I’m generally fond of animals. They’re like people, but less smart and more honest.
Of course there have been beasts that annoyed or unnerved me. There was that time I woke at a campsite near my cabin to find myself face-to-face with a turkey vulture, who was busy deciding which cut of delicious me would really hit the spot. Apparently he’d landed to munch on a dead squirrel, then waddled over to inspect the large unmoving thing wrapped in a sleeping bag/burrito.
And once, when I was foolishly diving solo inside a wreck, I cut my hand on a protruding piece of metal. A big bull shark loitering malevolently outside had me too scared to emerge. Finally, close to my no-decompression limit, running low on air, and trailing an inviting cloud of blood, I made my trepid way back to the boat. The bull followed me all the way to the ladder. No need to ask if I peed in my wetsuit.
Then there was Donk. A conniving, impudent dog.
I don’t like running at all. I do it only because I’m quite vain, and I want to remain pretty and fit. However, I have less dislike of running when I’m doing it in the woods near the cabin. There are lots of trails on which I never see another soul. And for reasons I can’t explain, running seems to make more sense to me in the forest than it does in the city.
So I was running in the woods, feeling pretty good. I emerged from the trees onto a dirt road for the final stretch on the way home. I stopped short. Sitting in the middle of the road, staring at me, was a gigantic black dog. One of the biggest I’d ever seen. Had to be 150 pounds. Naturally, I did the polite thing and said hello. He didn’t respond.
Figuring he belonged to one of the local residents or cottagers, I turned and walked on, catching my breath and taking a swig from my water bottle.
Then the stupid dog bit me on the ass.
I spun around to face my attacker and fend him off, but he wasn’t attacking anymore. He was sitting again. Staring at me. And I stared at him. He looked perfectly calm, as if nothing untoward had happened. As if he hadn’t just bitten my now-throbbing ass.
I backed away a few steps. When he made no move to follow, I once again turned to walk away. A couple strides later, I whirled about. Aha! The sneaky bugger was right behind me, great mouth opening for another chomp on my posterior.
“Now cut that out!” I barked at him. He sat. Placid black eyes watched me.
I began backing away again. Then he spoke. In a soft, hoarse voice, he said, “Wuff.” Just once.
Hmm. I know these parts like the back of my hand, but I looked around anyway. There were no homes anywhere near this spot. Maybe he was lost? If so, I concluded reluctantly that it was my duty to take some sort of action. I think it’s in the Constitution or something.
Oh, alright, damn it. Stupid ass-biting lost dog. I held out my hand. “C’mere, buddy.”
And he did. He hobbled over as quickly as he could on three legs. He was trying to stay off his right rear leg.
He sniffed and snuffled my fist, and sat at my feet. I gave his ears a scratch and checked his neck. No collar – just a choke chain. I chatted to him about the weather, and took a look at his hindquarter. The fur was matted with quite a lot of blood. On closer examination, he had a nasty deep gash. Although I was as gentle as possible, my probing had to hurt. But he didn’t growl or react, other than tensing when I spread his fur to see the extent of the wound.
“Okay, my friend,” I sighed. “You’re going to have to come with me. Come on, then.”
But he couldn’t. He took a few steps behind me, then lay down, still watching me.
So I carried the stupid ass-biting dog three quarters of a mile to the cabin.
The vet I know does large animals. Horses and cows. But Sheila is kind of a friend, and she knows where all the dog parts are too, so she agreed to look after my assailant. He would need surgery.
“Boy, that’s rough,” I said.
“Expensive, too,” she said.
“Expensive for whom?” I asked, with a sinking feeling.
“I can donate my time, but not the expenses, not the drugs,” Sheila told me. “There’s no Humane Society or SPCA nearby. And the ones in the closest towns are all broke. If you take the dog there, he’ll be euthanized. So it’s your decision.”
It was a costly decision, in more ways than one.
I have a long list of deficits and flaws, but you can’t accuse me of irresponsibility. I advised all the local animal authorities. I put up a bunch of notices. Took out ads in three local papers. Nothing. Nobody called to claim a lost Newfoundland.
In the meantime, I was stuck. I couldn’t care for a recovering huge dog in the city. So I basically moved to the cabin. Got Internet service there for the first time – something I’d stubbornly resisted. Did most of my work remotely, and hired a local high school girl to move in when I was traveling.
I had a dog now. I called him Donk.
Donk didn’t bite my ass anymore, which was good. He healed up nicely. Though he would always walk with a bit of a limp, he swam magnificently. Newfoundlands are true water dogs. They have webbed feet. When I would swim across the lake and back, Donk would swim right beside me. The expression on his face during and after our swims looked suspiciously like joy.
I bought the ridiculously expensive dog food everyone says is best, but just as often, Donk would have what I was having. The grocer noticed I was buying twice as much chicken, fish and steak. Did I have a lady friend at the cabin?
Donk did all the usual dog things that most people find endearing. He’d go for walks with me, lie beside me when I was working or reading, sleep beside the bed. He’d put his great head in my lap when he wanted to be talked to and scratched. Even brought me a baby rabbit he found, carrying the trembling little creature carefully in his big, soft mouth, and depositing it in my hands.
And then his owners found me. Three months later. They’d followed the trail of alerts I’d left when I first found Donk. They were from up north. Guilt-ridden, because, in a hurry and distracted by two little kids, they had simply forgotten him at a rest stop on the highway. They’d searched, but Donk had spent two weeks on the roads and in the bush, and eventually they had given up.
They offered to pay for the cost of his surgery and medicine. But I noticed their station wagon was old and tired. They seemed like good people, but I got the impression that money wasn’t exactly overburdening their pockets. So I told them that I was lucky and the vet provided everything for free.
I knelt down and Donk put his wet nose and slobbery mouth all over my face.
The owners called him Blackie, attached a leash to his choke chain and led him into the back of their car. They waved and I waved.
Donk watched me and I watched him, as they drove away.
Stupid ass-biting dog.
Damn it. Damn it all.
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