It takes both arms and the leaning weight of my body to stop Jake when he begins to run. He weighs at least 150 pounds and probably more.
He has come a long way since he landed at the Refuge. Day by day the slow care and affection of many volunteers and of the owner have made him more tractable. When you step into his run, he greets you by leaning into you and raising his enormous head, his cropped tail pitching back and forth. In the back pasture, released from a leash, he is faster than expected, and when all that mass comes at you, even playfully, you keep thinking about dodging and deflecting. Jake likes to place his paws on your shoulders and rise up on you, climbing like a bear on a tree, his head finally coming up to and then above your face.
Ovcharka (or ovtcharka) is Russian for sheepdog; the breed is at least 600 years old. They were created to protect flocks and family — everyone, children, parents, other dogs and cats, that belong to his family belong to him. They are not yard dogs or barn animals. They see themselves as guardians of the family with whom they live. The long-coated ones look like lions.
I’ve been coming to the Refuge long enough to have faith that someone will adopt him. Last week Liam was taken home; I thought he would grow into old age here. Each week, more leave for their own quiet place where they belong, at last among the chosen ones. Each week more come in, rescued but often fearful and disoriented, their sense of aloneness a palpable force that rises off of them like a mist. But medical treatment, ample food and an immeasurable number of soft words and strokes and embraces and corrections and attention, waves of mild, tender attention, begin to turn them out of themselves. They unbolt themselves. They open.
Jake’s turn will come. He has arrived at a place where the heart is cultivated, his and ours and the one who will choose him.