Friday, August 7, 2015

The Dog Who Couldn't Wag His Tail

Dog days bring more than summer heat...

I awoke to a cold, dreary, rainy Sunday morning, one of those November days when you want to remain tucked in bed. To stave the chill, I grabbed a steaming cup of coffee and then glanced out my window. He stood in the icy rain, watching me. Whose dog is that? I turned away from the window, wanting nothing to do with another four-legged creature, and proceeded to eat my breakfast.

Hard as I fought it, my eyes kept drifting toward this most unwelcome hungry, wet intruder. The animal’s intense gaze struck me first, and then his lameness. He held his left leg up, clearly unable to walk on it. With a softened heart, I opened the backdoor, but the dog crept deeper into the woods, his tail, broken and hanging between his legs. Pitiful, absolutely pitiful.

By the time we returned from church, I had forgotten about the stray dog. Later I wandered outside where I found him, standing away from the house, watching me from his perch. He held his lame leg off the ground. His ears flattened against his head.

That evening I said to my husband, “Did you see that German-shepherd looking dog in the woods this morning?”

“Don’t even think about it. And anyway I believe he belongs to the neighbors around the corner.”

I sighed, relieved. But the memory of that dog, the yearning in his eyes haunted me.   
Days passed. The dog didn’t go away. After I fed my resident canines, he sneaked up to the house and devoured whatever food was left. At first I discouraged this behavior, but when I saw his ribs, I allowed him to scavenge. My heart ached for the miserable life this poor animal led. No way this dog belonged to our neighbors. He clearly belonged to no one.

During the first week, Wolf, as I now called him, hung out in our woods, watched us, and waited for our dogs to finish eating. By the next week, Wolf had his own personal food dish, purchased at Pet Smart with him in mind.

Wolf still refused to come near us. He continued to hang out in the woods while I inched his dish closer and closer to the house. The other dogs played with Wolf. He trusted the dog world, whereas he remained steadfastly fearful of the people world.

As weeks multiplied into months and warm summer days came upon us, Wolf fattened up. But, ticks covered his body. He stood on his lame leg, but his fur was matted and rough.

One night during dinner, Wolf sat on his broken tail at the edge of the woods. I said, “Don’t you think it must be the worst thing in the world for a dog not to be able to wag his tail. It’d be like not being able to laugh.”

“I doubt that dog has had too much to laugh about,” my husband said between bites.   

More months passed. At a safe distance, Wolf watched us pet and play with the other dogs. With his eyes fixed on us, he never moved from his perch. Each night we gave the other dogs Milkbone treats. Not being able to stand seeing the glow of Wolf’s eyes, alone in the dark, I approached him with a treat, but he moved away, tail between his legs, ears flat. I tossed the tasty morsel in his direction. He stopped, sniffed the bone, and gobbled it down.

In the spring my cousins came to visit. Being animal lovers, they talked and played with our dogs. My cousin, Frank, cajoled Wolf to come to him. But Wolf kept his distance and merely watched the strangers. Before Frank left, he said, “That dog will be the most lovable of your dogs one day.”  I laughed, completely rejecting Frank’s prediction. What did he know?  He hadn’t been dealing with Wolf for over a year. I had resigned myself to Wolf’s self-imposed distance. At least now he had food every day.

After the seasons changed again from summer to winter and back to summer, I no longer tossed the Milkbone treat to Wolf. He took the bone from my hand held at arm’s length. By now Wolf ate with the other dogs and didn’t creep into the woods whenever the door to the house opened. But he still watched us warily and never let us approach him.

On a hot, humid day in August while I held the Milkbone treat toward Wolf, his tongue touched my hand. Oh, my God! He licked me. Surely he didn’t mean it. The next day Wolf did it again. Bubbling with excitement, I flew in the house to report what Wolf had done.

The following day while Wolf ate, I approached him, stopped, and stood. My heart thundered, my hand trembled. I reached out and, for the first time in over two years, stroked the top of Wolf’s head. He lowered his body, but he didn’t jerk away. His fur felt course, not smooth like the other dogs. His huge brown eyes studied me with a mixture of resignation and fear, but his broken tail lifted slightly.

That warm summer I began petting Wolf regularly. When he lowered his head, as if he thought I might strike him, I raised his chin. The fear in his eyes transformed to trust and love with each stroke. But best of all, he lifted his broken tail as high as he could, and he began wagging it. For the first time since that cold November day, Wolf wagged his tail and lifted his ears. Tears of joy filled my eyes.

Today, Wolf has no ticks. He’s a well-fed, neutered animal with a shiny black coat. Unfortunately his former life left wounds. His limp comes and goes apparently from an old injury. But that doesn’t stop him from running to greet us every night with his broken tail held as high as he can raise it and wagging with such force that his entire backend wiggles. Indeed, he has become the most affectionate canine in our pack.

The dog days of August for some mean days that are so full of heat and humidity the dogs go crazy, howling from the burning temperatures. In Georgia we say, It’s too hot to work. For me, however, dog days in August mean something totally different.

It was during those "dog days" that Wolf finally lifted his head and wagged his tail.

MuseItUp publishing will release the print version of The Clock Strikes Midnight this month, August 2015.

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