A wordy cautionary tale which turned into a wall of words: Please bear with me.
For the benefit of anyone not a regular to this blog: My name is Joel, and I’m a desert hermit. I don’t live in a park. I don’t live within ten miles of pavement. I’m several miles as the crow flies from the nearest power pole. This is where the wild things are.
A few days ago some neighbors very abruptly lost a dog. While I have nothing but the deepest sympathy, it could have been avoided.
When I first moved to the desert, my kind hosts had a pack of dogs. I lived with or at least near most of those dogs through the whole rest of their lifetimes, and since I was not a dog person before coming here it was quite a learning experience. Though they’re all dead now, this having started almost 13 years ago, we never lost one of them to the desert but I often wonder why not. I think we were just lucky. They were allowed to run loose much of the time, they didn’t have collars or tags, and with one arguable exception I wouldn’t have called any of them especially wise to the danger.
I didn’t let Little Bear run loose because he thought he was the biggest baddest meanest SOB in the valley (he really kinda was) and he caused me trouble with neighbors and would almost certainly have led me into conflict with the cattlemen. Oh, how he wanted to kill a calf. Unless he met a mountain lion or something he probably wasn’t in any danger from predators (the one time he came nose-to-nose with a coyote was hilarious) and deep in his heart he wanted to go out and be one of those dogs. He was a slave to his chase reflex and when he was young he frequently broke clips off tie-out cables until he finally ended up shackled to hardware more appropriate to a horse. He avoided snakes and cactus but I don’t think he’d have survived a porcupine because he was an impulsive idiot. Also he had a lot of Newfoundland in him and if he’d been trapped in the sun he’d have quickly died of exposure. That dog overheated at the drop of any hat. I always felt bad about it because he lived with Ghost, and Ghost ran around loose. I worried about Ghost but somehow he managed to die old and fat. If he paid for his sins it was only in the form of old injuries coming back to haunt him in his dotage and … well, I can’t throw stones at that.
And this is why I don’t let any dog run around loose unless I’m convinced he has some sense. He’ll have a great time – until something kills him.
Sometimes even a dog that has been raised in the desert will panic into doing something that leaves it lost and alone. Dogs can be stupid. I’ll shorten this screed by suggesting you read my story Ghost does his good deed for the day. That dog got home because his owner, whatever else I may say about how she cares for her dog, did at least provide him with a tag with a name and phone number. Tag your dog with its name and your phone number – even if it’s fenced. Even if it’s “always” leashed. Sometimes dogs run off and get into trouble, and though the odds aren’t good I might find it but I can’t return it without contact information.
Which brings us to townie dogs.
Regular readers know that my current dog is one I would frankly not have chosen left to my own devices. The same month that Little Bear died, which was 13 months ago, I also lost a friend in Wyoming. She had a Corgi…
…one thing led to another and needing a place to go he ended up here. Torso Boy is really quite a clever little dog and though it took a while we have warmed up to one another. But he will never be anything but a house dog. When he goes out for a shit, which is basically to the end of the driveway and back, he is always on a leash. This is because he has spent his entire life in a house or a fenced yard and simply has no concept that anything might be dangerous. He has lived with me for eleven months and he still doesn’t understand cactus: I pulled a spine out of his paw this very morning. Recently he literally stepped on a snake. A big snake. I let it happen just to see what he’d do. He learned nothing. He’s a townie dog and he’ll always be a townie dog and that’s just the way it is. It’s not an insult. But a dog that hasn’t been trained young to understand that it’s part of the food chain will always behave as if there is no food chain. It will heedlessly bark and chase and have fun and not realize that it isn’t a game until something terrible happens.
My friends are weekender neighbors whose place isn’t far from mine. They
have had two Shelties which are kind of miniature Collies. And they let them off the leash – because of course they love to run. And they didn’t have tags – because of course they’re right there, how can they get lost?
And then something spooked them both – my friends weren’t able to identify what – and both dogs ran off as fast as their short legs could take them. And one came back.
And my poor friends searched for three days. But now it’s Sunday, and it’s time to go back to the city. And how would that make you feel? They put up fliers. Maybe somebody will find a Sheltie. I hope I do. I’ll certainly continue to look for her.
But I don’t expect to find her. And I guess that’s all I wanted to say.