Even now, as I travel the highway that carries me over the river, over the turnaround and along the creeks and bogs lining the road, I always look. Just past the bridge through the clearing you can see it, the place where the gravel road wraps around the lake, where he always lay.
He was an odd-looking dog, mostly pit bull, but there was something else in the mix as well, and we called him Ross. Of all the dogs, he had the most presence and he seemed to be the leader, the dog the other ones followed in spite of an injury to his leg. If he came to eat, they all came to eat and when he was done they all left together. This was back when it all began, when we were wringing our hands about what to do with five dumped dogs. Our small group had little money and no fosters so we came up with a plan that would hopefully keep them safe and allow us to save them all. We set up a hidden den for them in the dense woods, with shelter, food and clean water and checked on them each day, hoping to draw them closer and gain their trust until we could take them to a better life.
We came to know the dogs well, but they would never get close enough to touch and I believe this was because they took their cues from Ross. Across the lake we would see them, sitting together in the morning sun or under a small willow tree by the clear lake as the summer sun began to heat up the day. When we entered the den we would hear them, unseen in the woods around us, pacing and circling, crackling underbrush and excited breath filling the air. We contacted a rescue trapper named Kevin who has helped many animals and slowly we got them one by one, except for Ross. Late one evening he watched from a distance as we loaded up his last friend and became distraught, running after the truck as it pulled out and then suddenly he stopped, watched the truck climb the ramp to the highway and with a last desperate look, ran back to the woods.
For weeks Kevin set the trap out before light each morning and after dusk each evening, but the food in the trap remained untouched. We hired someone to dart him with a tranquilizer in order to save his life, but Ross stayed hidden and became unpredictable. We kept checking on Ross each day and although he was eating the food we put in the den, it was obvious he was no longer using the shelter.
It was also obvious he was deteriorating both physically and mentally and we didn’t know what to do. Some days I would sit by the road outside the den and if I were still enough, he might show himself in the shadows of the tree line behind me and I could feel his eyes on me. We would stay like that together until the sun grew too hot or the day too dark and then he would be gone again.
There came a time when we realized no one had seen him in several days so we met at the site, fanned out through the woods around the den, and walked and drove the dusty road around the lake. We carried binoculars in one hand, smelly delicious food in the other and left it at various spots along the way, hoping to draw our boy out into the open. Days turned into weeks and then to months with no sign of Ross. Other dogs were dumped, caught and rescued while we left his den in place, but we never saw him again.
I want to believe he left to wander and found the houses on the other side of the river, that someone he learned to trust took him in and that as I write this he knows gentle hands and a soft bed. I like to think he’s with a pack again, leading them around a backyard until he’s called in for the night with a treat and pat on the head. That’s what my heart wants to believe, but my mind knows better. It knows that in spite of our efforts, somewhere out in those woods he laid down one last time, sick or hurt, tired of being alone, tired and broken by his short and sad life, betrayed by those who dumped him, unreachable by those who would have helped him.
So now I always look in case one day I see him, a spot of white on the dirt road as I go by and I will turn my truck around and drive back to that bitter place. I will walk to the fork of the rutted road and raise my hands to shield the light and see him at rest in the bend, whole and healthy. As he gets to his feet he will turn to look at me, willing me to understand that he’s at peace now, that I can tell the others that we don’t need to look for him anymore and in a cloud of dust he will be gone, back to the woods and I will let him go forever.
©2011-2016 itsa5doglife All Rights Reserved