I am settling in with a cup of hot coffee after a walk in the woods with the dogs. There is nothing so invigorating as the feeling that follows a winter walk with my friends in the cold morning air, with lingering fog in the fields and ever widening gaps of blue sky. Light streams into the forest and steam rises as winter sunbeams gently kiss huckleberry and salal just enough to make them blush.
Happy New Year. A fresh calendar awaits, full of hope and opportunity, as I edit my own list of resolutions for 2020. With plenty of calendars behind me, the voice of experience mocks anything too ambitious.
Saying hello to a new year means bidding an old one farewell.
In late 2019 my faithful companion, a German shepherd named Deacon, died. From the moment we adopted as a rescue in rural Montana, he followed me everywhere without fail. In his first two weeks, I leashed him up for walks to show him his new boundaries along the acres of unfenced property lines. It quickly became apparent neither leash nor fence was needed. He heeled beautifully without command, exhibiting no inclination to roam.
Later as we progressed to walks along country roads, a simple collar and leash sufficed. I used it to keep him safe from cars and more to put the other occasional walkers at ease than any fear that Deacon would act poorly.
His hackles rose at the smell of every recently used bear trail, pointing out a few I hadn’t known existed. He was a pacifist. When I realized he could be stopped from chasing a squirrel by a simple ‘leave it alone,’ I bought a PETA membership in his name. He gave chase to deer a time or two, but couldn’t be away from me for long. Who would watch over me in his absence?
Whenever I left home by car, that dog sat in exactly the spot my feet last left the ground and waited until my return. His behavior was similar in the house. When I used the bathroom, he waited outside the door. At night, despite a soft bed of his own, he chose to sleep on the floor at the foot of ours –– never dissuaded.
It was odd. He certainly liked everyone else, but he bonded to me in a way I have never experienced. As a family we’ve enjoyed many loyal dogs, but Deacon was different.
The details of his life before age three or four were largely unknown. Was he a registered purebred? An unneutered male at the time of his rescue, that service was performed before his adoption. Did he live strictly outdoors or indoors? How was he trained? He excelled at basic commands and heeling, but fetched neither ball nor stick. I’d toss either and he’d look up at me smiling as if to say, “Nice throw.”
All we knew was that Deacon had been reported by neighbors to be sick and starving along with three other large dogs living outdoors in a fenced kennel. Their owner was a woman who spent much of her time alone. Her husband, a long-haul trucker, was rarely home so the neighbors knew little of him. The woman, diagnosed with late stage cancer, died shortly thereafter. The husband came home but grew dangerously depressed and stopped caring for himself or the four dogs his wife left behind.
What might have happened to this trucker were it not for his wife’s dogs? It was the dogs that alerted neighbors to the man’s deteriorating condition. Social workers took over; he relinquished the dogs. All four were adopted by good homes and I like to think the man got his second chance too.
As many dog lovers know, one rescue begets another. Thanks to a dear friend with a big heart for German shepherds, an out-of-control 10-month old juvenile delinquent shepherd named Augie came to live with us.
He was no Deacon. Early on I felt a little scared of him myself. He was pushy, full of himself and fearfully aggressive toward men in ballcaps. It took six months before the young dog became civilized and is currently pushed around by a 13-year old cairn terrier, Frodo.
Thanks to Deacon, who led the way by following, Augie is now my good shepherd.
Cheers to 2020 and to dog walks every day of the year.