Roo is not an easy dog. Her fear issues seem to be getting worse lately.
Some of them make sense. There were many consecutive days of thunder, for example. Instead of letting those just grind deeper and deeper levels of fear into her, I did the same thing I did when piloting a rickety old airplane cross country. I paid close attention to live radar to gauge where the bad weather was and how strong it was so I could take Roo just close enough to try to break her in a little instead of leaving her to her own devices, which would just mean hiding behind a toilet.
When the storms looked like they might skate 15 miles to the east of such-and-such trail, I took her there. The only difference from normal operating procedure was that Roo had to endure a leash prior to any thunder. That way, having it clipped on her when the thunder started wouldn’t give her yet another signal to set the fear off in the complicated web of things that go bang in Roo’s night. The initial results were predictable. At the slightest rumble, Roo tried to take off so she could burrow to the hot molten core of the Earth.
I kept walking and saying, “That’s just thunder, Roo. We don’t worry about thunder." I made a great show of walking with every confidence in the world. I stopped to point out squirrels and birds. When she got so wound up that she simply refused to walk - so that she could listen more closely to what was frightening her - I did the same thing I do when she wants to go left and I want to go right. I ignored her, stood with my back to her, the Flexi at its limit, waiting. Eventually she comes.
After a few days of this, Roo seemed to have stopped looking for a place to dig. She was still agitated, but not panicking. Her tail was down, but not tucked. I let her off the leash. She did something amazing. Though she kept to the woods at the side of the trail, she kept up with me and didn’t try once to dig a hole. I was amazed that this simple plan seemed to be working at all. Of course, we had been lucky that no storms blew up unexpectedly.
This good luck of just enough thunder at just distant enough locations to be able to use it as a teaching aid, held for a solid week.
Then, a couple of nights ago, I was hung up in work. Oh, I know, I should be rehabilitating Roo as a full-time job, every minute of every day, if that’s what it takes. Maybe I’ll do that if someone sends me a winning lottery ticket. In the meantime, that’s just not practicable. So I was about five minutes late in timing taking Roo out for a walk before a storm would be too close. After the week’s progress, I thought I’d just take her down to the road instead of to her usual trail, which is three minutes away by car. This way, we’d be close enough to get home if it got loud.
We got out of the driveway, and the thunder was rumbling. It was a little closer than the storms we had been working with, and though it was spooking Roo, she was doing more or less okay. This walk wasn’t to torture her. It was a necessity. If Roo didn’t go now, she would wait all night and have to last from 2 PM one day until early the next morning.
We were at the edge of a clearing where some construction is going on. We were still on grass, but off to the side were thick thorn bushes and tangled bramble. The kind that would get all wound up in her fur, bad enough to velcro her into place. I could see that Roo wanted nothing more than to get in those brambles and hide like a bunny. But, in an act of great courage and trust, she kept listening to me and didn’t go in. It didn’t take any tension on the leash. I was just talking her through it.
Suddenly, a couple of sons of bitches nearby - this was three hundred feet from the city limits, so on the other side people can shoot their yards up all they like - began a fusillade. One was shooting what sounded like a 30.06. The other maybe a .223 or something like that. The shooters must have wanted to put a high shine on what promised to be a good night’s drinking already under way, because they opened their concerto with a barrage of the sort that wouldn’t hit anything but dirt on a target range but could stop a line of advancing infantry if you were ambushing them from high ground or pretending to be in a John Wayne movie.
It all happened fast, and Roo, with the strength of the afflicted, made it into the thorns and wedged herself way down in them and began digging frantically. Immediately she was hung up.
Well. What do you do? She was ten feet into a thicket that was as thick as it could get without strangling itself, lodging herself so far under them, on an embankment so steep, thrashing around so hard, that I was out of options.
The citizenry was still in revolt. They kept chipping away at their seven or eight hundred dollars worth of ammo. I’m sure just to go home and complain about how much ammo costs now that Obama’s coming for everybody’s guns, which necessitates more shooting to keep the government at bay, which in turn raises the price of bullets at Wal-Mart. Little Darlene will just have to make do with a lighter lunch bag at Third Grade. I’ve heard it a hundred times. I looked up at the clouds. They were closer to the ground and moving faster. A bad sign. The immediate outskirts of the approaching cell.
I began to work my way into the bush to try to get Roo out. She was struggling, panting, digging with creepers wrapped around her neck. I had to free her of those. And I had to get her out of there before the storm hit in earnest, because then her panic would blow full and she would chew her way out of her leash and run and run. And anywhere she could run here would put her in a road.
Only ten feet, but it took nearly ten minutes to get to her. The vines were up to my waist and the thorns were clawing at my pants, shredding them and holding me back. Finally I got to her.
I thought there was a pretty good chance that she would bite me in that state of panic, but she didn’t. She was forceful in not wanting to get out of there, though, throwing herself on her side, threatening to chew her harness off, putting the leash in her mouth.
I got down beside her and just placed a hand on her side for three minutes or so, trying to will her back to some stable breathing. She tried to hide her head under the vines. Her nose and eyebrows were bleeding. I would see later that she had cuts on all four legs, too.
Her days of thunder work evaporated with a few cracks, even though they weren’t especially loud. Roo was already barbed into place by the thorns, but she began to try to squeeze herself farther in. I started working her free of the thorns. That was going to have to happen sooner or later, anyway. There was blood on her coat, which worried me until I realized it was mine. Eventually I got enough of the vines free to get my arms under her and try to heft her. There was a foot and a half of brush underfoot. Bad balance. I went down. Everything I was wearing tore. Later it would all wind up in the garbage.
A dog in that state can still look like a more or less normal dog. You could take a picture of them and people would still say, “Oh, what a cute dog.” But inside them, every thought is blanked. Adrenaline is running at high pressure from a broken hose. They are convinced that they are about to die, and if you think a dog is strong when they’re just pulling on a leash when they see a squirrel, a dog who thinks she’s fighting for her life is fifty times as strong. The thing to look for is a special type of blank expression. Once you see it, you’ll never forget it.
I was cut up, one slice was eight inches long and making my whole arm and hand sticky. Roo had to move before she got so hung up that I would have to get an emergency crew to cut her out. She would have loved that. It would have required gum ball lights and flashlights, and if you think thunder scares Roo, try turning a flashlight on around her sometime. I grabbed her and somehow managed to drag her to the edge. When we got back out into the clearing she was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t walk. I looked at my watch and decided to give her five minutes, come hell or high water. I sat beside her so that she would feel my thigh on her back. I pulled the nine or ten ticks I could see off her. I pulled up my pants legs and saw another half dozen on me. Merciless bastards. I hate them all.
At the end of five minutes I got up and walked to the end of the Flexi and said to Roo, come on, Little Bear. Let’s go home now.”
The guys pretending to blow away an Afghani wedding party made it up to a fever pitch. The women and children were all dead. They put a few old men out of their misery and were finally getting to the actual bad guys. It was no time to spare any ammo. U! S! A! U! S! A! The thunder started in earnest. This just pissed the shooters off - just who in the hell did God think he was, anyway!? They’d show him. There was a brief pause in the shooting - just long enough to shake a couple of brewskis and knife them open and suck them down - there’s an unmistakable timing to that sequence - and then they made their last stand.
Roo bolted, which was what I was hoping she would do. She wanted to leap back in the bush, but I managed to get her going in the right direction with every pleading a man can make to a dog, getting her to run towards home word by word. We were right next to the house, after all. We had been out there now for about half an hour, bleeding, under fire, and in my case, utterly demoralized.
* * *
It wasn’t a big storm and it fizzled quickly. GIs Joe and Jerkoff must have finally gotten to the end of that month’s mortgage, because they quit blowing off rounds.
Roo was a mess. She ran behind the toilet and stayed there until ten o’clock, when called for her evening treats. That was something, anyway. She slept until eleven the next morning and woke up looking like a Raggedy Roo doll.
* * *
We rented this house primarily because it is silent at night and because there is a big fenced yard for Roo. She will not use the yard, though. That’s not because of the shooters. She has refused to use it since we got here six weeks ago. There’s just something she doesn’t like about it. Here, she won’t do what she was willing to do at every motel between Mexico and Vermont, from California to North Carolina: go for a quick pee at the end of a leash at night. She won’t do it here. She would prefer to be handed a last cigarette and stood up in front of a wall without a blindfold.
Because of that, Roo goes for the last time around 7:30 and then holds it for 12 or 13 hours until the morning. I don’t even bother to try letting her out or putting her leash on to walk her out there. She. Will. Not. Go. I should work on this harder - though I have tried and tried, I know it’s wrong to succumb - but it’s not always so easy to do these little right things.
Meanwhile, she seems comfortable here. She’s in a routine, she has places she likes to lie. Unfortunately, when I forget to close the bathroom door, her favorite place is behind the toilet. I get the feeling that Roo is just making the best of it. That she doesn’t really even like me so much as tolerate me because she’s stuck with me.
And I know that some of you will say just move. Well, it’s a lot easier typing those four letters than moving again. I have moved a house three times in two months, driven from coast to coast twice doing it. I’m out of money. I have to work. I already thought that we were moving to the perfect place. There is no more moving right now. The last time I mentioned what a hard time Rooki was having at the new place a lot of people wrote to say we should simply move. How easy is it for you to move, even if you can afford to and have somewhere to move? Let alone moving for a dog who can be miserable in this perfect house, in a place that appears ideal for a fearful dog? Is the next one going to be any better? Should I make a career of moving every few weeks?
It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing. There is always the feeling that a dog, whose life is so short to begin with, is spending so much of it in fear. In at least a state of worry.
I don’t know what to do. I really don’t. Every day I do everything I can. There is no moving every few weeks until we find someplace where no one ever shoots or where no thunder ever breaks or no trucks ever drive by or no one ever closes a door or turns on a light or rolls a garbage bin to the curb or no light ever turns on or reflection bounces off the ceiling or a house is built nearby or leaves rustle wrong.