I let the dogs out that morning. They each barked once or twice and Boots (who lived down the road) came streaking joyfully across the yard from the old dirt mountain road, dodging his way through the garden boxes. The three of them started wrestling around like they always did. The three of them were buddies and constant play mates, but Boots and Zadie were best friends. I went back inside to fix breakfast. It was Wednesday; my day to fix scrambled eggs and bacon.
Dolly came in after a bit, but not Zadie: she had gone off adventuring with Boots.
When it was time to sit down for breakfast, Marie went out and called Zadie several times, it was not like her to miss breakfast (or any other meal).
I took Marie to work so I could keep the truck for errands. Marie always handed out cookies when she left for work. Dolly always said, “Give mine to my ‘boy’ here and he’ll go put them on my bed in the office.” Zadie scarfed hers down and tried to snatch Dolly’s as well. If Boots was visiting he’d get some too. Today: no Boots, no Zadie. Dolly was miffed that I was leaving: that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. She was such a creature of habit!
When I got back from my morning errands, Dolly greeted me and collected her cookies, still no Zadie. I decided to walk up the old dirt road into the woods to see if I could spot her. Maybe she’d found a treasure she was guarding. Maybe she’d been hurt. I couldn’t see anything because the forest was so thick. I did hear what sounded like a bear (or large dog – maybe Zadie) stomping around, but when I finally got to where I could see what it was, it was just a big-foot squirrel. It’s amazing how much noise they make bounding around in the leaves and twigs.
When I got back from my exploratory walk I asked Dolly where Zadie was. She started prancing and hopping, nipping at my hand, lunging off then circling back. To me, all this looked very much like, “Follow me, follow me.” So I said, “OK, let’s go…” and she charged up the embankment beside the workshop and into the brush.”
I struggled to crawl up that steep embankment and shove my way through the brush following Dolly. She meandered around a bit then circled around to the high side of the house. At least we were out of the brush. She disappeared around the front of the house.
When I caught up to her she was standing on the porch with her nose to the door. “Let’s go in Doug, let’s go in.”
“Very funny, Dolly!” Now I was all tuckered out and covered with spider string. My pants and hands were dirty and my body nicked and scratched by brambles. At least I hadn’t met up with any snakes. I didn’t know anything more than I did before except that I can’t see much of anything from the old road and Dolly was not in the least bit concerned about Zadie’s absence. At least not yet. I headed back to my office, I had much to do that day.
Dolly had always been fastidious about her … personal habits. She refused to “go” in the yard, preferring to wander up into the trees to do her business. It’s a habit she’d taught to each of her trainees. But now, Dolly was going just to the edge of the tree line, not into the woods like before. And she was sticking very close to home, not wandering her domain like the Queen she was.
A week or so before that day there had been a fire on Hogback Mountain – the next mountain to the south of Piney Mountain. A few days before, while I was out in the garden, I heard a loud, crunching and dismissed it as another squirrel wearing army boots until I heard, “sniffle, sniffle SNORT”. I could not be sure, but it sounded like a bear.
The next day my neighbor said he had heard a bear, he was sure of it. Maybe it had been chased over here by the fire. The pieces were starting to come together.
Dolly was a mountain dog through and through. An English Hound born and trained to hunt. But she was accidentally shot on a hunt when young, which caused her to become terrified of gunfire; ruining her as a hunting dog. Her trainer dumped her here on our mountain rather than shooting her for keeps. She was good at finding food and skilled at living wild and free. It’s what she was doing when we moved in here. She was strong and quick enough to lunge in during a stand-off and snap a possum’s neck with one bite. I’d seen her do it.
Zadie was a Border Collie/Rotweiller mix. The body and fur of the collie, the coloring of the Rottie. She was lighter than Dolly, but very nimble: 67 pounds of canine ninja. And absolutely fearless: which is not always a good thing. I’d seen her pick a fight with a Great Dane. Dolly charged to her rescue and ordered Zadie out. Dolly got chewed up pretty badly. It would have been worse if Tim hadn’t seen it too.
Tim was a sharpshooter in the military, he can hit carpenter bees in flight with his 22 rifle. It was no challenge for him to pop the Dane in the rump a few times with a BB gun. That ran him off, I collected Dolly. Tim and I were both furious with Zadie. Tim loved Dolly.
Zadie was clever and fearless. Dolly was wise. She would not have attacked the Dane except that Zadie – her sibling – was involved. She was defending Zadie. Dolly healed up, but I kept a close eye out for those Danes. And I kept a big, solid stick handy: Tim might not be around next time.
Dolly would not have attacked, or teased, a bear. Zadie – especially with Boots as her wing man – just might.
And then there was Boots. He used to consider himself part of the family: hanging out on our porch, joining Dolly and Zadie for cookies as Marie left, we liked Boots and we welcomed him. After Zadie disappeared, Boots would never come any closer than the start of the old mountain road. He and dolly never played any more. When we caught sight of him, he’d slink away. Were he human, I’d suspect he was feeling remorse over getting his best friend killed and was afraid to face Dolly. Or me.
We never did find Zadie. We put up posters and offered a reward and notified the local shelter and the Sheriffs Department. We never saw her again. Dolly stayed very close to home for the rest of her days. We thought about tethering her to keep her safe, but that would be like a jail cell to her. She had lived free to roam nearly all of her life. It was unnecessary anyway, she never again went off wandering in the woods. In time she died of heart failure.
We fostered, then adopted Cochise when the sting of Zadie’s death eased. He and all the rest we’ve had here have been penned, tethered or kept in the house when not out walking with us on a leash. No more free-roaming. We haven’t heard the bear in a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s not up there. And if not a bear, a rattlesnake, or a copperhead, or some idjut that shoots at anything that rustles a bush. We must keep our furbabies as safe as we can. They WANT to run off into the woods, there are just too many dangers up there. Sorry kids.
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