I was stopped at a red light today when I saw movement from the left corner of my eye. I turned to see the passenger window of the car to my left glide down and the curly, russet-coloured head of a Labradoodle appear. The dog poked its big, wet, black nose out the window and gave me a friendly look. (Don’t ask me how I knew it was friendly, I just did.)
Then he tilted his nose skyward and sniffed the air as if it were the best thing he had ever smelled. His eyes almost closed in pleasure. The light turned green and the driver edged ahead. The dog leaned hard out the window, looking forward with his big ears flapping in the wind behind him. He turned to look back at me again and he was grinning that big, silly grin that dogs do.
That was it – a big silly smile lit up my face too! It also got me to thinking that it’s not always a bad thing to “live like an animal”.
The dog wasn’t reviewing a “to-do” list in his head or worrying about things he can’t control. He was just having a good old time sniffing the air and feeling the wind whip through his fur. I decided to take a page from his book; I rolled my window down, turned the radio on and enjoyed the ride.
I was driving to work yesterday when for no good reason the memory of this beautiful creature, and in particular, this photo, came to mind. It was strange because this dog has been gone for over 20 years. But yesterday the image of his sweet face and soulful eyes were sharp and clear in my mind. Then today, I read that the theme for ThrowBack Thursday Memory Blog Hop was “The Pets in My Life”. It felt like a sign.
His name was Kina and he came into my life shortly after I was married. We wanted a dog and I had my heart set on a Husky or a Malamute. It must have been fate when we saw an ad in the newspaper for a young Malamute. The lady was giving him away to someone who could offer him a good home. She bought him from a pet shop because even though he was still young, he was almost fully grown and crammed into a small cage all day. She felt sorry for him so she bought him but she couldn’t keep him. At least that what’s she told us and it was good enough for us. We went to collect him a few days later.
It wasn’t a bowl of cherries. He wasn’t house trained and he did not care for being left alone, even for short periods. Like a child having a tantrum, he made his displeasure clear. He gnawed wooden door frames, pulled sheets completely off the bed and left little “gifts” for us in unexpected places. But he was so adorable! He still sat crookedly on one haunch like a puppy who hadn’t quite adjusted to his growing body. One ear flopped over charmingly and his cold, wet nose was black as night. His markings were striking and his eyes were like deep pools of liquid chocolate.
With time, Kina grew into a wise, gentle soul. At the cottage where he could roam free, we always knew when a thunder storm was coming. He scratched frantically at the screen door until we let him in, and then cowered in the corner until the storm was over.
When I became pregnant with my son a few years later, warnings came from well-meaning family. Kina might be jealous and harm the baby. Maybe we should consider parting with him. But that wasn’t part of our plan. We would be cautious but unless he gave us reason to change our minds, he was staying.
If anything, the poor dog was the neglected one as our attention was thrown into caring for a small, screaming newborn. It was probably payback when one morning I found Erik, who was about a year old at the time, standing in his crib calling for “Dia” (his way of pronouncing Kina’s name) instead of “Mama”.
When Erik was almost three, my husband and I separated. I wanted to keep Kina and I tried to juggle it all for a few months. But being a single parent of a toddler and working full-time was hard. Squeezing in two long walks a day for a big dog that needed them was impossible. I was heartbroken, but the situation wasn’t fair to Kina. I knew my husband loved him as much as I did, so I was glad when he offered to take him.
Kina had a good, long life but, as often happens, when older animals are in pain and their quality of life suffers, it’s time to say good-bye. Erik’s Dad called to tell me first so I could prepare our son. My heart broke when I realized that this beautiful dog who gave us so much joy would no longer walk the earth. Love you and miss you still, big boy.
It’s a hot, dry day – perfect for a ride. When we get to the barn, our horses are with the rest of the herd at the bottom of a very big field. They seem happy – heads bowed, chomping on the grass, fresh and verdant from yesterday’s rainfall. But it’s a long walk to get them. I grab my mare’s halter and lead line and start walking down the field. Ben stays behind and tries a strategy that worked the last time we were here. He stands by the fence, puts his fingers to his mouth and whistles, a shrill sound that pierces the air.
Last time, all the horses raised their heads high and pricked their ears, bodies alert to potential dangers for a prey animal. Then one, a gelding the color of espresso, began trotting toward home – and me. Mane and tail flying behind him, he gathered speed. The other horses quickly followed, understanding that if he perceived danger, their best bet was to follow him back to the barn. There’s safety in numbers.
I stopped in the field as they thundered past me. I raised my arms sideways and waved them up and down. The movement was enough to keep them from getting close enough to run me over. When the last horse ran past me, I turned and headed back to the paddock near the barn where they had gathered. I slipped Heidi’s halter over her head, gave her a carrot and brought her into the barn for grooming.
This time, though, the horses are wiser. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Again, I walk through the field with Heidi’s halter. When Ben whistles, I stop and wait for them to come running. But they keep their heads to the ground, grazing contentedly on the grass. As I get closer, Heidi spots me. She knows I pose no danger. On the contrary, I come bearing treats and she will do almost anything for a treat, so she walks amiably to me. Ben’s horse, Sting, looks on with curiosity. They spent 18 years together alone in their own paddock. They were – and still are – like an old couple. But with a recent change of barns, they have become part of a bigger herd. Their adjustment was smooth, but there is still a strong connection between them, so he watches to see where Heidi goes.
When he hears her crunching on the carrot I feed her, he comes to join us. As I walk with Heidi on a lead line, he follows for a short while. Then he decides to return to his friends. Back at the barn, Ben is still at the fence, whistling to horses that are paying no attention whatsoever to him. “Good luck,” I say.
Fifteen minutes later, Ben arrives with Sting in tow. “Did he play hard to get once you went into the field?” I asked. Sometimes Sting waits until Ben gets close to him, then darts away just for fun. Ben shakes his head. “Ah, he’s just messing with you, it’s a game to him,” I say.
Soon we are tacked up and ready to hit the trails. Abby, the sweet, energetic chocolate Lab at the barn, joins us. We enter the woods with Abby in the lead, her tail pointing straight up like a flag for us to follow.
It’s cooler in the woods and puddles the size of small sink holes remain on the trails from the recent heavy rains. Abby zips in and out of the trees, sometimes going deep into the woods before rejoining us on the trail. We hear a rustle of branches and leaves before she bursts back onto the trail panting and tongue lolling, then rushing ahead of us again.
The trail opens to a field dotted with wildflowers – white Queen Anne’s Lace, yellow goldenrod and purple clover. Their scent is cloying and sweet as the flowers brush up against our thighs. Bright orange Monarch butterflies flit around us, occasionally landing on a flower.
We cross the field to another patch of woods and a trail that leads back to the barn. The horses know we’re going back and step up their pace, anxious to return to the security of their herd. We lose sight of Abby for a while and find her lying in a puddle in the middle of the trail to cool off. Then she is off again.
Back at the barn, we dismount and Abby lies on the ground with a contented sigh. It’s as if she is saying, “That was just perfect.” My sentiments exactly, Abby. My sentiments exactly.