Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words Unspoken

                                                                  Words Unspoken

       Two stray dogs, a black lab and a blonde cocker spaniel, ran toward our car as we rounded the corner, and they followed us the half mile to our country house.  We had seen our share of animals “dumped” in the country on several occasions.  People who do this are under the mistaken belief that these animals will be all right; someone will take them in.  The owners don’t think of the dangers of starvation, coyotes, and road traffic.  And while it angered me, I played into that scenario by being the sucker that would take them in.  So when these two dogs reached the house, I hesitantly met them at the back door to ascertain their temperament and signs of ownership. 

            We had recently lost our family pet, but I still had some dog food, so I poured out a generous serving of food and water for the tired, matted newcomers.  They ate ravenously, and when I opened the back door, the cocker dashed in, straight to the couch where she lay down and slept as if exhausted.  It took some coaxing to get the lab in the door, but she finally stepped cautiously in.

            Both dogs seemed to have been traveling together, for how many days I hadn’t a clue.  Over the next few days, I made contacts to area vet clinics, put up notices in the grocery stores, and an ad in the local paper.  I received one phone call from a young boy who thought the lab was his, but when I tried making arrangements for him to see the dog, his father got on the line and reassured me it wasn’t his dog.   I wondered how he could be so sure without having seen the dog. 

            By the end of the week, the cocker had wormed her way into our hearts and onto our laps, and we had decided if no one claimed her, we would call her Maggie.  Those first few days we agreed we’d try to find a home for the lab.  The longer she was in our possession, however, my husband said, “I hear labs make pretty good pets.”  We named her Mo.

            Having never spent much money on vet expenses, we made these dogs the exception.  Maggie had to be groomed from the cockleburs that dug into her skin the first week. The vet surmised both dogs to be just under a year old.  They were vaccinated and eventually spayed, and the grooming became a quarterly routine.  Mo and Maggie became farm dogs, tag-teaming to catch rabbits and moles and providing us with laughter and the animal companionship we had missed over the past weeks after losing Leon.  They were, officially, our dogs.  Maggie would sit on my lap and nibble at the buttons on my shirt.  And Mo had that doctor trait that some dogs possess, licking profusely, and always having to carry something in her mouth.  She never chewed up anything but had the soft mouth of a hunting dog.  We learned not to take her toys out of her mouth because the licking would commence. Large dogs had always been our choice on the farm, so I was surprised when Maggie became my husband’s lap dog.  She was special.

            About a year after coming into our lives, suddenly one day they were gone.  We drove the county roads searching for several days.  Then one of my husband’s co-workers said he thought he knew where we could find them.  One of his relatives, who lived six miles up the road, suddenly had a new cocker spaniel.  When we drove up to her house, we were reunited with our dogs.  From the tale she gave us, we determined that the dogs had wandered up to the corner where we had first spotted them.  This lady must have seen them as she drove past and decided they were strays, so she pulled in and picked the cocker up.  The lab followed the six miles on foot until she was reunited with her buddy.  They eagerly jumped into our truck and we returned home.

            That Christmas, my daughter brought home a boxer from vet tech school.  The animals used in the vet tech program were doomed to euthanasia unless the students found homes for them.   If the dogs all got along, we would keep her boxer after she finished school until she moved into her own place.   After the initial get-acquainted phase, the dogs were an inseparable threesome.  Jackson, the boxer, who had never barked, learned to bark on the farm.  Free of the technical school’s dog pens and able to run untethered, his once coprophagic habit disappeared.  After Christmas break, he returned to one more semester with my daughter at the vet tech school where his old habits returned.  The end of May couldn’t come soon enough for either of them.  And Maggie and Mo returned to being the rabbit-hunting duo.  One morning, they even caught a large raccoon.

        One spring day I went outside and saw only Mo.  Calling repeatedly to no avail, I worried that perhaps a coyote had gotten Maggie or that she had been run over by one of the many employees who worked there at the company headquarters where we lived. I drove down the road searching for her body, thankful when I didn’t see it, but worried, also.  Periodically, I would return to the back yard and call again.  I saw one of the farm hands pull in at the shop and throw something into the bed of his truck and drive out.  He looked at me from across the lot as I called for Maggie before driving away.  Mo stood at my feet and whined, as if trying to tell me something.

            At lunchtime, my husband told me he was afraid something had happened to her.  It was not like her to disappear without Mo.  Later in the afternoon I again went out to holler for Maggie.  Mo appeared and dropped something at my feet.  When I looked down and saw one of Maggie’s paws, I knew she was dead.  I later found out she had been following the tractor as it pulled the oversized mower behind it and had been caught in the mower.  I realized then that what the farmhand had thrown into the back of his truck was a shovel, and he was trying to save me the pain of seeing my dog in that state.  And here was Mo communicating what had happened to Maggie the only way she knew how.

            Mo nudged my hand and whined, her way of seeking comfort from her loss, while I retreated with her into the confines of the house and together, we mourned.  She laid her head on my knee, looking at me with sad eyes as I cried and petted her, reassuring her that soon Jackson would be back and she would have a playmate again. 

            Weeks later, when my daughter’s car pulled in and Jackson bounded out the door, we laughed at their heartfelt reunion as they tore around the yard, leaping and chasing one another gleefully.  Jackson was now free for good, and Mo’s eyes sparkled with joy once again.

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