Dexter is still here, as powerful as ever, but better trained now, less wild, more capable of concentrating, sitting, staying. He can trot next to my left leg like a reasonable dog. He no longer jumps up and tries to settle those bear-sized paws on my chest, eager to get to the face and lick. He has acquired a dash of manners.
After the volunteers have finished the morning walks, I take him into the front pasture, alone. There he has an acre to run, free of restraint. As far as I know, he has never attempted to hurdle the fence. I throw tennis balls. He must sit and stay before I sidearm one, and then he leaps after it, his body cutting the angle and heading toward the downward arc of its trajectory. Big dogs run so beautifully. Dexter is in his prime, and in motion his muscles slide under his skin as if oiled.
When he decides to walk the fence-line, I sit down on the grass at a high point and watch him, turning my body to keep my face on line with his passage. The sun has come out — blue sky above me, horses grazing in the adjoining paddock. I never turn my back on Dexter. I have great affection for many of these dogs, but I am respectful of their muscle, their quickness, those teeth.
This is a Rescue. Dogs arrive from all over the east and south and here find food, medical care, shelter, affection, training. They cannot speak, of course, and what we know of their histories is fragmented, obscured, filled with blank spaces. We do not know what might spark them to surge at us in a sharp instant of time. We watch their bodies for signs as if we were deciphering hieroglyphs in motion. We try to crack the code of their encrypted gaze. None of us are dog-whisperers. An alert humility, a keen eye for detail, a watchful heart, a self-possessed carefulness – these qualities serve these animals best and help keep the handlers safe.
Dexter and I lope to the gate together. He is a tired, happy boy. He sits for the leash and gives me his head. I cradle his face and make outlandish nonsense sounds, so delighted to be in his presence.