Outside the beltway in the quiet suburbs near D.C., we have a property manager living in our house. Her name is Hera and she’s a blend of, primarily, Red Bone Coon Hound and something else with smooth red hair and a white shield on her chest to match her feet. She patrols house, yard, deck, driveway and adjacent properties (really, any area that's in her field of vision) with a gait that’s much more elegant than her lineage would imply. Head high and nose up, she trots around the perimeter at a fair speed repeatedly every day. When she’s not trying to dig her way under our fence, she’s ready to challenge hawks, crows and the occasional buzzard if they happen to rest in one of her trees. She will not tolerate them and will harass them with endless barking until they leave. Hera is a worrier, constantly anxious, and she never takes her eyes off her territory.
When she’s inside, which is a lot due to her noise issues, she takes her position in deer stand #1 (the bay window in the kitchen) or deer stand #2 (the stairs going up to the loft) and her nose prints on the windows mark her favorite spots. The deer roam through the streets of our neighborhood as construction pushes into the area, so it’s a common occurrence to have more than a dozen does, bucks and their babies wander through each day. It’s more than any self-respecting hound dog could be expected to quietly tolerate, and the moment she spots the first deer Hera’s alarmed and wobbly howl can be heard. She barks and howls intermittently all day and night. It’s a deep and throaty bark that crescendos with a surprising lack of control. When she’s outdoors, her front feet come off the ground with each bark for added emphasis.
I had never heard of this particular breed until the vet labeled her, and she wouldn’t have been my first choice, but six years ago a neighbor brought her to our door in Tennessee after finding her roaming around a golf course. She was about a year old and had been seen by local people running in traffic and then disappearing into the woods occasionally. She was emaciated, infected with mange (the contagious kind) and had become too weak to hold herself up on four legs for very long. She needed a home.
She had to be quarantined in our garage for a while so when she wasn’t medicated and sleeping, I would take her out to sit with me on the steps for fresh air. She was quiet then and I realize now it was only because she was too sick to bark. We would sit together on the top step and she would lean against my shoulder. The first time she sat there with me, I promised her I would do everything I could to make life much better for her. She expressed her gratitude by getting well and chewing up cell phones, hardwood chair legs, shoes, video games, socks and a lifeless baby bird (I won’t go into it). She has unapologetically stuck her nose up the skirts or in the crotch of every real estate agent, neighbor, and slow-moving relative. Every plant I’ve put in the ground in my backyard has been dug up within 24 hours because apparently I’m trespassing, and when I’ve tried to play fetch with her she takes the ball and walks to the other side of the yard. She won’t let me play.
Yesterday was a scheduled spa day for Hera, much to her dismay. All that guard duty makes her a very grimy dog. I am not a morning person so I think it’s very generous of me to navigate the 10 minute drive to the vet in my glasses, sans caffeine, early in the morning. Hera jumped in the passenger seat and started crying and doing what I can only describe as “warbling” before I was out of the driveway. While I leaned toward the windshield to focus and held the leash with my right hand, Hera, as captain of our vessel, stood on the arm of the door and stuck her head out of the window so that she could cry in the wind.
She sat back on the seat to look at me and warble her complaints about going to the vet, then stuck her head out the window again. She went back and forth like this for half the trip, then suddenly started yelping in pain. Trying to keep the car on the road and look at her at the same time, I realized she was standing on the electric window button and her head was caught as the window rolled up. Horrified, I started pushing buttons and she was released to sit down on the seat again. But now she was even more panicky and jumped back up on the arm of the door. As I pulled the leash to get her under control, she yelped in pain again and we were doing it all again: dog struggling in the window and me weaving all over the road. I pulled over and made her sit down, and I got the leash under control before pulling back on the road. But the damage was done. Hera was trembling and crying, facing me and looking over her shoulder to watch the evil window. I felt terrible. I haven’t owned my car very long and thought I was locking the windows when all I had done was lock the doors. She cried and warbled loudly as we continued on – five more long minutes.
In the middle of the struggle to save Hera from the window, the only thought that kept going through my head was that Hera might never howl again and it was my fault. I could see Hera in the future, no voice, using signs to tell people her mother had tried to strangle her. Whispering for dog treats or throwing her dish around for food. Wearing a scarf. She was perfectly fine by the time we got to the vet but I was completely wrung out and exhausted and it was only 7:45.
My son picked her up later in the day so when I returned home she was the same old Hera. Wagging her tail and happy to see me walk in as though the nightmare of the morning had never happened. And when she ran outside to patrol for the last time before bed, she held her head up to howl fiercely one more time and all was right with the world for a moment.
In the coming year, I wish for each of us peace of mind and heart, the ability to forgive, the companionship of a soul that appreciates life, and the joy of a good howl. Happy New Year!