Saturday, October 29, 2011

Like A Good Neighbor.....

We got Zeb when he was eight months old. He is a huge dog with a Irish Setter body and Black Lab coloring and a Lab face. Being a cat person, I was unsure how to train a dog.  I knew what I wanted the dog to do: heel, stay close to us, not require a leash, and never run off. A tall order for a time when The Dog Whisperer didn't exist yet, nor did the World-Wide-Web to search for solutions. Our training program consisted of allowing Zeb to be free in our huge acre of yard space, watch him carefully and verbally "encourage" him to stay within our perimeter. This usually lasted for at least half an hour. At that point, some strange smell, sound, or sight would lure him into a full sprint to explore whatever had caught his attention. My training strategy was to follow him until I could get close enough to grab his collar and beat him with his leash all the way back home.  I know, it's really horrible, and it didn't work, but I was doing it for his own good.  Our neighbor was threatening to shoot him on sight if he saw him in the woods chasing a deer.  Now, Zeb would never CATCH a deer, but he would chase ANYTHING that ran.

When we took Zeb for a walk, we usually had him on leash.  We lived out in the country.  We had one neighbor with a barn and several cows and calves. The rest of the neighbors had only dogs and cats. One clear crisp autumn afternoon, when Barry was at work and the kids were at school and the neighborhood was unusually quiet and empty, I decided to take Zeb on an off-leash walk. 

As we started down the driveway, Zeb followed me slowly as if to say, "Hey.  Where's the leash?  Are you sure you want me to come with you?" Then by the time I was at the bottom of the driveway, Zeb was suddenly ahead of me, sprinting down the road.

Our neighbor was in his fenced-in barnyard, feeding hay to his cows and calves.  It was a farm fence: 4 x 4 white posts about five feet high with two 1 x 6 white boards between.  Zeb easily ducked under the bottom board and startled the cows and calves.  The claves ran toward the road, ducked under the fence with Zeb at their heels.  The calves had trouble on the slick asphalt pavement and were slipping and sliding and Zeb was enjoying the chase!  Bob, the farmer, and I were screaming:  him to scare Zeb away and me to get control of him.  Somehow Zeb chased the calves back into the barnyard, the calves litterally doing a belly crawl back under the fence. Bob swung his rake at Zeb and he ran off ahead of me down the road.

I apologized profusely and sprinted down the road looking for Zeb.  I could see him about fifty yards ahead.  He would stop just long enough to make sure I was coming, then he would take off running and exploring again.  This went on for about an hour and I was getting worried because I had not seen Zeb lately.  Suddenly I heard howling like a pack of wolves and every hair on my head tingled with the eery sound.  I started to run, following the sound.  I was sure Zeb was being attacked by a pack of wolves or wild dogs!  As I rounded a bend in the road, I could see Zeb.  He seemed to be tethered beside a huge log.  It was him making all of that noise!  As I came closer, I saw it:  a huge trap on his front leg.  I had never seen a trap and had no idea how to release it.  I was able to get the trap loose from the log, but no matter how hard I grasped the edges, I could not remove it from Zeb's foot.  I tried to get him to walk slowly, but he yelped in pain with every step.  I knew we were at least two or three miles from the house.  I figured I would have to carry Zeb home.  I tried to pick him up.  He weighed at least sixty pounds.  I could manage to carry him about ten feet, then I had to put him down and the act of picking him up and setting him back down was as painful to him as having him walk.  I was sure his leg was broken and was terrified because I didn't know how to get him home safely.  I saw a patch of ferns with fallen leaves that made a soft safe bed.  I layed Zeb down and told him to "Stay!"  He lay still until I was out of sight, then he howled and limped after me.  I finally just sat down on the side of the road with his head in my lap and sobbed.

There had been no traffic on our back road since we started walking, but now I saw a truck coming up the road from the direction of our house.  I was so hysterical, I didn't even recognize the driver, but I flagged him down.  It was my next-door neighbor, the very same one who said he would shoot Zeb if he ever saw him running in the woods. George was out checking his trap lines. He took one look at the trap on Zeb's leg and sprang it with no trouble at all.  I expected Zeb's foot to fall off, but the crazy dog limped for a few steps, then took off running for home.  I was still trembling so George said he would drive me home.  By the time we got there, Zeb was in the driveway waiting. 

Both Zeb and I smelled funny and George said it was fox urine.  Great!  I took Zeb inside and we both took a shower in the basement.

Zeb is no longer with us.  And I am STILL not a dog person, but, dumb as he was, I loved that dog. If we were indoors at night and heard cats fighting, we could tell Zeb to go get Buckskin, our cat, who usually got the worst end of a cat fight. We had a dozen chickens that we let roam once in awhile.  When they started to leave our yard, we could tell Zeb to "Go get the chickens."  He would go round them up and herd them into the chicken yard. He even helped us dig the fence post holes for the chicken coop.  We would throw a rock into the hole and say "Zeb!  Get the chipmuink" and he would dig like crazy! He was never mean to any of us, even the cats, who taunted him mercilessly. He had a huge heart....but a tiny brain.

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