Sunday, January 8, 2012
The Black Dog, Part I
Standing on the retaining wall behind my cabin, she looks like a black wolf. A skinny black wolf. Her coat is short and dry and it shows the shadows of her ribs, the haunches that are defined by starvation. Despite her condition, her brown eyes are clear. Her ears are always pricked, listening… trying to understand.
She appeared one afternoon some weeks ago, before Christmas, slinking between the cabins, sniffing the air, looking for food. All of us—Jimmy, Tammy, Eric, Brenda, Rob and myself—tried to ignore her. Jimmy has Lucky, a husky that someone brought to the mountain and left behind. Rob has TJ, the world’s sweetest and reddest golden retriever. Eric and Brenda have a small dog and a kitten. I have Sug, of course… and no place for a dog. We all hoped she belonged to someone on the mountain, some new cabin owner who was too ignorant to keep his dog at home.
But no. Weeks have gone by. She’s learned to make the rounds of the cabins, looking for food. I thought it was the little night hawk snatching up the dead mice I dumped out on the wall. I’m sure now it was the black dog. And though I haven’t seen her there, I’m sure she heads down to the campground every day (or more likely at night), scooping up the detritus of irresponsible visitors.
She’s lucky, really. Usually by this time of year we have a foot or two of snow on the ground. But it’s only a matter of time.
Yesterday, watching her trot around on my back deck, her tail tucked between her legs, I’d had enough. I put a bowl of dry cat food out for her. She ran to it, inhaled it and licked the ground around the bowl. I sat outside and talked to her for awhile, at a distance, of course, so she wouldn’t feel threatened.
This morning when she came round, I sat on the back step with another bowl of cat food, a handful of it in my hand. She stood for a long time watching me, then made a decision. She trotted forward to my outstretched hand and gobbled up the food I offered. I quickly gave her another handful, and she ate it greedily. Then I set the bowl down, and while she ate, I petted her head and neck. When I brought out a second bowl of food, I told her to sit and she did. I gave her the food, and when she finished, I removed the filthy leather collar that was so tight it made her cough when she drank water. She looked at me, wagged her tail, licked my hand, and held out her paw. We shook.
“Nice to meet you, girl,” I told her.
There is a mythology that a dog or cat will ‘survive on its own’ if left in the forest. It’s a belief perpetuated by ignorant people. These are the same people—and I use that term loosely—who are too ashamed or embarrassed or proud to take an animal they can no longer care for to a shelter or rescue group. So they bring it to the mountain, dump it out and drive away, leaving it behind like some discarded piece of trash. These are very lucky people… because I haven’t been around to see them do it. God and all her angels help them if I do.