Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Musko, the great black dog, is Julie's mentor and friend in my first novel, A Canoer of Shorelines. His legacy lives on in my upcoming novel, The Ice Widow, in the husky Petra. Dogs take on subtle leadership roles in my writing because that is what they do in my life. Today, I share with you a few lessons I have learned in the companionship of good dogs. This is an amateur's viewpoint; for care and management advice, please consult a reputable professional trainer.
Lesson One: Flat Snakes Do Not Rise from the Dead.
Walking along the back roads on a summer evening, we often discover snakes that have stretched out on the warm gravel and met their end when a vehicle rolled over them. The first time the golden Shay discovered one, she touched it with her nose, nuzzled the body end to end, then stood head down, unmoving.
She was mourning, not investigating.
Then came the day that she leaned forward to show her respects for a sleek, round-bodied snake. She sprang back as it darted away, and then she stared at the snake-less spot. She hovered hopefully over the next snake, a flattened one, and stepped back, waiting.
It took surprisingly very little time for her to recognize that, although she mourned all snakes equally, not all snakes would rise to her call.
Lesson Two: Border Collies Will Entertain Themselves If You Are Not Vigilant.
Recently, a Border collie joined our family. Since the golden Shay is part Border collie, I had an inkling of what lay ahead. Now, everyone knows that Border collies are very intelligent, high energy dogs with a strongly developed herding instinct. Unfortunately, many do not realize that the dog does not always develop strong rapport with a less intelligent, lower energy human who regards them as adorable. At this point, I caution all potential Border collie enthusiasts to seek professional guidance from a reputable trainer -- these ramblings are strictly amateur observations!
First, do not talk soothing nonsense in the hopes of calming them. They require intelligent conversation. However, although they have a well-developed vocabulary, their skill with verbs is still limited. "We will go on a car ride tomorrow, not now" translates "Mumble, mumble, CAR RIDE mumble NOW!" "Be good, stop your pulling" translates "Mumble GOOD mumble PULLING!" and they will pull harder.
Second, these are working dogs. When you go to the clothesline, take multiple trips with small loads. They will guide and guard you for each. When you go for a ramble in the woods, accept that you cannot wander with your head in the clouds. Involve them -- call them back to the trail, send them ahead and direct them somewhere. Never assume they will trot serenely at your side. They crave interaction. The other day, I came out of a daydream and called Flo in -- but she did not hear me. She did not hear me because, since I was entertaining myself, she had decided to cut back through the woods at an angle to her favourite swimming place, then cross country over to the clear-cut where we hunted berries together before. I pieced this together from the drenched and muddied coat festooned with brambles when we were finally reunited. I could have lost her to coyotes that day. She could have become entrapped in brambles. I received a second chance, and now our walks are shared experiences, every minute.
Lesson Three: The Last Walk Is a Forever Walk.
In January, my beloved husky began to age. In late March, she suddenly manifested seizure activity. A month later, she died, an aggressive cancer claiming her.
On her last morning, we walked our favourite woods walk to the fork in the logging road, where she would usually choose the direction. This day, she walked at my side, sometimes glancing at me. "This is our walk," her eyes told me, "and always will be." At the fork in the logging road, she lay down and gazed at the pines sloping down to the swamp. I just stood there, present with her, the Shay dog huddled behind her, eyes bleak.
When the time was fulfilled, my lady rose, and we turned homeward.
That evening, we buried her physical remains under a great pine tree in the woodlot.
Her spirit is free in the world of spirit.
And every day, when I walk, I walk for her. I live on, as richly in each moment as I can, for her.
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These are but three of the lessons I have learned from dogs. If I recorded all the lessons, as John says about the life of Jesus, "Even the world itself could not contain all the books that should be written..." (John 21:25b).