This is a post that I was unable to finish after my uncle-in-law died.
I love animals but I've never really bonded with dogs. I'm amazed by their capacity to learn, their loyalty and their protective instincts but their barking, pouncing, drooling and yes, biting have never won me over.
The only exception is chihuahuas, which are cute and very playful. I remember my cousin Kim once had one called Chad. He loved it when you tickled his belly with your toes... Chad would just lie back and squirm in ecstasy! He also liked to be fed pieces of cake - easy, dog owners - there was no icing and I only gave him up to half a slice, ok?
Our fear of dogs was passed on to us by our father. As kids we kept fish, birds and all manner of insects but never dogs. We are not a dog family - or are we?
You see, in the first few days after my uncle-in-law's death, we came home to an unexpected visitor (or should I say, "squatter"). A dog: black coat with beige under-side, medium-sized, collared, tagged - and surprisingly docile.
At first, I didn't know what to think. I was instantly on edge, but not wanting to get the dog agitated, I played it cool and just walked up to the front door to unlock it. To my surprise, the dog just looked me over for a bit, then turned right around and trotted off to the back of the house. Hmmm, that was easy (I thought to myself)!
When the kids returned home from my sister's house they were understandably nervous as well. Laila sauntered into the house cautiously whereas Dominic had to be escorted in order to avoid a bad situation. Through all of this, the dog was as cool as a cucumber - I could not believe it!
This scenario played out repeatedly for the next few days, with Laila, my husband Rick and yours truly getting more and more comfortable with our unwelcome house-sitter.
Despite her (I noticed some nipples) considerable comfort in our presence, she was surprisingly aggressive towards visitors... it's almost like if somehow, she knew who belonged there. Really, she was an excellent guard dog! The only trouble was we always had to be on the lookout for people dropping in - she never got close enough to bite them but at the same time, I couldn't vouch for their safety.
In particular, she did not like my sister Nicole. I don't know what it is about her but she drove that dog crazy! The dog never got too close but she barked almost the whole time Nicole was there, piping back up every time my sister sounded her voice. Whenever Nicole turned to go home, things would heat back up. That dog would bark and bark, even long after my sister had left! It got so bad, some of the neighbors complained that she was getting their dogs riled up. For this reason, we called the dog "Collie" as a joke :)
We had no idea where Collie had come from, nor what had attracted her onto our property. She roamed freely around the perimeter of the house and the entire neighborhood, foraging for scraps. Now take it easy - we were concerned about her getting food but at the same time, we were trying to encourage her to leave (especially for Dominic's sake). Besides, she seemed to manage fairly well on her own. We had no idea where she was finding food but we were relieved that she was.
Collie seemed to be completely at ease with us. On day 2, when I noticed she had left on one of her food expeditions, I decided to lock the gate to see if that would force her to return to her owner. Finally, she's gone! I felt so proud of myself :) Then a couple of hours later, I heard a familiar jingling noise outside. To my amazement and frustration, there was Collie - with the gate still locked!
What the hell? Can this dog work a lock? I went over it again and again in my mind - I had no idea how that thing got back in here! Then I remembered that the backyard hedges have a few holes in the brush, with a relatively low wall behind them. Piece o' cake for any half-decent canine. It was then I came to the realization that we were stuck with her.
In trying to make the best of the situation, late into day 3 I decided that it would be a good idea to start feeding Collie. Not only was she clearly not going to leave us but I didn't want her to get sick or (worse still) hungry enough to go wild and attack the kids. Just then Collie started barking up a storm. I looked outside to see one of my neighbors and her daughter calling out to me. Turns out they had come on Collie's behalf.
Being dog-lovers (and owners), they had attempted to feed Collie during one of her regular strolls. Unfortunately, their kindness was not appreciated and she lunged viciously at them. They understandably backed off but remained concerned about her diet, knowing that we don't stock any dog food and weren't likely to get close enough to feed her anyway. They had come to ask us if, given her obvious attachment to us, we would mind feeding her some of their dog food. Having already made up my mind to feed her but not knowing the first thing about selecting the right kind of dog food, I welcomed the gesture and they returned with the goodies.
By now I was very comfortable around Collie, to the extent of brushing past her on the lawn. I therefore had very little reservation about approaching her and bending down with food in my hand. I set it down and Collie devoured it all in less than a minute! My neighbor, evidently pleased at the outcome, promised to bring more food the next day. I really appreciated that but I held onto the empty cans just in case she forgot or something.
Thus began the daily ritual of feeding Collie and changing her water bowl. At night she would patrol the entire property until about 1 am, then curl up on the terrace in front of the patio for the next 7 hours.
In fact, one night Rick went out with the guys till quite late. Collie kept pacing up and down the front path, looking down at the driveway entrance expectedly. Every now and then she would take a break by curling up at the top end of the pavement, still awake and with a clear view of the entrance. When Rick finally returned home, she got all frisky and ran right up to him, wagging her tail like crazy. Only after he entered the house did she finally curl up on her mat to sleep. That really touched me.
The more I thought about the whole situation, the more amazed I was. I mean, who would've thought, right? Not only had a dog found its way onto our property, decided we were good companions, started guarding the premises and pretty much stayed out of our way but we felt safe around it, had started relating to it and were even feeding it now! Wow, if my father could see me now!
In less than a week, we had all bonded with Collie... all except my sister Nicole, that is :) Even Dominic wasn't so afraid anymore.
One of my other neighbors told me something that sort of explains Collie's behavior. Apparently, she had been wandering around the neighborhood for a week and at one point, was being chased by a small pack of dogs that had nipped her in the neck. It was therefore logical to assume that in seeking refuge, she locked in on the first open property with no rival animals in sight. The trauma of abandonment and ambush, coupled with the discovery of safe harbor, accounts for why Collie did everything in her power to ensure that she could stay with us.
What could we do with her, though? First of all, she had a cloudy left eye. Add to that being female, which meant it was only a matter of time before our household would double in size. With the added food cost and necessary check-ups, shots, tethering, sheltering, training, daily feeding and walking/sparring - not to mention poop clean-up - neither Rick nor I had the time to care for her long-term. Yes, the kids loved her but they were both too young and too irresponsible for the job.
The solution was obvious - call the ASPCA. I did so, only to be told that they didn't have any room and that I should call Animal Control. Now I had no personal experience with dogs, but I remembered people saying that Animal Control is just another name for "dog-sleepers"... I really didn't want to do that to Collie. But what choice did I have? We couldn't keep her.
I updated my family on the situation and immediately Laila burst into tears, begging me not to call the "dog-catcher" for Collie because she was convinced the dog would be put down. I gave in, although I knew that in doing so I would continue to be the one doing the brunt of the feeding and poop-cleaning, which typically took me all over the neighborhood.
In the meantime, I tried contacting some volunteer kennels but they too were full. Eventually, the daily poop expeditions became too much for me and I knew I had to let poor Laila down.
I called Animal Control, hoping that Collie's tag and collar would not only save her life but allow the department to find her owner. I mean, where the hell was he/she? Almost 2 weeks had gone by and we hadn't heard or seen a peep out of anyone looking for a dog: no posters, PSA's on radio/TV, passers-by, nothing! It was as if Collie had been completely abandoned. Especially with the bad eye, that notion seemed particularly heartless to me. Animal Control had a backlog so we had to wait a few days.
Just when I had built up the courage to bathe Collie, Animal Control called for directions to my house. I was relieved to be done with the constant barking and poop-cleaning, yet concerned for Collie's safety. Not to mention feeling guilty about not getting around to bathing her.
Within a few minutes, Animal Control arrived and I invited the officer inside. Immediately, Collie sprung into action. I felt guilty for betraying her trust, yet very concerned for the officer because I still had no real control over Collie. Being so easy-going with us, she hadn't really encouraged us to prioritize her training. She got very agitated, barking and snarling as I closed the gate behind the officer. Then he lunged at her with the rope-stick held aloft... Collie took off!
I had never seen that dog move so fast: she was flat-out sprinting! To his credit, the officer - who had to be in his mid-50's - was quite agile as well. At one point he decided to take the high ground, standing on the pavement above the lawn and lunging over the garden bed as Collie whizzed by. Just when I thought he had her, the wily pooch cocked its head to one side and slipped effortlessly out of the noose, darting towards the backyard!
The officer was undeterred, however. He persevered, chasing Collie all the way to the back fence. It was then that things got a bit tense because Collie got cornered between the perimeter wall and the officer. I was afraid that she might pounce on him. However, the savvy officer just leaned on the wall, waiting patiently for her to make a run for it. Eventually she did, and within 3 seconds she was caught!
Up until then, I was under the impression that the rope-stick only had one noose. So when I saw the officer towing Collie with the noose hanging loose on his end and the other end apparently in her mouth, I felt sure that she was going to let go of the stick and wring a bite in the poor guy. Turns out that the stick had a noose at both ends, so Collie was securely held by her neck... whew!
It was a heart-breaking goodbye for me, especially when Collie went completely silent after being placed in the pitch-black cargo area of the officer's truck. I knew that she had to be totally confused and afraid, not knowing what was going on nor what to expect.
The officer assured me that their first order of business would be to use the tag to track down and prosecute the owner, after which he/she would have the opportunity to reclaim Collie. Alternatively, they would try to find a new home for her. I took some solace in that, although I feared what would happen if no-one took her in or she turned out to be too sick.
In subsequent days, the mood at the Mills residence was kind of somber. Every time we heard someone's belt buckle, keys or loose change jingling we would rush to the window, only to be presented with a deserted front lawn - a painful reminder that Collie was gone, and gone for good. It was then that it finally sunk in... the dog that we thought we had adopted had in fact adopted us.
So, am I a dog-lover now? I really can't say, but my feelings on the issue are far less straightforward than they used to be - that's for sure. Suffice to say that I love 1 dog - and that says a lot!
Farewell, Collie - thanks for broadening my mindset and enriching my life, albeit for a couple of weeks. And thank you, dear reader, for "listening".
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