Spot Redux, and Other Crap
It was a fantastic morning for a short hike and to face fears, until some crap happened. Literally.
It’s been a month to the day since Rhys was lost, so I decided it was time to conquer the lingering fear and finally head back to the spot. I actually didn’t realize it was exactly a month ago until I sat down to write this. The passage of time has been such a strange, elastic, thing for the past several months. The events of that day, night and following day are still so vivid, but honestly, I thought more time had passed.
I’ve driven by the spot about three times in the past month. Twice on my way to someplace else, and once with the intent of going there. But I just could not. I slowed, nearly pulled in, but realized I was not ready to go back the scene of so much trauma and sped off several miles further to another area to hike with the dogs. I even had an offer from Pam to meet up with her there with her dogs to make the transition easier, but I just couldn’t seem to do it.
Truth be told, I haven’t taken them out for good adventures much in the past month. At least not the kind we’re used to doing. I’ve broken them off in pairs, as singles or even taken the older three out at the same time, but I think I’ve taken all four out at once only once in the past few weeks. I’ve done some fun hikes with friends, met friends for walks, and I’ve been taking the dogs swimming a lot. My agility class with Rhys also resumed and I’ve been taking a Control Unleashed class with him as well.
Work is finally picking up a bit more, and I’ve been a bit gun shy. The one time I did take all four, it wasn’t exactly the pristine and peaceful jaunt I had hoped it would be.
The idea was to test out Rhys on his long line and my new trekking belt. I thought it would take more getting used to for both of us, but he was immediately fine with being secured and since the belt sits on my hips and is wide and very secure, I felt fine as well and didn’t actually feel that I’d be pulled over. Plus, it was quite nice to be hands free and to not have my shoulder being jerked around. Rhys walked better and with less pulling or leash tangling than usual too, which was a pleasant surprise.
Still, the day ended up being a fiasco.
Because Brady was far too interested in investigating critters that day, I ended up also putting him on a long line and securing him to my trekking belt.
Ordinarily this might have worked out okay, but I was royally pissed at Brady for even thinking about chasing after critters in light of recent events and set a very rapid pace up a steady incline. But Brady had already done some running and was not prepared for this militant march uphill and continually either lagged behind or was lateral and kept getting his line tangled. This was fairly manageable on the way up, but on the way down became increasingly annoying and potentially dangerous. It was a short hike, but one that ended with bushwhacking through a barely discernible path, made more difficult by Rhys and Brady both being attached via long lines, Brady’s decisions to stop helplessly in front of me at random times so I could untangle him, and Youke and Camm frequently stopping to check on why I seemed upset, thus making me more upset as I fought my way through the underbrush and heavy summer growth while simultaneously trying to see where to place my feet while untangling dogs and trying not to step on dogs.
Thus, while I love my hands-free contraption and determined it really works well for Rhys and I, I need to think deeply about where, when and how many dogs for future hikes.
Today was easy though. I decided early this morning that a quick hike up at the spot would drain some of the dogs’ excess energy before it got too hot to do much of anything. Being Labor Day, and a very nice day at that, and wanting to stay away from crowds of people, I figured getting out early and to an not-very-scenic place would work for us. And, it was time to go back.
We arrived and I let Brady, Camm and Youke off-leash, but secured Rhys to me via his long line to my trekking belt. I was surprised that Rhys didn’t fight me or try to pull hard, but he seemed fine with the arrangement. Maybe he had some residual concerns about the spot too.
He does seem to have matured rather suddenly since being lost overnight. People ask if he’s recovered and if I’ve recovered. I think we both have – mostly anyway. I think we have a renewed appreciation for one another, and he’s definitely somewhat clingier. He also doesn’t like being out in the dark anymore, at least alone. Rhys used to fight me about coming in at night, with me often going out to physically get him back inside. Even cookie rewards were often not tempting enough. Now, he sees the other dogs going in or me turning around to go inside and he beats us to the door to come back into the house. There are also other subtle things that I’ve noticed that are hard to describe. And the uber confident dog that has always had a strong independent streak and bold curiosity had a major freakout moment earlier this week.
I can count on one hand the number of freakouts Rhys has had since he came to live with me as a wee puppy. He had one on Friday when we were cooling off at a river after a private agility lesson. While I know Rhys had to have crossed a river with a major current and to clamber over rocks to get where he was eventually located after being lost, he seems fine with swimming at similar rivers. But he scented something on the shores of the river we were at on Friday to cause him to start trembling and to tuck his tail between his legs. He got a very scared look in his eyes, and then seemed almost vacant when I went to leash him up. My gut instinct tells me he came across the scent of something that terrified him that long night by himself. I wish he could tell me, but I strongly suspect coyotes or a cougar. We’ve heard coyotes howling in the distance at home a few times since that night and his reaction has unmistakably been one of fear. However, I don’t suspect bear and going by scat has elicited no different reaction than in the past. Truth be told, my dogs are fairly nonchalant about bears.
But he was pretty happy today, despite being at the scene of drama a few weeks back. The dogs all seemed pretty happy that we were finally out as a family unit, relaxed and content. We encountered a lone hunter who waved before we turned off to do our loop, and then a couple of men – father and son perhaps – who stopped to pet the dogs and exclaim about their friendliness and good manners. That last part always makes me feel like a fraud. I’m always convinced they can’t possibly mean my dogs.
At a point where the trail split, instead of turning to the right as we usually do, I whistled to the dogs and indicated we were turning left. That path dead ends, but it’s also the section of the spot where a month ago, my mind spinning and dread threatening to smother hope, I first heard Rhys howl back an answer to my calling of his name.
I went back to the spot where I’d stood that early Friday morning calling to Rhys across the void filled with thick, impenetrable underbrush split by a river and heard him call back to me. I relived the moment and then the intense and emotional conversation we’d had yelling as best as we could back and forth.
I’ll admit that my eyes filled with tears at that memory as I looked across at the woods on the other side and as I remembered the vision I’d had of where I would find him.
But it was a nice morning and we were there not to dwell on bad memories, but to conquer them and move forward. The path ahead of us was fairly wide and open and I felt comfortable letting Rhys of his line for a while to run ahead with Brady.
So, we continued on. We passed the pond that the dogs love to swim in. I opted not to let them swim as it’s been dry and hot and I was worried the water wasn’t good. It didn’t look awful as we passed, but it did have a distinct swamp smell. Rhys lingered the longest, standing in a shallow part and looking hopeful.
Slightly disappointed, but still happy to be out and about, the dogs frolicked on ahead of me. I daydreamed a bit as I walked. Camm and Youke had found more water and looked wet and very dirty as clearly it was more brackish mud than water.
Suddenly I realized Rhys was rolling frantically just ahead of me and slightly off the trail.
Initially I wasn’t concerned. Rhys, thanks to Camm and Youke, has discovered that rolling in grass is a great back- scratcher and is pretty wonderful. However, within .00005 seconds I realized that Rhys was enjoying the rolling entirely too much.
I ran toward him and sharply yelled his name. He stood up, startled, but with a glazed look of intense pleasure on his face.
Because he’d just rolled in shit.
I looked, horrified to confirm my worse fears. But the scent wafting toward me confirmed before I even had a chance to verify with a visual.
Human shit. Fresh. Probably left by one of the very nice men we’d encountered earlier.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but if it stinks, and if it’s especially disgusting, Rhys will roll in it. The dog has had more baths in his short lifetime so far than all the baths given to every dog I’ve owned as an adult up to this point. He apparently comes from a line of stink-rollers on his mother’s side. This information was not disclosed to me until after I’d brought him home and he’d rolled in his first pile of lurid organic waste. It wasn’t human, but if memory serves me correctly, the second roll a week later was.
Rhys delights in getting the stink impressed deeply onto his back, neck and top of his head. He didn’t manage to get the top of his head today, probably because I’d interrupted before he could.
Better yet, he was wearing his harness today, so not only was it embedded deeply into his neck and back fur, it was also ALL OVER HIS HARNESS AND PRESSED INTO THE BUCKLES.
I made an executive decision and informed the dogs we were going back to the icky pond.
This was of course delightful news to them. However, I had nothing to throw in the water for them to fetch – because I knew the water would be gross and I DIDN’T WANT MY DOGS TO STINK – and that’s the fun of the game. So, instead I threw rocks in the water and told Rhys to go get them. Being the youngest and most naive, Rhys is still fooled by this game, whereas the older three dogs merely barked noisily their dismay at this trickery.
That effort and fruitlessly swimming after sunken rocks rinsed off most of the crap. Still, I literally saw a chunk planted still in the middle of his back. The problem was that the pond is very shallow with the lack of water and Rhys can stand in most of it. So I threw more rocks and threw them out further. After a while, Rhys emerged with most of the visible shit rinsed off. He still stunk to high heaven and I saw crap embedded still in the harness. Luckily for me, the harness also has a front hook and that appeared untouched by human fecal matter.
I leashed Rhys up and thus began the walk back to the car. At least the line he was on is a good 20 feet. I only caught the occasional odious whiff when downwind, which was maybe only half of the time.
As we headed back to the car, I again wondered why the hell I keep returning to such a horrid place as the spot. As mentioned, it really has no redeeming qualities other than it’s sometimes convenient and I rarely see people or other dogs. I seriously need to make better choices.
I also cursed every single inconsiderate asswipe that ever pooped outside and did not bag or bury their waste.
Rhys got a bath when we got home with dish soap and the garden hose. He was not happy, but I explained to him that he had zero choice. Did I mention I had cleaned The Living Room on Wheels yesterday? The first time in months? Yeah, perfect timing.
The other dogs got hosed down as well because they all smelled like swamp after being in the nasty pond, precisely what i had planned to avoid.
After a swim in the Snoqualmie River after his last Control Unleashed class tonight, Rhys smells delightful and fresh again. Meanwhile, his harness will be hanging on my deck in the 90-degree sun expected this week to detoxify because despite a vigorous rubdown with the dish soap, it still reeks.
Coincidentally, in our Control Unleashed field trip for our last class, our instructor helpfully suggested we use some found elk poop as a target for “leave it” practice. Rhys didn’t even glance at it. He moved on from elk poop eons ago.