“I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.”
I have a strong bond to the rural area where I live. My farm site includes a grove with cottonwood, elm, and pine trees. There are cedars and ponderosas around the buildings. Ash and mulberry grow where birds have scattered their seeds. Many wild species, including the deer pictured, feast on mouthwatering mulberries in July and August.
Other wildlife in the area includes rabbits, raccoons, possums, coyotes, skunks, and occasionally fox, and marmots. I sighted a bobcat once. The locale hosts many birds, including red-tailed hawks, giant owls, blue jays, doves, woodpeckers, robins, barn swallows in summer, and multiple brown sparrows’ year-around. As neighbors have torn down building sites and bulldozed nearby trees, more birds have flocked to my little oasis. The wildlife connection will be explained in the following narrative.
This is a story of how I came to adopt a dog after my previous dogs died. I’ve always had a strong connection to my pets. My previous dogs were a black lab and Samoyed mix named Cookie and an Australian shepherd mix named Wiggs.
Cookie came to us in 1996 as a puppy. Her start was a rocky one. Three days after she was spade, she worked her stitches loose one morning. She sat by the back door with part of her intestines showing. I called for the family to come quickly. My daughter and I sat in the back of the pickup with her wrapped in a towel while my husband drove us to the vet. The veterinarian was alarmed the stitches hadn’t held, took her into emergency surgery to remove the damaged intestines. Cookie stayed in the veterinarian’s care for another week and miraculously recovered. She got along fine without three feet of intestines for the rest of her life. She had an excess of curiosity, always wanting a closer look at every vehicle driving by our house.
Wiggs was born in 2002, the year my daughter graduated from high school. She was a sweet little dog, all bubbly, lick your face, and crawl all over you, kind of puppy. She was so wiggly; we named her Wiggs. We got her when Cookie the black lab/Samoyed cross was about six. Cookie mentored her, taught her to scratch on the screen door when she wanted in the house and the not so helpful habit of scratching the stair door if she wanted to go outside in the middle of the night. That door still carries the scars. Cookie allowed Wiggs to crawl all over her, chew on her feet, play with her tail, and follow her around. They were great friends and companions. Cookie also taught her to chase cars. That they both lived through those car chases is a small miracle.
Cookie passed from this world at the good old dog years of about 15. She gave up on life one summer day. Her muzzle turned grey, and her legs quit working. My son was here that day with a friend. I sat on the sidewalk and said good-by to Cookie. They took her out and shot her, buried her on a hillside. I wrote this poem about her passing. It is in my book of poetry, A Quilted Landscape.
To The Hill
“But suddenly she was old and sick and crippled …
I grieved for Pollóchan when he took her for a stroll
And put his gun to the back of her head.”
Praise of a Collie
Cookie sighs, looks up at me
through liquid brown eyes,
places her grizzled muzzle
carefully over folded paws,
patient, as calm in her old age
as she was with Zeke and Liz
when they were young.
I sit on the sidewalk
stroking her greying fur,
tell her we love her,
turn my head
when my son takes her
to the hill
overlooking the grassland
she paced so many times.
No longer able to run
she welcomes the single shot
that brings peace.
Wiggs was lonely after that for a while but then she rather liked being the only dog. Cookie always got the lion’s share of the scraps. Now Wiggs got them all. I supposed I contributed to her weight gain because I shared my meals with her after my marriage ended. At one vet check-up, a diet plan was recommended. After her diet went into effect, she lost 8 pounds on her vet-prescribed special diet and no scraps.
My daughter was 18 and My son 21 when Wiggs came into our lives. She was just leaving for college and My son returning to our hometown. My son spent a lot of time with Wiggs over the years and she was attached to him. Whenever he was home, she slept by his door.
Heeding advice about socializing Australian shepherds, and the need for her to be around lots of people, I took her (leased) to parades, on picnics, dog-fundraising walks, and other events. She could go to town and wouldn’t even need a lease, although I always took one along to be on the safe side. She stayed right beside my son when she was with him.
I taught her that it was ok for her to sleep on the daybed but not on other furniture. In the winter she did sleep on the daybed. I could often see her just getting up when I came downstairs early in the morning. She would slide off the daybed like she didn’t want to be seen sleeping. She followed me around the house. If I worked on the computer she slept on the office floor, if I read in the dining room, she slept on the rug by the table and in the winter we both sat by the fire in the living room. Wiggs would lie in front of the stove and soak up the heat until she couldn’t stand it anymore, then move away to cool off.
Wiggs accompanied me to feed the barn cats and horses. She half-heartedly chased horses because she thought it was her job to keep animals away from the house. The horses ignored her. She always barked at them with the safety of a fence between them. She barked at strangers who drove on the place. It was often a deterrent for salespeople. She loved to be petted and certainly took “doggy treats” from strangers. It was all-show or all-bark and no bite.
Wiggs died 8/15/2012. My son was on vacation. I didn’t want to call him and tell him that Wiggs died but I didn’t know how to justify not telling him until he returned home. He had a special bond with her. An e-mail is so informal, yet it seemed best to send something. I missed her sitting beside me as I typed. She was my special companion. She walked with me in the morning. She wandered the property with me as I tried to sort out who I am and what I wanted to do. She helped me screen the men I’ve dated after the divorce. If a guy didn’t like her or she didn’t like him, I didn’t see that guy again.
Wiggs had learned car-watching from Cookie. I could have and should have confined her to the house while I was at work, but I did not do that. She loved to roam around the acreage, sniffing for rabbits, chasing squirrels, and generally serving as watchdog. To my knowledge, she never caught anything but loved the chase.
Returning home from work one summer day, she didn’t come when called. I found her under the lilac bush unable to move. I called my neighbor to help me load her in the jeep and immediately took her to the vet. Diagnosis was a broken vertebra, probably hit by a car but I don’t know for sure. The vet said she couldn’t recover and gave her pain medication to help calm her. I made the dreadful decision to put her down. My daughter and I sat with her when the vet administered the heart-stopping medication. I was heart-broken, losing my puppy companion, my only companion at that time. The vet clinic cremated her and gave me a box with her remains.
I wrote this poem about her, describing an amusing incident. It’s also in my book A Quilted Landscape.
Wiggs Makes TracksA Quilted Landscape by Lin Brummels
Wiggs, the Aussie, is eager
to go to the puppy spa
this cool rainy morning,
jumps into the front seat,
misses the cushion cover,
wipes muddy paws on fabric,
as I key the ignition, then
step out of the jeep,
walk to the passenger side,
try to coax her to move
back to the blanket,
but I’ve not learned
to speak dog very well,
load my bag with spare key
and some food in the back,
shut the door just as she moves
like she finally understood,
accidentally steps on a lock,
leaving me outside, her in.
I call the car-body guy
to rescue her and me;
he comes to our aid,
but can’t pass up the chance
to give me a hard time,
letting the dog drive?
In future time pups may drive,
but I’ll keep an extra key
in my pocket in case she
locks doors again,
following her instinct
to keep us safe.
I vowed to be dog-less after that. I didn’t want to go through another heart-wrenching loss or place another animal at risk. I went through that fall, winter, and spring without a canine companion. Although it was somewhat freeing not to worry about finding dog care when I traveled, it was also lonesome.
My son, taking care of the place while I was gone one time, remarked that he arrived at dusk to find a possum by the back door. It ran off when he arrived, but the incident did remind me that my canine friends had done a remarkable job of keeping wildlife away from the house. I don’t recall any dog catching a critter, but their barking kept animals away, forming a barking-dog-enforced perimeter around the buildings. A house in the country vacant for even a week or two is fair game for invading animals.
Nine months after Wiggs died, I began to think seriously about looking for another dog. It was like a dog-less pregnancy. I hired a contractor to build a fence around the doghouse so the next dog would be safe from traffic. My daughter and daughter-in-law, both dog-whisperers, accompanied me on the trip to the shelter. We walked through the rooms of animals waiting for forever homes. That walk was a heart-breaking experience all by itself. So many animals abandoned or given up by previous owners, I wanted to take them home. With some restraint I adopted just one dog that day.
The shelter staff said she had been given up by her previous owner who had three dogs in a small apartment. Her name at that time was River. That name did not suit her. We drove through a fast-food place to get something to eat on the way home. My daughter sat in the backseat with her and fed her the dill pickles from her sandwich. The way she relished the pickles, it was clear to us that her name would be Pickles.
Pickles is now ten-years old and doesn’t move as fast as she did. She’s having some problems with one of her back hips. I worry about losing her. When she was younger, she loved to play fetch with a frisbee. She doesn’t play much now. This poem is in honor of those happy times. It can also be found in the same book of poems, A Quilted Landscape.
Joy Under the TreesA Quilted landscape by Lin Brummels
My sheepdog Pickles
finds her favorite frisbee
lost since early summer
under tall grass
in the grove
until mowed by hungry bovines
Joyfully she drops it at my feet
I throw frisbee
She chases and dives
like outfielder after a fly ball
brings it back to play tug-of-war
I can’t win
her jaws stronger than my hands
wait for her to drop it again
We both race to grab
what’s left of well-chewed disc
She usually wins
but when I get there first
throw it to her again and again
until she tires and leaves
joy under the trees
to discover later with glee