My favorite form of respite is hiking with my dogs. Hiking is my way of meditating. I can free my mind in the quietness, observe my dogs with calm and clarity, enjoy the physical effort in a way unlike my usual walking activities, see, smell, hear and feel the small details of my immediate surrounding, and think. I do my best thinking when I’m hiking with my dogs. Actually, I do my best writing there too, but it doesn’t all make it to a physical form.
Sadly, I’ve not had the time or inclination to hike as much as I’d like in the past few months. Much of that was due to the short days of winter and my increasingly busy workload. However, with the time change, daylight is longer and that allows me more time after work to get out with the dogs.
I had a cut and color scheduled last Friday. But I canceled my appointment and rescheduled it to get outside with my dogs. It had been a particularly exhausting week and my pups have been infinitely patient with me over the past few months. Now that we have longer days, have seen the two feet or more of snow from February melt away in most places and have warmer temperatures, I’ve told myself that no matter how tired I am, to get outside with the dogs at least a couple of days a week and rejuvenate in the woods.
I especially love hiking on Friday late afternoons and evenings. I discovered a long time ago that I am less likely to encounter anyone, even at more popular spots. Friday night hikes are my middle-aged happy hours.
I had a full schedule last Friday, and the day was made longer because I’ve decided to bring another person in to occasionally take some of my overflow business and spent much of the day introducing her to some clients. Therefore, while I intended to load the dogs up and leave for an adventure in the afternoon, we didn’t end up departing before nearly 5 pm.
I was happy to see that our late arrival and the start of a few sprinkles, as well as a drop in temperature mean the parking lot to our destination was empty. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
However, as soon as I disembarked from The Living Room on Wheels, I saw a huge white dog on a hill overlooking the parking lot looking at us. His/her curiosity was warranted as both Rhys, Camm and Brady were barking their heads off. The barking is extremely annoying, but heralds our arrival at any place they deem to be super fun. As much as it sets my teeth on edge, they more than make up for it by being nearly silent when we’re out in the woods. So silent in fact that despite hiking with four dogs, we see more than our share of critters. This is why they often wear bells on their collars.
The white dog came toward The LRoW at a determined trot. Uh-oh, I thought.
I had not yet let the dogs out of The LRoW and decided to stand my ground and see what the dog did.
I quickly determined that it wasn’t aggressive and was more curious than anything else. It barked a few times from a distance, came a bit closer, then turned around and trotted back toward the hill. Meanwhile, I had not seen anyone, but guessed that there was a person up there.
After the dog was gone, I let my dogs out. In their usual fashion, they rushed out and began barking to play Ball. In this particular spot, we often start the festivities by playing five to 10 minutes of Ball, and then wandering off into the woods for an hour or more.
I threw a ball for Brady, watched him catch it and then proceeded to lob three more balls for the others.
Uh-oh. The big white dog was back and was now trotting very quickly toward my four.
Since I know mine are much better meeting a strange dog off-leash than on, I opted to let them be. They were immersed in ball play anyway and a strange dog is a typically a brief, albeit annoying distraction for them anyway.
I carefully watched the white dog’s demeanor. By now I knew it was a livestock guardian breed, probably a Great Pyrenees or Akbash. It was a male and he was gigantic next to my dogs. I knew that if things didn’t go well, there could be a lot of damage.
Within seconds, I assessed that there was not a single other human around, that my own dogs were a bit wary of this stranger, that the stranger was not entirely comfortable with them but was overcome with curiosity. I also knew that if I panicked or called my dogs suddenly to me, they would come, but it would likely trigger a bad reaction among all five dogs. In that moment, Youke was the only dog that did not have a ball in his mouth. While simultaneously assuring that the other three did have balls, I decided Youke, being the most neutral of my four, could be greeted by this unknown dog. I also sang out to the big dog a friendly greeting myself.
“Hey, pup-pup. Who are you? Where’s your person, huh? Good pup-pup.”
Yes, I realize this could’ve gone horribly wrong, but the dog’s body language wasn’t stiff and he clearly meant no harm. Youke and he briefly sniffed each other and then I threw Youke’s ball. Brady meanwhile dropped his and greeted this stranger. I immediately picked it up and Brady went off after it again. Interestingly, Rhys stayed at a distance, observing, wary but unafraid. Camm, in her typical fashion, made a huge point about completely ignoring the dog.
I saw immediately that the white dog had decent social skills. He kept a wide berth from Camm, did not try to go up to Rhys and while curious about Brady and Youke, did not force himself upon them. He seemed to be fascinated with the fact that we were all playing.
After a few minutes, he trotted back up the hill again.
I continued to play ball with my four, moving to a better vantage spot while doing so. Still no other human in sight. But the dog was gone too. I decided someone just wanted their space and wasn’t really paying proper attention to their dog.
After a few more minutes of ball play, all the time moving to better vantage points, I decided to gather the balls and commence the woods walking portion of the evening. As this is a familiar routine, my four dogs willingly dropped balls and headed off down a familiar trail. However, Big White Dog suddenly reappeared and trotted determinedly toward us again.
“Hey pup-pup. Where’s your person?” Then it dawned on me. Perhaps this dog was a stray. That seemed a bit unlikely though given that there are no houses around and I-90 runs alongside the area. And then it came to me. This dog had been dropped off and abandoned by someone. I’d already seen that he appeared well cared for, was clean and was wearing a collar and tags.
The LRoW is large, but not that large. How was I going to fit my four plus a dog that was easily three times their size?
The dog came toward me and I was able to touch him, but then he turned around again and ran up the hill.
It was then that I saw a person. A person who I could barely see and who was clearly not wanting to be seen.
I decided to go on my walk with my dogs. If the dog was truly a stray, and still there when we came back, I’d make a decision then as to what to do.
I was relieved when after nearly an hour we came back into the open area and there was no dog. Also, no human.
I whipped out the balls and we started playing Ball again. Then we took a break again and made a short detour down another path and circled our way back.
That was when The Big White Dog appeared again.
Now I was really concerned. No one was in sight, no one was calling to this dog and no one came looking for him. Clearly I was right the first time. The dog had been abandoned.
I decided to head up the hill to an alternate parking lot to see if anyone else was around and if they knew anything about the dog. By now, I had five dogs with me. My four were nonplussed about the intruder, who I’d continued talking to in a friendly voice. I silently thanked my friend Amanda and her plethora of dogs that we frequently walk with, especially her large Anatolian Shepherd Mix. Because of those outings and her big dog, this was familiar to mine.
Let me insert here that I frequently speak to loose dogs that approach my own in a super friendly voice, and do the same for strangers I may meet on a trail. Of course, I only do this if I can immediately determine from body language if the strange dog or dogs or human approaching are likely to interact in a non-threatening manner. My relaxed posture and voice assures my dogs that there is no reason for alarm.
The Big White Dog was happily trotting among my boys and continuing to maintain space between himself and Camm. Camm had given him her trademark sneer when he ventured too close, and he read it perfectly. Nonetheless, I made sure she had a ball in her mouth.
There was one car in the parking lot, but no one seemed to be around. Just as I started to turn around, a whiff of movement caught my eye and I turned back.
“Do you know anything about this dog? Is he yours?”
A man emerged from the edge of the parking lot.
“Yes, he’s mine. That’s Bruno.”
What the fuck was my innermost thought, but I decided to keep it friendly
“He’s been following us around. I thought that maybe he was a stray.”
The man walked toward us. I quickly determined that he was not a threat. Perhaps someone just like me, seeking a little quiet solace in a peaceful place late on a Friday.
Except as he approached, I realized exactly what kind of solace he had sought. The fumes from the alcohol he had been consuming engulfed me.
“Is he a Great Pyrenees or Pyrenees mix?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s a purebred Pyrenees. He’s a puppy really.”
I learned in the course of our friendly conversation, and as he was chewing on the ball he’d stolen from Youke, that Bruno was an eight-month old gigantic fluffy puppy with zero recall and a human that figured he was okay going off to make his own friends with no supervision while he indulged in a private Friday evening happy hour in a parking lot at a popular trailhead.
The man tried to convince me that he’d been trying to catch Bruno, but that Bruno had refused to come to him.
Two things occurred to me. One, perhaps the overpowering scent of Jameson Irish whiskey was not something that Bruno found alluring, and two, the man had nothing to offer Bruno for coming to him.
I decided that perhaps mentioning only the latter was the polite thing to do.
“Do you have any treats on you?” I asked, not mentioning of course his personal taste in liquid reward.
Naturally he did not, but of course, I did.
I called Bruno’s name and held out my hand full of Charlie Bears, a rather dull cracker-like dog treat that just happened to be in my jacket pocket. Bruno air scented and immediately dropped the ball he’d been chewing, much to Youke’s relief, and came to me. I slipped my hand in Bruno’s collar and petted him.
“How’d you do that?!” the man exclaimed, looking at me like I’d pulled a rabbit out of my sleeve. This is a fitting analogy too as that trick, and using food to call a dog to you, are very old, and very established.
I explained I had some treats on me and merely offered them to Bruno. He said something about trying to catch Bruno for the last hour. I refrained from offering my own opinion that I highly doubted that had taken place and that he’d instead used his time to drink from the many nips I had noted by then were littering the small meadow.
We chatted a few minutes longer about Bruno and dogs in general and then I stated I had to be on my way. The man seemed sad and asked if we were really leaving as Bruno had enjoyed playing with my dogs. I silently observed that my dogs were now quite sick of Bruno, especially of his propensity to gnaw on their precious Balls, and were becoming a bit edgy and wary of Bruno. Bruno had clearly decided that in the presence of his tipsy human, it was safe to get a lot closer to Rhys and Camm, who were not comfortable with that decision. My decision to make a departure was cemented when both Brady and Rhys snapped at Bruno when he decided he should follow us again. Luckily, Bruno was by then leashed.
I felt a bit sad as we went back down the hill and I threw the ball a few more times for my dogs. Sad that the man was clearly a bit lonely and that his Friday evening consisted of leaving his dog to his own devices while he chugged nips of whiskey in a parking lot to a beautiful natural area, not even venturing beyond the concrete confines. And sad too for Bruno, a Big White Beautiful Dog looking for someone to do things with him.
But, I also thought to myself how is it that I always seem to encounter the fornicators, the drunks, the druggies and the slightly unbalanced on these Friday late day adventures? Maybe we’re all seeking some form of nirvana after a long week.