Every Good Morning

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SAMSUNGOn the other side of the chain link fencing, Aspen, a Pyr, watches, vigilant, her head turning slightly. The figure sits leaning on the fence, offering treats over his shoulder. It is a sunny morning, warming, and it feels good to rest on the bed and sniff and lip-snag the treats so gently that they disappear as if into the air, but then the figure moves. Aspen retreats. The figure opens the door and slips inside slowly. From the back of her run she sits and lowers her head until it almost touches the concrete. Wired and cowed, she hovers on those front legs waiting for the trigger that will send her away from the figure who has cornered her. The figure turns his back and kneels and waits. He makes soft noises. She waits. She neither approaches nor flees through the gate to the inside of the kennel. She lies down, head up. Neither moves. The figure keeps up a supple, tremulous buzzing flow of sounds. Time passes. He pulls himself up slowly, turns, takes two delicate steps. Aspen lowers her head, ears flattened, eyes locked on him. He does not look her in the eyes. Face averted, he spies on her and keeps sending out intuitive signals that are really silent questions: can he come closer is she a fear biter will she accept the loop of the leash?

Aspen lifts her head and accepts the rope and allows the hand to come to her face, to her throat, and bears the tightening of the cord. The figure backs out of the run, crouched,  keeping up a low, easy chatter. Aspen follows behind him when he turns. She pads along a foot from his thighs. When he stops or brings his face and eyes to bear, she pulls back to the end of the leash and fends off his look. She would run. A sharp whistle makes her jump; a loud call to another walker and her head whips around, panicky, the calm inside her gone just like that. The figure sits on the ground, his side to her, face turned away, silent. She settles at the end of the rope, weight balanced, alert, but over two or three minutes, the figure feels a slackening of her tension, and then, rising very deliberately, he begins to walk and says, “Walk on,” and she does.

They circle the pasture, big red horses gathered at the fences and watching them come steadily on. Stopping but not turning, Aspen allows his hand to come under her jaw and scratch the bone under her hair. She stays by his side as he opens the gate to her run; Shadow, her shy double and kennel mate, wags and jumps and licks her face when she willingly enters, safe at last, and one more mark left upon her memory that begins to gentle her and prepare the way to a home where her fear will be exiled and she might stretch out, finally tranquil, finally unflinching.

 

© Mike Wall

3 Responses

  1. nancy says:

    Often, the assumption is that dogs like this have been beaten. Usually, most of the damage comes from being ignored throughout the formative months of life.

    Beautifully rendered as always, Mike.

  2. gail says:

    Thank you for the time and effort to tell us your stories!

  3. Joe Gallagher says:

    As I read your description of this beautiful dog who struggles to trust, I started thinking of several students I’ve had over the years who have been crippled by similar issues. Some responded–sadly, some did not.

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