Culture: Stories & Lit
There is a tippy little table in the living room that terrifies the dog. On occasions too numerous to count, this table has lurched at him. He gives it a wide berth and a sideways eye. And when it goes for him, he tucks his tail and scrabbles for cover under the dinner table.
There is a malevolent lamp in the den. And a moment ago, there was a spoon on the edge of the counter that, at the brush of my sleeve, hit the floor with a clatter, sending the dog skittering across the hardwood.
“Dog, oh, dog,” I sigh as the woodchips settle. “What is it with you?”
He looks hurt. “I am a godfearing dog.”
At this I am taken aback. I know he’s a sensitive, even emotional, dog. He’s a Shepherd mix with a heart of gold and nerves of glass. But religious?
“Buddy, what do you mean?” I ask.
He sighs. “I’m an animist! An orthodox animist, really. I can’t believe you didn’t know this about me.” He drops his brown head on his paws and rolls his eyes. “This whole house is full of beings, beings with intentions. And most of the intentions are bad.”
Animist. I cast about for the tenets of that creed. Oh, yes: Everything has a spirit. Everything is part of the divine. That doesn’t sound so scary. Not like being a Scientologist. But I know nothing of orthodox animism.
“You wouldn’t,” the dog says. “You people were ruined by Socratic reasoning and the Scientific Revolution. And your gods were always fighting and killing each other off until you ended up with just one, who, frankly, is kind of vague. Really vague, actually. What does your god say about that vile little table? You look at it and all you see is a wood product. But you people used to be animists too, back when you were wild.”
The dog does this sometimes, harkens back to when humans did a lot more hunting and gathering. The subject tends to come up when I refuse to help him get the neighbor’s cat out of a tree. Or when I’m rubbing baking soda and peroxide into his skunked neck.
“You’ve all gone deaf,” he’ll growl. “Thunder once meant something to you people. It meant the sky was angry. You knew that when a tree fell on your hut, it didn’t just randomly tip over. It bashed in your hut because of something you did. And you used to eat cat.”
I hadn’t given his grumbling much thought, but now he has my interest. It is true that people who still hunt and gather for a living are usually animists. It seems to be the default philosophy of humans until we form permanent settlements and begin studying for the SATs. Why?
The dog flops onto his side. The spoon was a false alarm. Not like that foul little table.
“Same reason as me,” he says. His tongue unrolls to collect a corn flake on the floor. “The world is full of animals who want to eat you. Animals are all around you, waiting to pounce on you or sting you or poison you with their bite. Avalanches want to crush you. Lightning wants to burn you. Flash floods want to drown you. Anything that happens suddenly has a good chance of being bad. Maybe I sometimes run from a crackly paper bag, but it’s better to run from a paper bag 10 times than not to run the one time it’s actually a lion.”
I’m not going down that rabbit hole. I’ve tried talking sense to the dog about a number of scientific discoveries: People cannot just appear or vanish. A Jeep barreling down the street cannot stop in 18 inches. Lions live in Africa. My logic falls on velvety but deaf ears.
Besides, I still want to know how jumping away from a noisy spoon makes a person, or animal, religious. If it’s just an instinct, then running under the dinner table isn’t quite the same as saying the rosary, is it?
“No, it’s a much simpler system than that,” he retorts. “Even squirrels are animists. And crows. If something acts like it has a spirit, believe it. And assume that spirit is probably on the evil side. I mean, look at that nasty little table: why does it leap at me? If something wants to be friends, it comes up in plain sight, like a Jeep. It doesn’t wait, dead quiet, staring, and then JUMP! That’s what predators do. And if a spoon uses predator behavior, I’m not going to stand around wondering why. I’m going to assume the spoon intends to get me.”
I’m starting to understand. Animism is the belief that everything has a spirit and intention. This makes sense, at least for living things. After all, every living thing—tree, mosquito, buffalo—does intend to eat, compete and reproduce. I suppose those plans could amount to a kind of spiritual life—a blind, biological faith.
But the dog’s animism is the belief that even rocks and furniture have plans.
He returns his head to his paws and studies me. “You think you’re so different, down under the scientific stuff? How come you jump and bark when somebody pops a balloon? Because the old part of your brain still works, that’s why. Your wild brain knows that noise could be lightning coming to get you. How come when I stare at the side of your head at dinner time, you look at me? Because your wild brain is always on the look-out for eyes, that’s why. Lion eyes. You people haven’t gone completely soft. Somewhere in there, you’re still godfearing.”
His lids are drooping and he yawns. “You knew other things too,” muses the pious beast. “When something runs away from you, it’s food. I’ve reminded you so many times. Even if it goes up a tree and stops running: still food.” He sighs. “You used to know that.” And then he’s asleep, his twitching legs carrying him back to a time when together we crossed entire, mystical continents, running from the lions and eating the cats.
Culture: Readers Write
We had already bought our dog a car to chauffeur her properly. The next logical step was to get her some real estate.
Our new fifty-eight acres of rocky hillside sat on a dead-end road in the Catskill Mountains, three hours from our apartment in Brooklyn. There, slowly but surely, the three of us (husband, wife and Mercy) could become the wild animals we were apparently meant to be.
Well, Mercy, our Border Collie mix, was a wild animal; we just hadn’t seen the full evidence yet.
Our neighbors on the road, who often stopped their pickup truck to chat with us on their way to the village, had shared stories of the feared coyotes who spirited away their chickens or cats or pet dogs. “Watch out for those coyotes,” they said. “They’ll take everything.” There were tales of their hoodlum behavior, luring small innocents out beyond the protective circle of yards, only to carry them away to some horrible end. I thought for a moment that maybe I should heed their advice to always keep my dog on leash. But then what was this mortgage for? The hefty monthly sum paid for Mercy’s freedom to exercise all her senses. Ours, too, as we watched her do so.
One night, Mercy and I were alone together in the house—a neighborless house that felt seemed poised on the edge of the known world. Night in the country goes unpenetrated by light except that of the stars and the moon. All of civilization, including me, was asleep. But the natural world was still awake to the mysteries of life. A cry cut through sleep like a fierce sword. I woke to the very sound of wildness.
It was as if someone had taken loneliness and compressed it, sent it echoing out over the black mountains. It was at once fearsome, ancient, comforting. It was the cry of a coyote sounding like a thousand coyotes, all saying something utterly beyond me.
But it was not beyond Mercy. She answered in an otherworldly voice I had never heard before. It shook me. Her howl seemed to put a coyote in my room, at the foot of the futon, where before there had only been a dog, one who wore a red collar and loved ice cream cones. In that moment, she told me—by telling her cousins out there—that she was only partly mine. She was of a piece with them. It turned out she was a coyote herself, from way back.
Some days later, Mercy and I went walking up the steep hill behind the old farmhouse, up into an old red-pine plantation. For us it was a magisterial cathedral in which to wander. Mercy was off-leash. I felt it was no more my right to prevent her full interaction with life—risk and revelry both—than it would later be mine to keep my son safe but inert within four walls. She bounded ahead, investigating this, chasing that, always returning.
Then I stopped: I thought I saw a shape in the shadows ahead. A shape like a dog. But wait—over there was Mercy, black and solid. What I couldn’t instantly comprehend—What’s a German Shepherd doing in our woods?—in the next second became clear. That’s a coyote! Ten yards from my dog! My dog, who is now starting to move toward a wild predator!
Frozen, I could only watch as Mercy approached slowly, at an angle. Her ears were up, tail waving hesitantly. The coyote stood his ground, staring and still, then looked away. He had said “I am not a threat” in universal canine language. But the fact that he did not advance also announced: “I don’t necessarily think that’s wise, little sister.” Now Mercy paused. This unknown creature was acting a bit differently than her playmates at the dog park. I think she was yielding to something regal in his bearing. Something she must honor. Indeed, his behavior was honorable.
Finally, head down, the coyote swung around and trotted slowly off. Mercy watched intently, as if part of her wanted to follow. I didn’t blame her. Part of her wished to go, but the part that was bonded to her domestic situation (and me) wanted to stay.
I had witnessed something timeless: the meeting of what a dog is with what that dog once was. The two had met on equal ground, free to come, free to go. If fear had kept my dog tied to me, this moment would have been lost. I would never have seen what Mercy truly was, wild at heart. And I would never have known such a profound sense of completeness then pervading the quiet woods. We had met our purported enemy. And he was us.
Dog's Life: Travel
When Irish dogs are smiling
If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Ireland, you undoubtedly found yourself standing at the edge of a cliff or the top of a grassy hill looking out on what seemed like a glimpse of heaven. During a recent trip to Ireland, I had an opportunity to spend some time on a tiny slice of bliss known as Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands in County Galway.
Inisheer, or as the Irish refer to it, Inis Oírr, meaning “east island,” is a sparsely populated cluster of rock-walled farms whose inhabitants still speak the original Irish language. The landscape is rugged and breathtakingly beautiful. I had many “heaven-glimpsing” moments on that island — among them, of the dogs who call Inisheer home.
These weren’t strays; rather, they were loved and cared-for pets, complete with collars and tags. I’d often pass by them on my evening walks; they’d be lying curled up on rugs in the doorways of their homes. But during the day, they roamed the island, perhaps meeting a few friends down at the playground, thumbing their noses at the signs reading Cosc Ar Ghadhair, illustrated with a dog in a red circle crossed by a diagonal line. Though I guessed what it said, I couldn’t read it and, obviously, neither could the dogs. However, no one on the playground seemed to mind. The kids ran and tossed sticks for the gamboling canines, who playfully greeted each and every person. When the dogs tired of the entertainment, they went off in their own directions in search of new adventures.
My family and I ran into a couple of beautiful Border Collies romping in the surf. One had a cinnamon-red coat and a chest of wooly white. The other’s coat was a picture-perfect black and white, and her eyes were as blue as the Irish Sea. Both had sand clinging to their whiskers, and their sea-soaked coats were dusted with salt. As we approached, they ran up and greeted us. There was no body-slamming, jumping up or over-the-top excitement — just “Hey! You’re here! Mind tossing us something wet and slimy?” One of the dogs ran down to the rocks and grabbed a long piece of thick seaweed and politely dropped it at my feet, then dipped into a play bow and looked up at me expectantly. I bent down and tossed the soggy weed into the air, and she dashed off. In no time, she was back, and dropped the limp weed on top of my shoes. I decided that the dogs probably hung around the beach all day, waiting for saps like me to entertain them. Sure enough, a few hours later, a little boy was tossing that same piece of seaweed for the same two dogs.
In the afternoon, we fed bits of cheese to a well-groomed and obviously well-fed Terrier mix, who followed us around until another dog came along with a more attractive offer. Together, they ran off to the playground.
On Inisheer, I saw a lot of contented, happy dogs. What I didn’t see were dogs on leashes barking and lunging, or dogs at the picture window of a home destroying the mini-blinds, trying to get at my family as we walked by. Believe it or not, I didn’t see a single pile of dog doo; I guess if people saw it, they picked it up. There was no aggression, no fighting. The dogs on this island were balanced, socialized and, from the looks of it, extremely happy — they were allowed to be dogs.
Unfortunately, our dogs don’t have that luxury. We don’t live on a small island with more tractors than cars. We need to keep our dogs safe behind fences or controlled on a leash. For the most part, aside from the occasional romp in an open field, our dogs live in our world. They are coddled, secure, warm and fed. Their paws are wiped and their coats are scrubbed clean. No salt. No sand. But when our dogs are curled up on their fluffy monogrammed pet beds at night, I bet they’re dreaming of the dogs of Inisheer.
Culture: Readers Write
Parvo puppy found us
This is Riley. She is a 5-month-old Pit Bull mix. She found us on a cold and blistering midnight in February. My partner and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment with two cats, not looking for a dog until we purchased our first home. When she stuck her little block head through our back porch, she was soaked and shivering with bones sticking out all over and a perfect burn mark on her little forehead.We, of course, rushed her inside and never looked back. Four days later she got sick, and we rushed her to the emergency clinic around one in the morning. She spent the next seven days being carted back and forth from her our regular vet to the E-vet, she was under constant 24-hour isolation watch and all we could hope for was breathing. We would go visit her and she would lift up her head and give us a little wag in her E-collar. She went in weighing 18 pounds, came out a week later at 10 pounds. Now, almost five months later, she’s up to almost 50 pounds! It was the saddest thing either of us have been through, and I want to raise awareness about this disease. But in short no one wanted this sick little puppy, they let her free knowing she was sick, she knew we were ready for her, and she knew we could help her.
Culture: Readers Write
Bear in the backyard
One June day in 2006, I opened the door to our back deck to take my marvelous mutt, Furio, for a walk. As soon as his paws hit the wooden slats, his hair raised and his body froze in fear. Then I saw what Furio was looking at: a big black bear underneath the deck. I rushed Furio into the house and came back outside to make sure my eyes weren’t fooling me. Sure enough, there was something very large and black hiding out under our house. Living in Asheville, N.C., it isn’t unusual to see a bear crossing through your yard, but I certainly didn’t want this one hiding under my deck. Just as I was opening the door to go back inside, I caught a glimpse of the big brown eyes looking up at me and realized I wasn’t dealing with a bear at all. Just a very large Rottweiler!After chasing him for two hours, my boyfriend and I managed to put him in a crate and called Animal Control. They informed me that a Rottweiler would be highly unadoptable and would probably be euthanized upon arrival. I didn’t have to think about what I would do with this big “bear,” I knew that he had found us for a reason and he would be spending the rest of his life with us. He had an embedded collar, he was severely emaciated (80 pounds) had roundworms and a staph infection. After a few visits to our vet, he was in great shape and weighed in at 120 pounds. We named him Rocco and he became a member of the family. Everywhere we went with Rocco, he touched people’s hearts by showing them how much love a big dog could give. In February of 2009, we took Rocco to the vet to check up on a cough he had recently developed. We weren’t prepared for what the vet had to say, “Rocco has lymphoma.” The treatment would run close to $10,000. Without treatment, he would be lucky to live for four weeks. With treatment, the average time would be six months. We didn’t have the money but we began fundraising and were able to put Rocco through chemotherapy. He loved going to chemo, and even cried in the office if he wasn’t the first one to receive treatment. We took him hiking at least twice a week, and he continued to live his life as a normal dog. In August, we realized our time with Rocco was running out. He came out of remission and stopped responding to chemo. We felt blessed for the six months we had been given to enjoy with him, but we weren’t prepared for losing him. On August 30, I was informed about a Rottweiler on death row in North Carolina, scheduled to be euthanized on September 2. Although we wanted to rescue him, we knew Rocco needed us throughout his final days. Later that evening, I kissed Rocco goodnight, told him how much I loved him, and went to bed, while he slept with Furio. I prayed that he wasn’t in pain and that he would pass quietly and quickly when the time came. When I awoke the next morning, I knew something was wrong. Before leaving the bedroom, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Rocco is gone.” And he was. He had passed peacefully in the night, next to his best friend, Furio. Although we were devastated over the loss of our sweet Rocco, we felt that by some miracle he had left us just in time to save another dog. On September 2, we drove to pick up the Rottweiler about whom we knew nothing. We didn’t feel prepared for another dog, but we knew he deserved a chance at life. When we arrived at the shelter, we were led to the back room and introduced to a beautiful, big Rottweiler. “His name is Bear.” I couldn’t help smile and look toward the sky, thanking Rocco. Our bear in the backyard couldn’t stay with us forever, but he made sure to lead us to the next one.
Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men
“If there are no dogs in Heaven,
Will Rogers, 1897-1935Sidehill’s Mab, Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men, is now gossiping with Dancer Dawg, Roscoe the Ratador, and Buck(le) Bear about the challenges of living with me. They are talking of misplaced leashes, late dinners, damned cats (and more damned cats), hours in the back of the vehicle of the day and walks promised but not taken. I hope they talk about the good times of meeting and greeting at market, gossipy strolls in the ’hood, playing in the lake and at the river and the great snow marches. No doubt they are comparing notes on the numerous beds, mats and comforters they were each given. Since they all ended up on my bed—they can match stories about my snoring, weird sleep habits and my own marathon naps. Mab can flaunt her trips to the beach (she went to both Nag’s Head and Virginia Beach). She can describe chasing the sea gulls to her heart’s delight at both places and winning admirers with her good looks and gracious ways. She came to me a beautifully trained field English Setter and I ruined her, letting her forget most of her training. I spoiled her rotten and she returned the favor. She was my good good dog.
Maggie Mae is buried – there just beyond my kitchen window
Maggie Mae is buried – there just beyond my kitchen window under the summer canopy of ancient apple trees Appropriate don’t you think? Her round head, round eyes framed in apples, her greeting a dizzying round go round. Today the wind picked up and a dozen apples fell one split in two revealing A chambered heart--necessary dark seeds. At dusk deer will tiptoe hushed into the palpable shadows and I will hear her bark bark at their trespass, will see her run run again, run wily and whole first into the tall grasses before the sweet turning back toward the light of home.
Doing life on her own terms
“She doesn’t have much time,” my mother said over the phone one April morning, “you should come down this weekend.” My dog, an almost 17-year-old white, coal-eyed Bichon Frise, who had been part of the family since she was four months old, was dying. Whether it was a recently-found tumor or a long-hidden hormonal imbalance, the problem was neurological, and Dr. Cohen told us there was little he could do for her. “If she were my dog,” he said, “I would take her home to be with the family.” And so my mother did.
Machi started life at my parents’ home, where I still lived as I began my career as a lawyer, saving money to buy my own home. When I moved into a Los Angeles apartment 60 miles away, I took her with me. I was rarely home; the long hours I worked meant she spent most of her time alone. She became flea-bitten and confused by apartment living.
When, two years later, I bought a home a few minutes from my parents’, she hid behind couches and ate an entire bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates, prompting an emergency call to the vet. I was in a troubled relationship and navigating my way through the politics of law firm life. Machi absorbed the stress. Once I yelled at her as I lay crying on my bed and, contrary to my house rules, she tried to climb up to see me. She never forgot that yell, no matter how tightly I held her or how much I apologized afterward. Whoever said dogs live in the moment never knew Machi, whose memory and intelligence were deep.
Once, on a visit to my parents’ house, as the time to leave came, I looked over at Machi. She was sitting up, looking out the window from beside the chair in which I was sitting. I called her to go home. As I did, she suddenly thrust her head down and pretended to be asleep. I took her home that night but, within the week, I returned her to my parents. It was clear she preferred her childhood home to mine.
Machi was always her own woman. She loved all of us (my father in particular), but she did what she wanted, when she wanted, on her own terms. She did not, as my mother liked to say, “pander” to anyone. That quality was in fact why I chose her. She was the only one of the litter to squirm off my lap when I tried to hold her. That quality was also how she got her name. Machi was short for Machisma, the female version of machismo.
Machi, sick, lay flat like a rug on my parents’ hardwood floor or the cool limestone of the bathroom. Her remaining joy was to sit outside, with a light breeze ruffling her hair, her body slowly and softly being stroked. It seemed to remind her of her middle years, when she would sit outside alone after dinner, sniffing the breeze. My father used to call it her after-dinner “smoke.”
Machi was a fighter. For years she lived with crippling arthritis and never complained; she just took shorter and slower walks. She accepted what was and kept going. She would never give up, no matter how wracked her body became.
And so, after a particularly painful night, the decision was unanimous. My father, who typically avoided illness or death, drove us to Dr. Cohen’s. Machi cried out when the needle entered her paw. She looked surprised and perhaps a bit betrayed that we had taken the last thing she had—the fight itself—away from her. All three of us held her.
The next day, I ran the treadmill, pushing through intense bursts of interval training. On the third interval, I wanted to give up. Then I thought of what Machi would do, and I pressed on.
Culture: Readers Write
The tale of an Upper Peninsula cow dog
[A note about this story: The Cur is based Kathleen Livingston’s memories of her grandparents, Laura Osier and Jerry Russell, and their two cow dogs, Rex and Rex II. True pioneer people who homesteaded in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Topaz, a small, farming community south of Ontonagon, where her family still resides. The story is told from the dog’s perspective after he has passed away and imagining what might have been. All of the memories are from Livingston’s childhood spent helping with the farming chores in the summer months. Laura Osier’s remaining sister, Irene Osier Hokens, will celebrate her 100th birthday this year.]
He wasn’t certain when his spirit left his body… after the pain and darkness subsided and only the light remained…. but he nimbly rose from beside the man’s feet where he had been curled. The man was snoring softly in his chair, the woman asleep in the front bedroom. It was their usual routine in the heat of the late afternoon to rest before beginning their evening chores. His nails clicked on the worn linoleum as he trotted across the floor, past the round oak dining room table where the man fed him scraps from his dinner plate, through the kitchen, gliding past the wood cook stove where he had spent many a cold winter night pressed into its warmth. He nudged the back screen door open and slid silently outside into the late afternoon sun. He must hurry before they awakened, so he crossed the clay hardened drive and took the shortcut. He hadn’t been able to slide beneath the bottom of the barbed wire fence separating the yard from the field since he had been a gangly pup 15 years past but now he did so effortlessly. Soon, he was eyebrow deep in golden Timothy, his amber coat blending seamlessly with the grasses. Only his black nose lifted high and the tip of his white Collie tail showed as he raced through the sweetly scented field. He was on a mission. Across the field in the back forty he knew the twelve dairy cows would be grazing. And this time he would get it right.
It had been many seasons since the man had taken him out to bring the herd in. He had replaced the old dog, the one they spoke of constantly, the best darn cow dog they ever had. Now, they had to make do with the pup. The man would bring him along, encouraging him to gather the cows in. Nip and duck, nip and duck. Just enough nip to encourage them forward, then duck when they kicked back. He had to be quick to avoid being injured by their hard hooves. But the excitement of the chase made him crazy, and the more the man yelled at him the faster he raced until the cows were scattered in every direction.
“You cur dog,” he had heard it so often he thought it was his name, and the louder the man yelled it the more the Collie waved his tail. Finally, the man would storm away in frustration.
The Collie would have been all right if he hadn’t wanted to please the man and woman so. But one morning, before they had arisen, he slipped out the door to gather the herd in. They were in the back forty and he raced wildly across the pasture toward the far woods. He saw them scattered here and there, quietly grazing. He charged into the field, nip and duck, nip and duck. They were running everywhere, finally breaking through the barbed wire fence and disappearing into the forest. He could smell blood and stopped short in the center of the field, dazed. He heard the man yelling, “You cur dog,” and saw him running across the field. He knew something was wrong as he slunk along the fence line, making his way back to barn.
Much later, in the deepening shadows of evening, he lay alongside the barn wall listening to the man and woman talking in hushed voices with another man with a black bag. The cattle were in their stanchions, some with jagged tears along their legs and chests and udders. The man with the bag was speaking slowly, “you should get rid of that cur dog; you could have lost your whole herd.” After he left, the woman was crying softly and the man put his arm around her, speaking gently to her.
The man ignored him for many days, and he did not share his food under the table where the Collie waited patiently. Worse, the man’s voice never rose as before; he never uttered those words the Collie had become so familiar with. When they were ready for the morning and evening chores, the man would lock the screen door, leaving the Collie inside, pawing and whining. The woman would pull him into the kitchen and stroke his head and try to soothe him with tidbits of food.
And so it was for many, many years.
But, while he was no longer welcome in the barn, the woman would take him with her to the woods and streams. She would check her trap line for beaver and otter and, if she was lucky, mink. She seemed happy and sad at the same time when she would find an animal in the trap. She took little pleasure in the killing but the money from the hides fed her family and her cattle, repaired the equipment and warmed their hearth.
In the summer, he would happily follow her down the trail through the east woods until they came into the clearing where the berries grew thick and juicy. He could always smell the bears that had been feasting on the bounty earlier and he sensed the woman feared them so he made sure they felt his presence—scouting the perimeter of the field, scattering his scent on the brush. She would hurriedly gather the fruit and they would be off again.
Sometimes, the man and the woman would return to the woods to fell the big trees. He watched from a safe distance when the big pines came thundering down, shaking the ground beneath him. They would pause for lunch and rest and share their food with him. The man would stroke his muzzle with the back of his hand, muttering quietly, you old cur dog. The Collie would thump his tail.
When they would return from the woods, the man would call the Collie to him and gently comb his hair looking for ticks. In the winter, the man would pull the ice balls that clung to the long hairs between his toes. They bathed him after he would chase skunks into the woodshed and he would stand quietly when they pulled the porcupine quills from his muzzle. Life was good.
But still the cattle were off bounds—not part of his life—not part of what he was born and bred to do.
The seasons came and went. The man and woman slowed down. The Collie could no longer lift his own weight from the floor and the man would gently put his arms beneath his belly and lift him up so he could walk outside to relieve himself. It became a routine, like the rest of their lives.
He didn’t know when the pain began—deep inside his chest—different than the pain in his hindquarters. He would crowd closely to the man for comfort and whine in his sleep when it became unbearable. And then there came today, as he lay by the man’s feet, the pain was suddenly gone.
Now, he stood at the edge of the field, the back forty, looking at the herd. They had not seen him yet or sensed his presence. His body was strong. He slipped silently into the woods and worked his way around the field, so they would not catch his scent. As he stepped into the clearing, the cows lifted their heads in unison and bawled. Slowly, slowly he worked his way left to right, gathering them together, crouching, nip and duck, nip and duck. It seemed so easy now. The one with the bell around its neck that always led the others began moving, across the forty and down the lane, and the rest followed. His tail tucked low, he moved gracefully behind them—nip and duck, nip and duck.
They finally entered the safety of the barnyard, crowding around the water trough, quenching their thirst with long, noisy draws. They would be content now, drinking their fill then lining up at the closed barn doors waiting on the man and woman. Six to the right door and six to the left; they would file into the barn in that precise order to their respective stanchions, as they had day in and day out for years, the routine ingrained in their slow minds.
The Collie would have a few minutes to rest before the man and woman would come. He trotted to the grassy knoll not far from the herd and within site of the farmhouse. Here, he dropped to his haunches, then to his belly, resting his muzzle on his front legs, ears pricked forward in anticipation. Soon, he heard the screen door open and saw them step out. The woman was adjusting her cap, tucking the stray ends of her dark hair underneath its brim. The man matched her stride for stride. The Collie could hear their faint voices and his pulse quickened.
As they crossed the drive and began the walk up the hard-packed trail to the barn, he rose to his feet, head high, tail curled over his back. The breeze slipping through the aspens ruffled the white apron on his chest. He wanted to yip a greeting to them but held back. He lifted his chin slightly higher. He knew he had gotten it right this time.
The woman saw him first and a smile creased her worn cheeks and lit up her eyes. The man look startled, took his cap off and shaded his eyes against the afternoon sun with his hand, and saw the cattle crowding the doors to the barn. Realization crossed his face and he slowly dropped to one knee and clapped twice, commanding, “Rex, come.” The Collie hesitated at first, and then the man commanded again, “Rex, come.” He saw the man open his arms wide, and heard his name. As he bounded toward this man and this woman, he finally knew in his Collie heart that he was a good dog.
Culture: Readers Write
How I Found My Dog
When we lost a much-loved little Mexican street dog last fall, we began to search the various adoption sites for an adult dog to keep Virgil, our 10-year-old Hound, company. Preferably a mutt; we’re convinced they’re smarter than purebreds. Not too heavy to lift into the sink for baths (we have a horse farm and all our dogs have found horse manure irresistible— to eat and to roll in).
Finding a small grown-up dog in New England wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There were plenty of Lab and Shepherd and Rottie mixes but few lightweights available. Finally,we found and adopted, after extensive paper and phone interviews, a little brown dog from Tennessee.
Ten-year-old Rosie came in a trailer truckload of at least a hundred dogs shipped up from the South to a park-andride beside the highway about 50 miles south of our farm in New Hampshire. Terrified at first, she gradually absorbed the house, barn and acreage as her very own dynasty. She didn’t know much but proved a fast learner. A week to become house-trained. Six more to master walking on a loop leash and simple commands: Come, Sit, Stay, Off! (she is a tireless jumper-up on people and big dogs and, alas, can’t always resist).
Watching Rosie adapt to her new freedom has been enormously rewarding. Apparently, she had been found in a house with several dogs and a corpse, dead five days. She has a deep scar on one shoulder from the dogfights that finally alerted neighbors to call the police. Rescued, she spent her outside hours secured to an overhead run and nights indoors confined to a crate. Other dogs in her foster home were adopted; she remained. Perhaps her looks were not appealing enough.
Yes, she’s somewhat strangely proportioned, but her appearance grows on you. What breed is she? One part bat (the ears), one part anteater (the nose), the rest some sort of Terrier. She runs like a deer, stalks frogs like a heron and rolls wriggling on the grass like a puppy.
Once we were satisfied that she would not run off,we allowed her to accompany us off-leash to the pond, the pastures, the barn. She trolls the horses’ stalls for any tidbit of dropped grain, spends hours paddling around the perimeter of the pond, fascinated by the small plops of water striders, the occasional emergence of a turtle. She walks on stone walls, loves to ride in the golf cart to the vegetable garden, and indoors, migrates from chair to chair to couch—but not to beds, forbidden.
When we took Rosie to the vet for vaccination against Lyme disease, an issue in New England but not a problem in the South, we learned that she has a serious heart murmur. Now she gets a daily pill wrapped in something yummy. And, of course,Virgil also gets something yummy, without a pill. He’s very tolerant of his new companion. In her exuberance, she frequently jumps on him and he never protests. Although he has slowed down from his earlier turbulent years of racing in woods and fields, baying as he went, Rosie inspires him to run to keep up with her. She is our sixth rescue in a line of superior remarkable special outstanding mongrels. Our vet, who has looked after every one of them, tells us that Rosie, despite her ticker, despite her just-visible cataracts, could live another 10 years. But even if she has only this one in paradise, it will be a memorable one.
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