A stray hound’s lasting gift

Jan. 14, 2013 @ 07:41 PM

She smelled like skunk, red dirt, old shoes, weathered leather, wild onions, wet leaves, molded straw and the dark side of the barn, where the sun never shines and last week’s rain puddles.
He had gone to the truck to retrieve his checkbook, and when he closed the door to walk up the porch, he smelled these odors before noticing her sitting by the far corner post.
She looked at him, tilted her head in the manner a dog tilts its head when it is looking at a person. From 26 feet away and by the light of a 40-watt blub, he could see her ribs.
His hand was on the handle and one foot inside, but with another glance to her tilted head, he said: “Easy, I’ll be right back.”
His wife heard him in the kitchen and saw him with the loaf of bread, cold chicken and the aluminum pan that stray dogs are watered and fed by.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me?” she said as he reached for the door.
And so it began. The food was placed nearby, and the next morning she was at the near porch post — her head lifted, her ears alert and her eyes were baggy like a good hound’s eyes should be.
On his land, strays had come, some had stayed and some ate from the aluminum pans and moved on.
Yet this hound was different. She had a sense and a way, and she had eyes that were baggy, ribs that showed and he liked that she stepped out of his way when he walked past.
It was three days before he conjured up the idea of keeping the hound. She was here in the morning and was by the door each night. In short order, there was consistency in greeting and observation.
When he told his wife that Friday night that he would “keep the dog around,” she said, “I knew that days, ago.”
Sally didn’t fit for her name, Tess was too fancy and Jane was the name of his sister-in-law. So Amy became the name of the hound.
She didn’t just follow him when he took walks in the woods, hunted or walked the fence where his cattle sometimes crossed for greener grass. Instead, she was a presence of love and respect.
Oh, how they hunted and traveled. Likewise, she would wait for Saturday, a vacation day, an opening day or for the early morning darkness to be broken by his soft voice suggesting that they hunt today.
She was not a tracker or a howler, and she was not a retriever. Instead, unlike most people and dogs, Amy was a listener. They would sit in the blind for hours, and she would snap her lower jaw from its resting place and stare in a direction. When she was really serious, her face would frown.
Eventually, game would come and a hunt would be on.
It had been a few years since he was told his hearing loss had worsened. There were sounds he heard, and it took great effort to maintain a license to drive. It hurt him deeply to hunt and not hear the birds or game approach.
He no longer heard deer approach or the bark of a squirrel, and on rabbit hunts, the beagles were silent unless he was only a few yards away.
It had become accustomed that Amy would ride beside him in his truck with her eyes fixed on the road ahead. When they checked the fences, Amy would ride. When they went to town, Amy would ride.
So it was normal that Amy was on the seat with her attention ahead that Thursday. The light was green for them, yet time slowed for them.
When Amy barked crisp and sharp, it was enough for him to look to his left, where a vehicle was coming fast, and he jerked the wheel to avoid a direct collision.
The sound of metal and screeching tires were loud then.
Yet the sound of Amy was now, very silent. He held her, as a man holds a dog. There were strangers, and they wept with him.
Over and over he repeated: “She saved my life by barking; she saved my life with her voice.”
The candle was enough light for him, and he stroked her head, her paw and felt her side where ribs no longer could be seen.
The next day, his Amy became more than the odors of this earth; she became eternal and everlasting in spirit, too.
A few days later, he walked a familiar path that he and Amy would walk. The leaves were damp, the clouds were thick and the scene was as loud as cotton.
He paused in a moment of sorrow. Yet it was the sound of something loud that lifted his head and caused him to look. To his surprise, he heard the steps approaching and felt the loneliness escape.
She was the odors of a hungry and lonely world, sustenance from pans that bake pies and she was life without howl or smell.
Instead, the life of Amy was her ears. For they didn’t just hear, they listened.
Enjoy your time outdoors.

You may contact Jason Hawkins at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.