If you count age in dog years, Odie, a giant of a black lab cross, and a man he’d count among his best friends are about the same age.
Odie is 10, about 70 in dog years. His buddy Hans Dittmer is slightly reluctant to admit he’s 73.
“I never let people know that,” Dittmer said. “They’ll put me in a home.”
Most days you can find them walking the trails together around the dikes and ponds of the Nanaimo Fish Hatchery grounds.
At first glance, Odie looks like a small bear, especially in late summer when he shares a bear’s relish for blackberries, munching them off the bushes, unfazed by the thorns.
Dittmer met Odie eight years ago after a family member died and daily walks helped him cope. Odie, the hatchery watchdog, used to roam the grounds freely, following people walking the trails, but if he saw Dittmer he’d always come over and tag along.
“He just made his own mind up and somehow we just chummed,” Dittmer said. “He was almost like somebody had sent him to me. It was like, hey, here’s something to cheer you up.”
When the yard around the hatchery buildings got fenced in, Dit tmer made arrangements with the hatchery managers to stop by and walk Odie every day.
Dittmer came to Canada from Amsterdam in 1959 and worked as a representative for the Bulova watch company in B.C. and Alberta “living in a suitcase.” He moved to Edmonton in 1972 to represent Bulova in northern Alberta. Just one winter of braving icy roads in his Jaguar in Fort McMurray was enough to convince him to submit his resignation.
“In Russia they send people to Siberia for punishment,” Dittmer told his boss. “I asked, ‘What am I doing here?’”
The company promoted him to representative for B.C. and he moved to Vancouver with his girlfriend. Six years’ daily commuting over the Lions Gate Bridge prompted a move to Victoria in 1977 where he and his brother founded Battery One Stop, a replacement battery retail outlet that grew to 149 stores across Canada and the U.S.
“It has to be part of a challenge. That’s what I look for,” Dittmer said. “The moment it becomes routine I’ve got to move on.”
Dittmer discovered Nanaimo in 1998 when he started taking courses at Vancouver Island University, liked the slower pace and made his permanent home here in 2000.
Part of that slower pace involves playing with Odie and giving him treats on their walks.
“It’s like having my own dog except I don’t get the vet bills,” Dittmer said.
Hans Dittmer’s story continues an ongoing feature series profiling Nanaimo residents and their stories.