There was a far-off gunshot. Bang. It came from well down the valley where people go to shoot on weekends. Hercules dug his paws into the snow. He wasn’t moving.
Hercules is a big, black dog with soulful brown eyes. It was that stare emanating from those deep eyes that made the difference the day we went to the shelter. There was another dog, a very Lab-looking and much smaller dog who was in contention for about fifteen seconds. That poor guy just couldn’t sit still. He ran around the room jumping from couch to table to floor to couch to table…. Hercules walked in slowly. He strode purposely, directly to me, and sat on my foot. Did I tell you about his eyes?
There have almost always been dogs in my home. Always a dog of uncertain parentage from a questionable background. I’m not alone in this. According to the ASPCA 4.1 million animals (dogs and cats) are adopted annually. Of that, about 2 million are dogs. They estimate that 44% of American households have a dog. By comparison, only 40% of American households have children under 18. Draw your own conclusions.
Shelter dogs all have histories. Some backgrounds are benign and others aren’t. One of the dogs we looked at in the shelter was a small, young pup whose name was Helga. Who names a dog Helga? Anyway, this poor dog crouched in the corner and shook. The closer you got to it the more it shook. The attendant wouldn’t tell us much about the dog’s background but it didn’t take a dog whisperer to figure out that little Helga had not had a good experience with her previous owners. They wouldn’t let us take Helga home as they were working on getting her acclimated to people. Mostly I’m a kind and gentle guy but after seeing little Helga I couldn’t help think they had the wrong species in the cage. Helga should have been free and the idiot human who was her last owner should be shaking in the corner.
Anyway, the point is that shelter dogs all have a history. They are a little like that box of chocolates in Forrest Gump, you never know what you are going to get. Hercules, all 105 pounds of him is, mostly, a well-mannered, people loving dog. He even puts up with most other dogs. A good day for Herc is simply to be my shadow. I’ve seen his more aggressive, protective, side but that is a story for another day. It’s been my experience that Herc loves the people he meets but, perhaps, it’s because the people he’s associated with lately love him.
Sunday is gun day in Montana. A couple of miles down our road is an unofficial shooting range. Its not uncommon to hear shots on a Sunday afternoon. As I walked Herc down our driveway this winter afternoon a shot rang out. Then two more. They were a long way off and not a problem. Except to Herc. He dug his paws into the snow, lowered his ears tight to his head and looked at me. He wasn’t going any further. He wanted to go home. When a 105-pound dog doesn’t want to move he doesn’t. He had done this before and I longed to ask him “what’s the problem?” Actually, I did ask, multiple times, but he didn’t answer. Maybe I should have titled this- did your dog ever answer you?
What in Herc’s background makes this big guy who, I know, is not afraid to make his point with other dogs when he needs to, stop and quake. What memories does the shot bring up in his mind. I asked but he didn’t answer. He looked at me with those big brown eyes. They were talking but I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out.
We went home.