Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Right about now, you may be asking yourself: What on earth is a pit bull person doing with a Border Collie? Well, the only thing I can answer is, sometimes you don't pick your dog. Your dog picks you.
Her name is Maddie and S.B. and I have known her since she was a pup. Back then, she was so small it seemed she could fit in the palm of your hand, and she was left to languish in the backyard across the street from us by an overworked night shift nurse who could barely care for her spastic 10-year-old son, much less a dog. Much less a Border Collie dog.
The woman also had a cat who likewise was left on its own. Sure enough, one late fall Sunday afternoon, Ivan ran it up a tree and S.B. went and told the woman to come quick and coax it down otherwise Ivan would make it his supper. So she came lumbering over, eyes heavy from mid-day slumber, to here-kitty-kitty the critter down while we locked Ivan in the house. It was then she told us she'd gotten Maddie from I-can't-remember-where as a companion for her son. Near as we could tell, though, said son promptly spent one day engaged with the little dog before moving on to something else and Maddie slipped his mind forever.
With no one or nothing to guide her, Maddie made her own rules. On my days out to run, I'd sometimes find her wandering the main road that ran perpendicular to our street. She'd cower obsequiously and let out a small stream of piddle whenever I approached to pick her up to carry her back home. Once there, I'd have to stuff her back through the hole in the fence she'd crafted as her escape route, and then hurry up and pile rocks in front to temporarily block any subsequent jailbreaks.
"I found your dog wandering the street this morning," read the note I pinned to the home's door after the first time I rescued her. "I blocked the opening with rocks, but you may want to do something more permanent and secure." I left my name and phone number, too, but never heard from Maddie's owner.
A few months later, we experienced one of those dramatic spring freezes that can hit with no warning, a sharp reminder not to get too comfortable, because winter has not yet fully let go of its grip. It was about 8:00 at night, and the thermometer outside read 10 degrees and I knew it was going to drop at least another ten and I had Maddie on my mind. I tried not to think about it, but I finally bundled myself up and worked my way down the driveway and out the gate to her yard. I found her balled up tight under a tree, the house behind her dark and quiet, the only sound her soft warble of recognition. I had two options: unlatch the gate and take her away with me or have faith that surely her owners would be home soon to take her in. Any idiot knows you have to shelter your animals once the temps get below freezing, right? I went back to the house empty-handed.
Come June, the woman and her son were gone. In her place, the property's actual owner. S.B. met him first and said he'd been renting the place until he could make the move over. I ran into him a few days later as he was headed out and I was headed in and after a few pleasantries I told him straight up I was glad that tenant of his was gone because I couldn't stand the way she treated her dog. He blushed and tugged at the brim of his hat and told me, yeah, it had bothered him, too, so much so that he kept her and now she was his along with a sharp eyed little Aussie Shepherd named Toby. Together, he and Maddie spent a good two years running our neighbor's three acres and dogging his horses and playing tug of war and doing whatever it is that dogs feel free to do when their lives are safe and secure.
And S.B. and I hardly gave Maddie another thought, except on those days when she wiggled herself out from under her gate to greet us while we were out for a run or walking Ivan or checking our fence.
Toby died last year, leaving Maddie once again alone. Still, our neighbor loved her and cared for her and she continued to run her acres and dog her horses and sneak out on occasion to wander the neighborhood and taunt its other canine denizens, locked morosely behind their fences. And because Ivan goes on a walk-about on occasion as well, he and Maddie got acquainted, too, but in that nonchalant way dogs do when they have no territory to defend or agenda to propagate – a quick sniff at each others' hind ends and off they go.
Seems Maddie can't catch a break for long, though. Last November, her owner lost his job in construction and, after months of no such luck finding another one, decided to put his house up for sale, have another neighbor care for the horses, and get himself back to long haul trucking. But what to do with Maddie? The neighbor across the street didn't want her, even though she has a male Border Collie who would most likely love the companionship. There was the possibility that a relative somewhere in Colorado would agree, but with the caveat that Maddie remain outside at all times. Uh. No.
"We'll take her!" said S.B. and Moi, the words spilling out of our mouths before we could question whether or not we really could.
Ivan might not like her.
She might not like us.
She might be too confused to stay on our property, crawling instead under our own gate to run back to her former home.
Then I remembered that evening when I found Maddie shivering in near minus zero temps and I did nothing about it.
So. We took her.
And, yes, Ivan doesn't really like her. But he'll probably get over it. And, yes, we have had to fetch her from her old house several times over the past couple days, attaching her to her hated lead, encouraging her with uplifted voices at the edge of panic as she slinked along reluctantly behind us.
But when we woke this morning, Maddie was waiting for us at the foot of the bed. And she went walking on the trails and ate her breakfast right up afterward and played ball after that, even though Ivan got snarfy about it and we had to stop. So she chased a squirrel back under the pool instead and charged the birds and raised a ruckus at the trash truck and then ran inside to beg for a bit of my toast, Ivan on her heels. When neither dog, it seemed, would be getting anything extra to eat, Ivan shuffled off back outside to nap in one of his holes and I went into my office, figuring Maddie would now get bored and make her way back to her old house and I'd go get her after lunch. Thirty minutes later, I went to nuke my coffee and this is what I saw:
She's still there.