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The Dogs Who (Sorta) Loved Me

April 5, 2013

German shorthair

As a boy, I spent much of my time in a remote village in the High Sierras.  A collection of two dozen weather-worn cabins shaded by towering trees, it was built in the 1920’s as the center of  a massive logging empire, but when the crash of 1929 came, the enterprise went bust and, over the years, as the company railroad and the lumber mill were dismantled and sold for scrap,  various people bought the cabins.  Most of them were comfortable middle-class folks from the scorching Central Valley, who came for weekend retreats, while a few, like my father, were small-scale, hardscrabble lumberjacks.

The original hydro-electric generator had long gone to rust, so we made do with kerosene lanterns and wood stoves, but for a boy like me, that just added to the appeal.  With a clear, babbling trout stream, wind sighing through the pines and miles of wilderness in every direction, the place was idyllic.

There was sort of a feudal system: one man owned all the land and employed all the loggers.  He had a big house on a hill, where three healthy German Shorthair dogs spent their days sunning on a broad porch.  They seemed to understand the uphill/downhill social divide and mostly kept to themselves.

On weekdays, when the summer-retreat people were away and I was the only kid in the village, I’d pack a sandwich, fill a canteen and head off into the forest.  My dad had taught me to read a compass and recognize the local landmarks; if I wanted to wander in wilderness, so be it.  It was just assumed I had the wits to find my way home.

But the boss man’s dogs had a less sanguine view of my intelligence.  If they happened to spy me trekking towards the village boundaries, they’d rise up off the porch and trot down to surround me, like brown-and-white spotted bodyguards.  The dominant female took point, the second female took flank and the male brought up the rear.  This was clearly no pleasure jaunt for them – they were there to protect the dumb little people-pup because,  somehow,their genetic makeup told them it was the right thing to do.

Occasionally, the point dog would catch a scent – bear scat, mountain lion, coyote, a rattlesnake den.  She’d stop and stand tall with her nose into the wind, while the others halted and held position.  Most times, satisfied that there was no lurking danger, she’d relax and move out, and the rest of us would follow, like a squad of soldiers on patrol.

But other times, clearly sensing  something ominous, she’d  turn around and come back down the trail.  The other dogs would turn, too.  They were all business now – it was time to go home.

I’m not sure those dogs even particularly liked me.  They never came to me for a pat on the head or a scratch on the ear – they weren’t the sentimental type.  They just had a job to do and, when we got back to the village, they’d trot back up to the porch without giving me so much as a backwards glance.  Their package of stupid had been safely delivered.

I can’t say that I might be dead if not for those dogs, but it’s certainly a possibility.  But I will say that if trouble had come, they would never have abandoned me.  It’s who they were.  It’s what they did.  And I’ll always remember them for it.

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  1. Another poignant post for a good ole fashioned “soft touch.”

  2. Rico_Pilgrim permalink

    Hemingway would have admired this piece if his ego would have allowed it.

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