Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dog Days

Duke, the guardian of Spirit Creek, is getting up there in age. This last year he has slowed down considerably. He struggles a bit getting up if he has been lying in the sun too long. Nothing has dimmed his enthusiasm and likely never will. He is a happy dog, a happy being.

I hope he has lived a good life here. I adopted him from the Topeka humane society when he was just a fat puppy with big feet. He was my boy's dog but mostly he has been my dog. He has always been very friendly. He found out the hard way that not everyone wants to be friends as enthusiastically as he does, and he still forgets sometimes. He only knows "sit" and that is only for a short time. He hardly obeys me. In fact, he does not obey me at all, and never has. He cooperates, though. He has always had his freedom, never being penned or tied up.

I have utterly failed teaching him not to jump on people. He knows if I am wearing my old work coat, he can get away with planting muddy paws on me. He still gets in a good one sometimes when I am dressed for work but what's a few muddy paw prints on clean clothes?

He ran away one time. I do not know if he willingly took off, if the coyotes ran him and he lost his way, or if there were stray dogs that enticed him. I called the humane shelter and reported him missing first thing. I called my neighbors. I looked for Duke every night after work, and every weekend. I put classified ads in two local newspapers, and posted signs in the Paxico post office, though that is eight miles away, across two creeks. When none of that worked, I laid out in the middle of my barren pasture, crying and praying to my dead parents to please help me find my dog. I know that seems terribly dramatic, but it is true.

On the tenth day, lo there was a phone call. When I answered, an angry woman's voice snapped "I got yer dog!". No hello, how are you, kiss my behind - nothing. Still, a great relief washed over me. "Thank god," I said, followed by "Are you sure?!" What if it was not my dog?

The Humane Society tag was still on his collar so she thought someone from Topeka had abandoned an unwanted dog in Paxico. I burned rubber into Paxico and found the stinky Duke tied up at the woman's house. We were exceedingly glad to see each other, though he was so smelly that he left an odor in the cab of my new truck that lingered for days. He has never wandered off the place since that day. I have never known for sure if his big adventure scared him into staying home, or if he chose to remain. There are times when I feel certain he made an Old Testament decision "to return unto the land of Spirit Creek and dwell among them for the remainder of his days".

Duke has been such a good dog, I think more often what I can do to repay him for his life of service. The only canine companion he has ever had was an abandoned dog who came on my property and was dominant over Duke. After that dog killed my cat, I placed him with dog rescue people, but Duke had learned how to defend himself. When another abandoned dog showed up, Duke maintained the rights to his own food and position. I fed that dog for several days, and would have kept him, but he was grieving and very unhappy. One night he pointed his nose to the sky and a long, mournful howl welled up from his broken heart. Without a backward glance, he ran into the darkness searching for the humans who had so heartlessly abandoned him.

I think Duke might like to have a companion in his old age, someone who can share the duties of marking territory, chasing the rabbits, and barking at coyotes. He needs someone he could still play with a bit before he is too old to do anything but sleep. I have considered several dogs over the years but none of them were right. Friday I found the perfect dog, a female Great Pyrenees mix at the same shelter I found the Duke. She is a very nice looking four month old puppy - already huge. The saddest thing is that she and her litter mates have either been abused or without any human contact. The poor thing is so terrified that she freezes, and hides her face in the corner of the visiting room. I am reluctant to take her. Any psychological scars in a dog as big as she will be when grown could mean a lot of heartache and trouble. But she has stayed on my mind since Friday. I might take Duke to town today and see what he thinks of the pup. If he likes her and she is not terrified of him, Duke's big heart might be all she needs.