The Dog Who Came to Stay: A Memoir, p.19Hal Borland
To tell the truth, Pat got restless when I read Shakespeare, too. Particularly if it was past his bedtime. But he never walked out of the room at eight o’clock when I was reading Shakespeare, and he did that repeatedly when I read Aeschylus. I don’t know why.
All dogs like a regularity of schedule. Those who lay down rules in such matters say that dogs are creatures of habit, need a relatively fixed routine to be content. Until about that time there had been a degree of flexibility in Pat’s habits and his insistence on routine, perhaps in part because he had been a kind of free agent before he came to live with us. But now he began to insist on a closer schedule. He didn’t want to stay in his own house long after daylight. If I didn’t let him out by six o’clock in the summer and seven o’clock in the winter he barked his impatience. Fifteen minutes’ delay and he became insistent. I had previously given him his breakfast snack when I got around to it, between seven and nine o’clock in the morning. Now he decided he must have it half an hour after he got up. If I forgot it, he followed me around the house, reminding me. His big meal in the evening had been given to him any time between five and six o’clock. Now he set the time at five-fifteen in winter, six-fifteen in summer. If he didn’t get it then he went to the kitchen door and waited with his “I am being abused” look. And nine o’clock, nine-fifteen at the latest, was his bedtime, company or no company. He made no secret of it.
Then an unusually warm summer descended on us, with hot nights as well as simmering days. Most summers we can count on a flow of cool air down off the mountain at sunset and usually there is a cool breeze coming up the river. But that summer the breeze failed us night after night, the mountain cool didn’t come, and the days were hot and dry.
Pat never liked hot weather, not excessive heat. He endured it, but he preferred cold and snow. That summer he was particularly unhappy about it. When the day’s heat began to build up around eleven o’clock in the morning he looked for some cool retreat. Sometimes he came indoors and lay in the hallway, where there might be a slight motion of air. More often he sought a shady green spot outdoors.
We have a large bed of lilies-of-the-valley under the pear tree beside the vegetable garden. It is shaded much of the day and that year the lilies were particularly lush, for some reason. Pat chose that for his retreat. The lilies-of-the-valley didn’t appreciate it, and neither did Barbara, who loves lilies-of-the-valley. There was an argument that lasted two weeks, day after day, and I finally had to put up a low fence to persuade Pat that he wasn’t welcome there. Deprived of the lily bed, Pat just disappeared for hours each day. It was a week before we found that he had made a hide-out among the big ostrich ferns that grow in a bed beside the house and in the shade of the Norway spruce. He was chagrined when we discovered his secret cool place at last. So chagrined that he still was sheepish about going there even after we told him it was all right.
The ferns provided some relief from the hot days, but the warm nights were still a burden to him. He became more and more reluctant to go to his own house at bedtime, even though all four windows were opened wide. One warm evening when we started for his house he turned and came up onto the front porch and lay down in a corner where there was a slight breath of air stirring. He said as plainly as he could that he wanted to sleep there. I don’t like to let a dog of mine run loose at night. The darkness seems to invite a dog to wander and to bark, and a barking dog under my window or just down the road at night particularly annoys me. I am sure others feel the same way, so I like to keep my dog at home. But that was a summer to break the rules. I let Pat sleep out on the porch.
He probably would have stayed at home on those hot nights, thankful to be there on the open porch, if it hadn’t been for the strange dogs that were wandering the valley that summer. I saw them only once, but I heard them from time to time in the darkness up on the mountain. The dogs I saw were big, rangy, rough-coated hounds that I couldn’t identify as belonging to anyone I knew. One night they came down into the home pasture and barked, and Pat answered them, and there was so much of a to-do that I got up, pulled on my pants, went out into the pasture and shouted Pat in. When he came I put him in his own house and latched the door, heat or no heat. The next day the weather eased a bit and I housed him every night for a week.
But the cool spell passed and hot nights returned. I hadn’t heard the strange hounds since that night in the pasture, so I relented when Pat tried to tell me he wanted to sleep on the porch again. I let him go out there, saw him settle down, and I went to bed. Once during the night I thought I heard dogs barking down the valley, and I listened for Pat’s voice. I didn’t hear it, and I went back to sleep.
I was up before five as usual the next morning. I made the coffee and sat down to read. I thought of Pat and the night’s barking and I glanced out the window. Pat was lying in his corner of the porch, deep in early morning shadow. I went back to my reading.
Six o’clock and Barbara was up. She got her coffee and sat down and sipped it and asked, “Where’s Pat?” He usually asked to be let in about the time she came downstairs. I pointed out the window and she glanced at him and asked, “Did you hear those dogs last night?” I said yes, down the valley. “They made a lot of noise,” she said. “I thought it sounded like a fight. Thank goodness Pat wasn’t in it.” I said yes, apparently he had been home all night.
Seven o’clock and Pat still didn’t come to the door. We had breakfast and discussed the work we planned to do that day, and I came upstairs to my study and went to work. Barbara went to her study. It was nine o’clock before I went downstairs again, to get another cup of coffee. As I passed the window I glanced out and saw that Pat was still there in the corner of the porch, still sleeping. That wasn’t natural.
I went to the door and spoke to him. He opened his eyes but didn’t move. I went outside and spoke to him again and he lifted his head wearily and tried to wag his tail. Something was wrong. I went over to him, there in the deep shadow, and saw for the first time that he was streaked with dust and blood. He sat up, painfully, and I saw that both his ears were wet with blood still oozing. There was a deep gash in his right shoulder and his neck was so swollen that his collar seemed to be choking him. I unbuckled the collar. It was gashed and chewed almost in two. It wasn’t a broad collar or particularly heavy, but it must have saved his life. It had somewhat protected his throat. And I found that his right ear was a bloody mess already so swollen that it was an inch thick. His left foreleg, the one that always seemed to get hurt, was too sore to put his weight on.
Pat had taken a whale of a beating.
I let him lie down again and came in and told Barbara that Pat was hurt, apparently had been in that fight we heard. “Badly hurt?” she asked. I didn’t answer her question. “I’m going to take him over to the vet,” I said. I phoned, and the vet said “Bring him along. I guess he knows this place by now.”
When I went outside again Pat seemed to know where we were going. He got painfully to his feet and tried to go down the steps. I had to help him. He hopped on three good legs to the garage and waited for me to help him into the car. We drove to the village.
The vet put him on the table and went over him, looking for broken bones. There weren’t any, fortunately. That left leg had been chewed up, had a dozen tooth punctures. The gash on his shoulder was deep, almost to the bone. The vet clipped the hair around it, salved the wound and gave him a shot of penicillin. But the worst damage was to that right ear, the good ear, the one without the slit. There had been a hemorrhage in it and it was full of blood. The vet said there was nothing to do for it except wait and see if it absorbed. If it didn’t, within a week or two, he would have to operate. Meanwhile, better leave him at the vet’s overnight. They would give him a medicated bath, patch him up all they could, and see if he shot a temperature.
Finally the vet stood back and shook his head. “Pat,” he said, “don’t you know that an old dog like you ought to stay out of gang fights? If you weren’t so confounded
The vet phoned me the next morning. “Come get him. No temp. And he wants to go home.” So I went and got him. The vet said to watch that ear and to watch the wound in his shoulder. “He’ll be sore and full of groans for a week or so, but if no infection sets in he should come around all right.” He turned to Pat. “You’d better stay out of rows like that, Pat. You don’t own that whole valley, do you?”
“Yes,” I said, “he does. And he takes it seriously.”
I brought him home. I hadn’t let Barbara see the extent of his wounds the day before. Now she was appalled. That right ear looked like a thick slab of raw liver. His throat was still so swollen that his collar wouldn’t have reached around it. The clipped hair emphasized the length and depth of the gash on his shoulder. She almost cried. Pat gravely accepted her sympathy, ate sparingly, and slept most of the day, as though knowing that time and his own stout constitution would have to repair the damage.
I stopped at Albert’s that afternoon, wondering if Suzy or Cubby had been in the fight. Cubby was a gangling black and white pup about six months old that Albert had got a few weeks before. No, Albert said, Suzy and Cubby were where they always slept. They weren’t in the fight. There were two fights, actually, or two parts of the same fight, and both of them sounded pretty rough. He had thought he heard Pat once or twice, but decided it couldn’t be Pat, since he must be at home in his own house.
The first fight was in the little field across the road from Albert’s house. It began about midnight and was a very noisy row. Albert finally got up, took a flashlight and went down to see what was going on. Nobody could sleep with all that noise. As he approached, the dogs broke off the fight and scattered in the darkness. Albert went back to bed. Half an hour later the fight started again in the driveway out by his barn. That one was less noisy and it ended in what sounded like a chase up the valley, toward my place. Then things quieted down.
“I had no idea Pat was in it,” Albert said. “But we wondered why he didn’t come down to see Suzy yesterday or today.” He thought four or five dogs were involved in the fights. “Probably those strays that have been prowling the valley every now and then.” And we agreed that if they stayed around we would have to do something.
As it turned out, they didn’t stay. We didn’t see them again that summer, and we didn’t hear them on the mountain. I am sure Pat didn’t win the fight. The odds were too great, and he took too much of a beating to have been the victor. But he may have given almost as good as he took. I’m sure they knew they had been in a fight. And I doubt that they wanted another encounter.
Pat lay around home four days, and he went willingly to his house every night. He didn’t develop any noticeable fever, the wound in his shoulder began to heal from beneath, and though that ear was still as thick as my thumb it, too, began to heal. And Pat began to get restless, tired of being an invalid.
On the fifth morning he set off down the road, cripping along on three good legs. But his tail was high and he sniffed the air with something of his old eager assurance. I watched him out of sight around the first bend in the road, and Barbara said, “He’s going down to tell Suzy all about it.”
He was gone almost an hour. Then he came limping back and lay in the sun on the front steps, tired out. But the next morning he went to see Suzy again, and within another week he was using that injured leg, limping but using it. And not long after that I saw that his ear was better. The swelling had begun to go down and he could shake his head without wincing at the pain.
I had wondered if the beating he took would take the heart out of him, leave him an old dog broken in spirit. It didn’t. Even before he lost the limp, he and Suzy were out after woodchucks again. And he was just as truculent as ever about his ownership of this place. Strangers, men or dogs, were challenged as usual.
Any lingering doubt I had was put to rest the day Albert came up to get a load of bedding straw from my big barn.
Both Suzy and Cubby, the pup, came along. Cubby was going to be a big dog. He was bigger than Pat by then, and still growing. He was a friendly dog, and Albert had said there never was any trouble between him and Pat down at his place. But this time Cubby was up here, at Pat’s place. And Suzy was here, too.
I was talking with Albert and all three dogs were there in the barnyard, Pat was being very proprietary. Suzy was being coy; after all, Suzy was a girl, and here were two man-dogs. Cubby was young and naturally brash. Before we knew what was happening, Cubby called Pat a name or two, Pat bristled and growled, Cubby made a pass at him. Pat snarled and went into action. A noisy row was on in an instant.
Albert shouted at them, and I shouted. We slapped at them, finally grabbed them and hauled them apart. The minute we let go they were back at it. We hauled them apart again and I put Pat in his house and latched the door. Albert put Cubby in the cab of his truck. I apologized for Pat, but Albert said, “It’s Pat’s place. He was just trying to make Cubby admit it.”
He finished loading the truckload of straw. Before he left he turned to me with a frown. “I don’t know what to do about Suzy.”
He nodded. “She’s getting snappish, and she’s causing trouble.” He opened the cab door, let Cubby out. He started to say something more, then changed his mind. He didn’t want to talk about it. He got in and drove down the road, Suzy and Cubby trotting beside the truck.
A couple of weeks later I saw Pat come home one morning within ten minutes after he had started down to see Suzy. I watched him come up the road, stopping from time to time to turn and look back. He came into the yard and lay down in the grass, but he didn’t nap. He lay there, looking down the road as though baffled. The next day the same thing happened, the trip down, the quick return, the baffled look. Something was wrong. Something was out of place in his world.
I saw Albert, and before I could ask him he said, “I had to get rid of Suzy.”
“Put her away.” He sighed. “I guess old Pat can’t understand what happened. He comes down and looks around and whines at the door, and then he leaves.”
“I wondered. So that’s it.”
He nodded, and I didn’t press him for details.
For ten days Pat continued to go down there every morning, look for Suzy, and come back home. And he seemed to draw into himself, somehow, as though in a kind of puzzled mourning. Then he stopped going. He would go out and look down the road, stand there looking, much as he had when we sent Mike away. Then he would come back and lie down, not to nap, but to wait. He didn’t want to go along when we went fishing. If we asked him, he would go with us on an afternoon walk, but he didn’t prowl the roadsides and he was always eager to get home, as though waiting for someone, expecting someone. The zest for life seemed to have gone out of him.
“I don’t like it,” Barbara said. “He’s a sick dog.”
“He’s a lonely dog,” I said. “He misses Suzy.”
“I think he’s sick.”
I took him to the vet. The vet checked him from nose to tailtip. “Not a thing wrong,” he finally said. “That shoulder’s all healed, he’s absorbed almost all that big clot in his ear, and his leg’s all right. His heart’s as good as it ever was. He isn’t a pup any more, but who is? What are you worrying about?”
I told him about Suzy.
“That’s your answer,” he said. “He misses her. He’s mourning for her, the same way he’d mourn for you if you turned up missing some morning. Sometimes a dog will mourn for months, even refuse to eat.”
“Pat still eats.”
He smiled. “So I see. He’s getting a little overweight. Lack of exercise, now that he’s not running with Suzy. I’d cut down a little on his ration. I don’t know what else to suggest. He’s in good shape, physically. Teeth are still good, eyes are clear, and his hearing’s all ri
I brought Pat home and told Barbara what the vet had said. “So,” she said, “we wait for him to get things in place again. Is that it?” She turned to Pat. “Don’t you know that we understand, Pat? Don’t you know that we love you?”
Pat was lying on the rug, staring into space. He looked up at her, then turned away and sighed and lay back, disinterested.
He was napping in my study that night at bedtime. I went to the foot of the stairs and called, but he didn’t come. I came upstairs, and he got wearily to his feet, went to the head of the stairs and stood there. I ordered him to go down. He took two steps and hesitated. I ordered again. He took another step and looked at me as though afraid to go on down. I had to take him by the scruff of the neck and help him down, step by step. I took him outside and he nosed the air once, then trotted wearily to his house.
The next afternoon I called to him and started off across the pasture toward the mountain to see what would happen. I had to call him twice before he followed me, obedient but without any spirit. He followed me across the pasture, at my heels. At the far fence he looked at me as though asking, “Haven’t we gone far enough?” I crawled through the fence and started up the mountainside. I called, and he came along. He brightened a little in the scattered woods, and when he got a rabbit scent he yelped a few times and started to follow it. But after a hundred yards or so he gave up and came back to me. I let him rest a few minutes, then went on. But it was no use. He wasn’t interested in the mountainside. I came back home, and he lay down again in the yard.
The Dog Who Came to Stay: A Memoir by Hal Borland / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes