Yesterday must have been bring your dog to town day. I saw at least a dozen dogs in cars while I was running errands in two towns, from a tiny white fluff ball to a fawn-colored great dane, with a range in between including an Australian shepherd and van with two Bernese mountain dogs. I myself had two catahoulas in the car with me.
When we set off this morning they both started barking and jumping back and forth as we started down the county road. On one side a construction crew was clearing junipers to straighten our landmark right-angle curve, and on the other side three border collies coursed the field. By the time I took the next curve a quarter mile on, I’d started yelling too, and decided it was a bad idea to bring the dogs with me. They don’t usually get that excited so soon on a trip in this direction. I couldn’t bear the thought of their frenzy all the way to town. I turned around to take them home.
They settled right down. I knew they wanted to go, and I wanted their company. My frustration changed direction, too, and I turned around again with a brainstorm. I’ve never run them on this road for fear of fast traffic, but I often do on others, the dead-end lane across the canyon, empty roads with good visibility across the country. It felt reckless but I took the chance. I could see far enough both directions to give them a good sprint, and I knew that would reset them for the rest of the trip.
I stopped and let them out between the road crew and the neighbors’ dogs, hit the gas, and looked in the rearview mirror. They took off after me, Raven snapping at Stellar as he raced for the car. They caught up and ran beside my window for awhile; around the curve I lost sight of them and slowed, then they pulled up on my right on the soft shoulder. A few more yards and I stopped to call them in. Stellar lay down on the back seat and Raven sat in front looking perfectly satisfied, and on we drove to town.
I was so glad I took them. I let them out again on the track up to the shooting range in the ‘dobies, where Raven crisscrossed the hardpan scouting prairie dog holes and Stellar loped along in front of the car. In town I stopped by the bistro for a latté, then drove the few blocks to town park. There they ran in the grass while I drank my coffee under the beautiful giant trees, bare spring twigs whistling in the strong wind. And then I ran my errands for a couple of hours. Having them along turned a chore into a relaxed outing. I slowed down and enjoyed every step of the way.
When we travel across country in The Mothership we have a routine. We stop early and often to stretch our legs, and though they’re usually leashed, at least once a day I try to find a place they can run. Sometimes it’s a mile of empty dirt road, sometimes a fenced cemetery; sometimes on the parkways and backroads we travel there’s a pull-off with a long empty field. They’ve gotten used to this. It’s no wonder they get jumpy in the car.
I realized today that I’ve missed taking my dogs to town. I haven’t often taken this particular pair of dogs with me in the car, largely because of their shenanigans. Either one alone stays calm, but together they always start banging around and Stellar eventually starts barking. This began when he was a puppy and I was irrigating fields across the canyon every day. I’d load up the shovel and the dogs, head up the driveway, and turn south on the dirt road. Five minutes later I’d release them on the lane and they’d run after me until I parked, and then they’d fly through the fields as I walked to the water.
I could always tell I was close when I saw their feet send water splashing. They’d take a long drink, Raven would lie down in the ditch, and then they’d play while I moved water. Within a few days of starting this routine, Stellar would stick his head out the window and start barking as soon as we made that left turn. He wouldn’t stop until the car did. Neighbors mentioned they always knew when we were on our way to the fields.
We haven’t irrigated in five years, but Stellar still barks any time we turn left. Stellar is the finest, sweetest, most agreeable dog ever on the whole planet; he has only this one annoying trait. Whether he’s happy to see a guest at the gate or go for a drive in the car, or he senses I am preparing to take them out in the woods, or Tom arrives in the UPS truck bearing a package and some dog cookies, Stellar simply cannot contain his excitement.
His barking subsides, usually fairly quickly, except in the car. (He can bark for eight miles straight in Virginia, from Auntie’s lane to the parking lot at the bay.) Over the years, rather than subject myself to the decibels, I guess I’ve adapted by only taking them with me when I need to, and not just for fun. But it was fun today, after I came up with the simple solution of running the bark out of him before, well, before embarking.
I have never let them run up or down the driveway because it is so often full of mule deer, and I knew the can of worms I’d be opening if I tried it even once. Also, for years there were emus in pens along the length of it, and I couldn’t risk that distraction. But now the last of the emus have gone. Maybe I’ll try them on the driveway next time it’s Take Your Dog to Town Day. Also, I plan to irrigate again this summer, so watch out, neighbors! The catahoula train is coming!
THE FLEETING WONDROUS LIFE OF STELLAR THE STAR DOG SO FAR
AN INCOMPLETE PICTOGRAPHY