I love creatures. Every kind. Bears, elephants, pigs, and birds. I have had a menagerie of mallard ducks, pigmy goats, box turtles, fish, a dozen cats, and a few dogs. I would have a puma if I could. But it is dogs I love.
I worked at a local animal shelter with severally disabled clients and dogs rehabilitating them both, providing employment for the clients and training for the dogs. In my neighborhood I walked dogs for busy families, 2 at a time like a stagecoach driver, picking up trash as we walk. I fixed biters, jumpers, and lungers. With all this exposure I have only been bitten one time as I reached to pet a dachshund in his child’s arms. I blamed myself for having failed to read the animal’s language.
I have primarily positive memories of dogs and viewed them as guardians. My childhood spaniel lived nearly 20 years. A hairy bowling ball that spent all her time sleeping under the picnic table on the porch. A pathetically gentle and useless creature apparently born and bred for one reason: one brilliant moment when she shot out from under the porch during a family reunion to stop our vicious Shetland pony from stomping a year old baby crawling into the horse corral.
I seem to find the stray that needs me. Once, roving across the countryside in an open dune buggy when I spotted a large mutt trapped inside the coal yard of the Pawnee Power Plant. He ran beside me until we found a fence opening. Approaching him slowly, I clucked and whistled and offered him water from my bottle. He responded instantly when I called him Harley. He was as big as a motorcycle, a massive mix of Great Dane and Wolfhound, I think, but he sat on my lap like an infant for the bumpy 20 miles home, alarming me a bit taking my arm in his huge toothed mouth to show his pleasure at rescue. He was my defender, standing well above me when on his hind legs. I was delighted and wounded to find his true owner some weeks later.
I love the feel of a dog’s ruff at the nape of his neck and I hope it does not in any way injure them when I transfer pain tousling my aching hands through the thick fur. Not one has complained and I reciprocate by a tricky bit of shiatsu massage with my bare feet along their aching spines and hips.
Recently, I was approached by my newest neighbors; their vicious boxer was unapproachable and injured their baby by scratching him. I went immediately with treats and found the dog tethered by a twisted logging chain barely a foot long. I used great caution whispering and clicking to her. In one hour, I had walked her, taught her to sit, stay, lie down, run along beside me on my bike and had clipped the offending claws. She was an angel of her breed, begging for attention and would play for hours with my kittens. I found her a chainless home in weeks.
I owned a beautiful white German Shepherd that I rescued from a shelter who was ranch raised. Placid and docile, she was a quiet copilot while we drove along a county roads in Nebraska. Imagine my surprise when she suddenly leapt onto the dashboard of my truck snarling and frothing at the mouth. Frightened, I pulled to the side of the road while her antics continued. Seconds later, a pack of coyotes skulked across the road, disregarding us completely.
My dogs are taught a series of whistles, clicks, and hand signals. They know tricks, and 10 or 15 words, and are calm even when children pull their ears and tails. My present Jack Russell Terrior , has an affinity for illness and points to signal diabetic feet, blood clots, precancerous blisters, torn knee ligaments, likely upcoming surgeries to the unsuspecting.
So I have held great confidence in my abilities as a dog whisperer and carry no ammunition nor fear as dogs approach me, I stand my ground shouting and holding my hands out in the STOP position for those that appear aggressive. As I ride my bike past farmhouses, I have halted many a border collie and blue heeler in midflight with a blaring shout.
Confidence was mine.
My usual walk along the irrigation canal and wide open pasture was abruptly interrupted by a pack of immense Labrador retrievers. Three or four– I could not determine. No trees, no buildings, no roads between the charging beasts and me. No magic pile of rocks, no sticks. I screamed like a child, strident and echoing in the cold. To no avail. The dogs covered the 100 yards in seconds,
I tried to run but in the slippery mud covered field, it was hopeless. I could not save my terrier or myself. I half fell, half jumped 10 feet onto the suspiciously murky muck of the canal below. The dogs snarled viciously over us on the ledge while I screamed “No, no. Bad dogs. Sit. Go home!” The curs were only slightly deterred, still snarling and snapping as I slid along the shallow ice to scramble up the other side. Eventually the nasty beasties retreated.
A painful throat and raspy voice gave me several days for pause. I have a new leash on life, but it is not a pretty one. No doubt there is more to fear than farm dogs; coyotes might have been their customary prey or worse, wolfish humans. I look over my shoulder fretfully and often. Now, I carry rocks in every pocket, pepper spray, and a stout club.
My confidence is shaken and I walk like one hunted.