THIS ALTERING, THIS LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN

The warm light inches up her body, drawing the dew from her coat.  She closes her eyes to the frequent rush of stale air and grit, there in the gravel and blood at the edge of the highway.

For a while she had lingered unseen, dozing in the deep grass where they left her, paws and muzzle facing the concrete ramp, watching for their return, waking occasionally to forage the air for familiar scents. Memories come to her in senses, smells of soiled dirt and puppies, the rough bottom of a bowl against her tongue, a metal weight tying her to earth.  As day falls away to shadow, a stirring mingles with the emptiness in her belly, urging her to leave the open space before the dark catches up.

Morning brings reprieve from the lonely night, her first without the curled-up comfort of pups and other dogs. She creeps out of hiding and makes her way back to the ramp, raising her brown nose to the wind searching for the smell of them.  Buried instincts tap at her brain: eat when you can, conserve energy, mask your scent, stay hidden; she obeys and follows her stomach to the rotting bags of garbage.

Camouflaged in the foliage of the tree line, she watches the truck leave before lumbering toward the food mounded on the dimpled concrete. She eats quickly and returns to the dugout hole beneath the hull of an old fishing boat.  Drowsy and full she naps, curled around herself in the soft dirt, sleeping away the restless daylight hours.  The sun ebbs, brackish drafts carry sounds of fishermen calling out to one another as they prepare to leave and she is tempted to follow their voices to the smell of fresh fish, but predators are stirring; she burrows deeper in the makeshift den.

The night air along the river is thick and sweet with decay and danger, roiling in waves off the swamp. Faint faraway rustling catches her ears and she freezes as the excited stench and musk drifts closer.  The hair on her back stands up.  In terror she flees the boat, bounding across the turnaround road over broken glass and debris, adrenaline spurring her up the ramp to the noise and blinding lights.  Disoriented, she pauses at the entrance to the roadway, turns left to the oncoming traffic; the world goes dark.

The sun is higher now as she tries to raise her head, pain rebuking the movement. She shivers, willing the benevolent blackness’ return.

A shadow falls across her and unseen hands caress her head and thin broken body.  She feels herself lift from the pavement, crushed and exposed bones grinding and screaming as she’s laid in the truck.

Through the fog she sees nothing, the pain has taken her senses.  She presses closer to the blood-soaked comfort embracing her and her body goes slack and cold, veiling itself in shock.

Nausea scolds her awakening, a haze of white and silver, murmured voices and acrid odors assault her. Through slit eyes she considers a face, but her eyelids are too heavy; she
sleeps.

An unnatural numbness and imbalance confound her efforts to stand.  Dizzy and shaking, she sinks to the cold floor.

This bed is soft and deep, she smells a faintly familiar human.  Someone sits beside her, rubbing her head and offering cheese. She likes the cheese.

It is difficult, this altering, this learning to walk again. She hops, once, twice, and goes down.
Looking back to the woman for encouragement, she wags her tail and wrenches forward again, slow and awkward towards the patch of sunlight she covets a few steps away.  Exhausted, she finally makes it and slumps to the soft sweet grass, rolling to her side, the warmth blankets her body.  She sighs, closes her golden eyes and bathes in the healing light.

UPDATE:  Sandy was a small pittie left to fend for herself beneath a freeway next to the San Jacinto River.  She was spotted by a local rescuer who was providing food until a rescue could be arranged.  Unfortunately, Sandy was hit by a car and discovered the next day with a compound fracture and many cuts and bruises. The vet was unable to save her leg and Sandy lost one of her back legs, but after she healed, she learned to walk and then run again with the help of her fosters.  This sweet girl was adopted by a loving family in Michigan and is living a wonderful life and has left all her pain and tragedy in the past. 

Copyright 2020 Rhonda Alford Owens

As it passes by

We didn’t need a big dog, we already had two big dogs, but that brown lab was the saddest animal I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t walk away. I did at first, I left the pet store where the rescue group was set up, drove home, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. She was found at an abandoned house, her owners had moved and left her alone with no food or water, with a small pup from her last litter and she was pregnant again. The poor dog had been bred nearly to death, practically crippled from being kept in a small crate and she had heartworms. A rescuer had pulled her from a county shelter on the day she and her pup were to be euthanized, brought her home and set up a place for her to have the new puppies. Soon the puppies were old enough and all were adopted, but no one had showed interest in this big sad girl.  Her story stayed with me.  I gave up and made a call.

She lumbered along, head and tail down, and she didn’t resist when I brought her in the house, she had long ago given up her spirit to humans. This dog had no expectations of kindness or comfort and had simply resigned herself to bear whatever was next. I led her to a huge soft bed, she stopped, lifted her head and looked at me, puzzled, and then with hesitation, stepped up on the bed. I sat down beside her for a while, rubbed her head and told her that her name was Sadie, that she was safe and that our hands would never hurt her and then I left her alone to rest, but I could feel her eyes following me.  

She was a beautiful dog, dark brown with a ridge of hair down her back like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, which was probably one of the reasons she was being bred, but her beautiful body was ravaged after so many years of starvation, breeding and neglect. Her heartworms were very severe, her teeth were ground down, from chewing on a kennel or fencing, her joints were stiff and muscles atrophied from a life of confinement, but with patience over time her sadness lightened and her eyes shone with intelligence and interest. The vet told us we could try the heartworm shots to possibly slow down the progressive destruction of her heart, but we needed to understand she was not going to survive the heartworms, the damage was already done. We tried one shot, but after witnessing her pain, we said, no more, and took her home to live out the rest of her life.  And Sadie did live.

She decided early on that she was queen and made sure the rest of the pack understood this completely. She installed her throne (foam bed) in the foyer so she could look out the front door to keep an eye on the neighborhood and nothing escaped her notice. Our world was a far safer place when Sadie was on guard. The other dogs acknowledged her superiority and avoided the foyer, any ball or toy that landed near her was lost, they would not cross the invisible boundary she had established.  They simply waited until she went outside to make a dash to claim the errant item. Having raised many puppies, Sadie was quick to mete out discipline in the form of a gentle nip to either human or canine should they get out of line. More than once have I been in her way or a little too slow and received a small nip as she passed, but she was quick to show love by butting her head against our legs and holding her it there for just a moment, and then moving on.

Sadie loved to go for long slow walks by herself in the fields around our house and being that the property was fenced and she too hefty to fit under or through the fence rails, we let her go. Every morning at about 5:00 am, she would stand outside our bedroom door and flap her jaws until one of us surrendered and got up to let her outside. She would wander around the fields and yards for about an hour and then bark at the back door to be let back in and you better be quick to respond, or you were in for a nip as she walked past. This routine would take place each morning until the day she died, and nothing stood in her way, not anything or anyone. One morning, still half asleep, I missed a step and fell to the tile, breaking my leg. Sadie stood at the top of the steps looking at me, obviously annoyed, then ambled down and flapped her jaws until I pulled myself over to the door and let her out.  Only then did I yell for my husband.

Although her health deteriorated over the two years she was here, I believe she was happy with us. She knew what it was to lay her head down in comfort and safety, she knew the freedom of wandering and following scents on the wind, and she knew we loved her, of that I’m sure. That morning I knew something was up as she wandered room to room as if looking for something and kept coming back to me in my study. I followed her to her bed by the door and she stood there waiting for me to sit down. I sat on the floor and she climbed on her bed just as the sun rays were starting to move through the glass across the floor. We stayed there together for some time while I rubbed her head and body, but her eyes didn’t leave me and when her breathing changed, I knew where we were going. I stretched out beside her on her big bed, put my arm across her softly trembling body, held her close and whispered to her. She lifted her head to look at me a final time, gently sighed, and then she left me. The other dogs had gathered and lay near us, but still outside her invisible line until that last breath and then they silently moved closer and settled around her bed. We laid there awhile, all of us still and quiet, but when I finally got up and was walking away, I looked back and saw little Shasta crawl closer, put her two front paws on the bed, and lick Sadie’s face.

Some mornings I look across the wet fields and I expect to see her plodding gait, brown nose to the wind, as she follows the smells leading her back home. You take grace where you find it and sometimes it nips you on the leg as it passes by. I miss her still.

©2020 Rhonda Alford Owens All Rights Reserved