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The dog who came to stay.., p.18
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       The Dog Who Came to Stay: A Memoir, p.18

           Hal Borland
 
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  A stub railroad track crosses my land, over which a few freight cars are hauled every other day. The track crosses the river on an old trestle and follows an embankment twenty or more feet high. Just beyond the embankment is what we call the Trestle Lot, a field that Charley farms. That year he had it in alfalfa, and the herd of deer on the ridge was coming down almost every evening to feed there or in my middle pasture. The embankment hides the Trestle Lot from my house, and it muffles the sound of gunfire. No other house is nearby or even within sight, so the Trestle Lot made a good field for the poachers to work. But the railroad track is also an easy short cut for hunters to take from the mountainside back to the road where they may have parked their cars. So I couldn’t know whether Pat was challenging hunters or poachers. All I knew was that he was challenging someone who really shouldn’t be there.

  One evening he made so much of a fuss that I got into a heavy coat, took a flashlight and went out to see what was going on. He was up on the embankment just this side of the Trestle Lot. I cut across the back pasture toward him. Just as I passed the barn I saw a flash of light at the top of the embankment, saw Pat outlined in it. Then there was a gunshot. A bullet whined far over my head, a bullet that must have been fired at the embankment. The light went out. Pat barked even more angrily. Another shot was fired. It hit something and ricocheted with an even louder whine.

  I shouted again and ran to the embankment. As I was climbing it I heard a car’s motor start. I reached the top before I realized I would be silhouetted there against the sky. I crouched and held the flashlight at arm’s length and turned it on the road. An old black car was just pulling away about two hundred yards from me. When my light caught it the driver gunned the motor and roared away without turning on the car lights.

  Pat came to me, bristling, still barking at the vanishing car. I didn’t know but what a poacher was still lying there in the frosty field, and I didn’t care to have someone take a pot shot at me, so I held the flashlight as far away as I could and played it over the whole field. I couldn’t find anything out of order. There were no deer there, of course. If Pat’s barking hadn’t put them to flight, the gunshots would have.

  I put a leash on Pat and brought him home and called the Troopers. A prowl car arrived and I went with the Trooper and we searched the roadside for half a mile but found no trace of a deer carcass. “Your dog,” the Trooper said, “scared off the deer, and the jack-lighters tried to scare him off, maybe to kill him. They won’t be back tonight.”

  For almost a week I tethered Pat when I fed him, and I brought him into the house when he had finished eating. He didn’t like the idea, but he accepted it. He would much rather have made his usual evening inspection. Meanwhile, the Troopers were patrolling the road every evening. And nothing happened. There weren’t even any stray hunters walking down the track, and apparently the poachers were lying low or working elsewhere. The trouble seemed to be over.

  I returned to the old routine, let Pat run after he had eaten. He was seldom gone even half an hour, and I thought everything had calmed down. Then, one evening when there was an overcast sky and an early dusk, Pat ate and vanished. I heard him once up by the tracks, barking. He barked only a few times, then was silent. But he didn’t come back.

  An hour passed. Barbara asked, “Where’s Pat?” Not wanting to worry her, I said, “He’ll be back pretty soon.” She said, “He should have been back half an hour ago.”

  I went outside and called him. No answer. I came back in and said it wasn’t really as late as it seemed, that the overcast made it seem darker than it was. Barbara looked at the clock.

  We waited. An hour and a half passed. I was about to get my coat and the flashlight and go look for him when I heard him whining at the back door. It was a strange whine. I hurried to the door, put on the outside light. There he was, on three legs, shivering, barely able to stand. And there was a streak of red down his white chest.

  I opened the door, had to help him up the steps. He got into the kitchen and almost fell down. He looked up at us with baffled, pleading eyes. He was hurt, badly hurt. I felt of his chest, pushed back the blood-soaked hair and found the wound just to one side of the center of his chest. It was no bigger than a lead pencil. He had sunk onto the floor and was breathing in deep gasps. But evidently whatever had hit him had missed his lungs. There was no bloody foam in his mouth or nose. I looked for another wound, where a bullet might have come out. There wasn’t a second wound. I felt for his heartbeat. It was fast and fluttery.

  “Do something!” Barbara cried. “We’ve got to do something! He’s dying!”

  I went to the phone, called the vet. “Bring him right over,” he said.

  “He’s in pretty bad shape, may die on the way over.”

  “It’ll take me as long to get there as you to get here, and I’ve got my equipment here. Bring him!”

  I had to pick him up in my arms and carry him to the car. I drove much too fast, but I got him to the vet’s office, carried him in.

  “Put him over there,” the vet said, “on the fluoroscope table.”

  He turned on the lights, searched with his eyes as he probed with his fingers. He listened with his stethoscope. “Heart’s fast and irregular,” he announced. “Only that one wound. Apparently no lung damage.”

  I knew all that.

  “His left leg’s paralyzed. Can’t see a bullet anywhere. And only that one wound. Must have been either a small-caliber bullet or a spent one from a deer rifle.”

  Pat was so weak he just lay there. I had to pick him up to turn him so the vet could get another view.

  “Apparently just missed his heart.” He looked at me and shook his head. “Must have missed every other vital organ. His heart’s beginning to quiet down, but it’s still uneven.” He got a probe, inserted it in the wound. Pat winced but made no other sign that he felt it. “Nothing there.” He swabbed the wound with an antiseptic and reached for a syringe.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  He was loading it. “Adrenalin. A small shot may help. Unless there’s an internal hemorrhage.” He inserted the needle. Again Pat winced but he didn’t object. The vet withdrew the needle. “I wouldn’t do another thing at this point. We’ll just hope he isn’t hemorrhaging in there somewhere. He’s a tough old dog and if he makes it through the night he should pull through.” He went out and prepared a cage in the kennel room, then came back and took Pat in his arms and carried him out and put him gently in the cage. I went with him. Pat looked at me. His eyes seemed glazed, but when I put my hand on his head he tried to reach it with his tongue. I let him lick my hand. His tongue felt hot. He closed his eyes and sighed and lay back.

  We went back to the vet’s office. “What are his chances?” I asked.

  The vet hesitated. “About fifty-fifty. You want the truth, don’t you?” Then he said, “If you don’t hear from me later this evening I’ll call you in the morning.”

  I knew what he meant. I debated whether to take Pat back home and let him die there. Then I thought it would be better this way, no matter how the balance tilted, better for Pat, better for Barbara. Before I could change my mind I went out to my car and started home.

  On the way home I remembered the time when they said I had only a fifty-fifty chance. Thanks to Barbara’s faith and determination, my own stamina, and the skill of the doctors, I pulled through. Pat had the stamina, and Barbara and I had to have the faith. The vet had done all he could. If Pat didn’t make it— but he would! I told myself that, firmly.

  I told Barbara everything the vet had said except that fifty-fifty business. She was a little comforted, but all evening we both waited for the phone to ring. Waited, and hoped it would remain silent. When we went to bed at ten o’clock I told myself that Pat was winning the fight; he was still holding on.

  I didn’t sleep well. Maybe I was unconsciously listening for the phone that wouldn’t have rung at midnight in any case. The vet had said he would call either during the evening
or the next morning.

  I was up at five, as usual, and made coffee, and tried to read. But I kept watching the clock. The second hand kept moving but the minute hand was awfully slow. The vet wouldn’t call before seven, probably.

  Barbara was up by six. She got her coffee and sat down and looked across the table at me. “I can’t call before seven,” I said.

  She nodded, tried to read the newspaper, but I knew she was only glancing at the headlines. Finally she asked, “How old is he?”

  “Eight. Maybe nine, maybe even ten.”

  “How do they figure a dog’s age? I mean in relation to a man’s age.”

  “Six or seven to one.”

  “That would be how much? I can’t figure this early in the day.”

  “If he’s nine, and if you figure six to one, that would be fifty-four. At seven to one it would be sixty-three.”

  “Middle-aged, at least.” Then, “Oh, he can’t be that old!”

  It was full daylight. I watched the dawdling clock. We made toast. Barbara asked if I wanted bacon and eggs. No. I ate a slice of toast, just killing time. Then it was quarter of seven.

  I went to the phone. I was about to pick it up when it rang. The vet’s voice asked, “Did I get you up?”

  “Been up two hours. How is he?”

  “Come get him!”

  “What?”

  He laughed. “He just put away a whole can of dog food and he’s out in the run right now, full of beans. Well, on his feet, anyway, and saying he doesn’t want to stay here any longer.”

  “Well, thank the good Lord! I’ll be right over.”

  In the car, Barbara said, “He didn’t give him much chance last night, did he?”

  “Fifty-fifty,” I admitted. “How did you know?”

  “It was written all over your face. But you didn’t want to tell me. Or was it that you didn’t want to put it into words?”

  “Both.”

  We parked the car and went to the door. Pat began to bark, the greeting bark, somewhere out back. The vet let us in, and a moment later brought Pat. He wasn’t really full of beans, and he cripped on three legs, that left foreleg still limp. But he hopped to us and whined happily. The vet said, “Frankly, I don’t know how he did it. Tough dog. A lot of stamina.” Then he said, “We’ll have to wait and see about that leg. It’s better than it was when you brought him in. That’s a hopeful sign. He’ll recover some use of it, I don’t know how much.” He gave me a tube of ointment for the wound and said he had given him a shot of penicillin. Then he leaned over and rubbed Pat’s ears, wonder and admiration in his face.

  Pat needed help to get in the car, but he sat there between us all the way home, quivering but determined in his own stubborn competence. I glanced at him and noticed, as never before, how grizzled he was getting around the muzzle, the frost of his years showing in his black hair, and I wondered how old he really was. Whatever his age, he was a tough citizen who didn’t ask any favors of time.

  At home, he made it up the porch steps alone and went into the living room and lay down in front of the fire. A little later he managed to climb the stairs and come into my study. But when he tried to go downstairs again he had trouble. I had to help him. He didn’t come upstairs again for two weeks, until he could walk on that leg. It was several months before he lost the limp, but there was no permanent damage. Maybe the bullet grazed a bone in his shoulder and caused temporary paralysis, or it may have lodged there. Whatever it did, he overcame it and by the next summer could even run as well as ever.

  The afternoon we brought him home I searched the pastures from end to end, looking for some clue to what happened. I couldn’t find a thing, not even an empty cartridge. I still don’t know who shot him, or why, or whether it was just an accident.

  I wondered if it would make him gun-shy. Good hunting dogs have been ruined for the field by a stray shot or an accidental wound. I didn’t go hunting that winter. It would have been cruel, with Pat still on three legs. But the first time I did take down a gun from the rack he was as eager and excited as ever, and the first time I fired a shot he leaped for joy and dashed to see what I had killed. In Pat’s book, I never missed. I always wished I was as good a shot as he was sure I must be. Anyway, he certainly was not gun-shy.

  But he was more than ever suspicious of all strange hunters, more angry at poachers and more jealous of these woods and pastures than ever before. Charley could hunt here, or Charley’s grandson, George. Pat would run rabbits with them, happily. Albert could hunt here, though he seldom did. And Morris could hunt here if he came to the house first and Pat knew he was here. But if anyone else prowled the woods or the pastureland, Pat made a loud fuss and went personally to warn the trespasser off. And all strangers who came here, particularly at dusk or at night, got an angry challenge and a bristling threat that I wouldn’t have cared to ignore.

  CHAPTER 14

  IN SOME WAYS, PAT mellowed with the years. In other ways, the years emphasized his whims. Sometimes it was hard to say whether the whimsicality or the mellowness was dominating. There were times when his headstrong notions seemed to verge on the eccentric.

  One of his least expected whims appeared when we had to go down to the city for a week on business. Barbara told Ruth, Albert’s wife, that we had to go, and Ruth suggested that we leave Pat with them. “He comes down to see Suzy every day anyway,” Ruth said. “And he’s welcome here any time. He’s so well mannered he won’t be any trouble. If he doesn’t want to sleep in the house, he can sleep in the barn.”

  So we agreed. When we left we took him down there, with a week’s supply of his own canned dog food. He seemed quite content and we went off without any worry about him.

  When we returned we watched for him as we drove past Ruth’s and Albert’s. He wasn’t in sight so we drove on, expecting to go back later and get him. But when we got within a quarter of a mile of our house, here came Pat to meet us. He watched till he was sure it was our car, then dashed happily to the garage to greet us when we got there. I got out and he leaped at me, whined, cried happily, then ran to the porch to bark his second welcome.

  We opened the house, brought the bags in, and a little later Barbara phoned Ruth. “Pat decided he wasn’t going to stay with us,” Ruth said. “He went back home the second day. He wouldn’t even come down here for meals, so we drove up there every night and gave him his supper in his own pan on the back steps. … No, he didn’t object to us being there. He seemed to expect us to come and feed him. He was pleased as could be to see us, but he wouldn’t come back with us. He did come down every morning to see Suzy, but he never stayed long. He seemed to be in a hurry to get home. I guess he decided he should stay there and take care of things till you got back.”

  That was the year we got a television set, but he didn’t come home just to watch a TV program. I know that. Television never meant much to Pat. He accepted it, but I am sure he never believed in it.

  After we got over the initial novelty I began watching Pat’s reaction to the sound and the pictures there on the glass screen, particularly when animals were involved. One evening I turned on the “Lassie” program just to see how he would react to a dog on the screen. He lay there, facing the set, only casually interested. He watched the pictured dog for a few minutes, then closed his eyes and went to sleep. Even the televised sound of the dog barking made no impression on him. Then I changed to a blood-and-thunder program with volleys of gunfire. Again Pat paid no particular attention. It wasn’t real gunfire, any more than the dog’s barking was real, and he knew it. His ears were attuned to the sounds of reality, not make-believe.

  One evening in the midst of a rather raucous program he lifted his head, listened, bristled, then went to the door and asked to be let out. I couldn’t hear anything unusual, but when I let him out I went out onto the porch. There I heard a strange dog barking some distance away across the river. Pat had heard it in the closed living room, even with the television going. He went down to the riverba
nk, barked his challenge, then came back and resumed his nap and ignored those make-believe sounds coming from the television speaker.

  Even though he had no real interest in television, he usually joined us when we watched it. He might be upstairs in my study, but when he heard the sound start he came down to the living room, apparently just to be with us. But that wasn’t wholly new. He had always done the same thing when we used the record player.

  But his reaction to the record player was different, probably because the player has a wider range of sound than the television speaker. I am sure this was a factor because he disliked certain records. For instance, a symphony orchestra playing Beethoven bothered him. I don’t know why Beethoven, but he objected to almost any Beethoven composition. The same orchestra playing Brahms seemed to soothe him. He napped peacefully to the sound of Brahms, but Beethoven soon sent him out of the room.

  Some popular music also annoyed him. When we first played the Broadway recording of My Fair Lady he walked out on “I Could Have Danced All Night,” one of the best tunes in the show, though he didn’t mind the loud hilarity of “The Rain in Spain.” He accepted the blare of “Seventy-Six Trombones” in The Music Man, but he objected to the lovely “My White Knight” and “Good Night, My Someone.”

  Probably this was because of the overtones in certain soprano voices or in the orchestral accompaniment. A dog’s range of hearing is different from that of a human being. It reaches into an area above the highest notes we can hear, into what we call the supersonic range, and there probably were painful overtones in some music. The “silent” dog-whistle uses this extra range in a dog’s hearing.

  Another aspect of Pat’s night life at home appeared that winter when we wearied of television and resumed our reading aloud. For such reading we usually choose either Shakespeare or the classic Greek plays. That year we read the Greeks again. I am sure it was pure coincidence, but Pat walked out on Aeschylus time after time. I could read Euripides all evening, if my voice held out, and Pat stayed in the room without even a querulous sigh. It became a joke with us. “Pat,” we would say, “doesn’t like Aeschylus. He much prefers Euripides.” And our friends would say, “So Pat is a literary dog?” Barbara would say, “In only a limited way. He doesn’t write. But he is rather particular in what he wants read to him.”

 
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