The worst part about moving abroad may surprise my readers. I miss friends and family, of course, but not nearly as much as I miss one particular individual. Her name is Terra, and she is the dog my husband and I adopted when we were only four month’s married. She became My Dog. She’s a blue heeler, a breed known to be “one man dogs”, which means that unlike your standard ‘love everybody’ labrador, blue heelers bond almost exclusively with The One. They understand family very well, and have a tendency to do things like herd children to keep them safe, or just move them where the dog thinks children should be. They will obey other members of the family.
But they only truly trust and believe in The One. They worship The One. They will do absolutely anything and everything for The One. They never, ever want to be separate from The One.
Which is why I feel so wretchedly guilty for leaving her behind.
She knew that my husband would go for weeks or months at a time, but she also understood that he would come back. It was the nature of his job. When he left, she always upped the security measures. People who were used to ‘love-me dogs’ were often frightened of her. She hackled and she barked, and she sounded like she meant it because she really did. We knew that we were getting a dog of a very protective dog breed, and we wanted that. My husband left for weeks or months at a time, and I lived alone in the country. I was an experienced dog handler and she was very responsive to my commands.
Terra’s job was to guard me, but that was a more peripheral duty. Most of the time, she was my friend and my writing buddy. Being an active, working breed she had this incredible energy level and would run from dawn till about one or two AM. She made sure I went out on walks. She was my shadow. Loved balls. Not so much the water. Loved to hate skunks. Adored her cat. Liked to operate on her stuffed toys to make them ‘skinny’, and I say operate because she would hold her toy very carefully and use her teeth to snip an inch of the seam open, and then pull every last bit of stuffing out of her toy through that one inch hole. It took about an hour for a medium sized stuffed toy.
She would do this for hours while I typed. When it was cold and the wind blew through the gaps in the house, we fought for the space right in front of the heater. She would try to crawl into my lap if the computer wasn’t there. Often she snuggled against my shoulder. Terra had a funny way of sitting, rolled back up on her tailbone so her legs sprawled out like a toad or something, and she would lean against me. That was her cuddle. A lean while she breathed this raspy breath, which there was no medical reason for, she just made noises when she was bored.
During the summers she drove me insane by going to the top of the stairs and licking the dust off every rise and rung, missing the corners but licking everything else. She would do this for hours. Eventually, she started to lick the faux wood panelling, too, and sometimes when she was on the top stair she would lick the ceiling. No clue why. She just did. Tried for a few weeks to break her of this, but in the end we just let it happen, even though it drove me insane.
Now I’m still typing. Sometimes cuddled next to the heater. Sometimes not. I’m constantly reminded of her, there’s a scar across the back of my hand nearly two inches long. It’s from the collar strangulation event, when she freaked while suffocating and bit me instead of her doofus playmate. After I got her collar off, she smelled my blood and did her best to hide beneath the bed, and she stayed there for a very long time. I typed one-handed for a while, until the scab healed. She was by my side the whole time, and tried to lick my hand every chance she got.
I remember staring at her sometimes, and I would wonder…I would wonder what if I hadn’t unsnapped her collar? If I’d waited until she passed out? From what I read on forums about the outcomes of blacked-out dogs and collar strangulation, it seems to be about 50/50 if the dog lived or died. The same as biting or not biting. By risking a wound, I ensured her life. If I hadn’t, I would have been risking her’s. Not that I did any of this during the event, it all happened so fast, but…I wondered. I wondered what it would have been like to have had to bury my friend. More than my friend, basically my child, she acted identical to a four-year-old, she just ate non-people food and I didn’t have diapers.
She’s living with my parents on their farm right now. She still thinks it is her duty to guard the house, and my mother in particular, and she is best buddies with my brother and pals around with my father. They take her to feed cows. Blue heelers are cow dogs, but I did not raise her around them. When we did have cattle around, I made certain she knew that the she did not herd them. Strangely, she also understood the fence boundaries and that the cows were not supposed to go outside those boundaries without having people move them. It only took me two or three times of incessant barking before I realized that was how she told me that the cows had busted a fence.
Now she seems to think that her duty is to be on the back of the flatbed truck and keep the cows from sticking their noses up there to snatch a bite. My family uses small 90-pound rectangular bales, and you cut two strings and feed it off in sections to the cows. Some cows get pushy and try to eat before the bale is even cut. Others will push the slices of hay back onto the bed. It actually does make feeding a little bit of a pain. So, my parents are rather tickled to have a dog to keep the cows back a little. Terra is fine with the cows eating the hay once it is on the ground, but not while it is on the truck.
There’s this fluffy, old, old orange cat who mostly lives inside the house now. He was never one to like change or strangers, but he has always held a particular hatred for Terra. He seems to like to jump out of the coat closet to attack her, then spring back into the closet again. My parents also have a white labrador called Louisa who has what Dad calls a Sorority Girl Complex. I was never into the sorority/fraternity culture, but Louisa reminds him of the sorority girls back in the day who were too good for everyone else. Terra and Louisa tolerate one another. Neither have had to live in a household with another female dog. That is a source of tension, but they are getting along better if fed in separate rooms.
My parents also recently discovered that Terra bays at coyotes. The blue heeler breed comes from a mixing of dog and dingo, so I suspect that the coyotes are triggering some of the dingo pack instincts. The coyotes usually like to howl at dusk, midnight, and sometime around 3 AM. Each pack favors a different time, and when one group starts up, the surrounding groups join in. Most dogs ignore them. Terra feels she has to relay to those coyotes loud and clear that the dingo-dog is here.
So, yes, I miss her. I miss her leaning against me while I type on the floor. I miss her strange, very vocal breathing. I miss the comfort of knowing that I have a body guard every time I open the door. I miss the tricks we taught her–spin, bang, roll over, jump, bounce, shake, other paw, who’s there, where’s the cat, do you want a treat, over, through, under, stop, wait…wow, we taught her a lot, and that was in addition to the basic commands.
Some days I think to myself that this, right here, right now, is how it would have been if she’d died. This silence. This void.
And then I think, I’ll bet she still licks the stairs.
Know what? She does. And maybe, maybe she understands that like my husband, it’s a matter of time before I see her again.