A Dog Gone Day

By Vincent C. Spiotti

 

I can still hear the words of my mother from years ago “No matter what, that dog will always be there for you.” For the past 12 years, her words of wisdom have always come true as they relate to my ever present canine pal Dogediah.  With reckless abandon and never ending enthusiasm, Dogediah has always been willing to venture out into the wild.  His love of the outdoors continues to be just as irrepressible as his overt bond with me. Back before my loving wife Maria and our beautiful daughters, Giovanna and Julianna, Dogediah was my family.

Of course, thinking back, there was one day when this all nearly came to a tragic and sudden end. It was a day that I will never forget.

It was a warm fall day that I decided to patrol a section of wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest. As I began to collect my various bags and gear, Dogediah’s tail began to beat with intent as he watched me from his bed. As I moved towards the far end of the cabin where the firelocks were stored, his ears perked up and his tail beating increased in tempo. The moment I reached out and grabbed my fowler, in one effortless motion he jumped to all four paws and continued into a full circle leap and spin. We were on our way to another adventure.

It was a fast start as Dogediah rocketed up the trail at a quick dog pace. The enjoyable temperatures and dry conditions allowed for fast movement up the trail that quickly led us into a high mountain valley. The leaves were long gone from the trees which allowed for unobstructed views in all directions. It was that time of year when everywhere you walked you heard the crunch and whoosh of leaves as you walked, sometimes shuffling your way through inches of freshly deposited foliage.

The unending slight wind blowing created a banquet of smells that any dog would certainly chase. As one scent faded and another was picked up, Dogediah would suddenly strike off in another direction that was governed only by his curious nose. Head down with his nose alternating between sniffing high and low, he quickly darted back and forth in his random pursuit of the unseen treasures and treats that surely awaited him.

After a few hours of climbing and exploring, I decided to relax for a few minutes and take in the autumn beauty of the day. Seated up against a large maple tree, I sat there enjoying the view of the white clouds puffing along the far ridgeline ahead against a bright blue sky background. I blindly fiddled with the lock of my firelock, I watched what appeared to be hawks riding the air currents, soaring, stalling and then diving as they spied their noontime meal below on the valley floor.

I sat there in the pleasant fall air and enjoyed a few bites of dried meat with bread and cheese. My mind wandered as it released my modern life from my thoughts as I slowly melted into the scenic surroundings. It was as if everything in my life in present time had come to a standstill as an 18th century mindset slowly emerged. Peacefully I sat there in the forest and enjoyed the simple splendor of a warm New England autumn day.

Somewhere between random thoughts I noticed the trunk of a dead tree about 40 yards across the field in front of me. For several minutes I studied the trunk as I focused on an easily distinguishable dark streak on the trunk. I couldn’t help but think what a great target it would make for a few balls from my fowler. It seemed like a good time for a session of target practice.

I stood up and adjusted my bags and various accoutrements as I methodically prepared my equipment for shooting. A quick check of my lock and I was ready to load my fowler and begin the fun I then thought to myself that I should bring Dogediah in close to me, where he likes to stand while I am firing.

Turning and twisting, scanning the field and forests edge, I was looking for my faithful companion. I discovered there was just one problem; Dogediah was nowhere to be found. I called several times and even whistled as best I could. I clapped my hands between shouts of his name but all to no avail. To my horror, after several minutes of yelling and calling, it was as clear to me that Dogediah had gone astray.

As I walked around the field, looking into the forest from the edges, I tried to remember the last time I had seen Dogediah. Thinking back, I remembered seeing him near me as I ate, feeding him a few pieces of dried meat. That was the best I could do for the moment as I silently panicked to myself.

Since I was sure I never saw Dogediah continue up the trail, I thought I would head back the way we came to begin the search. The ground was dry and hard, with no puddles or standing water in sight. The hope that I may see a fresh paw print or two in the ground was quite low.

I started down the trail while my mind raced as to what happened and where did this all go so wrong. Mixed in with my mental panic were memories of past adventures, on and off the trail with Dogediah. I tried to stay focused as my mind raced.

I remembered back to the first time Dogediah and I saw a moose while on a patrol. Dogediah, then only a long-legged, gangly puppy, was in front of me when he came around a corner and looked up. He was face to face with a moose, an immense and shocking monster to what was then a small puppy. In a split second, he turned and ran toward me, in a single motion leaping and landing into my arms where I had no choice but to catch him. He buried his head in my shoulder, shaking from the sight of the moose. The moose, in different to the commotion simply turned and slowly walked away. I can still hear the clip clop of his hooves on the rocks as the big fellow departed. The first experience with an animal in the wild for Dogediah was a memorable one.

The intent and pace of my search increased as the afternoon wore on. I continued to walk up and down the area, exploring various side trails in my travels. Occasionally I would call for Dogediah followed by several claps and clucks. I would then stay quiet and listen for him to respond or perhaps just catch the sound of him moving through the fallen foliage. Still, I saw no signs and heard no sounds that would lead me to him. My thoughts were quickly turning to fears that our last moments together were behind us.

As I passed a thicket, I heard a rustle. My heart jumped. I wondered if this could be him. Pausing, I began calling. To my surprise, out of the dense brush burst a pheasant, who in an awkward whoosh, took to a low level flight through the bare trees past me, slowly climbing out of sight.  After the initial disappointment, I thought back a few years to a similar encounter.

Not too long ago Dogediah and I spent a day with an old friend Carl, who was hunting for pheasant. Dogediah has always proven capable of finding birds and other animals while out on patrols. We thought it would be fun to take him on a real hunt and see what he could do. Though I am not a hunter, I went along for the day, never passing up an opportunity to spend a day wandering the woods. Besides, I was eager to see what inherent skills Dogediah might demonstrate.

While moving up a hill on an old logging road, we heard the sound of something moving in the underbrush ahead and to the right of us. Dogediah stopped, paused and glared intently towards the noise for a few seconds.  A quick bark followed and then he without warning, he leaped and plunged into the woods in the direction of the rustling.

Carl prepared himself for what we both hoped would be a bird or two flying from the chase and perhaps right into his line of sight. The sounds from where Dogediah entered the woods increased as we both stood waiting. Suddenly to our surprise, out of the bush burst Dogediah, tail between his legs, whimpering, as the largest pheasant I have ever seen was following, in striking distance behind him, pecking at Dogediah’s tail as he scurried towards us in a full ground hugging slink. After a few good pecks to the backside of Dogediah, the pheasant sensed that the work was complete and did an about face and headed quickly back into the undergrowth. Dogediah, frightened from the experience, continued over to me, whimpering slightly as he rubbed up against me. For the remainder of the day, he never was more than arms length from me. Just like that, his one day of being a bird dog was over.

My search continued as I explored a spider web of side trails and herd paths in the valley. Slowly making my way down towards where we began the day. I wondered if Dogediah was hungry, maybe even thirsty. He was always one to find water but this trip took us to an area that did not have much for fresh streams and rivers. Standing water was long gone in the autumn warmth. Still, I knew that Dogediah always found something to drink. Then again, I also remembered back how his thirst once brought him disfavor with our friends.

One time while out for an evening on a scout with the men from Harmon’s Snowshoe Company, we all enjoyed a taste of wine that one of the men had brought along. An evening of wine sure went down smooth after a day long on patrol. We all appreciated the efforts of one of our pards to haul along the special treat for us to all savor.

That evening, shortly after retiring to our shelters, Dogediah, who must have been thirsty, quietly moved around the camp and sipped what we later discovered was left over wine from a few of the cups. Being a modest 55 pounds in stature, it did not take many sips of wine for our canine friend to quickly find himself in his own “cups” that evening. 

Suddenly I awoke to a loud and curtailing scream as I rolled around in my shelter. Crowwe and Silas, two of the men on the patrol, were yelling in a panic as I heard something stumbling around in the darkness. A full grown male moose had wandered into our camp and was awkwardly staggering amongst us. The moose nearly trampled both Silas and Crowwe in their shelters before they rolled out from their hovels. They were now on their feet and in a loud and boisterous manner they were trying to coax the lumbering moose away from the camp. I peered out from my bedroll and saw the beast, which looked like a giant from where I lay. I jumped up and joined in the fray.

It was a terrifying few moments of panic and bedlam as the nocturnal invader lumbered around our camp with no obvious intentions or reason, being shouted at from all sides, seemingly hearing nothing as he continued to walk aimlessly about. Suddenly, as quick as it started, it was over. The moose wandered away, kicking over several copper boilers as he disappeared into the darkness. We all sat there for quite some time, nervous and anxious, too full of excitement to sleep after our scary encounter.

One of the reasons we bring Dogediah on our patrols is to warn us of people and animals approaching the camp. However, on this occasion, with a belly full of wine, our fearless guard dog never even awoke during the commotion. In fact, even after the moose had departed, Dogediah was still asleep. He knew nothing of the encounter. We all had a hearty laugh the following morning as we decided to introduce Dogediah to a few sips of coffee. We were quite sure he needed it after his past evening of new liquids.

I started moving lower down the valley as the sun was close to cresting below the distant ridgeline. Dark would soon be here. As I walked slowly down the trail, I heard a movement to my right. There was a side trail that went up a rise. Thinking this could be promising, I slowly walked up the trail, one step after another, trying to detect more noise and movement. As I reached the top of the rise, I peered down to a sight I would have preferred to avoid. About 30 feet before me and directly in the middle of the trail lay a rather large adult dead moose. What I saw next was two sets of eyes that poked up and peered from his belly. It was a pair of coyote dogs, tearing into the fresh carcass in a feeding frenzy.

For a moment we all stared intently at each other. My mind raced as my heart tried to keep up. I quickly thought about my options. I relaxed my hand from my unloaded fowler, letting the gun slide to the crook of my elbow, as I reached for my belt knife and with the other hand reached down and grabbed the axe from my belt. I could feel the primal instincts growing as I pondered what might follow. It was now time to see who would make the first move. I was glad Dogediah was not here for this tense standoff. He would have forced the issue.

I did not move nor take my eyes off of the two mangy beasts as they continued to peer at me and dropped down into a slightly lowered posture. I prepared myself mentally for what was possible; knowing that instinct would have to take over for what could very well be a confrontation. Suddenly, the two wild dogs, after a snarl and a sneer, simply turned tail and ran, luckily up the trail in the opposite direction. I took a deep breath as my adrenaline filled body slowly relaxed. I sheathed my belt knife and returned my axe. It was time to start moving home. I turned and quickly walked away, for the first few minutes constantly looking back over my shoulder as I headed home.

It was nearly dark as I reached the end of the trail where I started my day. I was depressed over the situation but mostly concerned over the fate of my faithful partner. I was not sure what would become of Dogediah but I knew there was not much I could do stumbling around in the dark forest. My plan was to go home and then return at first light the next morning, perhaps with a few friends, and continue the search for my little friend. Dogediah, my ever present companion who may not have quite the heart of a lion but certainly the spirit of a child, would have to fend for himself this evening. I prayed in a low whisper as I reached the roads edge for his safety and well being.

What started as a whimper quickly turned to a whine and then a full out cry, sounds that were very familiar to me. Across the road where our adventure started, I squinted in what was now dark and I saw a familiar shape frantically moving. Pacing and circling as he yelped, it was Dogediah, and though he had found his way back to where we started, he was obviously nervous and scared that he was still alone. He heard me and turned, then saw me and cried as he came running in my direction. Just like when he was a puppy, he jumped into my arms and buried his head in my shoulder, continuing to whimper and cry as we both fell to the ground. He was home in my arms, the place where he knew he belonged. In the end, after a day of wandering apart, it was a happy ending to be back together.

I will never forget how alone I felt that one time I thought Dogediah would not be there for me. It was a cold dark empty feeling. It was a feeling that I am sure both Dogediah and I will never forget. Now that I think about it, my mother was right; Dogediah will always be there for me. I hope that I am always there for him.

That evening in our cabin, Dogediah followed me; he nuzzled me and continued to paw at me. He was never more than inches away from me. When it was time for sleep, he climbed up beside in my bed near the woodstove and dropped down nearly on top of me. As his head rolled onto my stomach, he let out a deep groan and a long deep breath as he settled in for the evening. Dogediah was glad to be home. We were both glad to be together.


VCS