"

September weather in New Brunswick can run both hot and cold. Drawing on the expertise of sailors with experience in hot weather operations off the coast of Africa, we purchased a 'cooling vest' to wear under the suit. Our first event was a charity walk in 30 degrees Celsius; the vest was a resounding success, keeping the sailor in the suit from overheating while we walked and talked with children. The next event was the Saint John Touch a Truck on a windy wharf; the cooling suit wasn't needed but we were all thankful for the chin strap that kept the large head from sailing away. Over the course of several events, I learned to be the eyes and feet of SONAR, guiding him over cobblestones and into boats. I learned not to walk SONAR, still in his suit, to escort the sailor inside to the heads: a 5 minute walk quickly turned into a half hour of hugging children with an increasingly frantic sailor looking forward to the bathroom.

I learned a lot of lessons this September, but the best lesson I learned is how a sailor in a fur suit can bring yells of joy from children and start a conversation about the Royal Canadian Navy in a part of the world that rarely sees warships. Anytime I started to feel tired, loading the costume into the van for another event, I would remember the midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy and the mascot they are in charge of, Bill the live goat.