Friday, October 25, 2013

Losing My Shadow

I wanted my own dog. Brad had Zeus, a chocolate lab who was his hunting buddy, constant companion. Zeus tolerated me. I was in charge of keeping the water bowl filled, the kibble in his bowl twice a day, and the occasional belly rub. I wanted my own furry bundle of devotion. So I’d been scouring the ads for a few weeks. Certain I wanted a lab of my own, but not finding anything that clicked.

On my lunch break I was reading the local paper when the ad caught my eye. “Free Hungarian Pointer female.” I knew from conversations with Brad that a Hungarian Pointer was a Vizsla, his brother had one briefly when they were kids. I also knew they were an extremely rare breed in the States, and you didn’t just find one to give away. I kept the paper, and casually mentioned it to Brad when I got home. Ten minutes and one phone call later we were in the truck to take a look at her.

The woman who had her had had over 300 calls. We were the first people to show up. She was trying to find a home for the dog for a friend of hers, and wanted to make sure the dog went to a good home, preferably someone who hunted birds and would use her for what she had been bred for.

We pulled up, and saw this beautiful copper colored, lean, excited puppy (She was only 13 months old), locked in a 4 x 6 kennel with a dog house in it. She was vibrating she was so excited to see us. While Brad talked with the woman, I let her out and dear sweet goddess she ran. Huge wide circles, so happy to be out of that cage and stretching her legs for the first time in days. While I played with her and watched her run, Brad got the story of her short life.

She had been purchased as a gift from an uncle for his three year old nephew. Dad hated her from the start, he wanted a German Shorthair Pointer, not a high energy, hyper as hell, scrawny Vizsla. Mom didn’t like her either, she had an active toddler to care for, now she was supposed to take care of this dog as well? She wasn’t allowed in the house. She was verbally and physically abused by both the husband and wife. She was uncontrollable. The abuse of the dog turned to spousal abuse, and the wife had dropped this dog off at her friend’s house, just get rid of her.

I half heard most of this. I heard this sad, maddening story as I watched this dog run and jump and come to me when I whistled. She would run to me with her eyes sparkling, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, grinning that doggy grin that intimated she had a joke, and she would share it with me if I could catch her. She would stand still for a moment to have her head petted, then she was off again. The woman casually mentioned the dog hadn’t been allowed out to run for four or five days because she was so hard to catch.

Brad walked over to me and whispered, “Do you want her, with all that she has been through?” My response was immediate. “If you think I’m leaving her here you are nuts.” Half an hour later, we were in the truck with Penny the Vizsla.

We stopped to buy her food, a collar, and some toys. She spent the entire trip home with her feet on the back of the seat, nuzzling my ear or Brad’s. To this day, the best way to reward her for good behavior is to let her nuzzle your ears. Her tail never stopped wagging. We got home, let her out of the truck, and decided to take a walk down the pasture. She ran and ran and ran. Always circling back with that grin on her face.  I am convinced it was the best day she had ever had in her short life. I watched her and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was hers and she was mine. Forever.

There were problems. She wasn’t house broken. Didn’t know her name. More energy than I had ever seen contained in one body in my life. She was terrified of Brad when the initial excitement wore off. It was six months before she realized when he got down on the floor it was to play with her, not to hurt her.

But oh, she and I. She was my shadow, my Velcro dog, my love. She was never more than a foot away from me. She sat next to me on the loveseat, her head either on my lap or laying on my shoulder. When Brad would leave for work or be gone on overnight trips, she curled up in the tightest ball against my spine, gradually uncurling as she slept to rest her head on the pillow next to mine. It was love, deep and instant and enduring. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog.

Brad did eventually get to hunt with her.  And she could hunt. There wasn’t a pheasant in the county that was safe from her. Safe from the shotgun sometimes, but not from that nose. She took great joy in finding those birds and getting her reward by nuzzling Brad’s ears.

While shotguns didn’t bother her, thunder and fireworks terrified her. Twice she got away during thunderstorms. The first time, she was gone for three days.  I was frantic. Certain she was gone forever. The afternoon of the third day, after I had sat down and prayed for her to find her way home, she came trotting up the pasture, as if returning from a bird hunting trip. I cried into her neck as she sat patiently, waiting for me to regain my senses and get her some food.

The second time she was found by a pair of hikers, who got her back to me less than 24 hours after she took off. It was still that heart stopping joy when I saw her again, and she almost jumped out of the window of their car to get back to me. There was no doubt she was really my dog.

So many memories. So much joy and love. My bright eyed copper girl is old now, her face mostly white, her hearing gone, and her eyesight dimming. She still likes to get out and run, but instead of hours of joyful circles she is content to trot around the yard for half an  hour or so, then retire to her cushion in the house to sleep. She barely eats. Her nose is no longer pinned to the ground searching for the scent of pheasant. She can’t hear the rooster pheasant that lives in the front pasture when he calls for his girlfriends.

I am losing my shadow. My canine love. I watch her as she sleeps, to see if she is still breathing. I see her search for me when I am standing right next to her. I don’t know if she can hear my voice any longer. Someday very soon I am going to wake to find she has slipped away in her sleep, or I am going to have to make the heart wrenching decision to have her put down. Someday soon I will bury her in the side yard next to Zeus the chocolate lab. I will have to bury my shadow, and a large chunk of my heart.