There came a time, as the lawyers like to say, when Greta and I were invited to Mike’s place for a weekend. Mike lives in Columbia, which has 100,000 people, but was designed with tree-lined walkways so you can pretend you’re not really in a city—until the people outside your window are still having a really good time at 2:00 a.m.
Greta hopped eagerly into the car. Her working assumption for all car rides is that we’re going somewhere good. Sometimes it turns out when we get there that we were going to the veterinarian. That’s disappointing. But it doesn’t happen often enough to shake her faith that the car can take her to the end of the canine rainbow.
On arriving at Mike’s place, Greta immediately put her nose to work around the parking area. Other dogs, good. Squirrels, good. People, lots of people, good. And Mike was there at his door. Extra good.
We took Greta for a walk down one of the tree-lined pathways. She had to walk on her leash, because that’s what city dogs do. And because if she ran off, she could be halfway to Washington—or hit by a car—before I found her.
On the pathway, Greta was checking out the plethora of squirrels, meeting some other dogs, enjoying all the new scents. As we rounded a corner, she stopped. Her body stiffened. The deer—there were four or five of them—stared at her and calculated whether it was worth the effort to run. Being city deer, they had no predators. They had lost some of the natural caution of their country cousins.
Deer weren’t ducks. But as an expert in retrieval, Greta decided they could be retrievable. She went into stalk mode, carefully lifting each paw in turn as she edged toward them. Mike or I must have made some slight noise, because the buck turned and the does followed him, white tails waving good-bye as they headed deeper among the trees. They didn’t go far, though. They remained visible through the trees on the other side of a stream.
Greta knew. She charged to the end of her rope and would have been happy to drag a 140-pound human along behind her if the human hadn’t dug in her heels. Deer are attractive to dogs not only because they run fast. In the back of her mind, Greta was probably also thinking they would taste good. But this time, it was not to be.
The walk was the high point of Greta’s weekend. The low point came when I spread out the old bathrobe on the floor and she figured out that she was going to spend the night downstairs while the humans slept upstairs. A Milk Bone eased the sting a bit, but when dawn broke the next morning, Greta had had enough of separation. She was used to sleeping in the basement at home, but this was a different place. She had expected to do better here. She cried. She whimpered, pausing every minute or so to see whether rescue was on the way.
Mike decided that since he was awake anyway, he would go down and get the dog, in the hope she would quiet down. No, she would not. She was ready to greet the morning and reconnect with the deer. She ran around his bed, licking his hand and snuffling for a caress.
The wake-up-early-and-cry-until-they-come-to-get-you pattern for Mike’s home was set. Greta would remember.
(c) Donna R. Engle 2011