- “I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better.”
– George Bird Evans, “Troubles with Bird Dogs”
The dogs exploded into excitement with just a slight shake of their leashes. They twisted and spun, bouncing off each other and the walls to escape out the door. One of our favorite hiking spots in southern Oregon was Roxy Ann. A long winding, ever climbing road encircles the mountain allowing hikers and bikers to reach the top. It is closed to cars but open to the trucks grinding up and down from the summit gravel pit. Sinuous side trails offer shorter, steeper routes but I always stuck to the road and begged the dogs to, as well. The trails were very narrow and full of deadfall, the perfect place for the lethal rattlesnake to coil.
This October day had just a slight chill to it. The bright royal-blue sky held only a few fluffy clumps of clouds and the breeze was minimal. It was the day for Roxy Ann.
The Lab-mix saint of a dog, Bridget, padded along by my side, eager to hear my comments on work, the gossip about the neighbors and how the Roxy Ann road seemed to get steeper every month. Sport, the devilish Dalmatian, was my newest rescue. He was still learning to trust me. Today, he was just a bouncing spot on the horizon, ripping up and down on both sides of the road, chasing invisible odors that drifted in the breeze. My occasional calls of ‘watch that truck’ went unheeded. Drivers passing either waved apologetically or flipped me the finger; either way Sport was in the way, but having fun.
A dead snake, run over by one of the truck drivers, had been kicked to the side of the road. His rattles, always a prize, had been cut off but his head was still attached. An attached head with intact fangs means the snake has the potential to be deadly. I shooed the dogs away; he was newly dead, though and beginning to rot — let the ugly thing decompose. I had no love of snakes.
The ham sandwich at the top was begged away from me by the dogs. St. Bridget was content with the most unevenly torn, smallest half. Hungry, I sat on a flat rock and took in the view: 360 degrees of mountains with varying shades of forest green colored valleys. In the far distance, minute golfers were walking the course. Somewhere a lawnmower buzzed. Birds flew overhead. The dogs curled in the grass, sneaking in a nap. Drowsiness was overtaking me, as well; time to head home.
Sport’s short sleep served him well. He was up like a shot and rushing down, then up the hill. St. Bridget and I took a more leisurely pace. The trucks clanked up and down, leaving a thin layer of dust that hung in the air like a grey curtain. In the dust, I nearly stepped on a freshly dead rattler some trucker had just run over. I side jumped so hard, I nearly fell. Chest heaving, I waved the dogs around that snake, as well. He stretched halfway across the road.
Breaking into a run, I drove the dogs ahead of me. A freshly dead rattler is definitely still venomous. The fangs are able to discharge the poison for a period of time, although a person —or a dog — one would have to prick themselves on the fang. When the shaking in my legs eased up, I slowed again to a walk. Sport shot up the slope before I could leash him. Crap.
Thirty minutes passed; I knew we should soon be in sight of the car. Where was that damned Dalmatian?
Rounding a sharp, steep curve, I saw a woman swaying and hunching on a bench under a tree. Middle-aged and plump with short gray hair, she constantly rubbed her lower back, her legs twisting in her designer blue jeans. Beside her, looking worried was a Golden Retriever. When she turned my way, tears were streaming down her cheeks.
‘HELP ME,’ she screamed. ‘These damned truckers will not stop. I need help.’
‘What is wrong, what can I do?’
‘I fell and twisted my back. I had surgery on it a few months ago and thought I was well enough to walk the dog, but I think I ruined it.’ She was gulping for air. ‘Oh God, I should have stayed home.’
‘No kidding,’ I thought sarcastically. ‘Have you called anyone?’ is what I asked.
‘I can’t get any cell service here,’ a low moan brought the Golden around to face her. He laid his paw on her bucking knee; she shoved it away. ‘I need to get home and lay down. Can you drive my car up here?’
‘Let me drive mine up and take you to yours.’ She nodded a thank you. ‘They are parked over a mile away though, so it will be twenty minutes or so before I am back.’
Her eyes squeezed shut. She tried to lie on the bench but sat up immediately with a gasp and hunched over again, rubbing her back furiously. ‘Please go,’ I heard as a whimper.
Looking around, I saw no Sport. I called his name a few times. No Sport.
‘I’m going right now. Listen, I have a Dalmatian somewhere. Name’s Sport. If he comes, try to keep him with you, if you can.’
She waved me on. I wasn’t sure she heard me.
Bridget and I alternated between a fast walk and a jog down to the car. Several times, I looked back and waved in the woman’s direction, but there was no response. ’Dummy. She will regret this action. Should have stayed home.’ I thought.
Driving back up to the woman took a minute or two. I pulled off the road by the bench. She was still rubbing her lower back and trying to find a position to get comfortable. The Golden was right by her side. ‘Have you seen my Dalmatian?’
‘What?’ she panted, ‘what are you talking about?’
‘My dog, my dog. I asked you to watch out for my dog.’ Slowly rising, her hand clamped like an iron vise on my shoulder and bent over, she inhaled sharply.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Sport! Come here right now!’ I’m sure I shouted in her ear. ‘Please,’ I mentally added.
For ten minutes, the woman and I tried several tactics to get her in the passenger seat. The pain of moving snapped her upright, then sagged her knees down. Her tears were dripping on my forearm, her hands bruising my upper arms. Twice we both had to rest on the bench.
There was no cell service to call either her husband or an ambulance. The truckers must have been on a lunch break, or I would have forced one to stop. It was just she and I.
With a huge effort on her part, she sat on the seat. I gently lifted her legs into my Toyota 4-Runner. The passenger seat needed to be adjusted to a more upright position but she was in. Both Bridget and the Golden jumped in the back when that door was lifted. The Golden positioned himself behind her seat.
‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘I’m sorry, I have to drive uphill a ways to try and find my dog.’
‘Take me to my car!’
‘I will in just a minute. I promise.’
She moaned, low and tense.
Two curves later, I saw Sport in the distance. He was standing in a clump of dead grass, looking around. I called his name; he bounced joyously in my direction. As I walked to the back of the 4-Runner to let him in, my passenger shrieked, ‘Put it down! Put it down!’
Sport was running our way, hell-bent-for-leather, with the freshly dead rattler swinging from his mouth. Both ends flopped against him, banging off his sides, his head, his chest. He nearly tripped himself once, stepping on the tail.
‘Make that dog put that down!’ She screamed, hunched over and beating on the dashboard. Sport stopped a few feet from me and furiously shook the dead viper. A piece of loose meat flew off, bouncing once.
Then he made for the car.
‘No, drop it, Sport, drop it. That’s a good boy,’ I cooed. ‘Drop it, drop it.’
‘Put that down!’ Her voice startled him. He pranced a bit and moved sideways, away from the car, shredded snake firmly in mouth. A few nibbles were visible on its back. The rattles hissed.
‘Make him put that down! I need to get home!’
‘You are going to have to be quiet, right now, or we could be here for a while.’
‘I need to lie down … at home!’ She was sobbing again, tears running down the steering wheel where the side of her head was. The Golden whined.
Taking a dog biscuit and a leash from the back, I turned toward Sport. He sat like a perfectly schooled pooch, new favorite possession in mouth. In a bright upbeat voice I asked ‘Put the snake down, good doggy. Do not make me wrestle that from you. I would kill you. Drop it good doggy, that’s a good doggy.’
‘Please be quiet,’ I snarled to my passenger in the front seat,’ I continued purring threats of extinction to Sport. Extending my hand with his favorite treat, I exhaled gratefully. Sport dropped the rattler, gobbled the treat and I half picked him up, half flopped him in the 4-Runner. The back door was slammed shut.
‘Try to sit up, please,’ I wormed my way into the driver’s seat. ‘I can’t drive with your head on the wheel.’
I slowly pushed, she gingerly pulled, her into a semi-upright position. She looked exhausted beyond help. I started the engine and made a U-turn to take us down the road. A gravel truck charging in the opposite direction blared his horn, making me swerve sharply. She stiffened upright, gasping loudly as her hand twisted around to her spine. ‘Help me God,’ she whispered, wiping her nose on her sleeve. The thin layer of dust covered the windshield. I turned on the wiper blades; the window streaked with mud.
We had just rounded the corner where I found her when Sport thrust his head between us from the back. His lips were curled into a contented doggy smile.
‘Go away,’ she told him, turning in her seat, the back of her head against the window.
Sport looked at her and belched. Instantly, my eyes filled with stinging tears, my mouth open and gasping for air. My right hand starting beating against my burning lungs. The passenger’s free hand clawed the window. ‘Open it, I can’t breathe!’ she gasped loudly. ‘How do I open this?’ Her body was twisted toward the door. She beat her forehead off the window.
Wiping tears, I fumbled to find the window control button for my side, managing to only lower the rear one. Bridget and the Golden hung their heads in the trailing dust and coughed. The woman scratched the window, one hand over her mouth. ‘Open this, I’m dying.’
We pulled alongside her car and I flung open my door, falling to the ground. Finding the passenger window control, I slid it down for her. She jerked and shrieked as she hung her head over the door panel. ‘Let me out,’ I heard her weak plea from my knees. Sucking in fresh air, I glanced up. Sport was in the driver’s seat looking down at me, still smiling. He belched again.
I struggled to my feet and hurried to the other side; the woman had the door open and was trying to get herself out. She could not swing her legs to the ground.
‘I think I have to take you home. You can’t drive, not at all.’
‘Put that dog out here. I can’t stand your dog!’
‘Sorry,’ I said sadly, shutting her door, ‘he goes, too.’
She lived about three miles away, in a posh neighborhood of big new homes. During the drive to her house, she was overcome with more spasms. For a block and a half, I drove with her head on my shoulder, tears wetting my sleeve. Mostly, though, she was swatting Sport away from his usual spot of head between the seats, gagging involuntarily, her hand covering her mouth.
With the help of her husband, we got the woman to the couch. Again, a spasm brought her to her feet, while her husband hurried to the cabinet for her medicine. ‘I’ll call the doctor, hon, just as soon as this lady takes me back to your car.’
I patted the Golden good-bye and lifted my hand in her direction. ‘I do hope you get better soon.’
Her husband immediately started ranting the minute we headed back to Roxy Ann for her car. ‘I told her not go. I told her not to take that dog for a walk there. She is only supposed to go around the block, the block but no, NO’ – he pointed a finger at me – ‘you can’t tell her anything. She knows it all. Can’t be told anything. I suppose now she needs another operation. Great, just great.’ We finally pulled in alongside her car.
‘Hey, thanks a lot,’ he said as he hopped out and then stuck his head back inside the window. ‘I hope this won’t offend you, but I think you need an air freshener in this car.’
I nodded and glanced at Sport. He was curled up in the passenger seat, smiling.