OK. So we’ve established that we have the most annoying dog in the world.
But then we got chickens. Unless you have chickens, you may not understand this but chickens change you.
Pretty soon, four wasn’t enough. And I wanted geese. And goats. And a larger garden. And an orchard. And chores. And wide open spaces for the kids to run and play and be free. I remembered a childhood dream and we seized upon it.
Hunter greeted the new property with his customary enthusiasm.
Except he learned quickly that if he barked in the house, someone would just open the door for him. Gone was the mad scramble for the door any time it looked like someone might be trying to leave. Gone was the pile of children knocked this way and that along his path of escape. Gone was . . . Well, I’d really like to say the barking but that isn’t true. But it was so much less stressful out in the country without neighbors’ nerves to worry about.
Then we had our first visitors. That we knew of.
That’s when we noticed that his barking wasn’t random. Every morning and every evening, he trotted along the property line barking out his warnings. And that circling and barking thing? It looks a whole lot different at two in the morning when you’re surrounded.
All of a sudden, I understood my dog. He was our protector, our guardian. He had a job to do and he took it very seriously. He wasn’t going to let little things like my sanity, the neighbors’ nerves or a nylon leash stand in his way. He was going to do everything within his power to stand between his family and The Big Bad World in order to keep us safe.
Within two months, he had pushed the coyotes back. Though our property had been abandoned for two years and poachers had turned it into a deer carcass smorgasboard, they stopped crossing through our land. We would find tracks and droppings all along the boundary, but not within the area he patrolled.
Then he stopped the nonstop barking, found a spot at the top of our hill where he could see our entire property and lay down to survey his kingdom. And we never lost a chicken to a predator while he was looking over the flock.
Hunter was the best dog we had ever owned. Someone even asked me if they could stud him because he so clearly had such beautiful instincts despite my best efforts to train them out of him. But that wasn’t a possibility.
I started to wonder what we would ever do without him. Then one day he came in acting just a little weird.
It took him two days to collapse to the ground and not get back up. He stopped eating. He stopped drinking. He lay on his pillow and looked as if he were waiting to die. We got him a wheelchair but remember his affinity for chewing through leashes? Well, one . . . two . . . three harnesses later, I gave up. I carried him to his hill where he seemed happiest, made him a bed on the porch to carry him to at night and wondered just how long a dog could live on what I could force feed him.
Perhaps it was time to put him down.
But then we had another visitor.
This time, I was getting something from the car and when I turned around there was a coyote standing at the edge of the driveway just watching me. I barely had time to comprehend what it was and Faithful was on it, chasing it back into the night. Back on the porch, Hunter was alert. Suddenly, the night came alive with the howls of the coyotes and he took off.
On two legs and dragging his useless hind legs behind him, he took off across the lawn and toward the coyotes in the soybeans across the road. I had to run to catch him and drag his fifty pounds of fury back to the porch where I had to chain him to make him stay.
Hunter was back. In the morning, he wolfed down his breakfast, drank two bowls of water and went on his morning patrol of the property. It was a long slow walk to the lilacs and he cut his circle short at the edge of the hen house, but he came back to the top of his hill with a vibrance I hadn’t seen in weeks. He was exhausted, but he was alive.
And then came chore time. Chore time around here . . . well, let’s just say chore time is difficult. I frequently send the children to take care of the poultry because sometimes it is just too hard to deal with the little hand that isn’t there.
The little hand that wanted to help. The little hand that reached for mine to slow me down. The little hand that reminded me that there is so much more to chore time than just getting it done.
And now, though part of me wants to rush through the chores to keep from thinking too much about that little hand, a tip tap slide holds me back. Tip tap slide, tip tap slide and Hunter catches up to me. I scratch him behind the ear and we walk slowly down to the hen house together. Because there’s more to chores than getting them done.
And I wonder what we’ll ever do without our Hunter.